Wednesday 27 March 2019

Long term storage ATCG

I have an old fashioned steel 4-drawer filing cabinet; indeed we have two. One drawer is brimful of correspondence from the 1980s. Through those years I had a manual typewriter and a supply of carbon paper and hammered out a lot of letters to friends and family; so I have copies of letters sent and the incomming as well. That source of vital daily-grind biographer's information dried up and petered out after 1993. That's about a decade after I [early adopter, me] sent my first trans-Atlantic e-mail - that comms medium was getting widely adopted and letters were only appropriate to my parents. At the same time, I started writing everything on a computer and didn't have carbon paper for the printer. The precipitous fall in the cost of international telephone calls meant that letters were no longer a weekly [or more often] occurrence. Almost all of that electronic to-fro has gone forever as I shifted between ISPs and failed to download the traffic. There is an irony in the fact that my poor biographer is going to be better served from the 70s and 80s than s/he will be for the 90s and 00s. The best medium for lifetime storage is plain old fashioned 19thC ink on paper. It's bulky and sensitive to floods and fire but doesn't require special technology to recover.

There are peculiar streetlights on the post 1993 Dark Ages:
  • In September 2010, m'pal Rissoles Hayes took his family off to Extremadura for a year. I thought he'd be home-sick, so I wrote something in excess of 30 letters - about once a week. Because the postage was the same up to 100g, I filled the envelope with the kind of shite that I later distilled into a 700 word Blob but send in full . . . at least they had fire-lighters in their casa in Spain.
  • Just about the time Chris returned to Wexford, Dau.I left home and country in 2011 and I undertook to write her letters, at least weekly, and send them, in an envelope, with stamps. That project doesn't seem to have lasted as long.
In any case, I have that correspondence for as long as there are USB ports to read my external backup hard-drives. That's a key fact because a lot of 90s correspondence is stored on 3.5in floppy disks [remember them?] which probably could be recovered but only with enormous faff and expense. And, let's face it; nobody is going to write my biography because I have been effectively irrelevant to the relentless progress of history. When MySpace recently lost 50 million files in a server migration fiasco, nobody seemed to mind very much because they've all moved on to other comms platforms. I guess subconsciously, folk accepted that all those songs, all that to-fro, were just ephemera waiting for a strong breeze to flitter it into oblivion.

My correspondent El Asturiano [prev] sent me a tech-geek link about long-term information storage . . . using DNA! I Blobbed about writing English text in a genetic code: in real life the DNA is read in triplet codons which gives 4^3 = 64 permutations: plenty for a 26-letter alphabet. You can have some harmless fun looking for ELVIS in the human genome. Microsoft is behind the cunning plan to convert text to DNA, and recover it when needed. Their prototype pipeline took 21 hours and cost $10,000 to wrote and read "HELLO" but, as I explained recently DNA technology scales up really well; the same technique would cost [in time and money] the same for 5,000 letters as for 5. And DNA being really small scale will pack a helluva lot of information in a very small container. 

The Arch Mission Foundation is about to launch 30 million pages of information in a rocket to the Moon. It is stored on a 100g electronic device and will last forever out there while the creators of all that data trash head-office to hot wet oblivion. Doubtless, the next archive Wikipedia project will send the same material stored in GM Bacillus anthracis spores - they last forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment