OT: Archiving data/video/movies/photos/oral history

From: Eric Smith <eric_at_brouhaha.com>
Date: Fri Jun 2 18:23:40 2000

> If an archeolgist digs up a CD-ROM in 500 years, how are they
> possibly going to decode the information stored on it. It is scrambled,
> encoded, ECCed, and stirred some more. Is it read from ID to OD (yes),
> or from OD to ID. Are they going to know what Red book, Yellow book,
> ISO 9660, or Joliet mean?

No problem, they'll just refer to the PDF files documenting those
standards. :-)

More seriously, though:

Some archivists suggest that it may not be possible to read CD-ROMs
30 years from now, because they may have been replaced by something
else by then, just as the 7-track tape that was common 30 years ago
is all but impossible to read now. Right now, most or all DVD-ROM
drives can read CD-ROMs, but will that necessarily be the case for the
next generation of optical drives?

However, the CD-Audio format, upon which CD-ROM is based, was deliberately
designed to be so simple that an audio player didn't necessarily need
to contain a microprocessor (standalone or embedded). As far as I know,
all commercial players have contained at least one microprocessor, because
by 1983 it was actually cheaper to build players with them than without.

I bring this up to address the hypothetical situation that 50 years from
now there are not any commonly available CD-ROM drives. I firmly believe
that a small team of graduate students, armed with the relevant technical
specifications, could design and construct a working CD-ROM drive in
under two years.

> Will they even understand English (or a
> close enough descendant)? Most Americans barely understand English
> (Kings English) as it was spoken 400 years ago (Shakespeare,
> Chaucer, etc).

Longterm, this is a much more significant problem. However, it is
relatively pointless to worry about whether they'll be able to read
CD-ROMs if they would be unable to interpret the contents anyhow.

> The point is, any form of long term archival must include enough
> information to allow an intelligent ignorant person to decode the
> archive. This information must be recorded in a fashion that doesn't
> degrade with time, and can be interpreted in the future.

Unfortunately, there is so little commercial value to doing this, that
there is basically no chance of it being done for more than a trivial
amount of information.
Received on Fri Jun 02 2000 - 18:23:40 BST

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