Is your computer data safe?

Frequently around here, the concept of safe backups comes up, which is only natural since so many of us store things digitally and the things that we store digitally are often times our life’s work. David Pogue of the NYT inteviews Dag Spicer, curator for the computer museum in Silicon Valley, on the topic of long-term data safety.

Should You Worry About Data Rot?

If you’ve ever wondered how long those CD backups will last, or if storing your backups at an Internet site is safe, this is a good read. But for the impatient: Trust nothing but paper.

I would argue that as a biodegradable substance, and a food source to some critters, you can not trust paper. In reality there is no “permanent” storages. Rocks erode, plastics melt, metal corrode, molecular compounds react, etc. No matter what the storage media, it is always subject to degradation. The question becomes “what is the acceptable rate of degradation over time relative to cost and accuracy of re-encoding?”

Of course this may be the conclusion the author makes but I would have to read the article to know that.

This whole article reminds me of a novel I read a while back, Glasshouse, where one of the premises is that in the distant future, very little will be known about our present culture. Stuff back in the '50s and '60s would be better preserved, but right now we are all using highly volatile, rapidly degrading, forked for the sake of competition, and in many cases needlessly encrypted formats. If something were to happen on a global scale that set civilisation back (or forward) significantly, most everything we’ve been building here could be lost. It wouldn’t be the first time a civilisation recorded itself in a manner that didn’t survive the ages.

Of course, you are right, even stone tablets are not going to see the big crunch let alone survive it to say nothing of localised catastrophes, but generally speaking anything stored digitally needs to be recycled periodically to new media (even if only back to the same format). Modern paper, if stored sensibly, will most likely long outlast you.

I’ve often wondered at the lack of media longevity. Tape is atrocious, writable media is even worse, pram … don’t even get me going on that one. One would think that between polymer technology, molecular chemistry and laser optics, we should have method of data storage that exceeds paper. But nooooo! We want better DRM and faster boobtube download speeds. god forbid that a fraction of the money that goes into ASIC improvements were actually put into archival media (note the ARCHIVAL there, plenty of $$ is spent on non-archival media improvement).

Oh well. Would anyone really want to read anything vic-k, wock or I posted in 100 years? (just for KB) Will the BSG finale be any better then?

I doubt it.

As the unavoidable consequence of upgrading and switching computer systems over the years, multiple copies of basic text is my archive of choice. Paper might outlast me, but I’m sure to put it in a “safe place” and never see it again.

I’ve had flash drives punk out on me, so I only consider them for short term transfers, not something safe.

I can watch the 8mm-movies my grandfather made back in 1950. The mechanics of watching this stuff is as simple as it gets - you can even do without a projector, it doesn’t need interpreting like any digital stored information needs before someone can review it. Try watching a betamax tape theses days.
Anyway. I think we can divide between storage which can be experienced directly - a book, photography - and those which needs to be interpreted to be experienced by humans. Insofar any digital storage system depends not only on the medium, but on the availability of its interpreters as well.

Funny, the information age turns out to be the misremember age in the end…

For my own safety requirements I do buy two new harddrives every year and do the copy thing…

Myan/Aztec/Egyptian/Persian hieroglyphics lasted even longer. But the interpretation of those forms is subject to question. Sure then nearer term “printed” matter is less questionable, but if you notice the wide differences in “interpretations” of books as recent as the 1700’s you begin to see that even “stable” forms of communication are subject to the whims of time and usage.

My favorite example of this is C. S. Lewis’ demonstration using “gentleman”.

Anyone interested in the topic of ultra-longterm information conveyance would probably enjoy the The Long Now Foundation, which strives to design artefacts and systems which will long outlast our era and remain useful to whatever distant descendants come across them. Just to rub it in, they are already using Y10k safe dates, established in 01996. One of their projects is the “Long Server”, which is specifically designed to combat this problem and make digital artefacts as durable as carvings in stone, and the Format Exchange, a kind of Rosetta Stone for the proliferation of data formats we have.

Whether or not anything could be culturally decoded in 8,000 years is another matter entirely. One thing the digital era has in its benefit is the ability to pack incredible amounts of information into small spaces, and the ease at which that information can be duplicated. There is no reason for a disaster like the Library of Alexandria to happen again. These capabilities could allow a future civilisation to not only have access to our production, but a way to culturally decode it as well. Within reason, of course, but if the Egyptians had a Wikipedia, I think our job in understanding their writings would be much easier.

That’s right, being able to cross-correlate lots of contextual uses of their grass-mud horse pictogram would have helped immensely. :wink:


But can you imagine reading through a hieroglyphic flamewar argument about whether or not the article on chick pea farming meets the sacred wikipedia guidelines?

And since we already have so many “cultural” standards and theories which people apply to decoding text anyway … how could those 8000 years hence have any certainty that their decoding was at all reliable … more flame wars?

Oh well. Would anyone really want to read anything vic-k, wock or I posted in 100 years? (just for KB) Will the BSG finale be any better then?

Ha hargh. I post things of such vile substance that it is seared upon the brains of the reader and is so gut wrenching that it is remembered in vivid detail for a lifetime to become. It is so appalling in nature that the stories of my insane ramblings are passed down through generations until it reaches an epic form of remembrance thus nullifying the need for sterotypical forms of backup because my tales are passed down in all their horrid forms to corrupt ages to come.

PS: Etch everything in glass then store in a lead lined vacuum underground in a cement bunker.


Glass? Isn’t glass ultimately plastic? :neutral_face:

Actually I think it is nuclear waste.

Yucca Mntn anyone?

Wock’s brain-searing series of posts or the glass?

Dont get him goin!! :open_mouth:

Oops :open_mouth:

Is there a difference?

Listen you! :@

How is the sane half of your family?

I`m OK.