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Will dead media ever end?

© December 2005 Anthony Lawrence

John Dvorak www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,1893958,00.asp (link dead, sorry) mentions the growing piles of dead media and says:

Curiously, the apex of lost media is in our own era. The problem
cannot get worse than it is. The irony is that this is an era where
unprecedented technological revolutions are taking place, and yet
we're losing important information. This has to be as tragic as
the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria around 47 BC.

There is a bright spot, though. We also have a lot of very living media on the web, and a lot of that has been archived by various projects, or just duplicated by cross-referencing and even theft. But John's column made me wonder how long it will be before storage technology settles into the "one method".

At some point we reach the limitations of physics: we can't pack it any tighter, can't read or write it any faster. At that point, there is no more innovation or change. You might argue that you never really know when you have reached those limits because basic theories could be dead wrong, but that just moves the argument: somewhere, sometime, the theories are correct, the universe really does work this way, and you can't do more than what the theory says are the limits.

But it's probably going to happen before that.

"Good enough" is probably not something we're quite in site of yet, but I don't think it's all that far away. In the personal computer market, let's say you could be connected to a few terabytes of your own data and that you never had to wait more than a fraction of a second to get any of it. That's probably more than enough, and you could start to see standardization that would lock in that technology for many, many years. Maybe it wouldn't even take that much, but whatever it takes is not likely to be banging at the doors of theoretical limits.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we will always need more and more, and will not see stability until we reach the real limits. I don't think so, but I might just live long enough to find out.

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Fri Dec 2 15:14:44 2005: 1396   BigDumbDinosaur

Recall the statement from the early 1950's when it was thought that the world's computing needs would be satisified by a half dozen or so machines. As long as there are people who are not willing to accept "good enough," progress will continue to be made and boundaries will continue to be pushed. For an example of this theory, look at what the current crop of Commodore 64 programmers have accomplished with this relatively basic machine.

Fri Dec 2 19:14:32 2005: 1397   anonymous

I think there will always be a quest for more and more storage. It was not too long ago when a 1 MB hard drive seemed huge, and left people wondering how am I going to fill all of that, yet today we find people 100GB+ hardrives that still manage to fill up over time. As more storage or processing power becomes available the latest generation of technology expands to use it. Images become higher resolution, video based effects and animation have become more pervasive, programs get larger and more complex, and people archive more and more. I don't think the quest for better storage will decline until all of the worlds information can be put into a medium that is readily accessible to all.

Fri Dec 2 19:38:48 2005: 1398   drag

If copyright laws didn't suck so much it would be much easier.

Now, don't get me wrong, copyrights are very good.. but they are overdone.

The way it's been explained to me is that each time in the past when Mickey Mouse has come close to becoming public domain the congress extended the length of copyright protection to keep Disney safe... seems like a intensely crappy way to run a country if you ask me.

But I've also heard about international treaties and such that have realy muddied the waters and some items have become public domain, but then went back to being copyrighted because of some change.

It's all very weird and confusing and useless for everybody except a few people that like to rerelease DVDs of old movies or cdroms for old albums occasionally.

I am sure that EFF.org would have more information about that sort of thing.

But for something that has actually managed to slip into public domain there is hope for it.. as long as the media it's on hasn't disintegrated to dust or became a pile of rotting chemical goo.

(link) is a big example of this.

They have full DVD quality of every peice of public domain that they can get their hands on. Old movies like 1950's serials or things like 'Night of the Living Dead'. Especially the "Prelinger Archives" were that man from New York had his garage (and then some) full of video footage that he saved. Stuff like news reals, educational (social brainwashing also) films, the 'be like so-and-so the turtle and duck and cover' cold war era stuff.

I think that there are other places like that, but archive.org is the biggest one I know of.

Also they have lots of recordings and will take anything and everything they can get that is perfectly legal. They are also the ones trying to archive the internet for future generations.

There is also things like (link) that are trying to keep a online database full of books from all over the world. They currently 'only' have 17000 books, but will probably want to have millions.

Of course Digital media, unlike analog, is only dead if people stop copying it. Since you can easily get 100 quality copies pretty much infinately and it's technically easy to check quality of the copies. The only danger it faces is when it gets stuck in one place and nobody is able to get their hands on it anymore.

Traditional long-term archival methods are expensive, difficult to manage, need lots of space, and when you take 75+ years into account very failure prone. A bad earthquake, fire, war, etc etc can destroy a thousand years of culture in a few weeks.

This is why things like LOCKSS are going to get more and more popular, as well as subversive anti-censorship technologies (can't track, can't delete) like FreeNet and GnuNet.

The that I have lots of interest in is Lockss. Lockss stands for 'Lots of copies keeps stuff safe'.

It's a project started by Stanford Universtities and other institutions to develop a standard way to keep archival information on the Internet by interinstutional sharing of information, copies, checksums and other such things. The idea is to keep as many copies of everything should be kept at in as many different places at once.

Here is the sourceforge home for it.. (link) and is aviable under the BSD license for obvious reasons. (they want as many people to use it as possible)

Here is Stanford's page for it.. (link) It goes into some technical details and such for it and has lists of praticipating entities.

Unfortunately they have locks on the information, but that's the nature of the beast. Most publishers aren't going to release information to be allowed to be freely aviable over the internet unless they have assurances they can still control the content. Kinda counterproductive for academia, but it is what it is... a good start.

Fri Dec 2 19:51:07 2005: 1399   TonyLawrence

Drag, thanks for all those pointers.

As to the "good enough", don't forget that at some point storage exceeds your ability to fill it - no matter how fast you type, or how much music or video you download, you won't live long enough to fill the storage. It's when we reach that point that anything bigger becomes pointless (in the personal arena anyway).


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