Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Steax » Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:30 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Steax wrote:But there's no guarantee that, at any given point in reasonable time, you can load it, read it, or even have access to a device that can read it. Again, electricity failures, storage failures, etc.

Is there such a guarantee for books? Sprinkler failures, library raided by Caesar, etc.


I like to think that those issues are more self-controlled, as in, we can do things about them. Power issues, digital issues, internet issues and things like that are pretty much impossible to deal with by oneself.

I may just be paranoid.

elasto wrote:
Steax wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Wat. There's digital media on my shelf right now.


But there's no guarantee that, at any given point in reasonable time, you can load it, read it, or even have access to a device that can read it. Again, electricity failures, storage failures, etc.
Electricity can be generated locally. Storage failures can be dealt with by backing it up - both locally and remotely - or relying on other people giving access to their backups (eg bittorrent piracy).

You talk about it being a single point of failure - but it isn't really. Multiple cataclysmic things will have had to have happened - in which case accessing your book will likely be the least of your troubles. Unless you are already prepared for living off the land alone you're probably screwed in such a world-wide collapse of civilisation scenario with or without access to your books.


The fact that it's not a top priority does not mean it isn't an issue at all.

Information has always been key for redeveloping anything after a disaster, and losing a significant amount of science would toss us waaaaaay back.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Angua » Sun Mar 18, 2012 1:11 pm UTC

I like books, because they don't require power or the internet to be able to access. That's a pretty important criterion for me, because I come from somewhere where I don't always have access to those things. It's important that I have a way of looking something up in an emergency (ie a hurricane has just wiped out all the power and cut the phone lines). It's a lot easier (and safer!) to make sure your books don't get flooded, than having to access powered things when there's a storm out there.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Diadem » Sun Mar 18, 2012 1:18 pm UTC

The thing with cloud storage is that it is completely unproven.

We know books can survive a complete collapse of civilization. We know this because they have. We know they can survive world wars, global pandemics, and other disasters. We have no idea how digital storage would fare under such circumstances. It hasn't been tested. Given this, claiming cloud storage is safer strikes me as slightly absurd.

Besides, the major difference is dependency. I can write a book, put it in my cellar, and my great-grandchildren will be able to read it. Perhaps they will as well when I make a digital copy, but most certainly not without help. The data needs to be constantly maintained, the hardware needs to be constantly maintained. People need to actively work on keeping things backwards compatible. Etc, etc. To keep digital data for long periods of time, you are highly dependent on other people. Millions of them.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Zamfir » Sun Mar 18, 2012 3:00 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:We know books can survive a complete collapse of civilization. We know this because they have. We know they can survive world wars, global pandemics, and other disasters. We have no idea how digital storage would fare under such circumstances. It hasn't been tested. Given this, claiming cloud storage is safer strikes me as slightly absurd.

I'd say this is only true for very moderate values of surviving. History has may examples of books that we know or suspect were written, but of which no copy exists anymore. And presumably many, many other books and written sources are lost without even a reference.

So while books have some track record, it's not a stellar record. If we knew that (say) 95% of all written books in the year 1000 or even 1800 still had a copy around, I would agree that books have been tested and clearly passed the test. As it is, I'd say they have been tested and found not entirely failing.

There's another aspect here: the typical objects that we call a 'book' nowadays are not the same kind of objects that we know to survive for centuries. The paper and ink of most printed books are not particular well-suited for long-term storage. And that is often the only shape in which a modern book exists, apart from its digital copies. On top of that, such books can only be effectively multiplied through electronic means. There are too many books and they are too thick to rely on hand-copying or hand-set printing.

So if for any reason people stop preserving modern books for a few centuries, odds are that most books from the 20th century will be lost. Ironically, the long-term preservation of modern physical books depends on things like climate control and photocopying. Nearly the same electric infrastructure as the internet and hard disks.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Angua » Sun Mar 18, 2012 3:17 pm UTC

I think the Bodleian Library in Oxford gets a first edition print of any book printed in the UK, and preserves them accordingly (in a saltmine somewhere I think). I wouldn't be surprised if other countries had similar schemes to make sure that at least one copy of most books printed these days is kept safe).
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Mar 18, 2012 3:42 pm UTC

Gonna have to agree with Zamfir here. Saying books survived a "collapse" of civilization is only partially true. Some of them survive collapses of civilization. Even ignoring the books that were explicitly burned (eg: various Apocrypha)... we can look at cultural icons like the Trojan War epics. Of the eight epics originally composed, only the Iliad and Odyssey remain.

EDIT: Zamfir: you seem to know some examples of books that were made in the 1800s but do not exist today. Do you have any references or citations?
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Steax » Sun Mar 18, 2012 3:47 pm UTC

That still gives them a better record than digital has (which is to say, unproven so far).

Just to be on the same page, we're talking about long-term (say, tens to hundreds of years) storage of not-so-often-accessed, but critical information (sciences, data, maps, encyclopedias, historical records, etc), right? That was kind of the idea I had while bringing it up, given the topic is about the Britannica.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Mar 18, 2012 3:49 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:EDIT: Zamfir: you seem to know some examples of books that were made in the 1800s but do not exist today. Do you have any references or citations?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_work#19th_century
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Zamfir » Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:27 pm UTC

Hmm, those are mostly famous lost works, works that we would have expected to survive if they weren't deliberately lost. I was more thinking about losses of ordinary works, that were not considered particularly noteworthy at the time. Books, but also for example news papers, pamphlets, or the equivalents of Iulus's fan fiction.

I once read about a study that compared old catalogues with still extant copies. From google-scholaring the study must have been "The Quantity and Nature of Printed Matter: A Bibliometric Analysis" in "The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Volume 5, 1695-1830", but I can't get public access.

I did findthis, by the same author. Reference 95 is the study above.
W. W. Greg has calculated that, of the 11,000 works entered in the Stationers' Register for 1557-71 and 1576-1640, "6,100 are identified as extant, a percentage of almost 55.5." Reasoning that "there does not appear any very strong ground for supposing that entrance or non-entrance affected survival," he nevertheless concedes: "it is possible . . . that in the field of ephemeral publications, where survival is least likely, the proportion of copies entered may have been somewhat lower." 92 D. F. McKenzie's work indicates that what the Wing Catalogue (1641-1700) includes "may not be as high as even 60 to 70 percent of the titles and editions actually published." 93 In his examination of survival rates for ABCs, psalters, and primers from the Stationers' stock in sample years from 1660-1700, John Barnard has documented enormous losses: although some 14,000 psalters were printed annually, only four copies are found in Wing. The loss rates for primers is also astonishingly high: for the 1676-77 fiscal year, "84,000 passed through the Treasurer's hands," yet they "are represented in Wing by a single 16mo black-letter copy in the British Library, dated c. 1670." 94

My own calculations for British books in the eighteenth century suggest that, for approximately ten percent of the titles and editions published, not a single copy exists. 95 Of course, by definition, none of these lost works or editions is represented in the ESTC, a fact that surely should have a significant effect on many of our searches. 96 Because loss rates vary widely according [End Page 167] to both format and genre, for certain classes of titles and editions the ESTC is far off the mark. A great deal more work will need to be done before we can calibrate the tools we use and, hence, employ them with greater fidelity to the historical phenomena under investigation.

Keep in mind the Britain is perhaps the best case, since it was both relatively wealthy and has been very stable and peaceful in the last centuries. Plus efforts to preserve English books have naturally been greater than for other languages.

Ironically, these numbers may too positive for newer books: in the 19th century, book printing switched to cheaper wood pulp paper, with has low pH values that gradually destroy books. I think this has improved in the last few decades, but most physical books printed after 1850 or so won't survive for centuries unless special effort is taken.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby johnny_7713 » Sun Mar 18, 2012 7:29 pm UTC

Angua wrote:I think the Bodleian Library in Oxford gets a first edition print of any book printed in the UK, and preserves them accordingly (in a saltmine somewhere I think). I wouldn't be surprised if other countries had similar schemes to make sure that at least one copy of most books printed these days is kept safe).


A copy of every Dutch book printed goes to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB) (Royal Library) in The Hague, where they have climate control and trained curators. Nothing as disasterproof as a saltmine though. Any of the single-point of failure arguments against cloud computing apply equally to the KB or the Bodleian.

Spoiler:
According to wiki it's only the British Library that automatically gets a copy. The Bodleian can request one for free though.


Of course the real reason physical books are better than digital books is because they look better on my bookshelf. There's a Dutch (I think) saying that says: show me your bookcase and I will tell you who you are... Show me your Kindle index just doesn't have the same ring to it.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Mar 19, 2012 5:54 pm UTC

elasto wrote:
Steax wrote:It's worth noting I walking in the context of encyclopedias and material like it. How many people do you think store encyclopedias on their dropbox accounts?
Why would you need to store an encyclopedia on your dropbox account? You realise that you can download the whole of Wikipedia for free if you want, right? The chances of the information stored in Wikipedia being lost to humanity is essentially zero. If the company went under in such a way the information stored centrally was irrecoverably lost, there's thousands of copies out there it could be restored from. There's simply no way that the central information and all the distributed information could be lost unless we lost electricity for, I dunno, centuries. And even then someone would probably have found time to print it out.


Or you end up in a totalitarian government that blocks access to any websites it doesn't like. Or to the Internet as a whole.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby sourmìlk » Mon Mar 19, 2012 7:57 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:Or you end up in a totalitarian government that blocks access to any websites it doesn't like. Or to the Internet as a whole.

John Gilmore wrote:The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

I'm not sure that successful internet censorship, i.e. that censorship that actually eliminated access to any copies of some data, has ever happened.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby lutzj » Mon Mar 19, 2012 8:27 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:Or you end up in a totalitarian government that blocks access to any websites it doesn't like. Or to the Internet as a whole.

John Gilmore wrote:The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

I'm not sure that successful internet censorship, i.e. that censorship that actually eliminated access to any copies of some data, has ever happened.


Censorship needn't completely prevent access to data to be successful.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby sourmìlk » Mon Mar 19, 2012 8:34 pm UTC

How do you define "success" in terms of censorship?
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby maybeagnostic » Mon Mar 19, 2012 9:11 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:How do you define "success" in terms of censorship?
Prevent something from reaching the critical rate of sharing that leads to it becoming viral? Someone in country A might see an article that he finds amusing or thought-provoking or whatever and share it with hundreds of people in their social network(s) of choice, the same person living instead in country B might feel uncomfortable announcing his opinions so publicly and only share it with a few friends by email, and again the same person in country C might actually fear to even read the article in the first place and definitely not want have a written record (such as email) of recommending it to others. In all those cases the article hasn't been perfectly censored but the thresholds for it actually being read by people are very different.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:48 am UTC

elasto wrote:There's simply no way that the central information and all the distributed information could be lost unless we lost electricity for, I dunno, centuries.
Centuries? Really? Do you honestly believe that stored digital information would last anywhere close to that long without electricity?

sourmìlk wrote:I'm not sure that successful internet censorship, i.e. that censorship that actually eliminated access to any copies of some data, has ever happened.
And I'm not sure you know anything about people living in repressive dictatorships.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:05 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Centuries? Really? Do you honestly believe that stored digital information would last anywhere close to that long without electricity?
Wouldn't it last for a very long time, though? My flash drive is something I can just throw in a cabinet and not have to think about; I don't know about its 'half-life', but the most expensive ones I'm aware of can hold several gigabytes worth of data--paired down to their basics, that's a lot of books. How many flash-drives would I need to hold a library worth of documents, paired down to text-files? How long would those flash-drives last? How difficult would it be to create a back-up system like this?

I realize that as far as computers go, even if you don't have electricity powering the computer, there's still a lot of associated dangers that are thwarted by having electricity--we can't perform certain types of maintenance, filter the type of air coming to the computer, etc--but digital documentation always struck me as a potentially 'hard' storage format--that is, if things get fucked up, it's really not that hard to pick up the pieces and start over again. Even if you lost all electricity in the world for a few hours, or a few days, or (maybe?) even a few years, you'd still have plenty of undamaged copies to start over with again.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby sourmìlk » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:18 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
sourmìlk wrote:I'm not sure that successful internet censorship, i.e. that censorship that actually eliminated access to any copies of some data, has ever happened.
And I'm not sure you know anything about people living in repressive dictatorships.

Admittedly not much, but don't they mostly just block data they don't like? I don't think they eliminate it. And that's really the point for the purposes of this discussion, that the data become lost.

maybeagnostic wrote:]Prevent something from reaching the critical rate of sharing that leads to it becoming viral? Someone in country A might see an article that he finds amusing or thought-provoking or whatever and share it with hundreds of people in their social network(s) of choice, the same person living instead in country B might feel uncomfortable announcing his opinions so publicly and only share it with a few friends by email, and again the same person in country C might actually fear to even read the article in the first place and definitely not want have a written record (such as email) of recommending it to others. In all those cases the article hasn't been perfectly censored but the thresholds for it actually being read by people are very different.

I suppose that qualifies as censorship, but censorship of that degree isn't really relevant for the purposes of this discussion. see above.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Diadem » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:20 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Centuries? Really? Do you honestly believe that stored digital information would last anywhere close to that long without electricity?
Wouldn't it last for a very long time, though? My flash drive is something I can just throw in a cabinet and not have to think about; I don't know about its 'half-life', but the most expensive ones I'm aware of can hold several gigabytes worth of data--paired down to their basics, that's a lot of books. How many flash-drives would I need to hold a library worth of documents, paired down to text-files? How long would those flash-drives last? How difficult would it be to create a back-up system like this?

Dig up a computer with a floppy disc drive somewhere, and try to see if your old floppies still work. I can guarantee you that none of them will work. Next try some of your older cd-roms. The ones from the early 90s. They might work, they might not, it'll be pretty dicy. In a few years, and certainy a few decades, they'll be completely unreadable.

Flash drives I don't know. But I can't imagine them faring much better.

Of course a little redundancy can go a long way. But still. Centuries is a VERY long time, and modern equipment generally is less robust, because it's smaller.

Think about it in another way. How much redundancy is there in a physical book? It is huge. You can lose 90% of the ink and the letters will still be easily readable. And then you can lose many of the letters and still figure out what it's supposed to be saying.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:28 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:Dig up a computer with a floppy disc drive somewhere, and try to see if your old floppies still work. I can guarantee you that none of them will work. Next try some of your older cd-roms. The ones from the early 90s. They might work, they might not, it'll be pretty dicy. In a few years, and certainy a few decades, they'll be completely unreadable.

Flash drives I don't know. But I can't imagine them faring much better.
I specifically picked flash-drives because I know they're sold as incredibly robust; I've dropped them (by accident!) off a second floor balcony, plugged them in, and found no problem--I've discovered flash-drives from nearly ten years ago, and found the data on them still intact. For an older parallel, thing zip-drives--do they still work, assuming you have the necessary technology to access the data on them?

The problem with floppies is they store things magnetically; this is not a good long-term approach. CDs are physically prone to wear. But flash-drives? As far as I'm aware, the only real way to 'degrade' a flash-drive is through over-use--and if you're using them purely for storage, that's never going to be an issue.
Diadem wrote:Think about it in another way. How much redundancy is there in a physical book? It is huge. You can lose 90% of the ink and the letters will still be easily readable. And then you can lose many of the letters and still figure out what it's supposed to be saying.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Zamfir » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:32 pm UTC

Flash drives slowly lose the electric charge that holds the data, fairly similar to how magnetic storage becomes demagnetized. The numbers on flash drives are still a bit hazy, but I don't think you are guaranteed that they last more than 10 years or so. For some forms of magnetic storage decades seems achievable, but not longer. Really long-term storage of electric media requires that new copies are made once in a while.

I guess you could store the same data several times on the same drive, then store mulitple drives together or at different places, somewhat shielded from cosmic rays. Then it might be significantly longer before all copies are corrupted. Still, it's definitely not hard, even compared to paper.

And there's the risk of 'format rot'. Not just of the digital format, also of the electronic protocols to access the bits. How much voltage does it expect? What signal sequences trigger the object to dislodge data? It is already suprisingly tricky to acces data from a few decades ago, if the type of devices has disappeared from production. Not impossible, but hard to do on a limited budget. Especially if the object and the data are slightly corrupted.

It's very imaginable that in 2 centuries some historian has a container of storage objects with proabably interesting information from the early 21st century (or whatever they will call it in those days), but lacks the hightech facilities that would be required to analyse and read them.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:44 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:It's very imaginable that in 2 centuries some historian has a container of storage objects with proabably interesting information from the early 21st century (or whatever they will call in in those days), but lacks the hightech facilities that would be required to analyse and read them.
Fair, but we encounter the same problem within history--languages with no parallel or reasonable access point. We're still struggling to understand what the fuck is up with the Mayan language, and we weren't able to translate hieroglyphics with any accuracy until the Rosetta stone.

It takes an enormous amount of effort to derive information from texts based on dead languages, and that's even assuming anyone knows how to translate said dead language--tons of innuendo, nuance, and reference is constantly lost. When I read a 300 year-old book, I'm reading it as a modern reader; it was written for people 300 years ago.

Of course, none of these are problems that sophisticated electronic storage techniques would solve, so this is probably an entirely moot point to bring up.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby sourmìlk » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:44 pm UTC

What about discs? I'm not trying to make an argument here, I'm just curious about their lifetime. They don't store the data magnetically, they store them physically. Assuming you kept it safe (rather than tossing them around, running them over sandpaper, and other things that happen in normal wear and tear), couldn't it last indefinitely?
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Red Hal » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:51 pm UTC

You tend to find that unless you buy the really good ones, the metallic layer eventually separates from the plastic substrate which seriously degrades the signal quality. Five years is not unreasonable, but ten is pushing it.

Edit (only Hippo's post underneath at time of edit):

It appears that a high-quality DVD, if properly stored "can last up to 50 years"[1]



__________________________________________
@misc={1,
author="Robin Harris"
publication="zdnet"
url="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/storage/long-term-personal-data-storage/376"}
Last edited by Red Hal on Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:07 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:52 pm UTC

Also, I beg pardon for my obliviousness on the matters of flash-drive long-term storage (and magnetics not being a good long-term storage plan). I'm speaking purely from a position of ignorance here, and was unaware that flash-drives can actually 'degrade' over time.

EDIT: Though this makes me wonder; isn't it possible to create a long-term digital storage system? One that doesn't require electricity, or maintenance? I suppose the biggest obstacle is that the only real way to effectively 'test' it is to leave it alone for a hundred years and check to see that everything on it is fine. We've done that with books, but nothing digital, so...
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Dauric » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:20 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Also, I beg pardon for my obliviousness on the matters of flash-drive long-term storage (and magnetics not being a good long-term storage plan). I'm speaking purely from a position of ignorance here, and was unaware that flash-drives can actually 'degrade' over time.

EDIT: Though this makes me wonder; isn't it possible to create a long-term digital storage system? One that doesn't require electricity, or maintenance? I suppose the biggest obstacle is that the only real way to effectively 'test' it is to leave it alone for a hundred years and check to see that everything on it is fine. We've done that with books, but nothing digital, so...


... Punch Cards?
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:21 pm UTC

BRILLIANT!

We'll back up all our libraries with extensive 'meta-libraries' full of punch-cards.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Ghostbear » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:23 pm UTC

To expand on the discs part, there's a big difference between consumer discs and commercial discs. Discs that are "pressed" at a factory (often called silvers in concert recording circles, probably elsewhere as well) have a much longer life expectancy. With proper storage, you can likely expect a few decades out of them. Consumer discs, the ones that you "burn" have a shorter life expectancy. You can probably get a decade out of proper storage reliably enough, after that it gets progressively iffier.

The big problem with most digital storage methods is that they're generally based on states that decay over time. Like Zamfir said, there's a worry of bit rot (which I had mentioned earlier :(); the data charge or whatever is storing the data will decay over time, and if the data isn't "re-written" to refresh the state, you'll end up corrupting some of that data. Depending on the storage medium, the actual data being stored, the specific bits corrupted, and the amount of corruption overall, you could render your file completely worthless or not see any effective change at all. Add in the chance for no one having proper documentation (or even having the documentation but not having the equipment to make use of it) for either the physical or digital format, and there are a lot of potential issues with digital data as a long term storage solution.

The formats aren't made for centuries long survival, because it's expected that they'll be completely obsolete within decades anyway. To get mediums that last longer, you'll need to use storage methods that have a reliable "on" and "off" state that don't decay at all over time. Charges will decay, while discs are held up by their physical durability (or more accurately, lack thereof). I don't know of any upcoming memory that avoids this either; the most promising ones look to be phase change (which I expect is likely to decay with temperature variance), with the rest all being charge based as far as I can tell.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Red Hal » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:25 pm UTC

You only need to store the parity. Alternatively there is Twibright Optar to store 2 Mbytes on ten sides of A4.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:26 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Centuries? Really? Do you honestly believe that stored digital information would last anywhere close to that long without electricity?
Even if you lost all electricity in the world for a few hours, or a few days, or (maybe?) even a few years, you'd still have plenty of undamaged copies to start over with again.
Sure, but the contention was about centuries, not mere years.

The Great Hippo wrote:We're still struggling to understand what the fuck is up with the Mayan language
Pretty sure you mean Inka, seeing as many Maya languages are still spoken today.

And if a language is dead, digital records are no easier to understand than paper ones, so isn't that kind of irrelevant anyway?

The Great Hippo wrote:Though this makes me wonder; isn't it possible to create a long-term digital storage system?
Perhaps, but one of the biggest problems is the information density. A small physical flaw on digital media would destroy several orders of magnitude more data than a similarly sized flaw on paper. And this is apart from all the other concerns about readable storage and such.

Edit: of course, yeah, there are punch-cards, which are basically physical books that happen to have digitized information on them.
Last edited by gmalivuk on Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:44 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Zamfir » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:30 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:EDIT: Though this makes me wonder; isn't it possible to create a long-term digital storage system? One that doesn't require electricity, or maintenance? I suppose the biggest obstacle is that the only real way to effectively 'test' it is to leave it alone for a hundred years and check to see that everything on it is fine. We've done that with books, but nothing digital, so..
I am sure it possible, but the details will depend on your application. How much data, how important, what target public. And price is very important here: there's no point in a method that theoretically would last forever, but hardly gets used. There's somewhat of a trade off here between "many copies in a diverse range of places" and "physically very durable method". Punched dimples in granite will presuambly be aere perennius, but how much data will there be in such formats?

If you loo at our sources from very long ago, some of them (like inscriptions in stone) really were intended to last a long time. But others are flukes of history, and such flukes are more likely the more widespread the copies are. And of course lots of sources, even for antiquity, really survived through constant copying to new media.

I don't know if there is already agreement on a good methods for very long-term stroarge of digital data. I think it's more of developing field really, where they are still looking for the right question instead of the right answers.

For photos (and photos of book contents), there was at some point a convergence on silver-halide microfilm rolls. You can store fairly large amounts of data in a limited amount of space, they are apparently very durable (many centuries I think), and retrieval is fairly robust. Even if a human eye can't read the films, they can recognize what they are and you can build a viewer from scratch without much knowledge of the standards used to produce the film.

Of course, searching in microfilm is a pain, but that's our contribution to the mental hardening of future generations of research assistants.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:41 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Pretty sure you mean Inka, seeing as many dialects of Maya are still spoken today.
Yeah, pardon--you're right. I always get the two confused in my head. I'm terrible with names.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Dauric » Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:50 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:For photos (and photos of book contents), there was at some point a convergence on silver-halide microfilm rolls. You can store fairly large amounts of data in a limited amount of space, they are apparently very durable (many centuries I think), and retrieval is fairly robust. Even if a human eye can't read the films, they can recognize what they are and you can build a viewer from scratch without much knowledge of the standards used to produce the film.

Of course, searching in microfilm is a pain, but that's our contribution to the mental hardening of future egenrations of research assistants.


I work with county records, land ownership, mineral rights, inheritance etc. There's a -BIG- "If" here with microfilm: If the microfilm is stored at the correct temperature it'll last centuries. If you're talking about an apocalyptic scenario where you hope future civilizations rebuild from stored microfilm documents they'll be just as screwed in a few decades as they would be relying on CDs or DVDs as air-conditioning and moisture control will have gone away with your electricity. A lot of rural county records don't have ideal microfilm storage conditions (one county that one of our "Road Guys" used to go to just tossed -all- their records in a basement, unsorted. Paper and film alike). In less than optimal conditions (Including a lot of people handling the film, as you have in county records offices) burned DVDs may actually be ever so slightly more robust than microfilm, but even then you're talking decades, not centuries.

Even in the last 40 years or so a lot of microfilm has been re-filmed at least once because of media degradation, and a lot of what is left is shitty copy. That's a big part of what I do is go through old land records trying to figure out what documents we have adequate copies scanned from microfilm rolls and what we need new scans of directly from paper documents...

... Although a lot of those paper-documents are photo-reproductions from shitty microfilm.

Edit:

Inca, not Inka.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Zamfir » Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:24 pm UTC

I guess that goes back to actual experience again.To know that something lasts, you have to see it last, with both physical and social circumstances taken into account.

That made me wonder: what formats (either physical or social) already have really good track records? Stone inscriptions I guess, especially grave inscriptions, but that's really limited storage space.

Also, is it really total apocalyps we have to worry about? My wife says that many, many printed Chinese books and archives from the Ming and Qing are lost without a single copy, though she didn't have numbers. China didn't go through an apocalyps, but a century of civil war and revolutions was sufficient.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:34 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Also, is it really total apocalyps we have to worry about? My wife says that many, many printed Chinese books and archives from the Ming and Qing are lost without a single copy, though she didn't have numbers. China didn't go through an apocalyps, but a century of civil war and revolutions was sufficient.
I think the reason we talk about 'total apocalypse' is largely because the ease of copying digital versions is so immense that the only situations we imagine losing important documents--documents someone would say 'hey, let's make copies of that, it looks important'--are ones where it becomes impossible to make copies.

I mean, part of the reason a lot of documents are destroyed in history is purely a matter of values. How much value is there in retaining this library to a would-be conqueror? Very little. How much effort would be required to move or copy the important works in this library and scuttle off with the result? A lot. The conqueror doesn't value the library; no one's willing (or capable) to go through the effort of saving the library--the library gets burned.

But digitally? The equation is much different. I mean, just look at all the feeble attempts of government and corporate agencies to prevent piracy; they're like the would-be conquerors, except they're actually out to destroy the libraries. But maintaining, protecting, copying, and transferring the libraries involves so little comparative effort.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Steax » Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:45 pm UTC

But the opposite also applies: in order to back up information to the web, it has to be deliberately done so. As in, someone has to consciously decide "hey, this is important, we should back it up with a lot of copies or give it out free" in order to store it. Books, on the other hand, have a higher chance of surviving without that deliberate decision, because each copy has a moderate level of survivability and accessibility in its own right. It's far less than a digital copy's portability or copying potential, but there's little action required on its owner's part, at least to an extent.

Case in point: I never deliberately backed up my childhood photos and works, so now I don't know where they are. I just tossed my childhood books in a box, and now they're still here. Stuff like that.

Of course, this applies differently from the important data we've been talking about.

Also, I talk about "total apocalypse" because it's a worst-case scenario.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:51 pm UTC

So a basic breakdown of the advantage goes something like 'books are more permanent, but harder to reproduce; digital copies are more temporary, but incredibly easy to reproduce'.

Also keep in mind, though: Producing those photos required a great deal more effort than producing digital copies of photos would entail. At some point in this process, someone had to care enough to make them, and their existence is a kind of testament to that care and value.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby Steax » Tue Mar 20, 2012 4:11 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:So a basic breakdown of the advantage goes something like 'books are more permanent, but harder to reproduce; digital copies are more temporary, but incredibly easy to reproduce'.


Sounds fair, yes. So they both have their own advantages, and each would survive different kinds of catastrophes. The best option would be a combination of both.

That's true, printing photos would also be difficult. Maybe I should rephrase that to "childhood journals" or something.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby sourmìlk » Tue Mar 20, 2012 4:13 pm UTC

I think the ease of reproduction is what makes the digital media last longer. You can just keep creating copies indefinitely, for free, whereas with books you really can't. It takes a financial investment to start producing more books and that's not one people are going to make for most books, but is one people are going to make for most files because the financial investment for reproducing a file is almost 0.
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Re: Buh Bye, Encyclopedia Britannica

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Mar 20, 2012 4:21 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:Inca, not Inka.
Did you read the part on that first page which explicitly says "or Inka"? With its link to the page describing how that's the spelling in Quechua and Aymaran, the modern indigenous language families of that region?
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