Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Data Curator

I have been doing the work of a data curator lately. I have generated a lot of absolutely original information over the years and it is not easy to prevent it all from being lost to dying media and expiring formats.

In the 90's I saved a lot of song files to DataDAT format using an Atari Falcon. I would back up each track and each mix of songs I was working on as data encoded sound streams that were saved like files to DAT tapes. I want to recover all my old DAT tapes and back them up on DVD-R, Hard Drives or whatever works best.

A Dat Tape and a AAA battery (from

And an Atari Falcon computer:

Warning: Techno-babble...

I upload the tapes to a SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) Hard Disk attached to the Atari. The Falcon system has its own format for the drive which cannot be read by my Mac. So I had to find a format they can both read. Eventually the lowest common denominator was MS DOS FAT 16 format. So my 4 Gig drive is divided into 5 partitions and I actually formatted it from my Mac OS X Tiger unix command prompt. The FAT 16 switch is available there. It all works great, but I have to remember to put the Falcon in black and white video mode to free up just enough speed and memory for successful uploads.

Warning: Waxing philosophical...

Over the long run, all data will need to be carefully maintained so as not to slip away. I think people may eventually print files as small pixel patterns to acid free paper. Then they could scan them back to the hard disk with a flat-bed scanner and some Bit Recognition Software. Something like this is already done in smaller amounts of data on your driver's license.

The right kind of paper and ink could last longer than a Hard Drive platter might. The Hard Drive's platter, reading/writing circuitry or mechanism may corrode or fail far sooner. Paper could be scanned by new future higher tech machines and it is a little more stable than magnetic storage tends to be. Optical devices like CD-R, DVD-R erode far more quickly than well done paper and ink. Even Hard drives may last longer than optical media. I don't know yet whether Blueray improves on shelf life for the optical media. Paper is also "optical" in a sense.

It would take a lot more physical space to store the same file size in paper than on a Hard Disk, though it is a way to preserve the data for longer.

Maybe etching into a carbon slab is the way to go...essentially a sheet diamond storage system. This would be a way to store the most precious data society has for a long time. Maybe that's not possible yet or something better will come around.

We do need to think about how we will preseve information. Someone has to think of a way to put signs outside our radioactive nuclear waste pits that don't fade away over 10,000 years.

All I did was rescue some unique magnetic patterns from the 80's and 90's...and they already felt like they were slipping into the digital void.


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