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Thousand-Year Digital Photos

humanly & digitally recoverable long-term archival photographs
  [vote for,


One of the great unsolved problems of modern photography, which by definition is digital, is the lack of a robust means of photo archival that can survive long spans of time and neglect -- and by that I'm not talking about 5 to 10 years in someone's climate-controlled home or a cloud provider's fully-staffed data center, but more along the lines of 50 to 1,000 years in a forgotten corner of a hot and humid warehouse subject to occasional freezing.

Think ahead 1,000 years. We have pre-historic cave paintings today that will still be around after the Great Solar Electro-Magnetic Flare Of 2,XXX (insert year) will have wiped out all of the planet's hard-drives & flash- drives containing the majority of modern-era visual media. Only photos on CDs & DVDs which were popular for a brief 20-year period (1995 to 2015) will have survived the Great Solar EMF, and even fewer would still be readable by then.


I propose a product to be sold to museums, governments, well-funded artists, and others interested in the long-term preservation of digital photographs in their full glory: the Perma-Print. Each Perma-Print is a pixel-accurate digital image printed onto the core layer of a 200-lb, 50-inch wide monolith of synthetic diamond. The size and heft are required due to the physical structure of each pixel, as described below. Hardened glass could be used in place of synthetic diamond, but the latter is preferred for its improved resistance to fire and crushing forces and better ability to retain shape.

Each pixel in the print is represented by a "print-site" - a set of micro- crystalline blobs of pigment corresponding to one Bayer Color Filter Array. Each Bayer CFA sub-pixel's surface color provides accurate color representation to a human viewer, while its crystalline structure offers precise machine-readable 16-bit RGB (Red-Green-Blue) composition for future restoration onto digital media. The crystalline structure provides a quantized, countable number of possible sizes for each blob (e.g. a small red hexagonal blob is a red pixel of value 6; a mid-tone red is a much larger red polygon with 32,768 edges). The use of Bayer Arrays of single-color sub-pixels avoids the chemical and physical complications that would arise from mixing pigments.

At 16 bits per color, dynamic range (shadow and highlight details) actually exceeds that of color pigments, and can accommodate the RAW format of 2012-era digital cameras without loss of detail. This means a future archaeologist will be able to visually inspect the image to see what they got, and then perform a full digital restoration which is not subject to the limited dynamic range that the color pigments are able to transmit.

Consumer-grade, cheaper versions of the product can also be marketed which would be smaller and use plastic in place of synthetic diamond or hardened glass. The smaller pixels would only support 8-bit RGB, which is adequate for consumer use. These would be water- proof and EMP-proof, but not fire-proof.

ignobel, Dec 31 2011

Teflon data storage The_20Teflon*_20Archive
Glass has the Big Problem of being brittle. Diamond, too! [Vernon, Dec 31 2011, last modified Jan 03 2012]

another long term data storage idea... inkjet_20parchment_20printer
.. includes GoatTV™ [not_morrison_rm, Jan 01 2012]

Rosetta Cemetery Rosetta_20Cemetery
[theircompetitor, Jan 03 2012]

Punched tape reader http://www.ebay.com...=punched&_kw=reader
[MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2012]

Punch card reader http://punchcardreader.com/
Three seconds of google search reveals... [ye_river_xiv, Jan 05 2012]


       @Vernon - I revised the design to use synthetic diamond in place of hardened glass. Glass also has the problem of melting rather easily.
ignobel, Dec 31 2011

       Given the exponential rate of growth of storage media, I don't think this is likely to be a problem. I think that, over the centuries, data will be duplicated, downloaded, backed up, replicated, format-converted, reposted umpteen times. In 2000 years from now, my guess is that all of today's data will exist in a billion locations, taking up too little space to make it worth deleting.   

       Media integrity aside, it's not necessary to worry about formats either. To imagine that today's information will be lost simply because nobody in the year 2984 can figure out how to decode a jpeg file is foolish.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 31 2011

       @Maxwell, your comment fails to address the coming Great Solar Electro-Magnetic Flare. We are utterly unprepared for that!
ignobel, Dec 31 2011

       I am pretty sure the GSEMF will have a devastating effect, much like the Y2K bug did.   

       If anyone's really worried, perhaps they should start building sarcophagi out of heat-moulded CDs. In millennia to come, archeologists will lovingly peel them apart and reconstruct the lost data.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 31 2011

       // over the centuries, data will be duplicated, downloaded, backed up, replicated, format-converted, reposted umpteen times //   

       This method of data storage is already baked. It's called The Bible.
Alterother, Dec 31 2011

       Unfortunately, the data therein is irreversibly corrupted.
pocmloc, Dec 31 2011

       So are most of the people who read it and believe it.
infidel, Dec 31 2011

       The merits of diamond as a data storage substrate will undoubtedly be as you say [ignobel] but I wouldn't use it if there are non-valuable alternatives. It would be like inscribing important information on gold due to its resistance to corrosion. The substrate wouldn't fail in itself but would soon be appropriated by others for their more base and selfish purposes.   

       Teflon, as suggested by [Vernon], or 15 copies of the glass version scattered across the land would be much more likely to survive the time periods you are positing.
AusCan531, Jan 01 2012

       MB, With such a mound of bits, seems like the problem will be how to find the relevant data.
RayfordSteele, Jan 01 2012

       I don't know that it matters, [Ray]. Regardless of the subject matter they will be "official photographs" of a "former world leader" or "high court official", if experience of the last few hundred years of archaeological finds is anything to go by.
infidel, Jan 01 2012

       We could just put everything into one huge ZIP file and then email it to ourselves...
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 01 2012

       Re: melting, brittleness issues:   

       1. Store archive in cool, dry place, such as Yucca Mountain.   

       2. Inscribe entrance to storage facility with Rosetta-style message in Binary, English, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, and, oh I don't know, Esperanto or something. Message reads as follows:   

       "World data archive within. Do not melt. Do not strike with blunt objects. No horseplay."
Alterother, Jan 01 2012

       Wonder why the ancients don't want us to play with horses?
RayfordSteele, Jan 02 2012

       I'm not sure about diamond as a storage medium - it's pretty brittle and it burns quite easily (producing CO2).

Then the problem with a message (as [Alterother] suggests) is that no one will understand it. We have pretty much no idea what the ancient Egyptians wrote, and that was only 5,000 years ago.
hippo, Jan 03 2012

       I wonder if that's true, hippo. Presuming continuous use of digital media (a big assumption, granted), language drift might truly slow down, since recorded media provides a self correcting mechanism -- e.g., no idea how Shakespearean actors pronounced Shakespeare's plays, but no doubt whatsoever as to how Olivier did.
theircompetitor, Jan 03 2012

       ...unless use of digital media actually accelerates language drift by making archive material unavailable. E.g. If I were given a 5.25" disk from the 1980s now, I'm not sure how I'd go about finding out what it contained.
hippo, Jan 03 2012

       Some of your old home videos maybe. Maybe if Facebook was to somehow dissapear, even much of the stuff you've uploaded (though that's a lot less likely as cloud storage permeates). But Hamlet is quite certain to be available.
theircompetitor, Jan 03 2012

       //given a 5.25" disk from the 1980s now, I'm not sure how I'd go about finding out what it contained.//   

       On the other hand, numerous librarians, digital archivists and other people would be able to read in five minutes. We can still (where need arises) play Edison cylinders, decode Morse, and view 16mm cine.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 03 2012

       and can read several different layers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to boot. I find the whole topic a combination of the typical good old days nostalgia /end of the world is coming hysteria. I think digital media is going to be just fine.
theircompetitor, Jan 03 2012

       Really? Try reading something encoded on punched cards.
infidel, Jan 04 2012

       // that no one will understand it //   

       Which is why I suggest that the first column of the message be written in binary. Anyone who can't translate that has no business inspecting digital media archives anyway.
Alterother, Jan 04 2012

       [infidel] you think punch cards are more difficult to read than Dead Sea Scrolls or the Rosetta Stone?   

       The point is not that it may be difficult to read -- the point is that if needed, it will be readable unless powered devices themselves disappear -- and while that's conceivable, it's not very likely.   

       As the network becomes ubiquitous, cloud storage will in any case make this much less of an issue than it even is today.
theircompetitor, Jan 04 2012

       //Try reading something encoded on punched cards.//   

       eBay. Link.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2012

       I hope there's plenty of these glass pictures after the apocalypse. I do so like knowing there will be ample sources of sheet glass. It's the best for making arrow heads.
ye_river_xiv, Jan 05 2012


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