The Northern Spy: memory and storage
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: memory and storage

By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy (metaphorically) pens this on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Those two are the most commonly misspelled and mispronounced words on the calendar. That's English for you, though. After all there are more than twenty correct pronunciations of the letter combination "ough" in English. No wonder students from other countries have such a tough time learning what we native North Americans absorb and store in our memories from infancy.

Memory and storage have come a long way from the industry's early halcyon days. Students today have never seen a punch card, have no concept of the days when "punch card machine operator" was one of the most sought after skills. The Spy was a somewhat subversive student. He persuaded the computing science department to put one punch machine in the student area, outside the sanctum of the white robed high priests who took our coding sheets, had them punched, ran the programs, and returned our error printouts a week later.

Given access, he showed everyone how to duplicate a deck, and started an honour system of subroutines filed in boxes on the shelf above the machine. Before long, we were getting one program to run per two to three days, instead of taking weeks. The next semester, all the punch card machines were in the student lobby, and we no longer used coding sheets. The cards were of course used for data input as well as code, and therefore represented users' only memory access. You very much didn't want to spill coffee or pop on a box of precious cards.

When the small computer revolution began, early machines had 4-16K of internal memory, and programs were stored and read from punched paper tape--the same as used in telegraph offices, where the Spy learned to read ASCII by holes, as no other characters were printed on the tape.

The early Apple II machines could, with a chip alteration take 48K of memory (and with another and a jumper wire use lower case characters). Printed output was via using the wiring diagram in the manual to connect to a TTY machine. Moreover, by connecting a tape recorder (what's that Grandpa? Is it like the thing you call a typewriter?) to the sound ports, dropping into the monitor and typing commands to read from the port into memory (or vice-versa) programs could be stored and loaded from cassette tapes. Early shipments of these machines to Canada (the Spy had one with a serial number under 100) came with a few games on cassettes. (Well, it sure beat entering programs anew every time with front panel switches as we did in the homebrew kits prior to that.)

Early floppy disk storage solutions were sold by Heathkit, and the 5 1/4 inch disks held just over 60K of data. Apple's version stored 113.5K and was the least expensive such drive yet produced. This Disk II floppy Disk Subsystem was later increased to 140K with more efficient data coding in DOS 3.3 that allowed 16 sectors per track rather than 13. It was about this time the Spy wrote Ampermanager, which used the & hook into Applesoft to add over seventy commands to Applesoft and DOS 3.3, using only 4K of memory to do so.

One of these utilities was "RELETE" which undeleted files, provided their sectors had not physically been overwritten. An early success of this was the recovery of a colleague's Doctoral dissertation. Ahem.

3.5-inch floppies with a metal centre and hard case came next. Initially these were one-sided and stored 400K, but soon were made double sided and capacity. Apple brought out ProDos at this time, noting that the new drives could not be used with the old DOS 3.3 as the sector size was now doubled and the FAT (File Allocation Table) could not index the larger capacity. The Spy, who used a disassembled DOS to create his utilities said "that's not right, Apple's engineers don't know their own code" and produced DOS 3.3.5--a thirty-or-so byte $5 shareware utility that modified DOS by doubling the buffer size and reinterpreting the FAT accordingly on disks with his 3.3.5 flag set. Each side of the disk was its own volume, but it worked. He still occasionally gets $5 for this.

Apple's first hard drive stored 5M (The Spy has an original packing box still), but this capacity was very quickly increased over the next few years, and today we can buy 6T+ capacity mechanical drives, and 1T+ solid state "drives" (really, external memory). CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray disks followed, each increasing the available storage. Apple never did adopt Blu-Ray, and no longer includes any optical drives in its systems, shifting all software installation and update to its massive banks of online servers.

User storage has to an extent gone the same way, with increasing numbers of cloud services offering storage touted as secure. The Spy uses the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, and Apple's iCloud) for sharing non-confidential files such as slide presentations and non-mission-critical documents, but would never trust confidential or other sensitive documents to systems over whose security and integrity he has no control. They all can be and will eventually be hacked, so no thanks.

The end of glass storage

Some are calling Jan. 27, 2017 "the day the music died in Canada" for on that date HMV, Canada's last large retail chain of music and video disks went into bankruptcy and began liquidating inventory in all 102 stores. With Rogers long gone from the business, no such chains remain. Music and video have effectively already switched to the on-line streaming sphere, so money can no longer be made on physical media, except, paradoxically on vinyl records, which have made a temporary nostalgic comeback.

The Spy could, he supposes, rip his large library of classical, Christian, and Christmas music, and play it from stored copies, but the task would be daunting. Howumso'er, it appears Apple was indeed anticipating the curve in pronouncing glass storage dead. Music and video on glass will henceforth be available from online retailers (for a while) but will eventually vanish altogether, though current streaming services (Apple, Netflix, and Roku included) are far from cheap, convenient or comprehensive.

New technologies

SSDs will of course eventually altogether displace spinning platters. All that keeps the latter in production now is cost per terabyte, and that gap is narrowing rapidly.

What else is there, or can there be? In his fiction, the Spy posits a technology where the basic memory unit is a dit-Decimal dIgiT, that is a storage location that can either latch ten values or read ten voltage ranges, instead of two. This could increase storage per volume by nearly an order of magnitude. Storage based on quantum states also has promise for reducing the physical size and increasing storage capacity of. He some time ago envisioned a one-cm glass cube capable of holding at least 10T. Memory could also be printed inside and be part of computer cases, effectively occupying no additional volume beyond the structure of the case itself.

Alternatively, with small enough data cubes or cards, several slots externally accessible could supply all the memory capacity anyone could need. Were there still stores to sell them, these could also become the medium for distributing commercial content, but that train has left the station and won't be back.

Indeed, more production of consumer goods of all kinds will switch to made-to-order" with stores becoming showrooms for samples rather than filled with racks of actual sale goods. The HMV departure is therefore only the latest harbinger of the end of retailing as we have known it.

Next to go--printed books. Been a while coming, but the demise of bookstores is accelerating. There are few left, and soon will be none. Biggest obstacle--the lack of a really useable textbook reader--though they are getting better. The Spy recalls commenting to Tim Cook at the 2003 WWDC that the first company to perfect the textbook reader would wipe out the whole inefficient paper text publishing industry overnight. His reply: "We at Apple haven't figured out how to do that right yet, and until we do, we won't do it at all." Well, Tim? Isn't it about time?

Remember when nostalgia was so different?

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns or Rick's SF? Check out the Arjay blog at

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:

The Northern Spy Home Page: http: //www. TheNorthernSpy. com
opundo : http: //opundo. com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http: //sheaves. org
WebNameHost : http: //www. WebNameHost. net
WebNameSource : http: //www. WebNameSource. net
nameman : http: //nameman. net

General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:

Author Site: http: //www. arjay. ca
Publisher's Site: http: //www. writers-exchange. com/Richard-Sutcliffe. html
The Fourth Civilization--Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http: //www. arjay. bc. ca/EthTech/Text/index. html

URLs for resources mentioned in this column


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

FontExplorer X Pro 7.1.3 - Font manageme...
FontExplorer X Pro is optimized for professional use; it's the solution that gives you the power you need to manage all your fonts. Now you can more easily manage, activate and organize your... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 8.2.5 - Catalog your di...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast Finder-like intuitive look and feel Super-fast search algorithm Can compress catalog data for... Read more
Skim 1.5.12 - PDF reader and note-taker...
Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate scientific papers in PDF, but is also great for viewing any PDF file. Skim includes many features and has a... Read more
rekordbox - Professional DJ m...
rekordbox is the best way of preparing and managing your tracks, be it at home, in the studio, or even on the plane! It allows you to import music from other music-management software using the... Read more
iExplorer 4.4.0 - View and transfer file...
iExplorer is an iPhone browser for Mac lets you view the files on your iOS device. By using a drag and drop interface, you can quickly copy files and folders between your Mac and your iPhone or... Read more
OmniGraffle 7.17.5 - Create diagrams, fl...
OmniGraffle helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use Graffle to... Read more
Apple Configurator 2.13.1 - Configure an...
Apple Configurator makes it easy to deploy iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV devices in your school or business. Use Apple Configurator to quickly configure large numbers of devices connected to... Read more
OmniGraffle Pro 7.17.5 - Create diagrams...
OmniGraffle Pro helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use... Read more
FoldersSynchronizer 5.1.6 - Synchronize...
FoldersSynchronizer is a popular and useful utility that synchronizes and backs-up files, folders, disks and boot disks. On each session you can apply special options like Timers, Multiple Folders,... Read more
Adobe After Effects 17.1.4 - Create prof...
After Effects is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for $52.99/month (or $20.99/month for a single app license). The new, more connected After Effects can make the impossible possible. Get... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Infinity Mechs is an upcoming idle game...
Indie developer SkullStar studio has announced an upcoming idle mech game called Infinity Mechs. It draws inspiration from the mobile game Iron Saga and has been officially licensed by Game Duchy. It's set to launch for both iOS and Android on... | Read more »
PUBG Mobile Lite's latest update se...
PUBG Mobile Lite, the streamlined version of the popular battle royale that's designed to work on less powerful devices, sees the return of a popular game variant today, Survive Till Dawn mode. It arrives as part of the 0.19.0 content update. [... | Read more »
Matchy Catch, Jyamma Games’ new hyper-ca...
Matchy Catch is a new hyper-casual puzzler from Jyamma Games, the Italian studio behind the Pong-inspired puzzle-adventure Hi-Ball Rush. It’s only the developer’s second game for iOS and Android devices, but it promises to be every bit as fun and... | Read more »
Among Us! Imposter Guide - How to be a s...
Among Us! continues to be getting a lot of play in these parts, and since our first guide we've learned a thing or two about the game. This is especially true regarding the imposter role, as its a relatively rare opportunity that we've now put... | Read more »
Paladin's Story is an upcoming fant...
Paladin's Story is an upcoming fantasy RPG with an off-kilter sense of humour that's heading for iOS and Android. It will officially launch for both on September 16th though the game is already available on Google Play in Early Access. [Read more... | Read more »
Among Us! Guide - Tips for the uninitiat...
| Read more »
A Pretty Odd Bunny is a stealth-platform...
A Pretty Odd Bunny is a stealth-platformer from two-man team AJ Ordaz and René Rivera. It follows the story of a red-eyed rabbit who is allergic to carrots and instead has a penchant for devouring pigs. It's available now for Android devices. [... | Read more »
Apple Arcade: Ranked - Top 25 [Updated 9...
In case you missed it, I am on a quest to rank every Apple Arcade game there is. [Read more] | Read more »
The 5 Best Mobile Games Like Tony Hawk...
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 dropped last week, meaning you can get remastered versions of two of the most iconic “sports” games ever made and experience some of the highest watermarks set in games of generations’ past. [Read more] | Read more »
Bouncing Box is a challenging platformer...
In platformers, we often spend a large amount of time mindless destroying boxes by jumping onto or into them, whatever makes them splinter apart. Bouncing Box from developer The K Brothers aims to give those poor destructible cubes a chance to be... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Price drop! Get a 44mm Apple Watch Series 5 G...
Amazon has dropped their price on the 44mm Apple Watch Series 5 GPS + Cellular by $100 to $429 shipped. That’s $100 off Apple’s original MSRP for this model. For the latest prices and sales, see our... Read more
Verizon offers $200 discount on new Apple Wat...
Verizon will take up to $200 off the purchase of a new GPS + Cellular Apple Watch Series 6 or Apple Watch SE with select trade-in and the purchase of a new iPhone with service. The fine print: “Get... Read more
Verizon offers $250 discount on new 8th gener...
Verizon will take up to $250 off the price of an 8th generation 2020 Apple Cellular iPad with select trade-ins and a new iPhone purchase. Plus get Apple News+ free for 6 months. The fine print: “Save... Read more
Apple’s Implementation Of COVID-19 Exposure...
NEWS: 09.18.20 – The latest effort by Apple to embed exposure notifications for COVID-19 contact tracing right into its mobile operating system has some iPhone users weary of being exposed to... Read more
Here’s how to get a 16″ MacBook Pro for $300...
B&H Photo has new 16″ MacBook Pros on sale today for $250-$300 off Apple’s MSRP, starting at $2099. Expedited shipping is free to many addresses in the US: – 2019 16″ 2.6GHz 6-Core MacBook Pro... Read more
Apple has Certified Refurbished 16″ MacBook P...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2019 16″ MacBook Pros available for up to $420 off the cost of new models, starting at $2039. Each model features a new outer case, shipping is free, and an Apple 1-... Read more
Price drops! Apple reseller B&H drops App...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on Apple Watch Series 5 models by $50-$70 off Apple’s original MSRP. Shipping is free. These are the same Apple Watch models sold by Apple in their retail and online... Read more
Apple extends their 2020 Back-to-School promo...
As part of their Back to School promotion for 2020, Apple will include one free pair Apple AirPods (with charging case) with the purchase of a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro (Mac Pro and... Read more
Apple 7.9″ iPad minis are on sale today for $...
Amazon has new 7.9″ 64GB WiFi iPad minis on sale today for $50 off Apple’s MSRP, each including free shipping. Prices start at $349. These are the same iPad minis sold by Apple in their retail and... Read more
Lowest price anywhere! New 16″ 6-core MacBook...
Expercom has the Silver 16″ 6-core MacBook Pro back on sale for a limited time for $2079 shipped. Their price is $320 off Apple’s MSRP for this model, and it’s the cheapest price currently available... Read more

Jobs Board

Security Officer ($23.00/Hourly) - *Apple*...
**Security Officer \($23\.00/Hourly\) \- Apple Store** **Description** About NMS Built on a culture of safety and integrity, NMSdelivers award\-winning, integrated Read more
Platform - Workplace Eng - *Apple* Enterpri...
MORE ABOUT THIS JOB We are looking for an Apple Platform Engineer who will bring a unique engineering skill set, support, clarity, organization and above all else, Read more
*Apple* Certified Repair Technician - Utah S...
…selected candidate will work in the USU Campus Store Tech Department as an Apple Certified Repair Technician and floor associate. This position is for both summer Read more
Senior Data Engineer - *Apple* - Theorem, L...
Job Summary Apple is seeking an experienced, detail-minded data engineeringconsultant to join our worldwide business development and strategy team. If you are Read more
Desktop Support Technician - A+, *Apple* -...
Desktop Support Technician - A+, Apple **Ref No.:** 20-01604 **Location:** Miami, Florida **e** at **X** at **cell** at Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.