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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 Software might be out of date, hardware may no longer be used...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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  • 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.
    • ... I wouldn't want to lay money on the electronics still working in 16 years time (gone off electrolytic capacitors being the most likely) and thats before you have to worry about the mechanical components of the hard drive seizing up through lack of use not to mention the data becoming corrupted as the magnetism on the disk slowly changes. And similarly even if you use a netbook with an SSD theres a good chance it would have lost or corrupted enough data by then to make it crash prone or even unbootable.

  • 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

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gafisher ( 865473 )
      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 eac
    • 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 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.

    • by martas ( 1439879 )

      Multiple members of my family want to contribute digital data â" text, video, music files.

      right, write it all down... in binary.

      • Your point being?

        What is writing? Encoding of information. Nothing else. You take information, you formulate it in words, you use an alphabet of letter (or symbols representing syllables or words, depending on your alphabet) and you write those down.

        The most sensible way to long-term store this kind of information would actually be a printout of the hexdump along with a format description how it can be decoded again.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'll bet you can read an ISO9660 CD that's 15 years old. If it's not hopelessly scratched, anyway.
  • Why bother finding a medium and risk damage to it? Just upload your content somewhere (or multiple places) it can't get lost. Or have the waybackmachine archive it. Then put the link(s) on a piece of paper, laminate it and you're good to go.

  • by auric_dude ( 610172 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:43AM (#29183821)
    Open an account for her right now and place the username password combination in the time capsule. Once 17 she will then be able to ask slashdot how to read all the ancient media and have a geekish low account number when viewed fro 16 years into the future.
  • If it's data (Score:2, Informative)

    by Andtalath ( 1074376 )

    Then it should be stored redundantly in several locations, online and off-line and should be checked at several points.

    An actual time-box is not a good idea at all since all tech has a risk of going bad even if not used.

  • For the data format: stick to documented standards. ASCII or UTF-8 Unicode will do great for the text of a document; (X)HTML is likely to be available too; PDF maybe. For pictures I'ld bet on JPEG or an uncompressed RGB format, for moving images on MPEG2. There is nothing wrong with storing files in multiple formats for redundancy.
    The medium is another issue. Would a CD-R be readable after 15 years? A CD-RW may be more reliable, but can you find a CD-ROM player at that time? A USB stick or SD card are "new"

    • by Tuoqui ( 1091447 )

      Considering DVD players are backwards compatible with CDs and the Blu-Ray type things are backwards compatible with DVDs and CD's I'd say yes there would be a method to read a CD 15 years from now.

  • If stored properly, I would expect a conventional 'archival grade' DVD to be readable - at least have recoverable data - in that time. However, in 16 years few teenagers or even private households will have any use or exposure to physical media of any kind - blue-ray, DVDs and CDs relics of pre-wired times on par with 78rpm discs and dead sea scrolls. Only greybearded nerds and specialty data recovery / conversion places will probably even have operational, attached optical drives. Teenagers certainly won't

    • Expect intellectual property zombies to have agents monitoring such recovery processes and possibly interfering with any licensed content you might choose to include.

      So you're predicting that within the next 16 years the film and music industry will begin using the undead in their war against copyright infringement? A bold prediction my friend...bold indeed.

  • x86 emulator to the Apple IIc, then put one in the box. It's the only way to be sure.

  • 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.

    • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by arcade ( 16638 )

        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

  • 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.

    • 20 years ago, an 8track would have been the thing to store information on.

      20 years ago CDs were almost 10 years old, and 8-track was already "20 years ago, and you'd have a hard time finding a player".

    • 10,000 years of evolution, and the best thing to conserve information we came up with was stone tablets.

      It's unfortunately true.

      It is really, really not true. Have you ever stopped to consider

      1. survival rate -- i.e. how many clay/stone tablets have not survived four millennia; and
      2. how many clay tablets would have survived if kept under normal operating conditions -- i.e. not being fired when an invading army set fire to your city?

      Now stone, I grant you, gets past the second of these conditions better than clay. However, it fails the first condition even more spectacularly than clay does, since stone tends to get destructively recycled

  • The data density is pretty low, but it's awfully durable.


    • For those who don't remember this technology, mylar tape is punched tape like ticker tape. Ticker tape is the paper version. If the machinery is no longer around to read it, it can be read by hand. Most Mylar tape has 9 rows of holes. The small holes near the center are the clock. The other 8 bits were ASCII. If memory serves me, there were 3 bits, clock, then 5 bits. The clock was off center so the tape could not be threaded in upside down or tail first from a tape that was not rewound.

      A quick google

  • by bistromath007 ( 1253428 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @05:56AM (#29183927)
    USB is like... the best standard ever. Just have everyone throw everything on a flash stick. In 16 years, if there is not just yet another faster version of it that is backward compatible with all the old ones, then you can personally come over here and slap me with a rolled up newspaper.

    The files are a little tougher, but it's hard to imagine .jpg, .mpg, and .mp3 ever not being supported. Those are standards which are also more likely to be updated than ditched, I think.
    • Wish I'd thought of this while writing the first post, but another benefit of using a flash stick is that, if you're only writing stuff to it once and then sticking it in a box, it'll be more durable than an optical disc of any kind. Discs can melt, warp, get scratches, crack, and some writeables seem to have crappy, degradable media.
      • It feels weird to keep replying to myself, but a techie friend of mine has pointed out that flash memory does degrade over time even when not in use, although the rate is slow enough that any corruption should be manageable if you still choose that. If you don't want to take the risk, we determined that a USB hard drive would be the best alternative. As with the flash, the plug itself is definitely going to be able to get stuck in something, and if for whatever weird reason the drive itself won't play with
  • just carve stuff on a piece of gold and use the cravings for cheesecake! Your niece will thank you for it trust me!

  • Analogue! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup . n et> 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.

  • Beam the messages into space and just assume there will be faster then light travel by then.
  • What you ought to do, is get a decent (but definitely used) computer that has all the multimedia capability to play the disks / files / whatever you are storing. Complete with operating system and necessary software. It sounds like overkill, but it's pretty inexpensive these days, especially used.

    Just make sure you put it all (computer AND media) in a consistently cool, dark, and dry place. Temperature variations and strong light are the most likely culprits for ruining media (and anything else, for that
  • by Time_Warped ( 1266658 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @06:34AM (#29184121)
    I would include a player for any media you have. I am still trying to cope with all my Mom's trays of slides...Oh, and make sure you include descriptions of the participants, I have a lot of old slides of people I presume are cousins, but I am not sure exactly who they are....
  • ... make sure that anything that uses batteries has the batteries removed. Otherwise you'll likely find ruined electronics in 16 years from leakage.
  • They will be retro hip again.
  • As I understand it, microetched stone tablets are being researched as the most effective long term storage medium, of course it might be a bit difficult to read...

  • It's not that hard to find working equipment from 1993 today. I suspect it will be pretty straight forward to read a CD-RW or USB stick. Not convinced that 16 years is a short while, how about this? Fry's still sells floppy disks [] for some bizarre reason.
    Maybe pack a small computer (take the 3V coin cell out) would smooth things along. Although should be easy enough to find on a classified ads (if craigslist is still around) or online auction (if ebay didn't collapse under its own stupidity by then). HDMI sh

  • This Topic (Score:5, Funny)

    by techsoldaten ( 309296 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:07AM (#29184301) Journal
    This topic comes up every couple years or so. There is a good thread about archival media [] that is still surprisingly relevant today. My original response to the question is available here [].

    "For my clients, I always suggest the use of stone and / or clay tablets for all mission critical data archive projects, regardless of size or scope. Bablyonian and Greek models of data retention from as far back as 4,500 years ago are (in many cases) superior to the models we commonly use today, with much of the physical media having survived electrical storms, tornadoes, floods, fires, and wars on every scale imaginable with a data corruption rate of zero and without the benefit of a climate controlled room, dedicated security staff, or even a closet for media storage. Imagine the elegance of a 84'3/4 STROM (Stone Tablet Read Only Memory) machine hooked up to your Slackware Archive server for performing restorations, and the ST Binary Writer you have networked to your backup systems and kept physically over by the quarry... nice! The TCO for slab is far less than that of tape archives, considering you can store the media in a pile of mud and hose it down when you are ready for a restoration."


  • Oil Barrel (Score:3, Funny)

    by JohnHegarty ( 453016 ) on Tuesday August 25, 2009 @07:52AM (#29184521) Homepage

    Make sure you bury one barrel of oil with it.

    It won't help you with the message, but should pay for 4 years at a moderately priced college.

  • Dildo? (Score:4, Insightful)

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

    I love /. tags!

  • 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 []

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

Where there's a will, there's an Inheritance Tax.