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9-Track Open Reel Tape Production Ends This Year 245

Robogeek writes: "eMag, the last maker of 9-track open-reel tapes, has announced that it will cease production of the product in 2002. The full story is here. The end of an era. We just packed up and shipped off our last 9-track mainframe drive for scrap. The thing was the size of a refrigerator, but when we had a bank of 9 of them going full-blast it sure gave the place a cool sci-fi feel. No more spin-spin, whir-whir... (sigh) 'Please stop, Dave. My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it ...'"
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9-Track Open Reel Tape Production Ends This Year

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  • Ever load a 9 track mag tape?

    I was actually using one in 1994, mailing houses apparently bought address lists on 9 track tape.
    • Ever load a 9 track mag tape?

      Does "LOAD TAPE" or "@load" or somesuch count?

      (it's been so damn long that I can't remember the command. I do know that I used to be a wizard at EBCDIC->ASCII and block conversions, though.)

      (*used* to be. the things I've forgotten...*sigh*)
    • Who hasn't? Of course, the autoloaders helped, but I've dealt with those that needed to be hand threaded too...
    • by gregor-e ( 136142 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:51PM (#2811116) Homepage
      Mag Tape? You young whippersnappers had it easy! You ever have to toggle in a bootstrap loader, then read a core loader from paper tape? Them were the days, I tell ya. Men were men, and bits were things ya could hold in yer hand! (I think I still have a bag of bits somewhere in my basement...)
      • Is that you, Mel? [astrian.net]
      • Everytime an old technology dies out or is retired, we have this pissing game on /. to see who is the geekiest, the most senior, the oldest, the longest beard, etc.

        Poor people who grew up with the boring DOS have no interesting story, I guess. There's a gap of one generation of people who grew up with the mainframe, and those who grew up with Linux. Now, those who grew up with DOS, what are you gonna do?
        • Why bragging about getting a 2 meg memory upgrade for the XT of course...

          yes yes I know some of you THINK it can't be done but that's what the EMS standard was originally for.

          Why they ever emulated the XT memory upgrade interface on the 386 is beond me.
        • No there's some goodies you can tall-tale about.

          "The real DOS programmers use 'COPY CON FILENAME.EXE" for example.

          Or one that happened to me - talking a (l)user over the phone through using edlin to configure kermit as a terminal program for a user on Win 3.1 over a DOS version too old to have EDIT.EXE (what was that, DOS 3.3?)

          Naturally, for sake of Murphy as well as bonus points, I hadn't touched edlin for some 3 years before that call.

          I don't know whether to scream or pat my back on that one.
      • Bag of bits, heck I've got a bucket I've been tossing bits into for years. For some reason it never seems to get full though.

        Couldn't resist.
      • Heh, you laugh. The first useful program I wrote in my life was a bootstrap loader for the PDP-8. You toggled in a few instructions that loaded the loader, then the program from paper tape. DEC's format split 12 bit words into two 6 chunks leaving two bits on the tape unused (one bit was used as a "change address" flag). They'd distribute programs in one long stream with a checksum at the end. TTY 33 tape readers are slow (10 CPS) and unreliable, so after spending 10 minutes loading a program frequently you'd get a checksum error.

        My format was a lot nicer, using all 8 bits (shorting load time) and breaking things up into blocks of 256 words, each with a checksum. If you got a checksum error you only had to back up one block rather than reload the whole damned program.

        Getting this to work was one of the things that made me realize that writing software was what I wanted to do for a living.

        I was in High School and the machine was a PDP-8/S (serial, 36 usecs to add two numbers) that travelled around between several schools, staying several weeks in one place and used to teach programming.

        Most of the PDP-8 world used either reliable high-speed (300 CPS) optical paper tape readers, DECtape, or disks. 32 KW head-per-track drives, oh boy! or the RF08 that was 256 KW? something gigantic like that. We had one at the local science museum that died one day when a water-filled exhibit on the floor above dropped its load and gave the drive a shower.
    • by Ommadawn ( 5636 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:20PM (#2811329) Homepage Journal
      in 1981, I was a tape ape for a company that developed credit union software before i became a tape ape at an automotive manufacturer on old Data General and DEC stuff.. remember:

      - putting the little silver part on the tape a few feet down so that we could test multiple tape logic

      - carrying a whole bunch of tapes on your arm so you looked like the michelin man

      - playing ring toss with the write rings

      - trying to get all the colors of the olympic logo in write rings!!

      - speculating what sized building you could wrap a mag tape around (we never got around to seeing if it would make it around the Pontiac Silverdome)

      - tex wipes: you could take anything off of anything with these things.. too bad they had CFC's in them.

      - When my direct deposit arrived at the credit union, it had exactly one record on it because I was the only person who worked where i did who had an account at that credit union.

      - manually threading.. what fun!!

    • In 1996 when I started collecting mp3 files I very quickly hit the 50Mb quota at our Unis computer society. I didn't want to erase files and since the CD-writer was booked for the next week I had to backup my mp3's to tape.. :) .. Thus I learned the true purpose of the tar command.. I later continued using the tapes for backup and storage since hardly anyone used them. I had to go from the terminal room [ludd.luth.se] to where the tape device [ludd.luth.se] was: in the serverroom [ludd.luth.se] which was deep down in the basement of the Uni.. :) .. Those were _those_ days..
  • Damn! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rayonic ( 462789 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:37PM (#2810987) Homepage Journal
    Just after I bought a 9-track player for my car!
  • by JoeBuck ( 7947 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:37PM (#2810992) Homepage

    In the mid-80s, 9-track tape was pretty much the standard medium used to archive data. That's what Henry Spencer used, for example, to save the Usenet traffic of the 80s. I wonder how much history will be lost as all these tapes become unreadable.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, let's hope that those people who have history on a 9-track transfer it to some form of optical storage.
    • Apparently, eMag has a 9-track retirement program [emaglink.com] for it's customers to use. Let's hope nothing important gets lost in the process.
    • well, given that Google has just put all of that stuff onto their site [google.com], I'm guessing that it won't be much of an issue. ;)

      But seriously, just because the medium is no longer manufactured doesn't mean that all the machines to READ the 9-track tape are going away. There are still 8 track tape decks in service, despite the fact that it's probably been over 15 years since an 8 track tape (or deck!) was made...
      • Tapes need to be cycled every few years in order to reliably retain data.

        This is why NASA is having difficulty holding on to data... by the time a dataset is archived, it needs to be transferred to a new tape!
    • It is the tape that they manufacture not the tape drive. You don't need to buy new tape to read 20 year old tapes. You don't need new tape to even transcribe the data. Not much risk of historical loss.
    • TCFS (Score:3, Interesting)

      The folks that used to run ITS have been looking at the issue; see Tape Archiving Using the Time Capsule File System [mit.edu]

      Presumably Henry Spencer (or others at utzoo or elsewhere) could use something like this to bundle up tapes of somewhat more modern provenance...

    • First, e-mag made the tape, not the drives. But if they are no longer selling enough tape to justify keeping a production line going, I think the drives must have been out of production for a few years already. The drives are big, sturdy, industrial quality equipment; with a little maintenance they are probably good for 20 to 30 years, IF you can manage to keep interfacing them to newer computers. But I'd expect most of them to be over 15 years old already.

      Second, magnetic tape deteriorates with age. The base material gets brittle. The magnetic patterns slowly demagnetize, and also can "print through" to the next layer of tape.

      Brittleness can be delayed by proper storage (controlled humidity and temperature) plus winding the tape onto a new spool every two or three years. These tapes were relatively low density, with big and heavily magnetized areas, so demagnetization and print through affect them more slowly than most formats. But I think that after 10 or 15 years, they are overdue to be copied to something else.

      E-mag does have a "datalink" service doing that -- or, it can take data in more modern formats and mail it out on 9-track, if you've got customers that still need it. But it is _really_ time to replace the 9-track drives and copy the data to new media. Someday any format you pick will go obsolete too and make more business for e-mag's service... They seem to favor "3408" whatever that is (another tape format?), but I'd suggest using a very good CD-R if you don't want to go through this again too soon. You can be pretty sure that the data on a good CD-R will survive for longer than drives are made, and that will be a few decades. That is, many DVD drives are backwards compatible to read CD-R's, and when they replace DVD's, the best of the new drives will still be backwards compatible all the way to CD-R's. Note that drives that could read 5-1/4 360K floppy disks hit the market about 1981, 360K/1.2M drives were standard equipment for drive B in 1991, and I doubt they are entirely out of production even now. The 3-1/2 1.44M drives are going to exceed 15 years on the market. But those were never consumer products; CD's are, so replacing them will take much longer.
  • Now the PDP-8 in my Basement with 9-Track tape is gonna become a valuable antique (har!) Ah, well...
    I keep hoping...
  • Memories (Score:3, Informative)

    by alsta ( 9424 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:38PM (#2810998)
    I remember having to use cotton swabs and alcohol to clean the heads of those things every few days. Other than that, they were pretty sturdy. I can't think of one 8mm drive that has lasted as long as one of our recently retired 9-track machines did.

    They don't make 'em as they used to anymore, son.
  • I've used them (Score:3, Informative)

    by renehollan ( 138013 ) <rhollan AT clearwire DOT net> on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:38PM (#2811002) Homepage Journal
    ...waaay back in 1979-1981

    I even remember older 7 track tapes, and going from 1600 bpi (bits per inch) to 6250 bpi. I may still have a copy of my Masters' thesis lying around on one (in a proprietary mark-up format: Formal (Hi AJWM!)). Fat lot of good it does.

  • Oops.. 9 track. I thought it was 8 track! I was worried about what I was going to do with my great 70's classic rock. The 8 track still works great in my Pinto with a speaker in front and a speaker in back. Don't scare us like that next time!
  • Wow, 9-track tapes. That takes me back. I remember getting a job at Motorola when I got out of school, back in '93. I thought 9-track tapes were old THEN. I am actually surprised that it took this long for them to stop being produced. What a cumbersome mess. I got pretty good at spooling them up though. It is amazing how far we have come since then as far as portable storage goes. But then again, I have more memory on my machine than my first computer had in hard drive space. (by a long shot)
    • But then again, I have more memory on my machine than my first computer had in hard drive space. (by a long shot)

      Heh. I have more L1 cache than my first machine had external storage.

      • by Amazing Quantum Man ( 458715 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:45PM (#2811065) Homepage
        Your first machine had external storage? We had to have the machine electrically shock people to write things down on paper to store them. And we were glad to have it too... you kids with your new-fangled...
  • I have a room full of them! They're for historical purposes, but up until 4 months ago, one customer still sent us data pulls from their mainframe on them. I'm *STILL* in the process of archiving the remaining reel tapes onto Mammoth-2 cartridges.
  • by pantaz ( 316654 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:41PM (#2811032)
    We've got customers still sending us data on 9-track. Guess they'll be stocking up!
  • by Pope ( 17780 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:42PM (#2811036)
    With the 20th Anniversary release of Tron on DVD, we can look back longingly on the days when one could slip through a major computer facility and evade the security guards by hiding behind the banks of 9 track tape machines and disk platters.

  • by Old time hacker ( 302793 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:42PM (#2811043)
    I have a bunch of old 9-track tapes that have potentially useful data on them. I guess I had better get moving on converting them to something more readable. Now I need to find somebody with a 9-track tape drive!

    On topic: I can recall using magnetic powder sprinkled on tapes to see where the block gaps were. Then you could use a ruler to measure the size of the blocks, and convert to byte (by multiplying by the density). This gave you a head start in getting the JCL DD statement right for the tape. FB/80/800!
    • Got one. We in fact still use it <gasp!>

      We do a lot of work with state and federal governments and they still use them so we have to sometimes as well. In fact, we're working on a project right now with a state agency and the only common format they can provide us data on (that we can read) is 9-track. They have newer cartridges but we've already got the 9-track in use and don't see much point in buying a new drive to read the cartridges from their mainframes.

      They've already told us that next year, however, we'll have to find a different way because they're finally retiring their 9-tracks.

      I said, "Can't you just burn the data onto CD-Rs for us?"
      • And they couldn't burn the data onto CD-R's? What retards. Oh yeah, it's the government we're talking about here. Some 60 year old senator who knows nothing about computer technology probably passed a law that said they had to use 9-track tapes.

        • Some 60 year old senator who knows nothing about computer technology probably passed a law that said they had to use 9-track tapes.

          More likely somebody got a tax cut by slashing the technology budget for the agency. I work for a small non-profit and we upgrade our hardware and software more often than some of the government agencies we work with.

        • We aren't talking about peecees, monkey boy.
    • If you've got a budget for the data conversion, follow the link in the article to E-mag. They do conversion too. In fact, it looks like they're counting on getting _more_ conversion business from this!
  • I used these tapes as far back as 1996. We finally got rid of the last two units we had when our system (a custom-built satellite telemmetry station) was upgraded to DAT.

    Funny thing is that the DAT decks were not more reliable than the old tape drives they replaced. Much faster and less annoying, sure, but no better in terms of reliability.

    We still kept another tape drive, that one seemed to be at least 12" in diameter. It was hell to mount because both spools mounted on a bayonet mount coaxially!
  • 2001 Metaphor (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Freshly Exhumed ( 105597 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:43PM (#2811056) Homepage
    Irwin Allen's "Time Tunnel" would have been a more appropriate shtick for big old tape drives than Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" but thanks for the chuckle. The Time Tunnel's giant, multi-storeyed cavern of spinning tapes and blinking lights with scores of techs running around with clipboards in their white lab coats was enough to get me past the lame scripts (none of which I remember). Back to the real discussions.
    • Funny you mention Irwin Allen. I'm working on an "Irwin Allen" face for my PC.
      I got to reels from an old tape player, and they move back and forth when the HD is hit. its still got glitches.
      If I could only get it to shoot out sparks my system crashes...
  • by SirStanley ( 95545 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:44PM (#2811064) Homepage
    I guess now I can finally convince my boss to let me upgrade our IT Department
  • by dozing ( 111230 )
    Back when I was about 12 my dad brought one of the tapes home from work and I unwound it all through the house for hours. Mom wasn't too thrilled and made me clean it up. But it sure was fun...
  • by Meowing ( 241289 )

    Hm, this story again.

    Aren't these guys [imation.com] still making their own tapes?

    • I work for a school board association and handle unemployment compensation data for them. There are still many school districts out there that use those Imation tapes. We've been banging the, "Get on the Net, dammit!" drum for a while, but holdouts continue to remain.
  • Now if we could just get rid of floppies it would be a perfect world.

  • by grub ( 11606 )

    I hope you offloaded all the ASCII pr0n before trashing your tapes. :)
  • by Howie ( 4244 )
    didn't HAL store things on those funky glass-like blocks, anyway? It's been a while since I saw 2001
  • .. cause it looks like even the low budget sci-fi production firms have stopped calling for more in-the-background wall-decoration.

    Now's the time to invest in the christmas light and plasterboard companies ...
  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter AT earthlink DOT net> on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @02:54PM (#2811135) Journal
    Tape Librarians Will Mount Anything
  • Imagine if those folks had waited another year or two before recovering those tapes ...
  • by Kenja ( 541830 )
    Now where will I get a replacment copy of KC and the SunShine Band..... Oh wait, 9 track? Never mind then.
  • by jelson ( 144412 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:01PM (#2811184) Homepage
    Please, say it isn't so! Say that 9-track tapes will still be available from somewhere! They are so useful for getting in trouble with the police!

    I love 9-track tapes: it makes me feel like I'm a member of the old school when using them. Back in college, every other month, I'd stop by my University's mainframe center. They had a stack of retired 9-tracks there that said "Take One", and I'd help myself. I actually backed up some of my old mail onto one of them, using the CS department's old drive. But one day, my life changed. Someone told me that 9-track tapes are made with Kevlar: that's some tough-ass stuff, it is. My job was clear.

    At the time, I was living on the 4th (top) floor of a U-shaped dorm, with about 100 feet between the "prongs". I lived at one edge, and as luck would have it, my best friend lived in the other prong. So, of course, we decided that we needed a tape wire running over the street from my window to his. 9-track should be perfect, right? After all, we did have about 6000 feet of it. And it's so strong and light. What could go wrong?

    I gave my friend one reel, and I kept the other. 3AM on a Tuesday arrives. Our third accomplice, a friend of ours named Zaki, goes down to the street. My friend and I, in our windows, unreel enough tape that it reaches the ground, where Zaki grabs one end, hauls it over to the other end, and ties them together. My friend starts pulling up, and the tape began to rise ever so majectically over the street. It was a beautiful site.... until....

    "What are you doing?" a cop's voice suddenly boomed, approaching Zaki, who was helplessly watching the tape rise above his head.

    "Uh... just, uh.. running a little tape wire here, sir," he said, with surprising sincerity. The wire was now about at the level of the 3rd floor as my friend continued reeling it in.

    "And what are you going to do when that falls, and hits someone in the head?" the cop inquired. Though not as politely as this text might suggest.

    As if on cue, the tape became taut -- my friend had reeled in his side completely. It was at that moment that I realized that Zaki's tape attachment skills should not have been trusted. (After all, I'm the one who owns the Ashley Book of Knots [amazon.com] - it should have been my job.) Yes, that's right: the tape came apart. My friend's side was safely in his apartment. But my side? Oh no. It was fluttering down towards the street, right towards the heads of Cop and Zaki, who were intently discussing the merits of the project.

    I turned from the window - in a complete panic - and began RUNNING, tape reel in hand, as fast as I could through the apartment! Through the living room, through the corridor, past the kitchen and another corrdidor - with the tape trailing behind me. Finally, I reached my bedroom, and with no where left to run I started spinning in circles as fast as I could, wrapping the tape around me. When I finally fell onto by bed, dizzy, I could only hope that enough tape had been taken in through the window to avoid A Scene.

    Luckily, it was. Like I said, that tape is strong.

    So let this be a lesson to those of you still in college: use the back windows that face the alley, instead.

  • by Average_Joe_Sixpack ( 534373 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:01PM (#2811188)
    If only the vacuum tube manuf. would go under ...
  • I've still an old concurrent machine that uses these. I've been trying to kill it for years. One more nail in the coffin!
  • Uh-oh.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by r_j_prahad ( 309298 ) <`r_j_prahad' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:09PM (#2811241)
    We have a problem. Need to forward this story to my boss, Mr. Nine-Track-Will-Be-Around-Forever guy.
  • Memories! Misty.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by handorf ( 29768 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:09PM (#2811246)
    Wow... This brings back the memories.

    At my first real employer in technology, we were nice and up to date... 4mm DAT for all our backups.

    Except... we interfaced with some companies in the healthcare industry. All of their data came in on 9-Track.

    Everyone else had a great deal of difficulty making the tape drive read some of the various formats and work out the bpi and character formats on our flukey old 9-track drive... except me. I was the 9-Track Wizard. Give me the tape and I could get the data off. Reel bent in the mail? No problem. Cut tapes? Bring it on...

    I even got the responsibility for blanking out the tapes. I had to write a nice little program to write prime numbers to the tapes in order to have some nice random data.

    Ah, those were the days, years ago. All gone now.

    I'll miss you, little 9-track.

  • .. the stone tablet has been retired. When asked God said "all new communication will be via post-it notes"
  • 5.25" Disks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by singularity ( 2031 ) <nowalmart.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:12PM (#2811263) Homepage Journal
    I came across an old stash of 5.25" disks from my first Apple //c (1984 or so). After seeing this article, I went and did a search to see if anyone was still making those, as well.

    Imation and Maxell, at least, are still producing them.

    http://www.intimecatalog.com/supplies/DISKETTES_ MA XELL.phtml

    Any guesses when those will stop being produced?
  • Many companies still use 9 tracks (I work for the phone company) to transfer data around. We also do NDM and cartridges. Hopefully this will make them modernize their equipment.
  • ...they have announced a new technology which can fit 720 kilobytes of data onto an item called a floppy disk
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:18PM (#2811315)
    Back in the Navy, 73-76, we regularly dumped old tapes, and I found two ways more fun (and more time away from the chiefs!). One way: run off a hundred or two feet, hold on to the end, and spin the reel with the rest of the tape off the fantail -- mighty spin, so it unwound as it flew backwards. When it hit the water, it would unwind more, and you were left with a 1000 foot ribbon floating in the air from your hand. Let it go, and watch it slowly drift down.

    Other way was slide it down a swab handle, spin off enough tape to reach the water, and sooner or later the water would get a good hold of it and start unwinding it. You held the swab handle with both hands, being damned sure to keep the spinning reel centered, because it would give you a good burn it was spinning so fast. Eventually all the tape was in the water, at which time you flipped the swab handle up and away so the empty reel spun off like a frisbee, much faster than any mere hand spin could do.

    Yeh, probably not a reel (sic) environmentally friendly way to dump them, but it gave the Soviet trawlers something to watch.
  • by Jack William Bell ( 84469 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:29PM (#2811399) Homepage Journal
    Many years ago I worked as a programmer/analyst on a very large mainframe accounting system. One set of programs that I was maintaining did a monthly reconciliation from history and posted beginning balances. The code (COBOL of course - shudder) had originally been written in the 1970's and worked quite well, but was rather obfuscated.

    Suddenly we started having a problem with one particular set of accounts, the amounts being posted were coming out wrong by a significant margin. But the problem made no sense because no other accounts were affected and I couldn't find a bug in the code that would do this. After several months of this (and my boss coming down on my neck) I decided to go down to the computer center and watch the process run in person.

    I know. I know. Going to the watch a program run should make no difference at all. But I was getting desparate!

    So I am sitting in a room half the size of a football field, full of hulking mainframe equipment, watching while the operators fetch and load the nine-track tapes containing the accounting history for that year. About fifteen minutes into the process one of the tape drives started 'hiccuping'. It would advance, backup, advance, backup over and over. Then one of the operators went up to it, stopped it, opened the glass cover, advanced the tape by hand, closed the cover and restarted it.

    I nearly fell out of my shoes. I then asked what the hell he thought he was doing? "Oh, we have problems with that tape all the time, so we just turn it past the problem!"

    Turns out the tape had a bad spot. If the operator had left it alone it would have timed out and we would have gotten a console error. Instead the operator would hand-turn it past the bad spot and the way the tape blocks were written to tape allowed it to actually continue from that point.

    So I created a new tape from the backup; problem solved and my boss was happy with me. No the operator wasn't fired, but they did do some 're-training'. The accountants were still pissed anyway, but they always seemed to have a bug up their butts.

    Me, I felt like a gawdamn Sherlock Holmes...

    Jack William Bell, who did his time in the COBOL mines and is *never* going back...
    • I'm reminded of Warren Beatty's story about the sound track in Bonnie and Clyde. One of Beatty's favorite movies was Shane, and he copied various technical tricks from that movie, including the startling sound effect used for gunshots. At the premier, Beatty was dismayed to find that this sound effect wasn't coming through. He rushed up to the booth, and found the projectionist standing with one hand on the volume knob, so he could turn down the sound every time a gun went off. The projectionist turned to him and said, "You got a real problem with this sound track. I haven't seen one so screwed up since Shane!"
  • by The Wing Lover ( 106357 ) <awh@awh.org> on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:33PM (#2811423) Homepage
    Thought I'd share a useless, though maybe interesting, use of the plastic write-enable rings that used to come on 9-track tapes (little plastic rings about 4" in diameter).

    It's a Christmas (er, I mean Unnamed Holiday) tradition in our family to "play rings". Basically, about 25 years ago, my Dad managed to get hold of a big box of plastic write-enable rings. So, we put a target (like a beer bottle, or a toilet plunger, or anything else that is skinny and stands up) in the middle of the room and throw rings at it. There are enough rings for everyone to have a good 50-60 of them.

    Of course, what invariably happens is that someone ends up accidentally hitting someone else, sparking a huge ring fight with everyone trying to bean everyone else. The room always ends up covered in rings, and when anyone runs out of rings, they have to go gather up used ones from the floor, which always leads to them getting pelted with more of the things as other family members see an easy target.

    It'll be sad to see these stop being produced, even if my only involvment with them had absolutely nothing to do with "the good old days of computing".
  • by Zenjive ( 247697 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:35PM (#2811444) Homepage
    was to go to the various data-centers for oil companies, etc. around town and load up my truck with boxes of these tapes. Then I would drive back to the office, unload them and take a rag saturated with some Evil Orange Crap(tm) and wipe it all over the labels on the reels. This stuff would soak into the paper labels and soften the glue, but not before it has caused severe drying and burns on my hands.

    Once the reels soaked long enough, I would take a razor and start scraping the labels, also subjecting my hands to more EOC(tm) and possible razor cuts. Then I would have to clean the EOC(tm) off the tapes, which incidentally, the EOC(tm) can remove almost anything, but you can't remove the EOC(tm). then I would put the tapes into a machine that would basically do the equivalent of a low-level format and check for bad tracks/sectors.

    If a tape had fewer than x number of bad sectors, then it would be fit for resale. My boss would sell these tapes back to the same companies we bought them from for a few dollars less than they paid for them.

    Of course, this all came to an end when (a) people started switching to other backup media and (b) hard drives started getting cheaper.
    Needless to say, I was happy when we stopped refurbing the tapes. Hooray for their demise!!!!!
  • by irregular_hero ( 444800 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:40PM (#2811487)
    I'm sad to see that eMag is going to be ceasing production, but there are plenty of other sources out there for 9-track tape. Plenty of systems out there still use it (some of them in great quantity). One of the biggest consumers of 9-track is the hospital industry -- there's a good chance a portion, if not all, of your medical history is still shuttled around on 9-track. The place where I work now has a division that does nothing but take 9-track from state health insurance programs and hospitals and produce billing runs from them.

    That being said, if we're going to rid ourselves of 9-track for good, there's plenty of excellent fun to be had with it.

    One of the best uses for it is to use it to prevent someone from getting into something. To wit: get a friend to help you wrap the contents of a couple of reels around someone's car. Just pass the reel back and forth underneath the car and gradually work it backwards from about where the side mirrors are located. About 3 1000' reels is enough to completely cover the doors. Do it TIGHTLY, almost to the point where the tape breaks. Once you've got a good seal (you'll know you do when you release the ends of the tape and it doesn't move at all), you're done. Damn near impossible to remove easily, and even though the door handles will be accessible, it will take the friggin' Jaws of Life to open the doors. That tape is stronger than it looks.

    Another use for it is Christmas decoration. Pack away a couple of reels and use it like tinsel on your tree next year. Don't use it sparingly -- drape it on. It makes a lovely silvery-black tree.

    A friend of mine and I used to take a few reels up to the top of a very large hill and "race the reels." You've got to have a really LONG runour on the hill for this. All you have to do for this one is drop the reel on the ground, stand it upright, and pull as hard as you can on the loose tape end. Once the reel starts rolling down the hill, keep pulling steadily but back off a bit in speed. You'll find that the reel will speed up quite a bit as it unspools. In fact, they can get _deadly_ fast! Doing this trick with metal reels once caused one of them to imbed itself about an inch in a cinderblock wall at the end of the hill.

    Just my contribution to the end-of-life celebrations. :)
  • Sometimes there is a discussion around where I work about what are good interchange formats. We decided that 'god' owns drives for the following formats (this was a few years ago):

    800/1600/6250 bpi 9-track

    DC-300A tape cartridge

    1.44 3.5" floppy

    5.25" DS/DD floppy

    HP format 2gb DAT

    8mm Exabyte tape

    100mb Zip

    and now I'd probably add

    600mb CDR

    20gb/40gb DLT

    This becomes important because we were forever being asked which media we supported for interchange (people would send us 100mb things). "Oh, we have the ability to read all of the stuff god sends us..."

    -- Multics

    P.S. Oh, yeah god has retired only three media formats so far: 80-column punched cards, 8" SS SD floppy disks and of course paper tape (via his/her recently retired ASR-33 TTY)

    P.S.S. I'll be keeping my 9-track drive around until it dies. Never know when another 9-track tape needs to be dusted off and despooled. The final era of tape drives are painless, rackmountable, reliable, self-loading, and play well with others on a SCSI-2 bus.

  • See also (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ehintz ( 10572 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:45PM (#2811526) Homepage
    The Jargon file for some amusing historical perspective. Specifically, Walking Drives [tuxedo.org], and the 3rd example hack (the Xerox CP-V system) in Appendix A [tuxedo.org].
  • My favorite was our DEC TU16. It was frequently my job to run backups, using SAVER, and cleaning the vacuum chambers. It was kinda fun to wait while writing tapes with PIP or any of my various utilities and listen to the soft, gentle thup-thup, thip-thip as it loaded. Then the raspberry when it completely rewound tape and the trailing end flapped in the breeze in one of the vacuum chambers. Marvelous. DAT just isn't the same...
  • Yeah, my introduction to Unix was 4.2 BSD running on a Celerity 1260. We had a 9-track drive hooked up to it so that we could not only archive files at the incredible density of 1600 bpi, but also to transfer files from machines that did not have good IP connections back in 1985.

    When I moved locations, I brought my user directories with me, all 40 MB of them, on a reel of 9 track tape. Now, with disks as cheap as they are, I keep the compressed tar files as but a small portion of my multi-GB user directory and have scrapped the reel of tape.

    At the time, I felt the 9 track tapes were more reliable and portable than the new fangled 1/4-inch QIC drives that, for example, I had on a Sun 3/160.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @03:59PM (#2811629)

    9-track tapes are designed for long-term storage. You put your data on one of those, and if you follow the proper procedures for storing it and retensioning the tape every few years and so on, you can be pretty sure that the data will still be readable 30 years later. Even more important than long storage lifetime with appropriate maintenance is that the storage lifetime and required maintenance to achieve long lifetime are know and well-defined. That's a critical feature in some applications - important enough to make it worth dealing with the other less pleasant aspects of 9-track technology.

    On one of my co-op terms I copied a bunch of remote sensing data from 9-track to 8mm cartridges. I sure hope they kept the 9-track originals, because those will still be readable today. The 8mm tapes aren't - the stored data degrades after 5 to 10 years under the (admittedly non-optimal) conditions where we were using the tapes. CD-R is supposed to last for decades, but we don't know that it really does yet; there may be problems yet to be discovered with dyes fading, drives spinning discs too fast so that they break (52x CD-ROM drives have been observed to do that), or drives becoming unavailable because they've all been replaced with "secure" audio media For The Artists' Protection.

    That scientific data will still be valuable to researchers for at least a hundred years. My ex-employers can re-copy it if necessary, but they don't have the budget to do that very often, and they want to be very sure that they know exactly how often it has to be re-copied to maintain a specified level of reliability. Properly used 9-track archive tapes are acceptable in that application. I don't know of any other medium that is. So within a very limited field, 9-track appears to me to be state of the art today.

    I hope there's some acceptable replacement available today, or that there will be before the stocks of blank tapes run out.

  • by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2002 @06:13PM (#2812600) Journal
    If we ever get to the point where we need a new source for Soylent Green, we can just post that some obscure technology is dying, and kidnap everyone who pops out of the woodwork to reminisce about it!

    At least, that's how we used to do it. Ah, those were the days... hang on, someone's at the dooaaRRGH NO DON'T TURN ME INTO FOOD AGUUYTQOVU5q6ew765127 kqe =-;el2qr3k
  • An early CDC 9 track drive about the size of a refrigerator had a great party trick.

    Each drive had two reels and two columns to maintain slack when the the tape reels reversed or stopped. When a column loaded you got a loud, satisfying PHONKKK as the vacuum pulled the loop of tape to the bottom of the column.

    Each drive had two manual feed buttons to spin the tape in one direction, or the other.

    And no interlock.

    So all you had to do was load a tape (it was traditional to find a fellow graduate student with thesis data on tape, and do a quick swap with a scratch tape).

    Load the tape.

    Then press both buttons at once, listen to the PHONKS, watch the reels spin madly, stretching the tape to a tiny thread until it broke, provoking another round of PHONKS.

    and listen for the scream.

    I believe CDC added an interlock

  • UNIVAC tape (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday January 10, 2002 @12:54AM (#2814764) Homepage
    I still have a reel of UNIVAC UNISERVO I tape. It's a half-inch steel band (none of that fragile oxide-coated plastic stuff), 8 track (6 data, one parity, one clock) 50bpi, 2400', 10.5" open reel with aluminum sides. Has useful data on it, too.

    If there was a drive left anywhere that could read it, it would probably read OK, 35 years after it was written.

  • Not so fast (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zooker ( 463103 )
    Qualstar (the company I work for) still makes 9-track drives. Now you can relax (at least for a few more months until we stop as well). Apparently, the last manufacturer of 9-track tape heads is out of business and so no one can buy the heads anymore. We were going to stop anyway due to declining business, but no heads made it sooner. There are many companies that transcribe tapes from 9-track for a living, so your collection can still be retrieved for a price!

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