dead media, preservation and HARDWARE COMPANIES
Dead Media Necronauts- Dead Media Project is a loose networking effort by independent scholars to establish a common source of public knowledge. It's a kind of Invisible College of archeological media illuminati. ex: DEAD PRELITERATE MEDIA, DEAD SOUND-TRANSFER NETWORKS, SMOKE DISPLAYS AND NETWORKS, DEAD PHYSICAL TRANSFER NETWORKS
CRYPTO «Few persons can be made to believe that it is not quite an easy thing to invent a method of secret writing which shall baffle investigation. Yet it may be roundly asserted that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve...»
Anybody remember floppy disks?
You see them sometimes at garage sales or thrift stores, lying forlornly in a cardboard box, the music of some pop-music star of the early 1970s locked within their plastic cases, never to be heard -- unless someone can track down an eight-track-tape machine.
Perhaps that same scene will be played out 35 years from now with boxes of digital cameras going begging because no one has a way of unlocking the photos embedded on compact flash cards or memory sticks or whatever the obsolete media storage technology of the era turns out to be.
That the tunes of Three Dog Night or fuzzy photos of a 5-year-old's birthday party are rendered inaccessible by the march of technology represents no great societal tragedy or loss to posterity.
But what if the information was something more significant -- such as government or corporate records, personal financial or health data, documents of historic significance?
Paper-based records we can preserve and read even if they're centuries old. Presuming that we handle them carefully and still know how to read, we'll be able to read them hundreds of years from now. Jerry Handfield, the state's archivist, recently returned from a trip to Argentina where he viewed paper records dating from 1500.
What about records that depend on a specific device or piece of hardware to read them?
"The digital information we create is in danger of disappearing on a major scale," says a release from the Digital Futures Alliance, a consortium established last year by University of Washington Libraries.
"We think about that a lot," says Feliks Banel, deputy director of Seattle's Museum of History and Industry. Institutions such as MOHAI not only have to sort and store vast amounts of archival material, they have to think about how to access the information, even when the specific technology is no longer in wide use.
"We're getting video formats donated to us that we have to go to a studio to get transferred," says Banel, who has hunted down such devices as an eight-track player (located at Goodwill) and a player for 16-inch transcription discs of recordings of 1940s radio broadcasts.
In some fields of interest, enthusiasts are doing the job of advancing the material to whatever is the current format. Banel notes that many "Golden Age" radio shows, having been available on records and then cassette tapes, are now available in the MP3 format.
But with so much material on formats that have a much shorter lifespan, there's a danger that material may be lost. Says Banel, "I don't know anyone who could play floppy disks."
Actually, there is someone who could. The state archivist's office has been compiling, at its facility in Cheney, a library of hardware, software and manuals. Handfield says the collection includes such early-PC-era relics as Commodore 64s, Kaypros and Apple Lisas, all kept in anticipation of the day, he says, when someone finds an 8-inch floppy disk (yes, there were such things) "and says, 'What's this?'"
The library also makes sense because Washington has several thousand governmental units and, as Handfield notes, "There's no mandate they use the same equipment."
Accessibility is not the only issue with new, old and soon-to-be-obsolete information-storage formats. There's also an issue of whether, even if you have the equipment to read it, anything useful will be left on what you're trying to read. Paper can decay, photographs fade; digital media can be even less permanent. (CDs, for example, are considered unstable. "We don't keep CDs as archival media," Handfield says.)
If the issue isn't yet a big concern for many individuals or businesses, at least some people are thinking about the problem.
The Digital Futures Alliance includes as charter partners such heavyweights as Microsoft, Amgen and RealNetworks and has set up working groups to tackle specific issues including what to keep and how.
Whatever answers the alliance and others come up with, sooner would be preferable. If new formats appear as rapidly as they have been, and obsolete formats prove to be as unstable as forecast, and the flood of data stored digitally continues unabated -- and all of those are quite likely -- a lot of people are going to be discovering very soon they have a problem they didn't expect to have.
And when they make that discovery, they'd probably like some better method for data retrieval than holding an eight-track tape up to the ear in hopes of hearing something, or holding a computer floppy up to a bright light in hopes of reading something on it.
Twenty five years of the IBM PC
The IBM PC made communication history
Computer firm IBM made technological history on August 12, 1981 with the announcement of a personal computer - the IBM 5150. Costing $1,565, the 5150 had just 16K of memory - scarcely more than a couple of modest e-mails worth.