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Media Data Storage

The Digital Dark Age 413

zygan wrote to mention a Fairfax Digital article about the possibility of a digital dark age, as a result of the increasingly short-term lifespan of digital storage. From the article: "It is 2045, he suggests, and his grandchildren are exploring the attic of his old house when they come across a CD-ROM and a letter, which explains that the disk contains a document that provides directions to obtaining the family fortune. The children are excited. 'But they've never seen a CD before - except in old movies - and, even if they found a suitable disk drive, how will they run the software necessary to interpret the information on the disk? How can they read my obsolete digital document?'"
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The Digital Dark Age

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu@@@gmail...com> on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:38PM (#13634549) Journal

    Scary article. But probably too true.

    In my opinion data archival screams to be handled in as simple an lowest-common-denominator a way as possible. For me, that means text for documents, and picture formats that would seem guaranteed to be around for a long time, if not forever. I'm guessing a good candidate for pictures would be something like jpg. I can't imagine jpg going away or ever being a non-decipherable picture format. Video might be a tougher nut to crack but I would guess some flavor of mpg.

    Note that none of these flavors: text; jpg; nor mpg, include or imply any reliance on vendor proprietary formats (yes, I know there's a certain proprietary tinge to the picture and video forms, but they're pretty universal). So, storing and archiving for historical purposes rules out Microsoft and all of their formats. This would especially make sense considering there are already huge compatibility issues with Microsoft documents among their various versions of their products.

    Also, for retrieval assurance it no longer makes sense to me to use "dead" or "inert" methods for storage, e.g., tapes, cds, dvds, etc. Instead, at least for my purposes I maintain multiple physical and current storage devices for all of my important data. This has been a recent (last three years) development for me when I started reading about early failures of the supposedly rugged storage.

    So, that being the case that introduces (introduced) the need to devise a strategy for forward migration of all of may data so nothing got left behind. Fortunately, this has been mostly easy since right now the "active" storage du jour seems to be hard disk drives, and the capacity has grown sufficiently with each new generation of drives I have been able to simply roll my data forward onto the new drives with the new data with plenty of room to spare.

    This shouldn't be an approach foreign to comapanies with reasonably competent data shops either. But maybe a philosophical change. All is not lost, and hopefully all will not be.

    Just my $.02. ~

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:40PM (#13634561)
      this should be soluble

      That could be a problem. At least a CD won't get damaged by water.
    • Even resorting to paper these days you want to make sure you've got archival quality equipment.

      Some inkjet pages fade considerably in just two years. After a decade they may just be yellowing pages with no discernible content.
      • by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:23PM (#13634911) Journal
        I have heard the same for photographs. Today's photographic paper isn't the same as older stuff, with less silver, and it tends to fade quicker. While we can rely on 100 year old photographs, our decendents may not. Most paper nowdays is relatively acidic as well, so it breaks down faster with any exposure. This would mean books as well. While there is good paper that is better than the old stuff, most is made to be cheap, not high quality.
        • by Kesh ( 65890 )
          Yep. I worked selling printers for Epson for a while. Even their good (consumer) archival paper is only rated 80-100 years, when using their good archival level printer (about $700 USD). Supposedly their cheaper printers would get 50-80 years when using archival photo paper and the normal inks.

          Of course, that's their own ratings, so I dunno how accurate it is.
    • by merreborn ( 853723 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:00PM (#13634752) Journal
      I'd think bmp would be preferable to jpg. bmp is to images what .txt is to text (and while ASCII is arbitrary, it's a single substitution cypher, and therefore easily crackable) -- the simplest, uncompressed format. I've written 1-bit (black and white) bitmaps by hand. I couldn't ever hope to do the same in jpeg.
      • bmp would be preferable to jpg

        Only if you expect to be in the situation of having no software to read JPG, and no specification. That's a slightly extreme scenario? Since your data has been, obviously, carried forward. You could always carry forward source code or specifications too, along with your JPG corpus. Or am I missing something?

        • This is a pretty good point.

          If you're thinking that your data will be carried forward electronically, then there's no reason why a set of specifications or source code in a commonly-understood language (I can't imagine that any reasonable programmer of the future wouldn't be able to at least puzzle out some well-commented Pascal or C) showing how to decode your data. However, you'd have to hope that whoever is 'carrying forward' your data isn't lazy or cheap, because this would be the kind of thing that wo
          • I think it's important to bundle each set of data-containing artifacts with either an actual reader device which produces some kind of easily understood output, or schematics for same. For instance if you were going to bury a vault of CD-Rom type discs, it would make sense to put at least a CD-Rom drive in

            Yep. That's my worry. It's going to be much tougher to actually find the data and read it than interpret the data. Imagine trying to read a CD-ROM, or hard drive, or NVRAM, anything! in a world where th

            • keep it live (Score:3, Insightful)

              by petermgreen ( 876956 )
              copy it from one media format to the next BEFORE the old one dissapears or keep your data on your hard drives and copy it to your new ones each time you upgrade.

              Low capacity removable media like floppies and to some extent CDs is the enemy of data preservation because it makes the job of copying stuff to fresh media require far more human labour.
    • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:05PM (#13634782) Journal
      All too often these are literally rotting away in storage, because the originals are decaying, and the movie companies are unwilling to invest money to rescue them, even though they would sue you for millions if you published these on your own.
      • That's why we have companies that will track down a reel that is in public domain and recover it.

        Sure technology that is even 10 years old gets lost.

        It's the nature of the beast.

        There are ways to store data so that it lasts. It's just a little expensive.

        Someone should burn a cd, lock it away and come back and tell us how it works in 5 years. Do it again in 10. I bet you can get 5 or so mod points out of it.
      • Interestingly enough, despite the commonly accepted wisdom that the loss of the material stored at the Library of Alexandria was the result of successive burnings, an analysis by Luciano Canfora ("The Vanished Library") shows that it simply crumbled to dust because the ongpoing process by which it was continuously copied and recopied was interrupted. If you really want data to survive, you need to put it on something that will physically last, like the clay tablets from Mesopotamia. The notion that civiliza
    • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:08PM (#13634800) Homepage Journal
      I would personally opt for PNG for images, to avoid loss of data. Video almost has to be MPEG, as neither MNG nor APNG have really gone anywhere at this time and the BBC's high definition format isn't getting much adoption yet either. For audio, MP4 would seem the best choice - less loss of data, but more likely to be readable in the far future than Ogg Vorbis (which is a shame) or AIFF (yay! AIFF's gonna die!)

      No matter what form you store the data in, if you want it readable in the far future, you've got to remember two things - there's no guarantee ANY specific technology will exist, and there's no guarantee ANY specific timeframe for the reading to take place.

      What you want, then, is to do the reverse of the language decoding that has taken place over the years. Imagine yourself faced with a puzzle every bit as baffling as Egyptian Hyroglyphics, only stored at a vastly greater information density and probably in an electronic format. What would you want/need, to be able to recover the data?

      Well, there would seem to be a few things that are essential. First, the explorer in the future will need to know the data is there and in what form. So, if you're using optical storage, make that clear (along with frequency). If you're using N-state logic, make it clear what N is. If there are M layers, tell them the value of M. You don't need to know all of the technical information, because all they need is where to start looking.

      Secondly, the information needs to be correctly indexed. Languages are broken because types of information can be grouped and identified. The same will be true here. So, produce a contents list with corresponding data formats and/or MIME types, along with the offsets within the medium.

      Thirdly, a key is a REALLY good idea - something analogous to the Rosetta Stone. Let's say you're using binary logic and a fairly rudimentary FS on the storage medium with text-based directories. The key would be a printout of the root directory in binary, again in ASCII and a third time as a set of records describing the logical layout. The printout would also need the offset of the directory. From this, it would be trivial for someone in the year 3000 to determine how offsets were calculated, how the data was laid on the disk and how the data is connected.

      If physical storage is going to be used, ensure the various media used will last about the same length of time. So, if you're aiming for a hundred years, CDs may just about work. But you must NOT have the CD in contact with sulphides or anything else which will destroy the surface. The CD must be kept cold (but not so cold it is damaged) to slow decomposition. It should also be kept somewhere where accidental exposure to UV is impossible.

      If you're keeping paper notes with the data, as I've suggested, the paper must be acid-free and the inks must be long-lasting. Most modern paper is of very low grade, as are most modern inks.

      If you're looking more at a time capsule that is for the FAR future (we're talking something that happens AFTER Star Trek), then you've got to be extra careful but it should still be possible. I see no reason why you couldn't have physical storage under ideal conditions which could be retrievable after a thousand years or so. You just have to be very careful on what you choose to use. Same with paper. If you're looking to produce the next Beowulf (no, not the clustering technology), then you're probably going to want to look at vellum or some other extremely high-quality medium. I'd also look up early inks on the Internet and modify a recipe that could be used as a refill for a printer ink cartridge. Many early inks are highly stable (iron oxide is one example) and fade more by damage to the medium than decay of the ink.

      • I would personally opt for PNG for images, to avoid loss of data.

        I'd try XPM. ;) Sure it's a bloated format, but it's a human readable text file. Bitmap images can easily be seen in a text editor.

        As long as the ASCII charset is not lost and forgotten, the file would remain decipherable to any computer geek. Can JPG, PNG, or GIF claim the same thing?
      • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:21PM (#13634905) Homepage Journal
        Thirdly, a key is a REALLY good idea - something analogous to the Rosetta Stone.

        Not exactly replying to your post as simply having my memory spurred with regard to something relevant: if you're really interested in storing information for future generations then The Rosetta Project [rosettaproject.org] is an interesting on. They seek to have as many distinct languages as possible printed on a small disk, beginning in large print but decreasing in size as it spirals inwards to the point where it is micro-etched. It's easy enough to figure out how to read it, and as long as you cna build tools to magnify it you can read everything on it.

    • Only 2045? That's just 40 years from now.

      I have a record from around 1915. Caruso on shellac, 78rpm (give or take a couple rpm). It still plays as well as it ever did. You can hear every note.

      What's the lifespan of punch cards?

    • I dunno, I doubt it'll be impossible to read a CD even in 90 years.

      Even today, you can find places to convert old 8mm home movies into a more modern format.

      CD-ROM drives are resilient devices; I'm sure millions of them will survive in working condition for many decades. Some will eventually be owned by data conversion services that will do this for you.

      You can still readily find equipment to play 78RPM records, reel-to-reel tape, 9track computer tapes, TK50, and other dead formats. It may be difficult, but
      • My advice is pick the really important things to preserve and save them well. eg- print it out. Everything else: just do the minimum, and throw away the crap. Most of it will probably be fine anyway, for our lifetime, but the important stuff you've already taken care of.

        (btw, the specific problem with burnt CDs is the decay of the organic dye, iirc. the blue ones last the longest.)
        • I agree. But there should be something available to store stuff that's not quite important enough by itself to warrant printing out, but might be worth storing anyway.

          Also, there are those things which gain importance by being a complete record. For example (and this is a weak example, I admit) take all my email. It's far too much to print out, and it wouldn't be worth the paper anyway. However, that's not to say it's unimportant: if I could keep a complete record of every email I ever wrote, for my entire
    • probably true? how about IS true.

      I have a side business as a data mage. I have a nice collection of very VERY old dat astorage reading/writing devices that sit un-used for 99.997% of their life now. but every once in a while I get a call from a friend of a friand's colleague. and I make a very tidy sum reading the files off of that Bernulli disk or 9 track tape in ebcdic format and but it to a modern format like CD.

      There are several of us that exist, and there always be some that will have the ability
  • The equipment? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dogers ( 446369 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:40PM (#13634562)
    Nevermind the equipment needed to read it, what about the rights they'll need to read it?

    And even that's ignoring the fact the CD will long since have self destructed, decaying away..

    (From TFA: "Dark age ... the Powerhouse Museum's Matthew Connell with an ancient clay tablet that will probably outlive the 1980s tape in his right hand.".. Probably? Definitely more like!)
  • ebay (Score:2, Funny)

    by truckaxle ( 883149 ) *
    Maybe they can buy all the necessary components on ebay!

    Seriously archeologist have decoded all sorts of dead languages, decoding digital (assuming you can still pick out the bits) would be easier.
  • ...and (Score:3, Funny)

    by Stanistani ( 808333 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:41PM (#13634571) Homepage Journal
    In the second box is a player, if the fellow had any real fortune.

    Besides, I'd have drawn the map on parchment, and tied it up with a string.

    Arrr! Ye Mateys...
  • dark age (Score:5, Funny)

    by foxhound01 ( 661872 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:42PM (#13634580)
    They'll take it to that crazy old guy in the corner house with uncut grass in his lawn, for he was once a great programming guru and has a ton of still functioning archaic equipment that requires insanely large amounts of power.
  • easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrSkwid ( 118965 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:42PM (#13634584) Homepage Journal
    perhaps the same way I would read a wax cylinder today

    visit a specialist

    a good place to start would be here :

    http://www.bl.uk/collections/sound-archive/wtmcyli nder.html [www.bl.uk]
    • Easier (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @10:31PM (#13635638)
      Copy it to a new format. That is the real beauty of digital. Since it can be perfectly duplicated easily and quickly it's no problem to move it to a newer format. I have data on my drives now that was orignally on 5.25" floppy. It has just been recopied many times. Some of it has been converted to new formats, some of it is unmodified. Either way, it's still here despite being decades old.

      I don't know where this silly idea comes from that somehow digital is really fragile and we'll just lose all of it later. Sure, we lose tons of it all the time, but it's worthless, by and large. The by product of the information age is that we produce so much of it, it is not only impossible to archive all of it, it's undesirable. To have more information than you could ever sift through would be almost as bad as having none at all.

      Also what's the this stupid notion that we'll forget how to read things? That's like saying that we'll forget how to build sailing ships, now that we have motors. Of course that's not the case, the knowledge is preserved, in the case of sail boats, they are still made.

      This is even more clear for computers since emulation is a major protect for many people. We have emulators for all kinds of old systems. Means if you find data for one of them, you just load up said emulator and it'll get at it.

      Digital actually seems to be the ultimate prevention against a dark age. The ease of copying information and archiving it in multiple spots means that it's difficult for a single catastrophe to wipe out large amounts of data forever. There was a lot of work in teh past, for example the Mayan Codexes, that was destroyed and is totally unrecoverable. It was fragile precisely because it was hard to copy and thus there wasn't much of it around. Now, of the orignal hundreds of thousadns of Codexes, we have but 3.

      I think it's just a bunch of alarmism.
  • Yeah right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:42PM (#13634585)
    Whatever is worthwhile to keep will be migrated to new media. Even if 90% of it is lost odds are 10 times more information will be preserved from this decade than the last. Digital media is cheaper to own and operate.
    • Nah, there are tons of movies rotting away in freezers at the *AA associated studios. There is no commercial interest in restoring them and digitizing them, but since THEM have the copyright on it, US will see it be lost forever.

      The same applies to digital stuff. People have the only copies and/or the copyright, and it will one day go through the bit bucket because the owner is greedy / mentally insane / depressed / had a fire or what have you.

      All the good digital stuff, like Asian 4 You, will eventually go
  • Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joe_bruin ( 266648 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:43PM (#13634598) Homepage Journal
    How can they read my obsolete digital document?

    The same way we do it today: emulators. Of course, your cdrom is not going to survive that long, so there's no need to worry about that. Have you considered leaving your legacy carved into stone tablets?
    • Re:Easy (Score:3, Interesting)

      by michael_cain ( 66650 )
      Seriously, if you want to think in terms of 100-150 years, this is a solved problem, and without the need for stone tablets. Pigment-based inks on acid-free paper. Silver-based black and white photo chemistry on acid-free paper. Stitched bindings, not glue. Store in a trunk where there's neglible light. Put the trunk in the attic of a house where it's reasonably safe from large amounts of water (rain or flood). Civil War documents using these techniques have survived nicely to the present day. The Bell Labs
  • Hopefully someone isn't stupid enough to store their will on a CD rom...would you?
  • Really, who knows what the future holds? And who says we won't be able to trace history back to these days and even further? And just because we don't use a media anymore means it is forgotten and no one will ever be able to read the media again. I mean, if one did some digging, I bet he/she would find information to be able to read punch-cards even. Just my 2 cents.
  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by tktk ( 540564 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:46PM (#13634613)
    ...they come across a CD-ROM and a letter...

    \/\/H47'$ 4 L3773r?

  • by puzzled ( 12525 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:46PM (#13634615) Journal

      Each moment arises out of the moment before - call it 'dependent arising'. No object exists in perpetuity - even black holes evaporate over long time spans.

      This being said, our digital storage systems, in a collective sense, are becoming more like a brain and less like an archive. 'Memories' of some importance are in multiple locations and accessible via different search methods. They're also being changed, just as memories of our pasts acquire a patina as we age. Someone took something I wrote in the early 90s on Usenet and added it to their humor site. My flickr content is spreading if the hits are any indication, as are my contributions to YouTube.

      Public records are an important thing, but understand the other, positive things that are happening in the background as the the internet acts less like a database and more like a neural net with each passing day.

  • by angst_ridden_hipster ( 23104 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:46PM (#13634622) Homepage Journal
    I have a bunch of old DSDD 40-track hard-sector TRS-80 5.25" floppy disks (NEWDOS/80v2 format) that I'd love be able to read.

    Unless I want to build custom hardware, I don't believe it can be done...

    And those are only ... uh ... well, OK, twenty to twenty-five years old.
    • Are you suggesting that your TRS-80 had 1% of 1% of 1% the market penetration of CDs?

      Apples to oranges my friend.

      Besides, what is stopping you from reading that data on an ebayed machine, printing it out and OCRing it?
    • Unless I want to build custom hardware, I don't believe it can be done...

      There are service bureaus that will read those disks and stick the data on a secured server to download. Hell, you can even get paper tape and hollerith cards read for you.

  • by infonography ( 566403 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:46PM (#13634626) Homepage
    Subject of a Cowboy Bebop episode. This is why I watch anime. They actually take some time to examine an idea like where to find a Betamax player 150 years from now. http://rfblues.aaanime.net/Sessions/session18.htm [aaanime.net]
  • That I could throw away my file drawer full of 8" (DS-DD 128K) floppy disks full of 8080/8048/8051 assembly code; but then what do I do with that MDS-235 in my basement?
  • Give it to me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fumanchu32 ( 671324 )
    Just give me the document. I'll print off a hard copy today, that new fangled paper technology looks promising (Assume acid free paper, no sunlight, etc, for you picky individuals). Just leave them a cd with my contact info. I will give them the directions to the family fortune, I promise. You can trust me, I'm a [insert political party of choice here].
  • by hungrygrue ( 872970 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:47PM (#13634637) Homepage
    as the CD probably couldn't be read regardless. CDs do not last forever. http://www.warehousephoto.com/How_Permanent_is_you r_CD-R.htm [warehousephoto.com] In fact many will be unreadable in as little as 2 years. If you want to archive, print it with good ink on acid free archival paper.
  • by BitterAndDrunk ( 799378 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:47PM (#13634638) Homepage Journal
    I read an article about 10 months ago about the "death of history" due to the electronic age.
    In a nutshell, as we've moved to more digital forms of communication (phone and email), one of the primary methods historians use to piece together older eras is going extinct - the written correspondence from one person to the next.
    It was an excellent article; my google-fu sucks apparently because I can't find hide nor hair of it. Curses. No +5 Informative for me.
  • We live in an age where almost everyone has gotten rid of their 35mm camera and replaced it with a digital camera. Most such people have no idea how to use them. I have a dozen or so family members with 256 meg flash RAM in their digital camera, and it's a good thing because they have no idea how to copy the pictures to their computer. And what if they did manage that? The next inevitable hard drive crash would make them lose all of them anway.

    I automatically copy my digital pictures and mini-dv files
  • You'll have no problem obtaining a device capable of reading a CD in 40 years, software to read any file format that ever existed can be obtained from this thing we call "the internet". If it's a particularly esoteric format you might have to spend a little time with it, though with the family fortune at stake that doesn't seem like much.

    The main problem is that in 40 years the organic dies on that CDR (I'm assuming) will long have degraded and the disc is completely and utterly unreadable. In fact that o

    • "dyes" is of course what I meant there...
    • Why do people keep saying CD's die in 2 year/5 years/x years? Has anyone actually had a CD die on them? I have CD's in front of me at this very moment that are over 10 years old and still work great (yes I did in fact test them). Is there some conspiracy by the blank CD manufacturers to make you think all your CD's are going to die so you need to keep transferring the contents from one disk to another forever?
  • More importantly...even though they might be able to find whatever software/info they would need to configure something/buy legacy hardware to run it...there's most likely not a chance in hell that the CD would still work after that length of time due to how quickly the information decays on them.

    The big long term problem with our increasingly digital world is data decay from all our archived information.

    The person would be better off inscribing the information in stone for their descendants to find because

  • I think that.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slapout ( 93640 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:49PM (#13634657)
    ..a more likey outcome is that patents and DRM will lead to a digital dark age.
  • I guess most average CD brands would have deteriorated beyond rescue long before 2045 anyway.

    Heck, that's something I have to remind people using CD's for digital photography even now: never buy CD-RW's, always burn new ones. They're so cheap anyway, and you get some redundancy, and there's less risk of them simply going bad from a brand of worse quality than you expected.

    As for the article, yes, it's quite important to make the transitions and not miss out more than say 3-4 generations!
  • Not really a problem (Score:4, Informative)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <{dadinportland} {at} {yahoo.com}> on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:52PM (#13634679) Homepage Journal
    people migrate their data to new technologies all the time.

    Think about it. A person gets a new computer with the latest technology, then they transfer their data to the new machine.A contant upgrade cyscly.

    Same with lerge businesses, they may be using a tape library, but they upgrade there tapes regularly. And if some came out with a 1000 terabytes in a cubic inch of crystal storage device, they would also ahve a way to migrate there clients data. If they didn't they would have a hard time selling any.

  • CD Rot (Score:3, Informative)

    by Malicious ( 567158 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @07:52PM (#13634682)
    Don't forget about CD Rot [rdrop.com]. While you'd like to believe that if you put that Treasure Map on a CD so you can find the treasure years from now, chances are... your map will have disspeared on you.

    This is why I still get my digital photos developed. Last thing I want is all my treasured memories to become suddenly un-readable someday.
  • Make your problem Google's problem: Mail yourself all your archive files to your Gmail account
  • The easy and short answer is to not rely on any middleware: use printed word. If you pack any sort of digital media, it will either degrade or it will not be able to be read. If you pack, say, a PDA, or even a laptop. there's no garauntee that the storage media will survive the decades, either, or that the same electrical power setup will exist then.

    On the other hand, a written message on non-acidic paper (probably some kind of vellum,) properly cared for, can last for a long, long time. And you don't ne
  • People in China still rely heavily on diskettes and other gadgets found in computers from the previous century, and I am sure this is more true in India and in Africa. Thus, in 2045 we need look no farther than the poorer parts of the world to find older equipment. Just look at all the 50s cars found in abundance on Cuba.

    The question is rather if the USA exists in 2045. There are other, more important questions as well, and this is a non-issue. People who update technology usually transfer their stuff to th
  • Reminds me of a discussion I once got into about analog vs. digital storage. Some of the people on the analog side argued that the myth of digital media being everlasting is false -- which it is. Digital media, on their own, should be seen as temporary storage. The true virtue of digital media isn't even the media itself -- it's the content. Content is what can be copied over and over again with no degradation.

    Like oral traditions, the chain of copying needs to remain unbroken for any information to truly l
  • Who cares? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Chysn ( 898420 )
    So we're going to lose our information. Who cares? Proton decay will eventually destroy all of it. Sure, that's a long time in the future. You know how things go: it's 10^1032 years away today, but before you know it the kids have moved out and the end of the universe is right around the corner.

    Just try and keep those bits in line.
  • a tech story from the past, just go to slashdot...It will be back.
  • This is a topic that I thought about a while back, and even wrote an article on [baheyeldin.com].

    There are also some success stories [baheyeldin.com] with old media.

    I hope our data does not meet the fate of Hieroglyphs: undecipherable for two millenia.

  • I have a box with several dozen reels of super 8 movies that were taken by my family many many years ago. Last time I found someone that might be able to convert those reels to digital format the cost was very high.

    It is very likely that all of those films are lost at this point.
  • That is why paper books are so important.

    If stored properly they will last a thousand years..
    • Re:Paper (Score:4, Interesting)

      by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:12PM (#13634847) Homepage Journal
      Heh, thats something I didn't understand in the scenario mentioned in the summary, why would someone create a paper explaining a document on a cd, but then not bother to print out the document itself? Seems a bit weird to be combining "formats" like that if you will. More than likely what would happen is that the grandchildren would find a spindle of cds that may contain old family photographs and throw them out not knowing what they contained(priceless family memories or they could just be leisure suit larry games)
  • reading CDs will be trivial for evermore.. unless something really serious happens to the human race, and then we'll have much bigger things to worry about, like how to build vehicles, or houses. i really find this kind of scenario bizzarre. 2045 is only 40 years away. when was the LP invented? could you build a rudimentary LP player in 10 years? i think so. its only going to get easier.
    now, reading old hard disks could be more difficult because both the reader and media are combined, i,e, the interface be
    • oh you're talking about degradation of media? oh well if it's gone, it's gone. maybe you can recover some, but thats current tech, and it's digital, so nothing magical is likely to happen there. anything that people care about is naturally being preserved through copying.. p2p could save the world, who'da thunk it ;)
  • ...because, you know, nobody has record players, dat tapes, or 5 1/4" drives anymore...right? Come on. At some point, yes, it will become a niche item, but short of a world-wide holocaust it will never be impossible or even preposterously difficult to recover data from old formats.
    At worst, you'll send it to a specialty studio to transfer to another format, at best, you'll call up your friend who loves those retro CD's (they just SOUND better than quantum cubes!) and have him transfer it for you.
  • by TFGeditor ( 737839 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:07PM (#13634791) Homepage
    Media evolution and subsequent obsolescence is what keeps may photographers from adopting digital cameras. Slide film images, though not "forever," are certainly more enduring and readily adaptable via scanning to whatever digital storage medium is the current state of the art.

  • There is one way to go - rely on the HD manufacturers - they have been able to continually improve storage density. Now, the only data I store on optical media is my Ghost files, so that I can rebuild my PC. Everything else is stored on a set of three HDs, which are sync'ed on a pseudo-random basis. One HD is stored away from the home, in case of fire.

    I expect in 20 years, everyone will store their data on the internet. In that time, we will trust the internet to hold our data. Why keep local storage, when
  • by po8 ( 187055 )

    First of all, you can still buy 60-year-old wire recorders [ebay.com]. What are the odds that you can't buy a vintage CD drive and enough vintage hardware to bridge it to the present day 50 years from now?

    Second of all, any competent engineer with a scanning digitizing optical microscope and a copy of some books from the library on formats could put together a workable CD reader in about a week today. Think how easy it will be in 2045.

    Yes, the CD may have degraded hugely by then. But if there's any redundancy in

  • ...should be migrated as formats/media change. Got directions to a family fortune? Don't burn a CD and hide it in the attic. If data is important to you, you should be backing it up regularly anyway, so the dying media problem should take care of itself. As for data formats, just make sure you can access all your data in the programs you use for that data type. That way, when you change programs/formats, presumably some form of converter will translate your important data to the new standard.

    That said, I th
  • Serves you right for making the treasure map in MS Word!
  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:10PM (#13634828) Homepage Journal
    ... except for stuff that has copy protection on it...

    why? because anything anybody wants to preserve they will either copy it over to newer larger space media or the archiologist will build the device to read the old media.

    if there is any concern its with teh ability of the media to hold data... but we were all told how much better cds are to tape and floppy at holding information....

    so its on the media industry to be sued when the truth is exposed....????

    cd's are to last at least 100 year???

    of course there is always writing it out and storing it in some cave at the dead sea site...
  • LaTeX [latex-project.org]

    The damn spec hasn't changed in ages and is designed especial for posterity. If you have a textbook (you know, those expensive things you have to buy for school?) they're all written in LaTeX.
  • Should of thought harder Gramps. CD rot may have taken care of coating on the disc long before the kids get access to it. Optical formats, though much more long lasting than magnetic tape, do not have an infinite life span. Over the course of say, 50 years, it's not feasible to think that all the data on the CD will still be non-corrupted.

    Here's an example [rdrop.com]
  • I fully expect that in 30 years when I have 18 year old kids living in the basement, that they will have the inherent know-how to reassemble any such thing. I.e. our 50 year old parents look at us and go "How did they figure that out?" I likewise expect to someday look at my children and wonder how they know such a useless trick. :D
  • I had to find and install a 5.25 HD floppy today for someone to retrieve old contract files from floppies. The easy part was the drive, from the tickle trunk under my desk. The hard part was the cable. To find an old floppy cable was tough. All-in-all it was a sexy looking beast, a Compaq Deskpro SFF 866 with floppy instead of the CDROM.

    BTW if you don't know what a tickle trunk is, google Mr Dressup
  • Yeah, but so what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ottffssent ( 18387 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:28PM (#13634953)
    The example's contrived. I don't like contrived examples unless they illustrate an important principle, which this one doesn't really do. Such data loss has already started happening even in my own life, but I don't think that's a bad thing. The fairly minimal effort required to keep data up-to-date is a natural impediment to a policy of keeping everything. Data which isn't worth a new hard drive and an rsync dies. Data which isn't worth the effort of importing and re-saving in a newer format dies. This isn't bad. It's not new either.

    Data goes the way of the dodo not because of technological obstacles, but because of a decision made or not made to preserve it. We don't know how the great pyramids were built, the obelisks shaped and erected, etc. not because there was no way to preserve that information, but because it wasn't important enough to justify the effort. The same is true of 10-yr-old WP documents I made to bill people when I mowed lawns for spending money, or a million other things that get saved or trashed every day.

    If you're serious about the problem, then it's not a technical hurdle. Data storage is cheap. Emulators are good. Batch document conversion is possible. The problem, if you're willing to call it that is that the benefit has to outweigh the cost. Lowering the cost of data preservation only increases the cost of data searching and real information retrieval. And very quickly it becomes a philosophical argument about the value of preserving irrelevant knowledge in a world that has moved on. Yet the argument is couched in terms of data storage and manipulation which is really the tiniest corner of the issue.
  • by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @08:39PM (#13635030) Homepage Journal
    This is already happening with analog recordings. The Piano Paper that you put into a piano and the piano plays the music. The old drums that were originally used to record sound. Records (45s, 33s, 78s), 8 Track Tape, Reel-to-Reel, dictaphone, Cassettes (becoming this way).

    Want picture/video? My father has some negatives that are 3 inches by 5 inches. Back before the days of 35mm film. Then there are those old home movies that predate VHS.

    The only difference between that and digital is that digital is newer.
  • by jlseagull ( 106472 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @10:27PM (#13635618) Homepage
    Idea #1
    What about a semi-intelligent expert system daemon that, given two document formats, could figure out how to convert one to the other?

    Consider this: I would like to archive a set of CAD documents, but they're in archaic format X. Modern CAD formats are A, B, and C. CAD programs typically have ancestors that can convert from past versions for migration purposes.

    So consider an interlinked set of CAD converters:
    #1 can convert formats F, G, H to formats D and E.
    #2 can convert formats W, Y, X, and Z to formats I, J, K, L, and F.
    #3 can convert formats D and E to formats A, B, and C.

    Consider then a daemon that continuously monitors a filesystem looking for documents that aren't in a current format. It then fires up the converters and performs the conversion while archiving all past versions.

    So in the example, the daemon fires up converters 2, then 1, and finally 3.

    It could also cryptographically sign the files to provide a chain-of-custody.

    It also maintains a set of applications and an emulator for different operating systems. When one needs to open an archaic dataset, one can either look at the converted files or call the daemon directly to seamlessly pass an emulated application session to the user if you want to look at it in the original form.

    Idea #2
    Documents could contain their own viewers. Yes, I know that's a bad idea making document objects executables, but hear me out. The document custodian daemon could also maintain a sandbox for document viewers to run in - it could even be a standardized virtual machine written in something like Java. This is getting a little out of my area of expertise, but I'll ask my girlfriend about it. It would get interesting after several levels of emulated virtual machines.

    This year, hard drives became cheaper than tape for the first time in terms of $/GB. RAID with NFS should be way better than tape backup in terms of retention and nearline access, but I'm not really an IT guy.

    I'm sure there's a business model in there somewhere.
  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Friday September 23, 2005 @11:46PM (#13635964) Homepage
    While file formats and media have presented a problem, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that digital information has an extended lifetime, and the most valuable information will be converted into newer formats as well as more simple and fundamental formats. Simple formats like ASCII text have handled the test of time. I'm more concerned by the potential lockdown of information through overzealous use of DRM technology backed by overbroad intellectual property laws. Just like the last dark age, the next one will be the result of people trying to control other people.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Saturday September 24, 2005 @12:21AM (#13636116)
    For optical media, it's very easy... assuming the media actually survives, it's the same way this guy plays vynil LP's using a flatbed scanner:

    http://wired-vig.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,57 769,00.html [wired.com]

    Obviously, in the future, ultra-high resolution optical input will put the current scanning/video technology to shame; they will just need to scan the thing in and run a program against the data to get the contents of the media back.

  • by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Saturday September 24, 2005 @12:37AM (#13636178) Homepage
    I work with a bunch of library science and archvist types who worry about this all the time.

    It's such a pain taking care of books that are a few hundred years old. But they miss the point when it comes to digital.

    For example, data I had on 5.25" floppies was moved to 3.5" floppies, then to a 20MB hd, then to a CD-ROM, then onto my current system.

    If it's that important you transition it to new media.
  • by aiken_d ( 127097 ) <brooks@tangentr[ ]om ['y.c' in gap]> on Saturday September 24, 2005 @05:22AM (#13636915) Homepage
    Dateline: February, 1890

    New "photographs" may be useless for archival purposes

    Scientiests say that the dyes used in so-called "cameras" may not provide the kind of lasting record that traditional stone tablets have provided. In fact, left in bright sunlight for 50 years or more, photographs may be completely unreadable by even the latest 1890 technology.

    This will surely mean the demise of modern civilization, since future generations are very unlikely to care enough about the past to devote any energy at all into preservation and reclamation of older information. Anything that can't be read by 1900 is likely to be lost forever.

    It's yet another sad commentary on the state of modern civilization, and one more reason why manufacturers of stone tablets and chisels shouldn't throw into the towel too soon.


Yet magic and hierarchy arise from the same source, and this source has a null pointer.