Live long and prosper

I’m on the sunny side of a disaster. Backups and archives functioned, and my Mac systems are back at cruising altitude. But, lest that one should sound smug, I am aware that archiving is an interesting case in point, especially for an EX1 owner.

I’m using hard disks, with archive to DVD-R and now Blu-Ray. That works out well – in that everything is on hard disks, and every project has double Blu-Ray media managed backup, and if the footage isn’t on tape, Blu-Ray backup too (though I back up the EX1’s QuickTime files, not the original data – oooh, I can hear the sharp intake of breath from here).

But that’s not what’s on my blog-radar today. What has caused a blip is reading a little note from the BBC News website:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/7525143.stm

Yes – film is falling apart.

Sure, Star Wars was rescued, re-scanned, twiddled and is now a lot of ones and zeros on a great many hard disks. Lots of other films have gone or are going through this process.

But going digital can cause problems: what if the format you store it on becomes redundant?

I have this problem. I have a project dear to my heart – an interactive touch screen application I made more than 12 years ago. I used Macromind Director 4 then, and I updated it to 5, 6, and MX. But now its projectors do not run on Macs. I cannot open the older files in new versions of Director. Such is the pace of progress, the files are too old – Do Not Resuscitate.

That’s the fear of many archivists. How do you open an image saved from a ZX81? How can you grab an original visicalc file to present today? Digital files change so quickly, and so many works are in esoteric custom formats. JPEG and MPEG may be safe for now, but for how long?

The film industry have a solution: 35mm! Common standard, easy to store, can’t erase it by mistake, could last for ages if looked after.

But wait, aren’t we trying to resuscitate 35mm originals that are rotting before our eyes? Ah, but that was old fashioned film – not new tough film, but sloppy stuff made from recycled cow hooves. Today’s material is far more scientific. But expensive.

So what of all those careless snaps now, which will mean so much to generations hence? Not the major epics, but those little glimpses into a century forgotten. Hundreds of years from now. No printouts from your desktop are going to survive like those ancient sepia bromides. No CD-ROMs are going to survive unless hermetically sealed in a protective gas and shaded from light.

But digits are digits. I had another project in Director that I diligently upgraded, and copied, and exported and re-saved. And its still with me. Not sure if it was worth saving, but it’s still there. And that seems to be the secret: revisit your archive, copy it, view it, don’t just back it up. Use open standard formats. Use widely accepted media. I still have Syquest drives with data on it. The data isn’t quite worth spending specialist money on it. The contents aren’t particularly earth shattering. Not now. But in 300 years? Who knows? What’s worth saving?

And has anyone tried buying VHS tapes recently?

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One thought on “Live long and prosper

  1. Pingback: …Makes Me Furious » Blog Archive » Mcsa Courses » Blog Archive » Attending a School For Film is Vital

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