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Digital Data, a 'Ticking Time Bomb'

 3:41 pm on Jul 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

The growing problem of accessing old digital file formats is a "ticking time bomb", the chief executive of the UK National Archives has warned.

Natalie Ceeney said society faced the possibility of "losing years of critical knowledge" because modern PCs could not always open old file formats.

She was speaking at the launch of a partnership with Microsoft to ensure the Archives could read old formats.

Digital Data, a 'Ticking Time Bomb' [news.bbc.co.uk]

We are all experiencing these issues every time a program is upgraded, or even a technology change with HD DVD and BluRay.

What's going to happen to the digital data I have on my DVDs - who really knows. I'm in the middle of converting analogue to digital right now.



 12:38 pm on Jul 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

On the other hand I see that what you don't use frequently is often because is left aside... so is like "natural selection" for information.

Not really. Natural selection works by statistical processes over thousands of iterations, so that one-offs and random events get smoothed out. Not so with uploading to a new medium or format.
It's a comforting thought that the data that gets lost was less important, but that's all it is: a comforting thought.

Regardless of whether we'd be able to reinvent technologies, or how many thousands of copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica we make, or how well some vinyl records can be kept with proper care and protection, the fact is that information is lost over time, and that the rate of information loss increases with the rate of change in data storage technology.


 1:50 pm on Jul 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think the answer has to be a balance. Modern technology for current use, and (where available) physical media for archives.

I have slides I took over 40 years ago which I put away in a drawer and have never needed any maintenance. I have scanned them into jpg format, put them on the web and included them on CDs. But the slides will still be viewable in another 40 years time whereas those on today's media will probably be unreadable in less than a decade.

Consider census and family history records. An enormous quantity was put onto microfilm, then later transferred to microfiche, and then the microfiche data was transferred to electronic media. But today microfilm is obsolete, microfiche becoming so, and the electronic media is full of textual errors and will become obsolete in due time. The paper records have the best chance of surviving and of course are the most error free.

Incidentally the term Alexandrian Library is somewhat misleading. It was also a research establishment where scholars studied and produced translations and commentaries.


 6:13 pm on Jul 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I have slides I took over 40 years ago which I put away in a drawer and have never needed any maintenance.

Lucky you but many slides of that era suffer color shift with greenish skies and the likes.

Besides, just because you were able to keep them pristine for 40 years doesn't mean whoever inherits them from you will continue to keep them in such a suitable climate that they'll survive another 40.


 4:30 am on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

If you are going for long-term data storage, baked clay tablets and cunieform writing is the way to go - 5000 years and counting for the Sumerians. I don't know if there is an equivalent of the Rosetta Stone for digital data as yet though.


 6:17 am on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

That's remind me, I still have a pile of near 400 floppy disk to copy to CD.
I suppose they all will fit in a single CD.


 6:39 am on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

I suppose they all will fit in a single CD.

CD's are already obsolete so go straight to DVD.


 6:41 am on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

That's remind me, I still have a pile of near 400 floppy disk to copy to CD.
I suppose they all will fit in a single CD.

Damage one floppy disk, 0.25% of your data is gone. Damage one CD 100% of your data is gone. Whether you go for CD or DVD, if you want to have nearly the data security of 400 floppy disks, burn a number of them and keep them on some other media as well.


 8:53 am on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

I recently threw out some old computers, including a Sinclair Spectrum, with programs on microdrive cartridges, which were about 25 years old. I thought about trying to rescue the programs and data from these. To do so I'd need to

1: Use the spectrum to copy the data from the microdrives to cassette tape
2: Plug in a disc drive to the spectrum and transfer the data from tape to disc
3: Use a program on my Atari ST to transfer the data from disc to ramdisc.
4: Transfer the data from the Atari ST ramdisc to a PC-formatted disc
5: Use a old computer (which I was also throwing out) with a floppy drive to transfer the data to an old parallel port hard drive
6: Plug in the parallel port drive to my current computer, and transfer the data to a SD card.

In fact the microdrive cartridges turned out to be unreadable, so I didn't go through this rigmarole, but I did transfer data using the later steps from 369 floppies to (about 1/3 of) the SD card


 5:03 pm on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think that the answer will be in faster processors and greater storage in a small space.

I've been keeping all of my home photos digitalized since the mid 90s. I also have videos and sound recordings. I found out early on - after losing hundreds of precious photos - that keeping a digital archive would be work. And I've found that the best way to protect the archive is to do constant back-up and to spread the archive around. In other words - I give copies of the archives to family members. And on occasion, when the photo warrants it, I'll actually have it print out by a professional.

Also if formats change, find conversion software and convert. If enough people have the previous format, then there will be a conversion software out there, you just have to find it.

After enough people start losing their digital archives - there will be a demand for products that make it easier.


 6:49 pm on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

>> threw out some old computers <<

Some of those are sought by collectors, and at 25 years old they are "classic", and probably worth more than you originally paid for them.


 6:15 am on Jul 11, 2007 (gmt 0)

After losing a hard drive and having a backup drive start to get bad sectors, I now make at least two copies and send one copy off to the people who I have taken the photos of. If you've ever had a DVD not play straight from the case you will know that they don't have the level of error correction of CDs. I go through at least 50 CDs a month and have used less than 20 DVDs all year.

This 41 message thread spans 2 pages: < < 41 ( 1 [2]
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