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Re: Bridges to the past; links to the future

On Sat, 10 May 1997, Harmon Seaver wrote:

>   You're still missing the point. The ease of copying it to a different
> format -- even if it's back to paper, or to microform, or whatever, is
> what makes digitization the perfect archival method. Obviously the
> archive/library is going to be using some sort of newer technology, as
> the old stuff becomes obsolete, and the copying and error correction can
> be pretty easily automated at no real expense,

Not So! since 1980 I have gone through 5 motherboard changes on my
suposedly backwards compatible PC. I have had to export my data files to
ascii text files, then manually alter the ascii text files to the 'import
format' of new programmes. My personal conservation log is now about 50
meg, and I have had to learn programming myself in order to automate this
because of the extortionate costs of getting a programmer to write a
simple ascii filter for me. It cost me 300 UKP for the programming
language, about 100 UKP for the tutorial books set against an estimate
50 hours at 35 UKP per hour to get a programmer to do it. Either way, too
expensive for a conservator on a budget.

> Optical writers are now down around $400, cheap enough
> that any place actually doing archiving can afford one.

Not in the UK they're not!

> And I have no
> idea where you're getting the figures of optical only lasting 5
> years?????? That's a bit absurd.

Checkout Conservation-On-Line WWW site at Stamford. There are some pretty
charts there, done, I believe by the US government not manufacturers,
which show the effective life of most media. 5 years it says, and I
concur. I have been collecting CDs since this audio format began.
I have many unplayable discs which have been manufactured within the last
five years, not just one isolated incident.

For your information, the Jewel boxes that the CDs are being supplied
in that are causing most of the destruction. The ABS plastic on the inside
emits an acidic vapour (from subliming plasticiser) which concentrates in the
closed box and causes the damage. None of the artificial ageing tests
performed by manufacturers have been done to CDs in their boxes, but to
the CDs on their own.

Remove the CD from its commercial packaging and it will last a bit
longer, but not much because this isn't the only mechanism of
deterioration that occurrs.

>    At least as far as library archives are concerned, the arguement is
> essentially microform vs. digital. Paper doesn't enter into it really,

If that were so, how come I am still in a job, and paper conservation is
expanding as a profession?

At least microform is readable using a magnifier, so we are not dependant
upon machines, they only make it easier, and the technology to print out
from microform to paper is easier to do in a garage!

> since the stuff being archived -- such as newspapers -- isn't going to
> last long enough to even think about it.

I typed a whole book into my computer, the original book was made from
woodpulp, and has long since deteriorated. The object was to make
multiple printouts for my friends at college. I bound up the printouts of it
in 1986 while at Bookbinding college. The computer was a Commodore 64 with a
'Hobbit' drive, guess which one is still readable.

> Microform only lasts if you
> don't use it -- and even then not that long.

The same with CDs, the polycarbonate base will deteriorate under constant
bombardment from laser readers. The resultant yellowing will cause the
data to eventually become unreadable, although it is still there. My
comparison of light ageing between Microform and CD came up with the
Microform lasting longer. Besides I have Newspaper microforms used daily
from their manufacture in the 1960s, and they are still OK. Fox-Talbot's
photos are over 100 years old, and the process is essentially the same.
Where do you get your figures from?

> Are you suggesting we use
> microform instead of digital?

At the moment, Yes!

> The example of the outdated card reader
> simply points up the incompetence of the company's management, eh? Any
> company that lets themselves get in that position deserves their fate,

They had a subscription for maintenance with the company who
manufactured, but the thing didn't go wrong for about 12 years. When it
did, the manufacturer said that they stopped supporting it 8 years
previously. But until found out were still renewing the  maintenance
subscriptions each year even though they had no parts or people trained to
work on them. Not incompetence of the company, an illustration of the money
grabbing manufacturers who change formats to turn a quick proffit as I
said before.

> I
> guess. It's pretty funny really, probably would play well as a sitcom or
> comic strip. Maybe they should try clay tablets instead. 8-)

A good example, think of the Easter Island Tablets. No one can read the
writing on them, therefore they are museum artifacts, not archives. No
one has the decryption key to do it. Now compare that one key with all the
keys you would need to interpret a floppy disk.

It is only by the sheerest fluke that we have been able to translate the
mass of data from Egyptian Heiroglyphics, and that was
purely because someone found the Rosetta stone, and another person was
able to see a similarity between one word in Heiroglyphics and Ancient
Greek. Had Modern Greek not been 'Backwardly Compatible' our knowledge of
ancient Egyptian culture would have been restricted to what we read in
the bible. A perfect example of what we had to go through to recover lost
data. Not thousands of man hours, but millions. But at least we could see
the scrypt, with a CD rom, all we see are pretty rainbow colours. Take it
from there!

So you see, compatibility is not a new issue, and we should learn from
past mistakes. You have to know where you have been to know where you are


Jon :)

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