Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saving your Family Photos for a Millennium (Part 2)

In my last post, I showed that, once your photos are converted to digital, they must be maintained so that they can be viewed on changing technology. Archivist recommend copying your family photos and related data to new media every few years. some say every 10 years, others say 5 years. In some cases once a year. They say you need to make a commitment to do that. Fine, but what about after you pass from this life? What then? You can't do it for 1,000 years.

In my last post I asked "Which image will last the longest?"
[A] A Kodachrome Slide.
[B] A digital image on a M-Disk.
[C] A sidewalk chalk drawing.

This sounds crazy, but the best answer might be [C].

A farmer had horses for sale. He made a sign on the hillside easily visible to people passing by on a popular route. The farmer spread chalk on the hillside to make a 348 foot long drawing of a horse.
It might have looked like this.
The rain washed it away. He spread more chalk. The wind blew it away. He marked it out with sticks and had his family help spread more chalk. Weeds grew up and hid his sign. He had his farm hands pull the weeds. Storms washed silt down over the sign and covered the sticks that outlined it. The farmer enlisted some villagers to help make shallow ditches to outline the sign. They filled them with chalk to reduce the growth of the weeds. The rocks removed from the ditches helped prevent silt from washing down and covering the chalk.
The farmer rewarded the villagers with a huge feast, music, dancing, storytelling and free Coors beer.
The horse image lasted a year before it started to fade out again. The farmer held another huge feast and the villagers came again to maintain the horse. It became an annual event.

So. How long did the farmers chalk sign last?

He created the horse drawing during the bronze age, roughly three thousand eight hundred years ago. The horse is still visible today.

It is called the Uffington White Horse.
If a bronze age farmer can figure out how to maintain an image for nearly four century's, why can't we? No doubt he wasn't a MIT grad.

So, maybe the answer isn't technology.

Maybe we should look at applied social anthropology instead of technology for the answer.

In my next post I'll discuss what anthropology can teach us about preserving our family photos.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Saving Family Photos for a Millennium (Part 1)

Archivist love to tell us to digitize our photos.

They tell us to write them to CD or DVD. They point out that digital photos can be reproduced exactly with no loss of quality.
But those medias begin to degrade and drop bits in just 3 to 5 years.

Technology to the rescue!

The M-DISK is here. A M-DISK recorder will let  you archive your photos on a new type of disk that will last for 1000 years.
You can play them on any DVD or Blu-Ray player.

Compare that to Kodak Kodachrome Slides. Kodachrome slides last much longer than other types of color film. They lose 20% of their color every 184 years. That is,,, If they are stored in perfect conditions, (cool, dry and dark). At that rate, they will be unusable 920 years.
 If you project one Kodacolor slide in a modern projector for a total of ONE HOUR the slide will be unusable. That is the same as projecting it for one minute, every Christmas for 60 years.

The M-DISK DVD has the Kodachrome slide beat for storage longevity.
What about longer than 1000 years? Slides and photos degrade at some constant rate. If you made a copy every 10 years, the original has degraded, so, the copy starts out already degraded. Instead of extending the life of the image, you shorten it, because the copy is not a perfect reproduction of the degraded original. You can make exact copies of the ones and zeros on the digital M-DISK. In theory, you can reproduce exact digital copies forever.

So, your media will last 1000 years, but how do you view it 1000 years from now? Do you really think you will be able to find or buy a DVD player twenty years from now? How about 100 or 1000 years from now?

Technology Lifespan.

Slide Technology Lifespan. 

You can store slides for several hundred years, and you can still see the faded image, but, can you view them 100 years from now? You can still find projectors on ebay, but the projector lamps are no longer made. The technology lifespan of the Kodachrome slides was from 1936 until July 14th, 2010 when the last roll was processed.

DVD Technology Lifespan
The physical DVD-BluRay disk sales reached a peak in 2004. By 2014, sales had decreased 30%.
Do you really think you will be able to find or buy a DVD player twenty years from now? How about 100 or 1000 years from now? Try to buy a VHS video recorder, or a PC with a Floppy disk. Each replacement technology has a shorter lifespan. Most of us now store our photos on memory sticks or USB hard drives. The USB standard will not last forever. Intel tells us that all new external devices will be wireless in the next year or two.

Which image will last the longest?
[A] A Kodachrome Slide.
[B] A digital image on a M-Disk.
[C] A sidewalk chalk drawing.

The answer in my next post.