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March 1, 2004

Walking on glass. I’ve been home since Friday (see below), so I wondered if it was just my block. Evidently not. It appears that much of New York City is strewn with AOL CDs that have fallen out of those bundles of the Village Voice which you see being distributed for free from street-corner bins. Recalling that distant time when a CD seemed like something miraculous and valuable, Anil Dash observes:
The overwhelming message that’s been communicated to me by the sheer unrelentingly perverse ubiquity of this sort of promotion is essentially “Our Service Is Worthless”. Maybe it’s just my perception of things, but any product you’re willing to associate with smashed bits of plastic strewn about the streets of a major metropolis is not exactly nurturing an upscale image. I keep waiting for a murder of end-times crows to swarm and circle, picking up the shiny bits of aluminum that line the curbs.

I’m not inventing anything by noting that AOL CDs suck and are worthless, of course. There’s nothing new about them being ugly. I suppose it’s a compelling ugliness, at least. We all knew that after the apocalpyse it’d just be cockroaches and televangelists and some militia members camped out in bomb shelters in Montana. But I have yet to see a sci-fi writer who correctly predicted that the twentyfirst century would come along and we’d all be literally walking on discarded piles of digital recordings that promised us the ability to instantly connect with anyone in the world, free of charge. But hey, whadaya know. I’ve got mail.

[08:45 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Walking on glass.:

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 11:52 AM:

I think the first person who devises a way to re-use an AOL CD should be rewarded with riches and prestigious honors.

For that matter, if they'd find a way to put the AOL stuff on the disk (correct me if I'm wrong, but don't they use less than a diskette's worth of disk space and expect you to download the software the first time you connect?) and leave the rest available for consumer use -- why, people might actually LIKE them. And of course, they wouldn't have to be the only ones to use that. Wouldn't giving out free CD-Rs (albeit with only 699 Megs useable) be a good way to advertise?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:21 PM:

Or better yet, multi-session CDs with several tracks of nice MUSIC. With maybe a snippet of commercial between tracks.

It would all be lost on me. My home connection has been AOL since the late eighties.

* * *

For a while, AOL was mailing out its promo disks in DVD cases. This was really handy. I would pluck them from the mail room garbage can, dump the disks and liner, and reuse them.

Then they switched to this shallow metal clamshell cases. Really intriguing, attractive things, but as far as I can tell TOTALLY USELESS. I tried putting one of those big Pepperidge Farm cookies in one, but it wasn't tall enough. (A large form factor ginger snap might fit, but why bother?) They're too high to contain a single layer of Altoids.

Any other ideas?

Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:25 PM:

AOL CD's are the information-age equivalent of pollen. More gets made than actually gets used and eventually we become allergic to it.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:38 PM:

I think the first person who devises a way to re-use an AOL CD should be rewarded with riches and prestigious honors.

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

This may not be quite what Kip had in mind, but it's a fun and useful craft idea. A couple of years ago I took a bunch of AOL and other useless (freebie or outdated) CDs, attached magnets to their backs (label side) and something over the holes (little appliques from the sewing-goods store mostly) and then gave them out as stocking-stuffer-like Christmas presents. They're shiny and decorative for your fridge (or in my case the little cupboard here in my cubicle at work) and in a pinch can serve as mirrors, too!

Seth Morris ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:54 PM:

I'm not sure AOL *wants* an upscale image. There's a lot more money in being ubiquitous and down-to-earth (literally, in this case) than being the new, hip thing for the technorati.

Their new ad campaigns seem to be "Joe 90" to me. Snoop Dog (IIRC), making fun of their own ubiquitous waste, basic TV middle-class (not that anyone I know in the middle class lives in that sort of home).

They wanted to be the wave of the future in 1996. The internet is not the wave of the future anymore and the AOL content was never capitalized succesfully. So now they want to be the default home shopping network of the QVC addicted.

If they get that crowd, they may be worth something again.

BTW, I love the quote "I have yet to see a sci-fi writer who correctly predicted that the twentyfirst century would come along and wed all be literally walking on discarded piles of digital recordings that promised us the ability to instantly connect with anyone in the world, free of charge"; I'm sure we can all name a lot of SF that predicted the commoditization of information and access. Often accompanied by dystopian waste. Even without heading into cyberpunk.

>>Question for the editor-types: should that semi go inside the quote? Should I just use a period and forget the question?

Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 02:57 PM:

I make coasters out of them.

No, real coasters, really!

Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 04:43 PM:

Re: those new clamshell tin cases - they make GREAT mailers, for when I have to send out CD's to friends - Jewel cases have a tendency to crack in the mail, or just add unneccesary weight if I'm sending a few CD's at once.

Beyond that, the CD's themselves make nice frisbees.

Jesse ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 05:03 PM:

Beyond that, the CD's themselves make nice frisbees.

Only if you don't like your frisbees to fly straight. One summer a few years ago, I lived in a house that a number of undergraduates had previously lived in. We got about a dozen AOL CDs in the mail every week. My summer roommate and I would play a game where we threw them across the room into a box to determine who had to make dinner/do the dishes/find the remote/buy beer/etc. They didn't fly well at all. One day, we decided it was much easier to throw them at each other and skip the box. After about five minutes of tearing around the backyard, we had thrown more on the roof than into each other. Good thing too, or I'd have had "1000 Hours Free!" imprinted on my forehead.

Now, if they had little downcurved edges...

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 05:44 PM:

The clam cases could make good ashtrays, or, following the apocalyptic vein, you could use them as shovels to tunnel out of, or in to, somewhere. And for cyber-mermaid (half woman...half Babel fish!) braziers.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 06:17 PM:

Heh, add that to the Errors Your Spelling Checker Won't Catch. I'm pretty sure you meant 'brassieres', Michael. A 'brazier' is an object in which you burn something - like hot coals.

Come to think of it...

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 07:02 PM:

Patrick: At least, back when the ubiquitous AOL CDs were ubiquitous floppies, one could reformat and re-use.

Kip: At the last General Technics campout, a number of people attempted to make a solar furnace out of a couple hundred discarded CDs arrayed on the sand. Didn't work. You really need to mount them and align them more carefully. But it was a pretty sight.

Stefan Jones writes:
Then they switched to this shallow metal clamshell cases. Really intriguing, attractive things, but as far as I can tell TOTALLY USELESS. I tried putting one of those big Pepperidge Farm cookies in one, but it wasn't tall enough. (A large form factor ginger snap might fit, but why bother?) They're too high to contain a single layer of Altoids.

Any other ideas?

I keep expecting to find Prince Albert in there.

Yes, it's too small for a ginger snap, but you can actually stack quite a few CDs in there. I store groups of related CD-Rs in gaily colored AOL tins.

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 07:27 PM:

PNH quotes Anil Dash:
But I have yet to see a sci-fi writer who correctly predicted that the twentyfirst century would come along and wed all be literally walking on discarded piles of digital recordings that promised us the ability to instantly connect with anyone in the world, free of charge.

Sad rainbow relics of a bygone future...

C-Band dishes. Once, a satellite dish was the very symbol of modernity. A tap into the pulsating signals of the emerging global village.

Now, an 8-foot dish, shabby, paint peeling, says, "We're behind the times!"

Microphone headsets. "Pilot to Tower." A proud symbol of the highest of technology. Mission Control. "The Eagle has landed."

Now, a headset suggests a boiler-room full of telemarketers. Predictive dialers interrupt the dinners of a flock people, each drone hoping the next call connects to a sucker. The glamor is gone.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 07:39 PM:

Some time back someone (I think it was Edward Tufte) termed graphic elements such as the every popular pseudo-OCR "computer style" fonts cybercrud. Would a broader term, such as technocrud, apply here?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 07:59 PM:

Re-using AOL disc mailers to contain discs is cheating. Too obvious.

Claude: Theodore Nelson, "Computer Lib / Dream Machines."

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 08:22 PM:

Absolutely -- the moment I read your post, Stefan, I could see the page. Thanks.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 08:58 PM:

Nice, Skwid. I crochet two coasters, and put the AOL disk in between. Cotton crochet thread does a good enough job of absorbing the moisture, and the crochet pattern against the rainbow/silver of the CD can be very nice. I should make some more, now that I think about it.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 10:31 PM:

Well, CDs, frankly, suck. As storage media, they aren't bad, but they're too cheap, they're less biodegradable than granite, and burning them release lots of noxious monomers.

The best thing I've found to do with them is hang them near a large Tesla Coil, and watch the arcs vaporize the metal and paint off them. This is tres cool, but doesn't solve the problem of that plastic slab.

At least in the Olde Days (grumble, wheeze, wave TI99/4A) they sent floppies, which were useful. Now? They send plastic discs. Often, in large plastic cases. And these plastic discs are basically empty. $20 for a disc with The Beatles on it, and you can't walk a block in Brooklyn without stepping on an AOL CD.

Civilization?

JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 10:45 PM:

I call your attention to the following use for AOL CD's:

Optical spectrometers.

My wife teaches high school chemistry, so we saved up a bunch of CD's for her classes. Breaking them all up into wedges was incredibly tedious, but the results are pretty impressive (esp. if you've got sodium-vapor streetlights).

JBWoodford

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 10:47 PM:

Seth, the semicolon belongs exactly where you put it. IMHO.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 02:30 AM:

They make very decorative coffee mug coasters. And when they get so stained with coffee that they are no longer decorative, well, there's always more.

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 07:46 AM:

Along JB Woodford's line, we bounced lasers off them and had the kids calculate the width of the CD tracks using the diffraction patterns. In my past life as a physics TA, that is, and probably in my far-future life as a parent.

My friends used to stick them in the microwave -- they made really cool patterns that way. But I am now officially a grown-up, and since I'd have to pay for the microwave if it got ruined....

Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 10:41 AM:

I use one of the shallow metal AOL tins as a sewing kit (needles, various colors of thread woundon a flat card, several buttons), kept in the medicine-bag for travelling.

Some friends made sun-catchers out of AOL disks, painting over the labelled side in brightly colored geometric patterns. Rather pretty.

Stacking and gluing a number of disks together has a number of potential uses. Feet for sofas and other furniture. With a tall stack, put a cord thru the center hole and make it into a lamp.

Or use the edge of a disk as a meat tenderizer. You might be able to slice some cheeses with the edge, as well. Put some boiled eggs into a rounded bowl, and whack it up into egg salad.

Surely there's a website for alternate uses for AOL disks? Perhaps the Tightwad Gazette has further suggestions?

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 12:25 PM:

As our part of the effort to get at the remaining 5 percent of Americans who haven't yet signed up with AOL, my newspaper sent out those silly CD's last week. One CD to every one of our nearly 50,000 subscribrs.

But because they were paying us to deliver them, we ordered 52,000 of them and we still have 2,000 left over.

Anyone want them?

They're really good if you're a hacker with a virus you want to upload. You can use the anonymous username and password on the CD box to get online and leave your present.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 12:26 PM:

An allegedly canonical list of uses as well as a better list of 10 apparently dating from the diskette days.

1. Collect two solar masses worth and detonate the sun.
Hmm . . . interesting.

Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 02:08 PM:

Daniel Hatch:...we still have 2,000 left over.... They're really good if you're a hacker with a virus you want to upload. You can use the anonymous username and password on the CD box to get online and leave your present.

Or if you want to do it right, burn 2000 new CDs with the AOL installer and your virus so other people can spread it around, meanwhile infecting their home computers and giving you their credit cards and any other information they might have on the machine.

CDs are good for distributing software to computers that don't already have network connectivity, but they don't make those any more.

If you're still looking for uses for the things, the classic is for light shows in somebody else's microwave oven.

colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 07:07 PM:

Ah! So that's what it was. I was thinking I had somehow missed the onset of a particularly strange nuclear winter. Thanks for clearing that up.

[ANd yes, they are all over Astoria as well...]

Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 07:45 PM:

I like AOL cds as bird-scarers around the edge of my garden. They might or might ot actually work, but they look really nice flipping in the breeze.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 10:13 PM:

The cost of info glut.


-l.

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 12:31 AM:

I once got the "Martha Stewart" award from some list (god, back in the 90s, I think) for coming up with the idea for making mobiles out of AOL CDs. The wind whips the mobile up, scatters light, and keeps the crows and bluejays out of my blueberry bushes. Works like a charm and is right purdy.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 05:49 PM:

That description of the shiny shards across the footpaths gave me a flashback to this image, that I'd memorialized on a strange anniversary.
9th November, www.vandaljewels.net
Remember Kristallnacht - 9/11/38
(In Australia 9/11 is November 9th)
November 9th is still a pertinent anniversary: "Kristallnacht - the Night of Broken Glass".
... Morning footpaths were impassable under an icy glittering crust of broken glass and ashes ...

Two of many sites: www.remember.org/fact.fin.kristal.html
From www.us-israel.org/jsource/Holocaust/kristallnacht.html
... what disturbed the German populace was less the sight of synagogues burning (fires take place all the time...) than of the savage and wasteful vandalism that confronted bystanders everywhere ... What was indeed memorable was the sheer quantity of broken glass ... Germany didn't produce enough plate glass to repair the damages ...

Thought might give me some interesting themes to link these up ... but lofe does get in the way of blogging

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 05:52 PM:

<ahem> Thats "life" gets in the way of blogging. Some might call blogging "loafing", tho :)