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Thanks For the ... Eight-Track, Uncle Alex 633

Uncle Alex writes "My niece just turned one year old and her parents have asked that, instead of the usual gifts, we each contribute something to a time capsule to be opened on her 17th birthday. Multiple members of my family want to contribute digital data — text, video, music files. They came to me (the closest thing to a geek our family has) wondering: what's the best way to save the data to ensure she'll actually be able to see it in 16 years? Software might be out of date, hardware may no longer be used... any suggestions?"
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Thanks For the ... Eight-Track, Uncle Alex

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  • Pretty easy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by El Lobo ( 994537 ) * on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:26AM (#29183717)
    Files will always be available. I don't thing the file paradigm will be gone anytime soon the next 17 years. Too much legacy information would be gone in that case. For the same reason, audio and video files will keep being supported (as legacy formats perhaps) but they WILL be supported. There are huge archives in many places with terabytes of important media data that is archived and will need to be accessed somehow.

    The only problem might be the hardware, but hell, you can keep the media on some unused computer/server which will be available for only that purpose. Backup the files regularly via FTP to some other remote system (just in case). When hardware changes, just move the media to a new computer in the period of transition.

    I have a lot of data/programs from my old DOS days in the 80s that I still can access using emulators. Old floppies won't fit in my floppyless computer but I have copied them to my HD since ages back.

  • Netbook (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shin-LaC ( 1333529 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:31AM (#29183745)
    16 years isn't such a long time, but just to be sure, put a netbook inside the capsule. Make sure it can run on external power alone, and remove the battery.
  • Keep it simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Linker3000 ( 626634 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:35AM (#29183769) Journal

    Get a plain writing book with acid-free paper and each write a personal story, message, commentary etc. Attach photos on stable stock paper together with personal items such as a slip of wallpaper or slither of wood etc. from her first bedroom, a dried flower from the garden, small items that conjure up the day/year she was born etc.

      Store in a sealed box in a dry, safe, dust-free environment

    Much more unique, personal and tactile. /Even geeks need to know when to stop

  • by lena_10326 ( 1100441 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:35AM (#29183771) Homepage
    Physical objects should go into the capsule, not data. The reason we do that is because it's difficult to keep archived objects pristine and from getting lost. With data, you can store it in multiple places and always retrieve a bit for bit exact copy. Not so with physical objects.
  • Paper. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CdXiminez ( 807199 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:35AM (#29183773)

    Write it down.
    I can still read a book a hundred years old, I can't read a C64-floppy twenty years old.

  • Re:Netbook (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:41AM (#29183807)

    This leads to a good question, will a solid state hard drive survive 16 years without data corruption? If it is a platter hard drive, the best you are looking at is 8-10 years. The life span of platter drive decreases if it is not accessed.

    Looking at USB's history, 1.0 was released in 1996. this is 12 years ago, and it is still backwards compatible to this day. A good hedge might be to get a USB 2.0 thumb drive (granted if the answer the my question is no, than you might have to result to punch cards and paper), and load it up with the data you want to preserve. Considering that the next iteration of USB is backwards compatible, it is a safe bet that there will be a computer that can read it.

    Keep in mind that 16 years ago we used PATA and that still comes default with new motherboards.

  • 16 years (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:47AM (#29183863) Homepage

    Well, think what was around 16 years ago (1993) and project forward:

    The compact disc had been invented for a little over 13 years and was still going strong (and would do until five-ten years after that).

    Thinkpads were available with CD etc. (although we're talking 486's here because the Pentium was JUST coming out)

    So if you dug up an old 486 with some CD's now, how hard would it be to get running? How hard if your particular units didn't work? Not very.

    Now project 16 years into the future - buy yourself some *new* reliable technology (CD was in its infancy as a computer format in 1993). Make it as standard and popular as possible. Throw in a device that's still likely to be passed around on second-hand websites like eBay just in case. Hell, I can still buy ZX Spectrums for little more than a few dollars, and that was 25 years ago. Hedge your bets... use a Blu-Ray AND DVD for everything you want to put in there. Throw in some Windows / Linux / Open Source / freeware to read the data (don't do a BBC Domesday project and have to decode the software as well as find the hardware).

    If you wanna be ultra-sure... throw in a Gumstix or something small and capable of playing the media (you could use USB memory in this case, or CompactFlash or similar). Hardware easily survives 16 years if you look after it or don't touch it. The data media may not (especially writable media) so project it forward with each transition of your own personal data.

    And most importantly - backup, backup, backup. Include *two* of each device, and two copies of the data in two different media, on two seperate discs/flashs and keep a copy on your home machine to "upgrade" to the next new format.

  • by koiransuklaa ( 1502579 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:11AM (#29184009)

    Do you realize that you're a looking at it with 20/20 hindsight? Yes, the 3.5" floppy did all right but loads of other media did not. I've used 8" floppies, 5 1/4" floppies, Iomega zipdrives, several sorts of tape drives, half a dozen different memory card standards... none of those were seen as fringe technologies at the time.

    In other words: No, all technology will not be an arcane relic in 16 years but _many_ technologies will be. The trick is choosing the right one.

  • Re:Keep it simple (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gafisher ( 865473 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:28AM (#29184091)
    Well said. Recordings of any sort will be available independently if they have merit -- we can watch "Casablanca" or listen to Caruso though the media on which they were generated, and even the media on which our parents experienced them, are gone. Far better to recommend a performance and let the recipient search it out than to include a recording likely to become unusable. The exception is personal recordings such as home movies or spoken greetings; if these are to be part of the "bequest" then for each item include in the time capsule a promise from a family member who will keep a currently playable version; it will be far more meaningful for the recipient to seek out Uncle Alex to hear Great-Grandma's greeting, Aunt Mary for the home movie of the First Birthday party, etc. This keeps the family actively involved as well as at least promoting, though not ensuring, a reunion of sorts when the Time Capsule comes due and becomes not just a box of old stuff but a *living* inheritance.
  • Re:Pretty easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoobixCube ( 1133473 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:39AM (#29184145) Journal

    Keep copies of all the software needed to play those video files *cough* vlc *cough*, and a means of running that program - maybe a whole OS in a raw hard disk image or something, so you can mount it in a virtual machine in 16 years. I'm sure some nerds will want to emulate x86 processors long after ARM has taken over.

  • Re:16 years (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgd ( 2822 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:56AM (#29184241)

    First, when I think about what I was doing in 1993 and you point out it was 16 years ago, you just make me feel old.

    Thanks a lot.

    Second, I wouldn't project the pace things changed in the last 16 years to the pace they're going to change in the next 16. Half of that time was still before the massive explosion in computer usage. 16 years ago computers were a "nerd" interest. Some of us had Internet, and some colleges had it available to students, but most people were using BBS's or other dial-up destination services. Computers were uncommon.

    Today, new technologies come and go in the matter of years. Technology uptake is multiples faster than it was 16 years ago. Even basic things like interface types are starting to vanish. Firewire? SCSI? Parallel ports? Floppy drives? CDs are starting to fade, less than ten years after the use of them for recordable storage became practical. Even DVD recording is starting to fade because media has gotten too big for DVDs.

    I wouldn't assume for a moment that any hardware or media today will work on a computer 16 years from now. USB 3/4/5 may have some backwards compatibility, but wireless connectivity and higher bandwidth standards will show up, and there will be a point that going 3-4 revisions back on a standard just won't happen. Your USB flash drive won't work anymore. Bandwidth into homes and dropping flash prices will almost certainly eliminate optical storage by that time. They're already too small for backups, and useless for most people for music playback. My video camera *today* can shoot video big enough to fill a dual layer DVD in 15 minutes.

    IMO, putting digital content in a time capsule is a waste of time. The odds are SO low that it'll be readable in 16 years without someone tracking down very old hardware to use, I think they're better off putting physical things that mean something in there.

  • Re:Pretty easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:01AM (#29184279) Journal

    I would burn the video files to Bluray (primary disc) and also DVD and CD (backups). I suspect these formats will still be around 16 years from now - or at least some kind of disc player with that backwards-compatibility. I also suspect the lower density discs like CD will survive longer. I've experienced this with my own machines where the 3 1/5" floppies died, but the low-density 5 1/4" disks still worked.

    And yes text files and photos should be printed to paper. If the discs self-erase (the dye fades), then at least she'll still have the letters and photos to look at. .


  • Re:Divorce? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:05AM (#29184295) Journal

    This is what happens when you marry for superficial reasons like, "She has a big rack" or "He buys me things." People ignore the practical stuff like - Can you sit in a room for hours, just watching boring TV, and tolerate one another's annoying quirks? If you can then you can build a marriage that will last forever (or at least 'til death).

  • Re:Divorce? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mh1997 ( 1065630 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:48AM (#29184501)

    Can you sit in a room for hours, just watching boring TV, and tolerate one another's annoying quirks? you can then you can build a marriage that will last forever (or at least 'til death).

    Or even better, do you have the ability to do things without each other. Staying in a room together without annoying each other for hours is fine, but marriage is being stuck in a room together for years. Sometimes you have to leave the room, be your own person, and then come back to the room.

  • Dildo? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aquatone282 ( 905179 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:16AM (#29184703)

    I love /. tags!

  • Re:Paper. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jmitchel! ( 254506 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:24AM (#29184809)
    I'll bet you can read an ISO9660 CD that's 15 years old. If it's not hopelessly scratched, anyway.
  • Re:Get a netbook (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lershac ( 240419 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:29AM (#29184877) Homepage

    flash memory will not last that long, the charge will leak away... the drive will probably still be usable, but the stored data will have *gone away*

  • Re:Pretty easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:33AM (#29184903) Journal

    I never understood that. I can understand the purple-colored dye fading if it's exposed to light (same as a rug or painting fades), but if it's stored inside a dark Caselogic notebook, why would it fade? It should be just fine.

    I guess you could also throw-in a USB flashdrive for backup. That ought to last 15 years, but the question is - Will it still be readable? What if USB ports disappear like PS/2, Centronics, and serial connections have disappeared? For example I have an ancient 80s printer that still works, but I have no way to hook it up. The same might happen to a USB drive.

  • by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:39AM (#29184977)

    My niece just turned one year old and her parents have asked that, instead of the usual gifts, we each contribute something to a time capsule to be opened on her 17th birthday. Multiple members of my family want to contribute digital data - text, video, music files.

    Data doesn't go into time capsules. There's absolutely no reason why you couldn't share that text, video, or music with her at any point over the next 17 years. And she'll likely be exposed to it anyway... Music will be playing on the radio, books will be available, folks will share family pictures and videos...

    It might make sense to include a photograph with a note on the back, or a couple-page letter to her... But you don't just stuff the capsule full of digital data. That stuff would be better archived on a live computer and updated over the next few years.

    What you put into a time capsule are physical objects. Think back to 17 years ago... What would be more fun to stumble across - an mp3 of I'm Too Sexy [] , or a working minidisc [] player?

    What physical objects are new/cool/important/meaningful right now, that may not be later? Maybe throw a pair of her baby shoes in there... Grab something small off your dining room table or out of your front yard... Maybe the cell phone you just replaced... A couple ticket stubs to something that just opened... Toss in a cheap mp3 player (something that takes disposable batteries, like AA/AAA) loaded with some current songs on it...

    In 17 years, when she opens it, you'll be able to say "Those shoes were on your feet 17 years ago. I talked on that cell phone 17 years ago. That's what we used to listen to music 17 years ago." And she'll be able to pick the things up, handle them, feel them, turn them on, see how they worked, compare them to whatever is current. Instead of just firing up a home-made version of I Love the '80s []

  • Re:Pretty easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MikeBabcock ( 65886 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:43AM (#29185025) Homepage Journal

    If I were going to pick a random filesystem that will be readable in 15+ years for such a project, I'd probably put my bets on ISO9660, especially since this is a read-only storage situation.

  • Re:Pretty easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:33AM (#29185649) Homepage
    If you want to include digital files, the best option is to probably include the entire hardware/software stack to run it on. Get a netbook, and throw that in there. Kind of an expensive option, but definitely would ensure that the data could be read. I'm almost certain we'll still be using the same AC outlets in 17 years time. Or at worst, you'd need some kind of plug adapter.
  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:28AM (#29186381) Homepage Journal
    Why not just leave a couple bottles of good scotch and/or some wine....I like fine old scotches and wines.

    Hell, leave something that will be a collectible then...?

  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:44AM (#29186627) Journal

    Why not just leave a couple bottles of good scotch....

    If they're old now, drink 'em now. If they're young now, they're not going to improve in the bottle. A bottle of 10-year-old single-malt, stored sealed in the bottle for 35 years, is not 45-year-old single malt. It's a bottle of 10-year-old single-malt in a really dusty bottle.

    That said, after the zombie apocalypse, a good bottle of pre-apocalypse scotch might be quite valuable, either for trade or as an incendiary grenade. So this may be good thinking after all.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay