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Vatican Chooses Open FITS Image Format 223

Posted by timothy
from the wouldn't-a-lossy-format-make-more-sense? dept.
@10u8 writes "The Vatican Library plans to digtize 80,000 manuscripts and store them in the open data format FITS, originally developed for astronomy and maintained under the IAU. The result is expected to be 40 million pages and 45 petabytes. FITS was chosen because it 'has been used for more than 40 years for the conservation of data concerning spatial missions and, in the past decade, in astrophysics and nuclear medicine. It permits the conservation of images with neither technical nor financial problems in the future, since it is systematically updated by the international scientific community.'"
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Vatican Chooses Open FITS Image Format

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  • Petabytes (Score:2, Funny)

    by bigredradio (631970)
    [insert tasteless joke here]
    • by jimwelch (309748)

      This will all be porn to the filters, since the artwork often has no clothes {/joke}

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      More like... Pedobytes!

    • by ruiner13 (527499) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:27PM (#32019780) Homepage
      Where to Catholic priests store their data? In Pedophiles, of course.

      Happy now?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by iamhassi (659463)
      You read "petabytes", and think "pedophile"? Seems someone has a problem...

      And why does Chrome think petabytes is a misspelling and want me to change it to gigabytes? Hello Google! You probably deal with more petabytes than anyone, how does your browser not recognize that word?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by mr_lizard13 (882373)

        You read "petabytes", and think "pedophile"? Seems someone has a problem...

        And why does Chrome think petabytes is a misspelling and want me to change it to gigabytes?

        You spelled pedophile wrong.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by radtea (464814)

        You read "petabytes", and think "pedophile"?

        No, they read "Catholic Church" and think "pedophile", for the same reason one would read, "Christian Conservative" and think "cruising for gay hookers."

        It's just the way the human brain works: things that are found together with relatively high frequency, like Catholic priests and child abuse, or Christian "Conservatives" and unseemly acts in public restrooms, tend to conjure each other up.

        • You're right it's about the way the brain works, but it's not because these things are found together with so high frequency.

          It's that they feel so salient when they are.

        • Christian "Conservatives" and unseemly acts in public restrooms, tend to conjure each other up.

          You got your quoted words mixed up. I think you meant: "Christian" Conservatives.

          Being [politically] "Conservative" does not necessitate morality. Being "Christian" presumably has some connotation of morality.

          I find it interesting that you are ok with calling unseemly acts in public restrooms a Christian, but seem to hesitate to really refer to them as Conservative.

        • It's just the way the human brain works: things that are found together with relatively high frequency...

          Like many slashdot readers and uninformed bigotry against religion.

          But then it's easy to hate and fear what you do not understand, because it would take work to understand someone else, and bigotry is born of laziness.

          Not at all religious myself, I've just had a lot of friends that were and met many priests that were nothing like the monsters you seem to expect by default.

  • 40 Years? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Wikipedia page states FITS was created in '81. How does that translate to more than 40 years of use?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Everyone knows that time goes faster as you get older. Same with formats.
      • They used their own definition of year, the same one which makes them say that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mooingyak (720677)

      The Wikipedia page states FITS was created in '81. How does that translate to more than 40 years of use?

      In some years they REALLY used it.

    • Re:40 Years? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ProdigyPuNk (614140) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:34PM (#32019906) Journal

      The Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) data format was developed in the late 1970s to interchange astronomical image data. The final negotiations on its design occurred in March 1979. By 1981, the year that the specifications were published in an astronomical journal, FITS had become the de facto standard data interchange format of astronomy. This fact was recognized by the IAU, which adopted FITS as its standard data interchange and archiving format by a resolution at the Patras (1982) General Assembly.

      40 years is a bit of a stretch, but if you go from the time FITS was first thought of it is ~ 35 years old. Not bad for ANYTHING related to computing. Imagine if filesystems has 30+ year lifetimes ;p

    • by zero_out (1705074)
      Dear friends, don't let this one thing escape you: with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day. 2 Peter 3:8
    • by bencoder (1197139)
      40 man-years.

      One guy's been using it since it was invented. Someone else found out about it eleven years ago and has been using it since them.
    • by jd (1658)

      In astronomy, time dilation even affects the data formats.

  • DjVu? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by photonic (584757) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:30PM (#32019844)
    It might not be around as long as FITS, but isn't DjVu [wikipedia.org] more suited for the digitization of manuscripts? If I understand it correctly, DjVu was designed for this job, while FITS was designed for astronomical data, not exactly the same. Not that I am an expert ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Xtravar (725372)

      Maybe they're just trying to make amends with astronomy after persecuting it so many years ago. "Hey, we have something in common now!"

      • Re:DjVu? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TerranFury (726743) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:43PM (#32020074)
        They did that a while ago; they have an observatory [space.com] and host astronomy conferences [bbc.co.uk]. Obviously it's an attempt to live down what their predecessors did to Galileo, but I welcome it.
        • They did that a while ago; they have an observatory and host astronomy conferences. Obviously it's an attempt to live down what their predecessors did to Galileo, but I welcome it.

          Back in the day, the idea of the church actively supporting astronomy is kind of like the christian fundamentalists of today actively supporting evolutionary biology.

          Strangers things have happened...

          • Back in the day, the idea of the church actively supporting astronomy is kind of like the christian fundamentalists of today actively supporting evolutionary biology.

            Why is it exactly that those fundamentalists think God is a moron? They assert that he can't design a system that's self-running. So, either he's not omniscient, not omnipotent, or just not as smart as the fundamentalists (given the first two they must agree that he doesn't want to make a self-running system, so they know better).

            Why do funda

            • Why is it exactly that those fundamentalists think God is a moron....They assert that he can't design a system that's self-runnin

              Well, There are many who do believe in evolution, but the opposite implication can be made for those who insist that God could NOT have possibly designed things without evolution-- it denies his sovereignty. The "God is a watchmaker" idea is more properly attributed to theists than to christians.

              I do like the sweeping generalizations however, they make for nice strawmen.

          • by Panaflex (13191)

            They wanted to be absolutely sure... and "back in the day" was around 1758 or 1822, depending on your POV :-)

        • by syousef (465911)

          They did that a while ago; they have an observatory [space.com] and host astronomy conferences [bbc.co.uk]. Obviously it's an attempt to live down what their predecessors did to Galileo, but I welcome it.

          "The Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical institutes in the world and the only research group directly supported by the Holy See". It's just the VATT (Vatican Telescope) that's relatively new.

          • Indeed; my "while ago" was meiosis [wikipedia.org] (I'll admit I had to look that word up to remember it), but I didn't really give enough context for that to be clear!
    • If its wikipedia entry is to be believed, FITS is extraordinarily flexible. (whether or not this is a good thing in a file format is rather less clear).
    • Re:DjVu? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Flavio (12072) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:59PM (#32020372)

      DjVu is a format intended specifically for document distribution which uses lossy compression to obtain small files. It's not nearly as flexible as FITS, so you can't use it to represent hyperspectral images, metadata, etc.

      Since the Vatican wants a format for data archival, they probably want to preserve as much information as possible for a wide variety of documents, so they can keep the originals in a vault and not touch them for the next 100 years.

    • Re:DjVu? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lifix (791281) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:59PM (#32020380) Homepage

      It might not be around as long as FITS, but isn't DjVu [wikipedia.org] more suited for the digitization of manuscripts?

      The Vatican isn't choosing FITS because it's more suited towards digitization of manuscripts. The church intends to be around literally forever and they're choosing FITS because it too, should be around as long as there is SCIENCE! From the FITS wikipedia article: 'FITS was designed with an eye towards long-term archival storage, and the maxim once FITS, always FITS represents the requirement that developments to the format must not render invalid existing files using older versions.'

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It might not be around as long as FITS, but isn't DjVu more suited for the digitization of manuscripts?

      I don't know DjVu, but I'm an astronomer and I've worked with FITS a lot. It's actually a very simple data format. There's a header with all the document metadata, followed by the binary data. The metadata has a few standard [required] keywords, but as long as it's formatted correctly, you can add any header fields you like. The data is stored as uncompressed binary vector (unsigned char, short, int,

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by irenaeous (898337)

      No, not really. The most important consideration for the ancient Vatican documents is an exact and accurate replication of document image. If you have an document fragment from the third century, a proper reading of the document may hinge on how a particular letter fragment is reconstructed. To do this work properly, you need as exact a replication of the original as possible. It seems that FITS is designed to do just that. DjVu is not. DjVu works with modern documents and is focused on creating high

      • by DingerX (847589)
        I get paid to (among other things) transcribe medieval manuscripts. It's a data storage technology. In this case, the medium is really expensive (parchment or old-skool paper), and the compression used (contextual abbreviation) often exceeds the capacity of the agent (scribe). The result is text that, if expanded according to ever-changing rules (and remember, we're talking about a couple millennia of shifting conventions), would render nonsense at critical junctures. But, in the hands of someone with reaso
    • DjVu is a good distribution format, but they want an archival format. something that can store everything down to the grain of the paper and the pen strokes used to write them. And not neccesarily just in the wavelengths of "red" "green" and "blue", they may want bands that preserve the previous works on palimpsests. FITS allows storage of much more data than just what is required to look at the page and have it look like it would to a human holding it at arms length. They want something suitable for scien

  • by Herkum01 (592704) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:48PM (#32020170)

    Does this mean in the monasteries we are going to have monks transcribing these manuscripts bit by bit? I mean, if you just scan the stuff in what else will they have to do all day. Pray for the boredom to be over...

  • Image size? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by by (1706743) (1706744) on Wednesday April 28, 2010 @02:53PM (#32020256)
    (45 petabytes) / (40 million pages) ~= 1.2 gigabytes / page. Is it just me, or does that seem a little big?
    • (45 petabytes) / (40 million pages) ~= 1.2 gigabytes / page. Is it just me, or does that seem a little big?

      Storage is cheap. The manual process of scanning each of these documents is the costly part. It is thus better to scan at the maximum resolution and quality possible so that they never have to do it again. They may even be scanning multiple passes with different methods (visible, IR, etc.). 1.2GB per page is not unreasonable, even if it uses a lossless compression scheme.

      • Storage is cheap. The manual process of scanning each of these documents is the costly part. It is thus better to scan at the maximum resolution and quality possible so that they never have to do it again.

        You are correct about the cost. Hell, I've been holding off archiving my audio CDs until I have enough disk space to store them all in a lossless format just so I won't feel the need to do it over again.

        There is also another VERY important reason why they don't want to repeat this if at all possible.

        You

        • by jabuzz (182671)

          How many CD's do you own!!! A 1TB drive which are dirt cheap these days will hold around 2000 average CD's with lossless compression. There are also 2TB drives on the market as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ALecs (118703)

      Yes :) FITS files are HUGE!

      As a sysadmin for an astronomy observatory I find this laughable. FITS was designed to store every last detail about an image (and frequencies for radio astronomy) and it seems WAY overkill to burn that many bits digitizing manuscripts.

      But hey, who am I to question the word of the church? :)

    • by c (8461)

      > Is it just me, or does that seem a little big?

      They might want to scan at such a high resolution that someone can study the makeup of the manuscript paper and things like brush and pen strokes...

      If you assume 1200DPI non-lossy and uncompressed at 32bpp, an 8.5x11 piece of paper might be 500MB or so (depending on how they encode it), and old manuscripts aren't necessarily going to be as small as regular paper. They're probably also scanning things like maps.

      c.

  • Monk labor is a time-tested and proven method of copying information from one paper/parchment to another. I see no reason to stop now.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      Do you know if that actually is something that monks still do?

      I would assume that the process of manually copying manuscripts started to taper off when the printing press went into operation, let alone now with digital copying processes.

  • I like FITS. It shows its age: the file headers are all arranged in decks of 80 column cards. But who cares? It is robust, easy to parse (if you want to read simple data formats) flexible and stable. One can write a basic image reader and writer in a day, and you will be able to read images from about 30 years old to ones created right now.

    There are some slight pecularities, like applying a fixed additive offset to every data element. These are rarely encountered except in specific circumstances: fits does

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