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Turn your VCR into a cheap, slow storage device

May 29, 1998
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EDT

by Michael Lasky

When I got my first VCR some 20 years ago, I taped hundreds of movies and TV specials to have available in my own personal media library. Videotape was cheap, and with cable I could tape Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Godzilla for later viewing on a moment's whim.

About 300 tapes later, I realized that not only had I not watched any of the videos I had recorded, but most likely I would never watch them. So what did I do? I stopped buying blank tape and recorded new shows over the ones I already had. Of course, I never watched the new shows either.

Now I'm doing the same thing with my PC. The availability of cheap removable storage--such as Iomega Zip and Jaz drives, SyQuest SparQ, and CD-R drives, to name but a few--makes it easy to save gigs of data "for later use." Cheap storage has turned us all into data pack rats.

Back up a Bit

Now along comes Danmere's $89 Backer, a backup system that stores up to 4GB of data on standard low-cost VHS videotape. Yeah, you read that right: videotape. You connect your video recorder to your PC via the Backer device, which hooks into a parallel port. The transfer rate is up to 9MB a minute. Not exactly Speedy Gonzalez.

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When the Backer came into PC World's offices, the editors passed it to each other like a hot potato. "Here, you take it," one editor barked as he dropped it on my desk and made a run for it.

I thought it was worth a try. After all, I have all those unwatched videos in my cellar, right? Backer installs quickly and does what it claims to do. I was able to transfer all my 100MB Zip disks to one $2.79 videotape. Of course, the problem now is, instead of having lots of videotapes with unwatched movies on them, I will have videotapes filled with data I probably will never return to.

The Backer comes with its own backup software. As with any tape retrieval device, you have to access the part of the tape that has the file you need, restore it to the PC, and then view it.

I've Got the Power (I Think)

We equate owning data to having power. Power is nice. (As Mel Brooks said in The History of the World, Part I: "It's good to be the King.") But accumulating "stuff"--as Iomega's advertisements refer to what's on Zip disks--is all we're doing. We're collecting because it's easy, cheap, and fast--not because we actually need to.

Don't get me wrong: These external storage gizmos are great. I just think they make it too easy for us to save stuff we don't need and will probably never look at again. They are the virtual grandma's attics of the information age. Sure, just as with videotaping, we start with good intentions. We grab a program, a graphic, or some other file off the Web, and save it to a Zip (can't waste that hard disk space, after all) to look at when we have more time. More time? Get real.

Left to my devices, I think I will watch some of those old movies again before they get covered in bytes.

Michael S. Lasky is a senior associate editor at PC World and proud owner of the magazine's most gizmo-cluttered office.



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