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Data Storage Sci-Fi Television

Gene Roddenberry's Floppy Disks Recovered (pcworld.com) 277

Press2ToContinue writes: When Gene Roddenberry's computer died, it took with it the only method of accessing some 200 floppy disks of his unpublished work. To make matters worse, about 30 of the disks were damaged, with deep gouges in the magnetic surface. "Cobb said a few of the disks were formatted in DOS, but most of them were from an older operating system called CP/M. CP/M, or Control Program for Microcomputers, was a popular operating system of the 1970s and early 1980s that ultimately lost out to Microsoft's DOS. In the 1970s and 1980s it was the wild west of disk formats and track layouts, Cobb said. The DOS recoveries were easy once a drive was located, but the CP/M disks were far more work. " So what was actually on the disks? Lost episodes of Star Trek? The secret script for a new show? Or as Popular Science once speculated, a patent for a transporter?

Unfortunately, we still don't know. The Roddenberry estate hasn't commented yet, and the data recovery agency is bound by a confidentiality agreement.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Gene Roddenberry's Floppy Disks Recovered

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  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @02:19PM (#51242685) Journal

    They found kilobytes and kilobytes of nudie RTTY art. The only one they could have published was this one [textfiles.com] so they decided to just put the floppies back in the box and forget the whole thing.

  • I know! (Score:5, Funny)

    by mitcheli ( 894743 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @02:19PM (#51242689)
    It said to never hire J J Abrams.
  • Cluelessness (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    > According to Cobb, the majority of the disks were 1980s-era 5.25-inch double-density disks capable of storing a whopping 160KB—that's kilobytes—or about one-tenth the capacity you can get on a $1 USB thumb drive today. Cobb said a few of the disks were formatted in DOS, but most of them were from an older operating system called CP/M.

    Who wrote TFA is clueless. 160 kb is one tenth of current USB thumb drives? Yeah, sure, we get 1,5 Mb those... orders of magnitude matter!

    • It said 1/10th of what you could get on a $1 thumb drive. Reading comprehesion ftw.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      The thing it, it should be relatively easy to read 5 1/4" CP/M disks on an 286/386/486 era PC with the right software to talk to the disk controller chip directly. The big low-level difference was 512-byte sectors in MS-DOS vs (usually) 128-byte sectors in CP/M. Most other 8-bit era floppies used 256-byte sectors. Some old PC disk controller chips couldn't handle single-density format. But if they were 8-inch CP/M disks it would have taken real work to read them.
  • pcworld = crap (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @02:23PM (#51242715)

    This is slashdot. Stop lecturing us about what CP/M was.

    And get off my lawn.

  • "Custom OS" (Score:5, Informative)

    by Erbo ( 384 ) <obreerbo@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @02:24PM (#51242723) Homepage Journal
    Some sources claim that Roddenberry's computers ran a "custom OS." However, in those days, CP/M was often customized for different brands of computers, which used different disk formats and layouts (for whatever reason). Roddenberry's machine may have used a particularly obscure layout.

    They do mention that the disks had about a 160 Kb capacity, which was fairly standard for Shugart 5-1/4" floppy drives of the time.

    • They do mention that the disks had about a 160 Kb capacity, which was fairly standard for Shugart 5-1/4" floppy drives of the time.

      That's why they're still readable. The disks with the lowest density (barring really early and crappy 8" formats) are your basic 5.25" floppies. 360k PC floppies would regularly remain readable for much longer than we actually used them, and if you're only using one side then you do even better.

    • You know what else was fairly standard at the time? Wearing an onion on your belt.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      ICL used to produce Quadro PC's. They had the ability to have four different DOS command line screens toggled using [Alt] and a function key.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      From what I've seen back in the day, the main difference in CP/M disk "formats" was 1) the number of sectors/tracks/sides, and 2) the offset to the directory. The OS itself was stored at the beginning of the disk and could very a little in size. They also couldn't be very big. Back in the early '80s I helped keep a business's computer working. It ran CP/M on a 5 megabyte hard drive. The hard drive had four partitions. The fourth may have been a runt partition, but they wouldn't have been much bigger than th
  • No big deal (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @02:30PM (#51242777)

    Anyone with a Commodore 128 and a 1571 disk drive or 128D should be able to work with CP/M files once they've been read... and the 128 should also be able to read the disks themselves.

    • Yep! The Big Blue Reader could also read files from DOS formatted floppies and copy them out to CBM formatted floppies. ....and there are many devices for copying CBM floppies to modern computers (like the ZoomFloppy device)

      Yeah, the 1571 was an ace drive.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @02:33PM (#51242791) Homepage

    CP/M machines are readily available on ebay.

    http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html... [ebay.com]

    Click buy it now, whip out the credit card, wait for delivery.

    • Click buy it now, whip out the credit card, wait for delivery.

      The last CP/M machine I had was too heavy for UPS. you'd have to ship it on a pallet. Granted, it did have dual 8" floppy drives...

      • My last CP/M machine was my Amstrad CPC6128, Z80, 128K RAM, I had a 5.25" disk drive and used CPM 2.2 and CPM 3.0 on it, I had Turbo Pascal, DBaseII, and so on. It was mid 80s.
        It was only a few pounds, the computer was in the keyboard.
        • 128kB? Fancy. Before my Altos I had a Kaypro 4, which had dual 5.25" floppies inside next to its little green monitor. Sadly, it emulated an adm3a.

          • by Megane ( 129182 )
            I have a Kaypro-10 around somewhere. The Kaypro-10 has a 10-megabyte hard drive. It was probably the king of CP/M luggables.
    • Click buy it now, whip out the credit card, wait for delivery, see that it was damaged in transport, fill out a claims form, send it in the mail, wait for a pre-made generic reply that has nothing to do with your claim, call customer service, get put on wait with shitty over-amplified background music with insipid voice-over about how your call is important, get an answer from someone in India who barely speaks english, try to explain the problem for half an hour before asking to speak to the manager, wait

    • by wjcofkc ( 964165 )
      Mod Lumpy up. Thanks for that, I had never considered. I think I'll grab me up a TRS-80 Model III and some debugging manuals while I'm at it. No joke.
      • by Megane ( 129182 )
        Anyone in the Austin TX area (or San Antonio) want a bunch of TRS-80 Model IV and 4P stuff? Reply while this thread is still alive and I'll get in contact with you. I will NOT ship them, but I can deliver personally anywhere in the I-35/45/10 triangle on a day-trip if you're really serious.
  • I had floppies in the 90s and beyond that were terrible for longevity. More than once I had a carefully handled 3.5" DSHD floppy eat shit while being carried from one computer to another in the same room.
    • I had floppies in the 90s and beyond that were terrible for longevity. More than once I had a carefully handled 3.5" DSHD floppy eat shit while being carried from one computer to another in the same room.

      The best data densities were on SSDD 5.25" floppies, formatted out to 360k or less. The worst in relation to the oxide size, 1.2 MB. 1.44MB is a bit better, but still not great.

      • From my experience the 5.25" floppy disks in general were slightly more reliable, but the drives went out of style early enough that it didn't matter. You couldn't really convince people - mac users especially but plenty of other PC users as well - to retrofit 5.25" floppy drives into their computers. Even worse, to the best of my knowledge nobody ever made a USB 5.25 floppy drive which was arguably the final nail in the coffin for that format.
        • (that should say physical form, not format. my error)
        • You couldn't really convince people - mac users especially but plenty of other PC users as well - to retrofit 5.25" floppy drives into their computers.

          There was a moment when companies sold half-height dual-format drives with both slots, but the reality is that most people hadn't seen a 360k floppy in ages, and a 1.2MB floppy frequently failed before you could read it anyway.

    • so fluked out there as we use to download software like Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator from FTP sites which was 40+ 1mb files which then needed to be spliced backtogether. I'd download the files from my buddies computer which had a 56.6K modem while I only had a 14.4 at that time.

    • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

      I lived in a dorm in the 90s, without access to a network. To use a network, particularly the Internet, I had to travel to the lab where there was very slow dialup access.

      There was more than one occasion when I, and a friend of mine, were trying to get files larger than a MB or two (porn, installers) down to our rooms from the lab. It was maybe 25 yards of hall, a cement stairway, and then another 50 yards of hall - all told along the shortest route. We never could figure out why well over half of the disk

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      HD floppy disks in the '90s were pretty crappy. Ah, the fun of trying to install Slackware from floppies and having disk errors.
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @02:38PM (#51242839) Homepage Journal

    It has a very simple file layout. A more likely cause of the problem is that computers that ran CP/M typically had unusual disk drives - that is, the number of tracks, sectors per track, etc, varied tremendously between manufacturer.

    The file system itself though? Not a problem. It's simpler than FAT. It's so simple it can be easily reverse engineered with a hexeditor, even if you don't have any documentation and have never heard of CP/M before (been a while, but from memory: first few sectors after boot are a directory, using 32 byte blocks - 12 bytes for file name and user number, then the remainder identify the sector clusters - called extents in CP/M jargon - the file occupies, with multiple entries used if the file used more than 20 extents.)

    • As I recall, it was common for the CPU in machines of that era to interact heavily with the Floppy Controller during the I/O process: listening for the sync hole (a real hole in the floppy), driving the stepper motor, transferring bytes, intra-sector timings, stop/start bits, etc. All of which could be further impacted by the system clocks and even the memory wait states used in that particular machine.

      There were many early "homebuilt" CP/M machine from sources like HeathKit, Northstar, etc, so there could

  • to Majel Barrett.
  • ...ASCII porn. They think. It's really hard to tell.

  • Mostly featuring green-skinned Orion slave girls, with the occasional Tellarite orgy thrown in.

  • I respect Gene Roddenberry, but for all the good he did for Star Trek, everything he did wasn't always good or right. To be very blunt, The Next Generation got a lot better when his declining health limited his tinkering with the show. The seasons where he had the most influence on the show, seasons one and two, were the worst ones for the show. Gates McFadden has stated in recent years that she was fired outright at the end of season one over complaints about the sexism in the scripts. Even Patrick St
    • Don't forget about Wesley Crusher.
    • by imidan ( 559239 )

      Even Patrick Stewart has stated that he thought the season one scripts were too sexist and that he and other cast members were shocked when she was fired.

      I mean, seriously, what was with those miniskirts? Women go to space in the future but constantly have to worry about their space miniskirt riding up more than half an inch and showing their underwear? Maybe Sirtis' ghastly lavender jumpsuit was engineered to keep her legs warm. Costume budgets being as they were, they had to leave a lot off the necklin

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        Miniskirts were the fashion back in the 1960's, wanted by customers of the fashion designers.

    • Roddenberry was progressive for the 1960's. But a lot of this is rather conservative for the 1980s and 1990's.
      Star Trek trying to keep with Roddenberry ideals gets more and more dated.
      While they appear to be utopian, it requires cultures to change and I can't see such changes happening smoothly or not having repercussions in the future.
      If we Get rid of Religion, money, and everyone lives for the betterment of society then we will have a happy world... This is bogus.
      1. Religion: This is actually not really

      • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @06:05PM (#51244235) Homepage Journal

        2. Money: Ok we may not need money, but some form of system to make sure the population is doing things that are needed to be done. Jobs that are in shortage but high demand get paid more. Jobs which can be easily filled and are not needed much get paid less. With no incentive people will tend to trend towards the jobs they want to do. So we get a lot of bad poets and street musicians.

        This was kind of the point though. Automation had progressed to the point that nobody had to work if they didn't want to, or they could be street musicians and still have a good life.

        Obviously it's not completely post-scarcity. Not everybody can have their own Galaxy class starship, or their own planet, etc... But it's more like a souped up socialist paradise where everybody has a guaranteed minimum quality of life and if they want to improve their life they can but if they don't then they won't starve to death or freeze or even have to worry about money. There are no shitty jobs, they've all been automated or replaced by replicators.

    • I thought most of the Season 1 scripts were Phase 2 scripts that were dusted off, so that seems an odd claim. I agree that the first two seasons were pretty blah in comparison to the middle years, when the show hit its stride. I don't recall anything overtly sexist, save perhaps for Riker's alpha male swagger, but I'm assuming that was because they wanted some sort of James T. Kirk in the show. I do remember Data bedding one of his ship mates, maybe that's what they're talking about.

      In reality, Roddenberry

      • by dissy ( 172727 )

        I don't recall anything overtly sexist, save perhaps for Riker's alpha male swagger, but I'm assuming that was because they wanted some sort of James T. Kirk in the show. I do remember Data bedding one of his ship mates, maybe that's what they're talking about.

        There is a lot of really horrible season 1 episodes with things like sexism and racism taken to extremes.

        The ep you are thinking of was "The Naked Now", although that script was a direct copy from the original series ep "The Naked Time", so I can understand your conclusion regarding having a Kirk figure in TNG.

        <enable-nerd level='high'>

        But there was also "Justice", a planet of nearly naked people who spend most of their time "playing at making love" (although also attempting to punish Wesley with deat

  • Wasn't JMS (of Babylon 5 fame) in a similar boat last year? ISTR a tweet offering $500 for a drive that would read his ancient pre-DOS floppies. (Probably pretty lowball)

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @03:15PM (#51243131)

    Or as Popular Science once speculated, a patent for a transporter?

    You have a tight budget and a bare 50 minutes to tell your story. Landing the big ship [miniature sets, props and puppetry] will take time and money you don't have. Teleportation is a dirt cheap effect trivially easy to stage that saw its first use in silent films.

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Basically they didn't want to have to lug that full size shuttle model out into the desert constantly.
  • I'm still not clear on what the summary means when it says "When Gene Roddenberry's computer died, it took with it the only method of accessing some 200 floppy disks of his unpublished work." Is there some reason someone couldn't read these disks on another CP/M machine? I'm pretty sure that operating system wasn't a homebrew project of Roddenberry's...

  • The sum total of my intellectual property is a somewhat popular Warcraft UI and a few websites (so basically, jack shit), and even I have that data spread across a few different backup mediums. If I had anything even remotely as valuable to fans as pretty much ANYTHING Roddenberry made I'd probably have it in multiple safety deposit boxes in different timezones. How could he let that happen?
    • The sum total of my intellectual property is a somewhat popular Warcraft UI and a few websites (so basically, jack shit), and even I have that data spread across a few different backup mediums. If I had anything even remotely as valuable to fans as pretty much ANYTHING Roddenberry made I'd probably have it in multiple safety deposit boxes in different timezones. How could he let that happen?

      Remember that you are talking about a period in time before making backups in case of loss was a thing with the consumer. Also, keep in mind that the idea of copies would be foreign in this time to a lot of writers. Many would type up their manuscripts and papers and then send the only copy in to a publisher with the expectation of it being mailed back if not accepted. Hemingway lost a lot of his work when his wife lost a suitcase carrying a great deal of his stuff. I was in a writer seminar with Harlan Ell

  • Locating a DOS machine with a floppy disk from 25 years ago shouldn't be hard, locating a CP/M machine from 26 years ago can't be that difficult.
    I had to walk 3 feet to get those 2 machines and I'm just a hoarder, no specialist.
    And the tools to inspect and fix damaged floppies are still on it, after all, lots of games used damaged parts for copy protection in those days.

  • "a few of the disks were formatted in DOS, but most of them were from an older operating system called CP/M. CP/M, or Control Program for Microcomputers, was a popular operating system of the 1970s and early 1980s that ultimately lost out to Microsoft's DOS.

    I must have gone to the wrong site. This can't be Slashdot.

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