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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 Software might be out of date, hardware may no longer be used...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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  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:49AM (#29183877)

    Recently it was mentioned on a documentary I've seen: 10,000 years of evolution, and the best thing to conserve information we came up with was stone tablets.

    It's unfortunately true. The more sophisticated our means of storage are, the more brittle and frail they are. Essentially, you would have to bury not only the medium but also the means to play them back. The tricky part is finding out "where to stop".

    "Thanks for the 8track" was a quite good tagline for this problem. 20 years ago, an 8track would have been the thing to store information on. Today, you would have a hard time finding a player. And the problem gets worse with every year. Magnetic tapes, VHS or Beta, dominated the video market for over two decades. DVD didn't dominate for one. BluRay is probably going to be replaced before long. The time between generations of players is shrinking quickly. Soon we'll see, if you're not an early adopter, you're already lagging a generation behind.

    The most sensible way, and a worthy geek project too, would be to create a playback device made entirly from standard off the shelf parts that you may sensibly assume to be still available in a few decades, put the packing list along with the content you want to preserve into the box and make sure you also store your content in a way that survives the test of time.

    You only have to bridge about two decades. It would be a very interesting project to try something like that with the goal to make information last millenia.

  • Re:Perhaps... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:54AM (#29183911)

    As odd as it may sound, this may be one of the more sophisticated ideas.

    Yes, many services fold over times. Just use all of them. At least one will probably survive. It might pay, though, to keep monitoring such services and move the data if you happen to run out of backups. But that, essentially, perverts the idea of a time capsule. The interesting part of opening such a thing isn't just the old info, it's the very idea that these old parts have been sitting there for years/decades, untouched and stored.

  • Analogue! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:07AM (#29183993) Homepage

    The most sensible thing would be digital files, with a maintenance schedule -- migrate to a new medium every so often.

    However if the requirement absolutely requires that a physical medium is locked up or buried for 17 years, then I'd go for analogue media with tangible encodings:

    • For text and images, paper and ink (for longer periods, carve stone or etch metal!)
    • For audio, get some vinyl pressed
    • For video, 8mm film

    It may not be easy to play the vinyl or the 8mm film in 17 years -- but it will be possible, and decay is less likely to be catastrophic.

  • Re:Netbook (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:41AM (#29184159) Homepage

    A standard harddisk survives 6-10 years of continued _use_. Storing it is perfectly safe. If you are really worried buy a modern SCSI drive, they should be able to survive the 16years even if it is running the whole time.

  • Re:16 years (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arcade ( 16638 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:27AM (#29184389) Homepage

    I'm sorry, but the computer explosion started around 1993. :) And about technologies.. the REAL floppy drives was dead in 1993. Actually, two generations of floppy drives were dead..

    - Furthermore, disk drives. They were no longer huge behemoths, but small nifty ones.
    - Remember 8250 UART serial ports? Long dead.
    - Remember 2400bps modems? Long dead. How about accoustic couplers?
    - We had pensioned CGA and EGA - and gone for VGA by 1993. SVGA came soon afterwards.

    New technologies came and went darn fast back in 1993, just as they do now. Hell, back in 1993, 286 machines were going unusable. These days I have no problems using a machine from 9 years ago thinking it's fast enough. In 1993, using a computer from 1984 was a painful experience. Back then, I had a need to upgrade my CPU, my hard-drives, and so forth every so often - since they were quite simply not fast enough.

    These days, on the other hand, I still am quite happy with almost a decade old machines, chugging around for various tasks. They're more than fast enough.

    In short, I don't think 16 years old technology will be much of a problem. I think it'll be less of a problem with technology bought "now", than it is now with technology from 1993..

  • Re:Divorce? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by st1d ( 218383 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:45AM (#29184477) Homepage

    Tossing out the TV would save a lot of marriages. Folks don't talk anymore, they drool into the tube for hours on end. Plus, people see things on TV, decide they need that in their life, and throw away perfectly good relationships because of some cheesy screenwriting. Of course, it doesn't help marrying someone for superficial Ron White says, you can buy a bigger rack, but you can't fix stupid. :)
    As for the topic, I'd go with archival CD/DVDs (read-only) for the things you can't print, they're popular enough now that even if the disk warps or is otherwise obsolete, there should be someone around who will still have the ability to extract information from them. Might want to toss in a pack of baseball cards or something else that will accumulate in value during that time, just to pay for it, though. lol

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

    by mog007 ( 677810 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:54AM (#29184539)

    USB 3.0 is coming in a year or so, and it's still maintaining backwards compatibility with the older revisions, so it seems reasonable that computers 17 years in the future would be able to support them, since USB technology is already 13 years old. The bigger problem would be the file system on the drive. Is FAT16 still supported by default on the major operating systems of today?

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

    by Bakkster ( 1529253 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:21AM (#29184761)

    Most flash drive manufacturers state that their drives are not good for archival storage. They expect to lose data before 10 years have passed.

    This is absolutely correct, no flash memory. Unlike hard drives (and tapes, for completeness), which store data as magnetic regions, flash memory stores actual electric charge. While the magnetic domains on an HDD are permanent (unless overwritten or degaussed), the small charge in each flash media bit will slowly leak away. The drive should still be usable, it just won't have your data on it anymore.

    A portable hard drive might be the best solution, for its small size and relative permanence of data. Perhaps even an iPod, preloaded with music that it can play, pictures and video it can watch, and files that (assuming USB and the files system are still around) will also be available. One iPod with everyone's files could be a good split, and a great trip down memory lane. Just be sure to pack in a USB wall charging socket, just in case.

  • by Barny ( 103770 ) <> on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:49AM (#29185111) Journal

    A step further, fork out for some hosting, pay 20yrs in advance, set up a web page that has a "enter the password here" kinda thing, then put the password on a piece of acid free paper with the URL (don't forget to buy a domain).

    But if thats too much effort, you could, i dunno, write something on paper, sticks some photos in it, and maybe some memorabilia.

  • Re:Keep it simple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cptdondo ( 59460 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @08:52AM (#29185139) Journal
    +1. My father in law knew he was dying for several years, so he spent a part of that time on a round-the-world trip, revisiting all the places that were important to him. Then he compiled several albums, with original pictures from his youth, newer pictures from his trip, and stories about what those places meant to him. It's an incredibly powerful document, and it's the best thing he could have left for his grandkids, all the more so because in this age of high mobility and disposable housing we no longer have family histories.
  • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @09:22AM (#29185525) Homepage

    Memorabilia from 16 years ago is going to be completely banal to a 17 year old. Think about memorabilia from 1992 being "opened" in a time capsule by a 17 year old today. Gosh, a VHS tape of "Unforgiven," and a tape of "November Rain" by Guns 'N Roses. This is not exciting.

    Better might be to put in stuff that's 18 years old now. (That is, when she's seventeen, it will be from as long before when she is born as she is old). That might have at least a little bit of nostalgia value in 16 years.

    File formats will be gone, of course, but in 16 years lots of people will still have 2009-vintage technology around, so she'll still be able to access it.

  • Wrong age (Score:3, Interesting)

    by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:02AM (#29186029) Homepage Journal
    Having read the bulk of the responses, and having been 17 ... seventeen years ago, I want to offer a tangential point:

    Don't give it to her when she's 17. It will mean very little to her then. Give it to her at the birth of her first child.
  • Re:Pretty easy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @10:48AM (#29186683) Journal

    Yes, I have ISO file systems that I burned on CDs 15 years ago and current computers have no difficulty mounting them. I would still choose that over UDF (ISO 13346) on DVD for two reasons: lower density recording is typically more tolerant of physical degradation, and the video industry seems more likely to abandon DVD for higher capacity media than the music industry to abandon CD.

    The formats for individual files are important too. On those oldest disks, I can still view the HTML, images in JPEG and GIF, and flat ASCII text files. Interestingly, groff handles the troff/mm files on the disk without any difficulties, but extracting the Word files took a bit more effort. The PostScript files on the disk still render just fine (no PDF files to try). The MPEG files on the disks play.

  • by Falcon4 ( 946292 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @02:09PM (#29189933) Homepage

    USB isn't going anywhere fast, and even 16 years from now, the hardware will still be plentiful enough to ensure it's still readily available. The form factor may change, but the fact that everyone has a USB device of some kind (all with the same computer-side "A" connector) would ensure that even 16 years later, they'll still be on the front of at least some computers. USB has already lasted over 10 years in its current form... ;)

    So that's a starting point. I'd say get yourself a high quality (read: lower capacity; look for a "single-level cell") USB Flash drive. Flash chips are used on all PC motherboards, even on the oldest (>10 year old) ones and they still work fine, so I don't think there'd be an issue with it losing its data over time. Try looking for a Flash drive with low capacity that claims high-speeds (the signs of SLC Flash), but stay away from cheap Chinese ripoff junk.

    MP3 and JPEG have both stood the test of time - once again, they're both standards that are well over 10 years old (I think over 15, even). Your music and pictures would be safe with them. And, of course, TXT files are just plain ASCII data with no formatting, the de facto standard for storing any plain readable information on a digital system.

    Or... you can just toss a netbook in there, new in box. It might just be as good as opening a brand-new-in-box Apple IIc []. That would definitely be a cool gift, as long as she understands the value of nostalgia and doesn't just think "gee, what a piece of junk, thanks". :P

  • by fast turtle ( 1118037 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @02:10PM (#29189949) Journal

    First off, you need to know what you're placing in the container to determine how big it needs to be. The next is to ensure that you have multiple packs of Silica Desicent to handle any extra moisture (corrosion reduction). In regards to the container itself, it needs to be waterproof and possibly air tight but not gas proof as you'll eventually need to purge all Oxygen from the container using Inert Dry Nitrogen. Then simply don't open it until the designated time (birthday gift is a great idea). Another way of introducing Dry Nitrogen into the case is the use of Liquid Nitrogen and allowing it to evaporate. The advantage is it will drive all of the oxygen out of the case and ensure a very slight overpressure, which helps keep moisture from entering.

  • Re:Long term CD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by toddestan ( 632714 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @11:17PM (#29196269)

    Wow, she'll have around $2000 then. In 2025 dollars. While I'm sure she won't be complaining about free money, it's not like it's going to be a heck of a lot of money.

    If you want to get something along the lines of a long term investment, I would recommend an ounce of gold. Perhaps get a bullion coin like an American Eagle or Canadian Maple minted in the current year. One will run you a bit less than $1000 currently. I would expect it will appreciate better than the CD will. Or at the very least it will be a pretty physical object to find in the time capsule in 16 years.

  • by Joe Snipe ( 224958 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @12:20AM (#29196657) Homepage Journal

    ironic how this story is almost 12 hours old and this comment is outdated but:

    Use an iPod and a plug. The interface is simple and electricity is pretty much the same as it was in 1920. Solid state drive and built in interface make it the clear winner (and I am not a mac fan, so take it as you will). Ps at least one person in her "time capsule celebration" group will know how to use it.

  • by Mr.Kwagga ( 1625279 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @04:34AM (#29198183)
    The USB 3 standard is being finalized, that should last quite a few years! I mean USB 2 must be almost 9 years old, and it will still last for another few years. USB 3 will be backwards compatible. The other option is to use a high quality archive level DVD/Blu-Ray. Verbatim makes a disc that's certified for Archive purposes, but its pricey. The netbook idea is nice, but I wonder if it will last, unless the time capsule is air sealed. Another thing to think about, is filesystems, if you use a Data DVD or flash disk, what's the chances the file system will be supported in 17 years? Rather get a Good quality Portable DVD player, or something like it, remove the battery. Make a few videos, record it onto the Archival DVD, and store it in a air-sealed container, make sure no moisture or insects can get the the container, metal containers are a good option.
  • by msp3k ( 1620235 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @07:19AM (#29199123)
    This question gets asked a lot. The answer is that there is no guaranteed way -- interfaces change so that your device may not even plug into anything in the future; motors in drives seize up and stop turning; file formats evolve so that there may not be software to read your data; bitrot erodes the data right out from under your nose... The best solution that anyone has come up with is to keep it spinning on a live computer, and migrate your data with you when you upgrade said computer hardware/software. If you want to put something in the capsule that's great, but make it a symbolic effort. If you /really/ want to make sure the data is readable in 16 years, then keep a copy on your computer and don't delete it. Storage capacities blossom larger and larger every year, so chances are you won't miss the drive space.

The best defense against logic is ignorance.