Monday, January 14, 2008


Anyone remember this phrase? It seems to have fallen out of favor lately. For those too young or not nerdy enough, its the practice of physically transporting storage media. Originally floppies, but I spent a lot of time driving SyQuest platters and other stuff around town. It was really the only way to do things when computer networks were poor, not well-interconnected, or nonexistent. A lot of time was spent walking (and mailing) disks about when I installed PhoneNet network at my first job. It was revolutionary, but still too slow for most file transfer. I was just thinking that sneakernet seems to be rather back in vogue now. I get or give flash drive data constantly. All sorts of folks travelling or serving overseas send camera or other media back home. Packet sizes have gone up (my free promotional thumbdrive is 2GB, or 46 times larger than my shockingly-large-at-the-time SqQuest) though speed is the same. But unlike the old days, no one really seems to be considering it as a formal transport method. And that leads to the real issue. By being an ad hoc network, little or no attention is paid to efficiency, load or the security of the network. For example, I have no idea where my thumbdrive is right this minute. And at least weekly there's a scandal where a government agency, bank or someone else looses a disk. Media these days is not routinely secured, data is not routinely encrypted, and nothing inserted into my computer is scanned to make sure its safe, all of which was pretty routine for transported physical media 20 years ago. I worked at a place in the early 90s that transported 9 track tape, among other things. With medical and financial records of people. I believe the data was encrypted in some manner (not sure, but I know we had to bring it into the host computer and process it before use, so I think so), it was transported in a big, red plastic case with a padlock (also kept it safer from EMI issues) and was moved by a medical courier service, with a well-tracked log and guarantees as to time-to-deliver. This procedure could not be violated; one time the tape wasn't ready when the courier left, and we couldn't just send some random employee out to deliver it. Why, despite our other paranoia, have we all become so complacent now, I wonder?

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