Thursday, March 09, 2023

Not Quite the Bootstrap Paradox


Submitted for your approval are two 3.5" floppy diskettes.

I found the diskette on the left underneath our rear deck, when it was demolished to be replaced with a concrete patio this past fall. That was in 2022, just to be clear. It had clearly been under the deck for a long time, covered in dirt, and weathered enough that the label is mostly illegible.

The floppy disk was originally included with the hardback book Secrets of Software Quality: 40 Innovations from IBM. The book was written by Craig Kaplan, Ralph Clark, and Victor Tang, and published by McGraw-Hill. The first edition came out in 1995. 

I had never owned this book before, nor seen it, nor was even aware of its existence. Not until I found this floppy under our demo'ed deck, and decided to buy a new copy of the book. (It wasn't cheap.)

On the right is the diskette from that new copy. The date on the new disk is 1995. Careful inspection of the damaged diskette suggests that at least the last digit of the otherwise unreadable date looks like a "5". What fragments are barely visible of the part number on the weathered diskette seem to match the new diskette.

Our house was built in 1979. I don't know when the rear deck was built, but it was there when we bought the house in 1989.

So clearly the weathered diskette somehow came to be under our rear deck since we bought the house, since it did not exist until about six years after we moved in. It didn't come from any book in my library. We've had people over to the house, of course; computer people, even. But even if one of them had - for some reason - brought this diskette with them, the spacing of the boards on the deck would have made it very difficult - but not impossible - for them to have dropped the diskette and for it to have just happened to fit between two adjacent boards just perfectly so that it ended up where I found it. And what are the chances they would have dropped the diskette, seen it slip through the deck, and not have said anything to me?

The other possibility is that some critter brought it from somewhere else and left it under our deck. We've had several generations of rabbits living under our deck, and at least once I saw a skunk run out from under the deck and race across the yard. What use did a critter think it would have for a floppy diskette? Your guess is a good as mine.

Over the years we've had various folks work on the deck, in the adjacent yard, or around the outside of the house. I would like to think it's possible that one of those laborers was pursuing a course of study in information technology and maybe lost the floppy out of a pocket while, perhaps staining the deck as a summer job.

If it were not for the fact that we replaced the wooden deck with a concrete patio, it would have seemed inevitable that I would have some strange excuse to carry the new diskette across the deck, accidentally drop it, and watch it almost miraculously slip between the floor boards, where it falls through some kind of time portal, resulting in a causal loop. "And thus the prophecy was fulfilled."

And, besides, they weren't bootstrap diskettes.