TOS Microtapes: help me settle a debate!

Discussion in 'Star Trek - Original Series' started by Mr Awe, Dec 12, 2012.

  1. Mr Awe

    Mr Awe Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    So, I'm having a silly debate about the microtapes on TOS. Those are the plastic, square things that Spock pushes into the computer.

    My take is that they're fairly equivalent to floppy discs. They could read and write, store data, etc.

    His take is that they're more equivalent to punch cards. They primarily supplied inputs to the computer.

    Who's right? And, which episodes more strongly support it? I'd like to be able to point to a specific episode as proof!

    Thanks!
     
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    We do know for a fact that data can be recorded on the tape cards; for instance, in "Wink of an Eye," Kirk records his message to Spock on a microtape and leaves it where Spock will find it. There's also Kirk's "last message" tape from "The Tholian Web." Earlier, in "Balance of Terror," we saw Uhura giving Spock a microtape containing the recording she'd just made of the transmission from the Romulan ship.

    Remember that at the time, computer data was stored on magnetic tape, which was why TOS so often referenced "data tapes" and the like. But that tape was stored on large reels, like on those old-timey computers you used to see in TV and movies. The microtapes were presumably meant to be a more compact form of computer tape, in the same way that audio cassette tapes, which were a brand new, cutting-edge technology at the time of TOS, were a more compact version of reel-to-reel audiotape. Basically the makers of TOS were combining the ideas of computer tape, audiotape, and videotape (which did exist at the time and was used in the TV industry) with the "futuristic" compactness of the audiocassette and projecting it forward to an even more compact tape cartridge.

    So both you and your friend are focusing on the wrong portions of the history of computer storage; punch cards were too early and floppy discs too late. They were extrapolating from the tape storage media that were standard at the time.

    (I'm reminded of the origin of the tricorder -- it was an extrapolation from the portable audiocassette recorders that were cutting-edge at the time, but with sensor and computer functions added on, hence a tri-function recorder. Audiocassettes are so quaint to us that we don't realize how futuristic they seemed when TOS was being made.)
     
  3. Indysolo

    Indysolo Commodore Commodore

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    "Record tapes".

    Neil
     
  4. Draculasaurus

    Draculasaurus Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    On the other hand;
    In Space Seed, Khan asks for something to read. Kirk sticks a microtape in the viewer and says "Doctor McCoy will show you how to tie in to the library tapes."

    That kind of sounds like the microtapes are more like software- One would have a reading program which accesses a computer elsewhere, and another has a program for realigning the sensors or whatever.
     
  5. Indysolo

    Indysolo Commodore Commodore

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    Kirk also writes to them in "Mirror, Mirror". They're very versatile and have all sorts of names apparently. :)

    Neil
     
  6. Mr Awe

    Mr Awe Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Good examples, I'll use them!

    Actually, we did discuss magnetic tapes and the analogy to the microtapes. And, we talked about floppy discs, but didn't think of the audio tapes.

    However, you're incorrect, punch cards were used up to the 80s believe it or not. During the 60s, magnetic tape was starting to take off but punch cards were still widely used.

    And, floppy discs were just about to go on the market. First floppy discs were introduced in 1972 and obviously were being developed around the time TOS was on the air.

    However, that's all kind of besides the point, at least for our debate. We were debating functionally what were the microdiscs capable of and what were they more similar to.

    Thanks for the examples and audio cassette analogy, very helpful!

    Mr Awe
     
  7. SchwEnt

    SchwEnt Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    There's also the possibility that they are something else entirely.

    Our own real-life computer tech has gone from vacuum tubes to paper punch cards to magnetic reels to optical discs to you name it. And that's only in decades.

    TOS centuries from now? Those TOS squares? They may well be something that doesn't have any modern-day equivalent, a kind of computer tech that seems familiar but may be unlike anything we have today.

    I'm just saying. Could be.
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^I wasn't talking about what they would hypothetically be in-universe, but about the intentions and inspirations of the 1960s TV writers/producers who created them.

    And Mr Awe, I didn't mean that punch cards weren't still in use in the '60s; I was speaking more in terms of the relative sequence of the various technologies' inventions, with magnetic tape coming along in between punch cards and floppies. Of course there was plenty of overlap in the actual use of the various technologies.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2012
  9. Dalen Quaice

    Dalen Quaice Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    They look a lot like solid state hard drives to me!
     
  10. Indysolo

    Indysolo Commodore Commodore

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    Or slices of Velveeta.

    Neil
     
  11. Mr Awe

    Mr Awe Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    That's entirely possible, in fact, probably the most likely! But, we were comparing functionality. I was surprised by our different views on it. I thought it was clearly read/write and more similiar to floppy discs/flash drives regardless of what technology was at the heart of it.

    Definitely true! At the time TOS aired, tapes were the growing technology, floppy discs soon to debut, but punch cards still dominated.

    Agree, for technology that we actually have, they seem closest to flash drives. However, I suspect that the producers envisioned actual tape inside of them!

    Mr Awe
     
  12. Daddy Todd

    Daddy Todd Captain Premium Member

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    Even the green ones? Time to throw out that loaf of Velveeta.

    Or, maybe, "Green Microtapes are PEOPLE!":rofl:
     
  13. backstept

    backstept Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    What were the props actually made of? Were they painted wood, or were they plastic?
     
  14. Mytran

    Mytran Commodore Commodore

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    I think they were just painted squares of wood - the cheaper to produce, the better!
     
  15. Mr. Laser Beam

    Mr. Laser Beam Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I always wondered why we'd see somebody working at their console on the bridge, recording something on one of those tapes - then they get up, walk two feet across the bridge, and hand the tape to someone else at the very next station. Like they can't just send the data right to the other officer's screen? :lol:
     
  16. 22 Stars

    22 Stars Commodore Commodore

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  17. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Out of my brain on the 5:15
  18. Mytran

    Mytran Commodore Commodore

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    Data protection - Starfleet takes it very seriously
     
  19. Borjis

    Borjis Commodore Commodore

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    In "Doomsday Machine" Decker is sitting at the captain's chair and puts one to his mouth!

    Every time i see it invokes: You don't know where that tape has been!
     
  20. scotpens

    scotpens Vice Admiral Admiral

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    In fact, punch cards were used for recording information as early as the 1880s, decades before the first electronic computers.
     

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