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Do you want a floppy disc to go with your eclipse?

The wacky world of IT

Do you want a floppy disc to go with your eclipse?

With the floppy disc seemingly soon to go the way of the dodo, another raft of floppy nostalgia plopped into our inbox this week. But in among the now familiar end-users-are-stupid stories, voices of dissent were to be heard.

Ledger White was prepared to stick his neck out to say that the stories made the IT departments involved look just as silly as the less-than-bright end-user.

"At the risk of incurring the wrath of an army of IT support types, I want to say that whenever I see an example of dimwittedness among IT users, my sympathies lie with the user," he said.

"After all, who was it who introduced the technology, yet failed miserably to complete the job properly with adequate training?"

Part two of Downtime's floppy tales is less contentious, we hope, consisting as it does of two nuggets of wisdom to get the most out of your almost-defunct flexible friends.

Sean Charles recalled his eureka moment when, as a much younger man, he owned an Atari 1050XL with a single floppy disc drive.

"Imagine my amazement on finding out that by punching a hole on the opposite side you could put the floppy in upside down and use the reverse side! I tried it, and it worked every time, despite cautionary tales about damage to the read/write heads by uncertified surfaces."

Charles said it was nothing short of "pure magic" getting twice the space for his cash. These days, of course, punching a hole in a USB stick is unlikely to yield a similar outcome, more's the pity.

Charles' tip is good, but the winning insight comes from Andrew Brown, who said, "My only lasting memory of the floppy is the from the 1999 total eclipse, when someone realised that the actual disc part could be used as makeshift sunglasses to view the event.

"I can still see all of the office stood out in the car park glaring up at the sky while holding a disc to each eye. Maybe that is what the floppy disc industry needs to maintain sales - more eclipses."

Dishing up cheap shots along with a nice lunch

Even Downtime is vaguely aware that the NHS National Programme for IT has had its problems, but we cannot condone last week's swipe at the agency in charge, Connecting for Health. The episode took place when lunch was served at the Eyeforhealth conference dedicated to the under-fire £12.4bn programme.

"Lunch will be served in the restaurant just adjacent to here," began the conference announcer.

"It will not be sponsored by Connecting for Health, so it should arrive on time. It should arrive in the right place and there should be more than just the low-calorie version available."

That is surely below the belt. Serving up a nice lunch is somewhat easier that serving up 50 million fully integrated, accurate electronic patient care records and lots else besides. Try getting all that down you without a bit of indigestion.

But what if you have to go four times a night?

Technology gets into some unexpected places, but it is surely rarely more welcome than when toilet trips are involved.

Downtime was hugely relieved to read this week that cons in 11 prisons can now take three computer-timed loo breaks a night rather than grapple with the grim business of "slopping out".

The system allows prisoners seven minutes for each visit, which should be long enough and presumably beats being escorted there by an irritating Mackay-type prison officer.


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