Earlier this evening, I finished scanning the slides I have that my Dad took. That’s a lot of slides and a lot of bits. With observations about Wal-Mart and Ubuntu and the end of optical storage.

I’ve written about this scanning project here and here and repeatedly here and most recently here.

It’s a milestone. There are still some left from my pre-digicam years with Lauren, and I’m looking forward to those. But, five years in, I’m way more than half-way through the job.

So I scan ’em on WinXP on a Sun Ultra using the laughably-ugly NikonScan software that I’ve become pretty deft with. Then I switch to Ubuntu to blast ’em onto DVDs. On Ubuntu everything’s faster and there are no irritating popups and writing DVDs Just Works, and I suffer cognitive dissonance while noting which of these is ubiquitous and which is geeky.

Except for, I ran out of writeable DVDs last time I dumped. Coincidentally, Lauren and I had to go into a Wal-Mart the other day, the first time in years, and my whole nervous system just about imploded. The amount of stuff in those places, who could possibly need it all? Anyhow I figured they’d have to have DVD blanks, and they did, except for the price for 50 was only a buck more than the price for 20 so that’s what I had to buy.

And I’m thinking, maybe this is the last writeable optical media I’ll ever buy. USB keys are getting close in size and you can write ’em a whole lot faster, and they don’t occupy any more space, really. The notion of using them for long-term storage hasn’t caught on, but it’s only a matter of time.


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From: Edouard (Feb 12 2008, at 00:36)

Flash memory fails. I had a 4G card die on me recently. USB Flash, SD cards, etc - they are all the same.

Optical media should be a much better long-term storage medium. You don't want to put some important data into a cupboard and then go to use them 10 years later and find some have died in the intervening time. Or that computers no longer have USB ports. Although you could ask the same of optical drives too.


From: Walter Bays (Feb 12 2008, at 00:50)

Congratulations. I hope to finish my scanning some day. But 20 yrs life for electronic data vs 2000 yrs for paper? If you harbor illusions about the permanence of computer records, I have some data on an 8 inch floppy disk in a proprietary format for you. http://www.british-genealogy.com/resources/graves/present_data.htm


From: Martin Probst (Feb 12 2008, at 01:20)

I'm highly sceptical at optical media for lont term storage. I used to burn a lot of CD-Rs (about ~200), and now, only 5 years later many of them appear to be faulty.

So far everything has been recoverable, but if you get ugly data errors in 5 years, what is going to happen to these in 50 years? And DVD writing seems to be even less dependable than CDs.

My current strategy would be to rather use hard drives. Get a network attached storage, or better a server, and store all your stuff on IDE drives. While these do fail, it's a lot easier to move all your stuff to a new home every now and then (and maybe convert from obsolete file formats). And IDE storage is not much more expensive than DVDs.


From: John (Feb 12 2008, at 04:45)

Tim, now that you've had 7 or so years of experience with this process, do you have any slide scanning hardware recommendations for an amateur who doesn't want to spend a lot of money, but also has a load of slides from Dad that he'd like to digitize? Any thoughts on doing it yourself rather than sending them off to a service? Thanks.


From: Brent Rockwood (Feb 12 2008, at 07:21)

I'd be sure to have at least a few copies of anything priceless. In this case, I'd bet your original slides will outlast any optical media.

I'm surprised that you think your next stop will be USB keys. At what point do we start storing stuff like this in the cloud?


From: Thomas (Feb 12 2008, at 07:23)

Flash memory requires periodic access or the cells' charge drops below the readability threshold. Optical media kept in cool dark storage should last much longer than flash.

Don't forget to burn a second copy on another brand of media. Bonus points for doing the research to ensure that the dye formula (or at least the batch of dye) is different in the second set of discs.


From: Matthew Laird (Feb 12 2008, at 10:41)

Hard drives are cheap too, and have a much bigger capacity.

My new backup strategy is to plug an external hard drive in every so often and do an rsync, or straight achieve depending on the type of data.

Actually, hard drives (say a 300-500GB) are cheap enough now I actually have two of them for each set of data (plus the live spinning one in the machine in question). I'm betting these will outlast either flash memory or optical storage just sitting on a shelf in a cool closet.

And then every few years as my data expands I buy a new pair, copy the data over and put these in the closet. And keep the old ones as an additional layer of backup. The pricing is right these days for doing what we'd never think affordable just 5 years ago.

And yes, ongoing is stored on multiple hard drives in my closet using this same model. :)


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Feb 12 2008, at 14:39)

A. Whatever happened to PROM technology? Seems to me that would solve the problem with flash memory needing frequent access to maintain cell charges. When a PROM got burned, it was pretty permanent. Can it be manufactured at similar low cost to flash memory for one-time use?

B. Long ago at a Gartner conference they talked about something I believe they called HDROM which was for long term archival purposes; the bits were burned into a slab of nickel or something. Can't find a reference though so perhaps it died. Maybe a laser could burn scratches into a stone or something ...

C. Seems to me that truly long-term archive is a running process rather than a thing:

1. Make multiple ('N') archival copies on new media or in new formats once it's been in the field a minimum amount of time ('T')

2. repeat, when newer media or better formats come around.

N and T of course, are subjectively determined based upon how much you value the content, and how little you trust a new thing on the market. For the truly risk-averse, or the truly important content, N and T become larger. They also determine the cost 'C' of retaining your content.


From: Mark (Feb 14 2008, at 17:34)

> Then I switch to Ubuntu to blast 'em onto DVDs.

Word. I'm so spoiled by the things that Linux does well (Debian in my case, but same difference) that I go to great lengths to avoid doing those things on Mac or Windows. Burning DVDs (k3b) is one thing. Managing music (Amarok) is another. Reauthoring DVDs (k9copy) is a third.

PS - For those who missed it, Sam's recent experience with XP is great reading: http://intertwingly.net/blog/2008/02/13/Making-Myself-at-Home-temporarily-on-XP


From: Mark (Feb 14 2008, at 18:18)

Don't buy DVDs from any store that doesn't list media codes.


That said, if you must buy blanks at the last minute, always buy Verbatim.


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