May 1, 2014
People from all over the political spectrum are up in arms this week, following a 60 Minutes report on the state of the US nuclear arsenal. Particularly, the segment exposes the old and seemingly outdated technology that controls and underlies these most powerful of weapons. The phones are old, chunky physical types. The switch-boards have those big mechanical switches and flashy lights. And the paramount sin: Many of the records are kept on 8 inch floppy disks.
It’s an odd thing, to see the plans and security information for the most destructive technology in history in a form most people associate with Reader Rabbit and The Oregon Trail. Still, is this really so bad? Certainly, the first two are hardly downsides; the sturdy, physical connections of the past are much more reliable in the sorts of doomsday scenarios that might see a nuclear weapon launch. Much like the interior of a submarine, these facilities should strive to be as low-tech as possible, without sacrificing safety or performance.
As to the floppies, they seem to be performing fairly well. Though Ben Richmond at Motherboard notes the degradation of information as a reason to upgrade, those complaints mostly extend to micro-fiches and films. The magnetic storage of a floppy disk is really quite long-lasting comparatively — though it is fragile and in need of proper handling.