Tape Replacement Therapy

By Chris Chadwick

Originally published in EUG #40

Thanks for your response to my letter in EUG #39 where I rambled on about leaving EUG. Not your fault but I have to reclaim the space for baby Chadders due in January.

Still, it gives me the opportunity to ramble on a bit more.

I shall miss the old Elk. I owe it a great deal. I can't honestly say I would never have dragged myself out of the rut I was in without it but it was all so much easier. I say this because next week marks my ten years in the IT business (If you noticed the bunting and balloons going up in your street, it's nothing to do with me!). During that time the technology has changed almost unrecognisably, and I say this well aware that the real change was during the fifties, sixties and seventies. By comparison things have been pretty stable since the introduction of mainstream personal computing in the early eighties. Nevertheless, things are still jumping (Chips will probably be replaced by spheres within the foreseeable future and no I'm not talking rubbish!) and it's an exciting business to be in. Thank you BBC and Acorn Electron! Although hopeleslly out of date, I'm convinced it still has a use for those wanting to learn the fundamentals of programming and computer innards and works.

I've decided I can't leave without recounting my latest experiences from the whacky world of consumer goods. Brought about by reflections upon the humble cassette, the only universal data storage system for 8 bit Acorns. They're everywhere, and have astounded hi-fi buffs with the way a system designed for lo-fi office dictation became a near top of the shop hi-fi fixture by overcoming its essentially lo-fi qualities of narrow tape and slooow speed. Same goes for computer tapes of course.

Have you heard of Mini-Disk? This is, and was, the latest attempt by whoever it is who wants to do this sort of thing to shift us from our beloved cassette, and we Brits and particularly struck with the chewy tapey cheapy crunchy Philips music cassette. Its greatest benefit for me is providing a cheap entry route to new music. Do I know I'd like Borodin? Why not buy a cassette for a fiver and find out on the way to work instead of lashing out fifteen quid and wait until I'm home?

For some time the cassette catalogue in shops has been reducing. I haven't picked up any lessening of sales - just the record companies and shops trying to ween their customers off the last non-digital format.

Various systems of affordable recordables have been foisted on the public and all thrown back with narey a sneer. Including the digital cassette that could play analogue cassettes. The manufacturers of Mini-Disk (MD, get used to it) have persisted however and the breakthrough has been achieved. A year ago, in the middle of another TV ad campaign for MD with a big splash in Dixons, I popped into the HMV next door and asked "Have you got any pre-recorded mini disks?"

"Are you from Mars?"

So not yet, not there then.

A couple of months ago, one of those decadent and exotically paid computer consultants that haunt my business began working with me. He said he had mini disk, yes he liked it, and yes prerecorded material was very hard and expensive to come by, but the blanks were common enough which is really what he wanted. Yes, they were re-recordable and no, they wouldn't always play on other people's players.

Last week I thought I'd try the MD search again. Dixons have nothing in the window but they do have a large display instore, including a factomation pamphlet culled from a slightly disreputable mens' magazine for extra laddish cred, and an accompanying rack of pre-recorded MDs. Next door in HMV they no longer think I'm from Mars and have a decent display of MDs. This is the same introductory route enjoyed by CDs back in the eighties. As yet there is no Beatles catalogue on MD, and the classical selection looked pretty minimal. I've a hunch the next 'new' release from the fabs will come out first on MD to give it that sales kick. Whether that will say more about the feebleness of the material or the desperation of the MD pushers can be decided at the time. I won't be joining in. I'm waiting for recordable CDs. And solid state players of course.

Christopher Chadwick, EUG #40