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Data Rot

by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander on March 27th, 02009

David Pogue has been doing some good reporting on digital longevity.  Today he posted the transcript of an interview he did with the folks down at the Computer History Museum.

The interview does not leave us with much hope for digital data.  The upside to this is that the problem will hopefully get broader attention, the downside is it doesn’t touch on the many efforts that are going on, or possible paths forward.

Here is an excerpt:

David Pogue: What is data rot?

Dag Spicer: Data rot refers mainly to problems with the medium on which information is stored. Over time, things like temperature, humidity, exposure to light, being stored not-very-good locations like moldy basements, make this information very difficult to read.

The second aspect of data rot is actually finding the machines to read them. And that is a real problem. If you think of the 8-track tape player, for example, basically the only way you can find 8-track cartridges is in a flea market or a garage sale.

The problem, strangely enough, is not so bad on the older stuff, but quite bad on the more recent stuff. So we can read tapes here at the museum that are 50 years old. You know, we bake the tapes first, and we extract–

DP: You bake the tapes?

DS: Yeah, we put them in an oven and we dry them out, because after time, the tape just sticks. It becomes one giant reel of goo, and you can’t just peel it apart, because then you start peeling data off the tape. So there’s a little wizardry involved in reading this stuff.

Continued over at the NYT blog…

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