Blog Archive for the ‘Digital Dark Age’ Category

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The Cure for Broken Links and Dead Dot-Coms

Posted on Friday, November 1st, 02013 by Catherine Borgeson
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“The Internet echoes with the empty spaces where data used to be.”
- Alexis Rossi from the Wayback Machine

The Internet Archive recently unveiled a new plan to fix broken links utilizing the Wayback Machine.

The Wayback Machine provides digital captures of URLs to create stable access to websites that otherwise might vanish. The service initially launched in 2001 with 10 billion pages. Today it archives 10 billion pages every 10 weeks and currently contains more than 360 billion URL snapshots.

We have been serving archived web pages to the public via the Wayback Machine for twelve years now, and it is gratifying to see how this service has become a medium of record for so many.  Wayback pages are cited in papers, referenced in news articles and submitted as evidence in trials.  Now even the U.S. government relies on this web archive.

Steady improvements to the Wayback Machine have been made over the past year to keep pace with the always evolving digital landscape of the Internet. Content went from being a year out of date to appearing in the Wayback Machine an hour after a site is crawled.  Anyone can create a permanent URL to cite a page and the Wayback Machine supports a number of different APIs.

Part of what makes the web so great is its churning and ephemeral nature, but as more and more of our culture and history is built on the dunes of ever-shifting silicates, we stand to stumble forward without a clear sense of where we’ve come from, like Guy Pierce’s amnesiac in Memento. The Wayback Machine improves the web’s memory and in a way, our own.

In becoming better equipped to keep up with the growing Internet, the Wayback Machine has also become a well-suited solution to the broken link epidemic.  It is first working with individual webmasters and a couple larger sites such as WordPress and Wikipedia:

Webmasters can add a short snippet of code to their 404 page that will let users know if the Wayback Machine has a copy of the page in our archive – your web pages don’t have to die!

We started with a big goal — to archive the Internet and preserve it for history.  This year we started looking at the smaller goals — archiving a single page on request, making pages available more quickly, and letting you get information back out of the Wayback in an automated way.  We have spent 17 years building this amazing collection, let’s use it to make the web a better place.

Toward a Manual for Civilization

Posted on Wednesday, August 14th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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We are as gods” because of our ancestors’ diligence. The promise of a technologically advancing future is predicated on millennia of accumulated knowledge. Civilization has taken a lot of work to build and it demands a great deal of know-how to sustain. And as modern life increasingly encourages specialization, familiarity across that accumulated knowledge’s breadth can wane. Our ability to collaborate is a strength, but beyond a point we risk losing comprehension of the infrastructure that supports our modern lives. How can we retain that knowledge?

Long Now Board Member Kevin Kelly has suggested a Library of Utility:

It would be a very selective library. It would not contain the world’s great literature, or varied accounts of history, or deep knowledge of ethnic wonders, or speculations about the future. It has no records of past news, no children’s books, no tomes on philosophy. It contains only seeds. Seeds of utilitarian know-how. How to recreate the infrastructure and technology of civilization so far.

Alexander Rose, our Executive Director, has compiled resources that could become such a Manual for Civilization:

It is an interesting thought exercise to ask yourself what information you might want if you had to truly start over.

And in our forthcoming Salon space at Fort Mason Center, we’ll house approximately 3,500 volumes in a floor-to-ceiling library featuring carefully selected books that could be used to help restart civilization. We are not trying to be apocalyptic or at all predictive, but the conversation that is inspired by this exercise seems to be endless and valuable.

We will collaboratively curate this corpus with Long Now’s members and the public. We understand that by definition we ourselves will have a western-centric viewpoint of what might be collected, but as the project gets going we plan to seek submissions that represent views from as many cultural viewpoints as possible. Several interns have been hired to begin rounding up submissions and our Digital Research Director, Kurt Bollacker, is advising on the information design, indexing architecture, and digital archiving strategy for the collection.

To support its long-term survival and worldwide accessibility, we’ll have a digital version of the collection publicly available on the Internet Archive. And, among its shelves, we’ll have many a great conversation – over tea, coffee, and maybe some whiskey – honoring curiosity, ingenuity and persistence. We hope you’ll join us.

If you share our enthusiasm for this project, please consider supporting the construction of the Salon space in which it will be housed – gifts for supporters include things like a free beverage once the space opens or having a shelf of the Manual’s books dedicated in your honor!

Art & The Art of Archiving at New York’s New Museum

Posted on Monday, August 12th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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From July 17 to September 8 of this year, the New Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is hosting XFR STN (read ‘transfer station’), an “open-door artist-centered media archiving project.”

A collaborative effort by artists for artists, XFR STN is essentially a preservation and migration service for artwork created with or on audiovisual and digital formats that have since become obsolete. The migrated works will be available publicly through the Internet Archive, and on view at the New Museum’s fifth floor gallery space.

Part public exhibit and part archival laboratory, XFR STN is turning the preservation of art itself into a creative process. It’s an effort at saving art from digital darkness – not only by ensuring its continued accessibility, but by keeping it alive in the public eye.

“Consistent with the dictum “distribution is preservation,” the project argues for circulation as a mode of conservation. “XFR STN” will serve as a collection and dissemination point for artist-produced content, as well as a hub for information about these past projects (including production materials and personal recollections). The project is both a pragmatic public service and an activity as metaphor: an opportunity to present aspects of a mediatic production process in continuous dynamic transformation.”

 

A New Dimension (or Two?) for Long-Term Data Storage

Posted on Friday, July 26th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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A group of scientists at the University of Southampton is pushing the frontier of long-term data storage technology to a new level. At a recent Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in San José, the researchers announced their success at recording data in quartz glass by using a femtosecond laser.

A femtosecond, or ultrafast, laser sends out a quadrillion (that’s a 1 with 15 zeros) pulses per second. When focused on a piece of quartz glass, these photon bullets shift the structuring of atoms in the silica, creating what are called nanostructures. The presence of nanostructures changes the way light travels through the quartz, which means they can be ‘read’ by an optical microscope.

Taking advantage of this fact, these Southampton researchers figured out how to use an ultrafast laser to deliberately place nanostructured dots within the quartz glass. A configuration of dots can thereby become five-dimensional code, conveying meaning through its spatial position within the quartz (dimensions one, two, and three), as well as the size and directional orientation of the dot (dimensions four and five). Using this ‘code’, the research team successfully recorded a 300 kb digital text file into a piece of quartz glass, in the form of a holographic ‘image’ of dots that can be read with an optical microscope fitted with a polarizing filter.

Silica quartz is attractive as a base for very long-term storage because, like sapphire or nickel, it is strong and resistant to high temperatures up to 1000° Celsius. The Southampton research team claims that quartz glass could last for a million years:

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race, said Peter Kazansky, professor of physical optoelectronics at the Univ. of Southampton’s Optical Research Centre. “This technology can secure the last evidence of civilization: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

Beyond the strength of its material, the potential of this new technology lies in the nano-scale of its encoding: at that order of magnitude (or microtude, if you will), the researchers suggest, a single piece of quartz could hold more than 350 terabytes of data. If this technology can be translated into a real-world utility, the researchers claim this new form of data storage

“… could be highly useful for organizations with big archives. At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan,” says [principal investigator Jingyu Zhang]. “Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit.”

10 Petabytes and Growing: The Internet Archive

Posted on Monday, June 3rd, 02013 by Austin Brown
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The Internet Archive seeks to offer universal access to all knowledge.  Jonathan Minard and Deepspeed Media recently created Archive, a short documentary exploring how they’re slowly but steadily achieving this ambitious goal.

Internet Archive from Deepspeed media on Vimeo.

Our Digital Afterlives

Posted on Monday, April 22nd, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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In 02006, Long Now Board Member David Eagleman wrote in Nature:

There is no afterlife, but a version of us lives on nonetheless.

At the beginning of the computer era, people died with passwords in their heads and no one could access their files. When access to these files was critical, companies could grind to a halt. That’s when programmers invented death switches.

With a death switch, the computer prompts you for your password once a week to make sure you are still alive. When you don’t enter your password for some period of time, the computer deduces you are dead, and your passwords are automatically e-mailed to the second-in-command. Individuals began to use death switches to reveal Swiss bank account numbers to their heirs, to get the last word in an argument, and to confess secrets that were unspeakable during a lifetime.

In other words, a “death switch” is a way for us to pre-program an afterlife for our digital selves. Despite the relatively short lifespan of software platforms, it is likely that the data we post on the internet will live on – somewhere – after we ourselves expire.

Eagleman, along with several others, is urging us to think about what will happen to our digital legacy after death: to decide where we want our data to live, and who will have the privilege to engage with it. Do we want to place our legacy in the hands of an heir, or do we want our online presence to be erased? Alternatively, do we perhaps want to designate our own computers as executors of our estate, and have it send out friendly messages to our descendants every once in a while?

Over the past two years, a series of Digital Death Day “unconferences” has brought people together to talk about these kinds of questions. Evan Carroll and John Romano published a book and host an accompanying blog about ways to shape our digital afterlives. And most recently, Google introduced its Inactive Account Manager: a new tool that allows you to decide what will happen to your emails, photo albums, posted videos and personal profiles when your account becomes inactive.

Planning for our digital beyond is a way to save our own lives from receding into a digital dark age – and as such, it may be a way to keep something of ourselves alive after our bodies die. Eagleman muses:

This situation allows us to forever revisit shared jokes, to remedy lost opportunities for a kind word, to recall stories about delightfully earthly experiences that can no longer be felt. Memories now live on their own, and no one forgets them or grows tired of telling them. We are quite satisfied with this arrangement, because reminiscing about our glory days of existence is perhaps all that would have happened in an afterlife anyway.

O’Reilly Talks about Digital Preservation

Posted on Tuesday, April 2nd, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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Former SALT speaker Tim O’Reilly recently shared the video of a talk he gave on digital preservation at the Library of Congress in 02011.

Discussing some of his own “personal failures” to archive O’Reilly Media’s early projects, O’Reilly here emphasizes the importance of preserving digital information and resources in a world where printed matter may eventually become obsolete. We risk slipping into a digital dark age if we continue to treat digital archiving as an “afterthought.” Citing the examples of Wikipedia and Github, O’Reilly therefore urges us to recognize the long-term relevance of what we create on the web. He suggests we change the way we engage with online systems, and build preservation into the very core of our online activity.

Danny Hillis: We need a backup internet

Posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Speaking at TED earlier this year, Long Now co-founder Danny Hillis described the early days of networked computing – a time when one could register “think.com” on a whim and everyone with an email address or a domain could be listed in a single book.

He explained that the design of the Internet Protocol and the early community using it were infused with communistic values - ironic, he notes, as the tech grew out of Cold War militarism.

Since then, of course, the internet, its users and its uses have expanded far beyond the wildest dreams of its creators. In so doing, it has become an essential societal infrastructure – without having been designed as such. As another Long Now Board Member, David Eagleman, points out, the internet is not invulnerable. Emergency communications and other high-priority services must be possible without the internet, but increasingly depend on it.

Hillis says a separate backup internet would not be hard to build and would dramatically increase our resilience to disaster and malfeasance.

Reviving and Restoring Digital Art

Posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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With the ever-accelerating evolution of hardware and software, we stand to lose much more than reels of data. A vast collection of computer art risks slipping into digital darkness, as well.

Concerned about this impending loss, NYU student Matthew Epler recently founded the ReCode project: a community-driven effort to create an active archive for the products of “creative computing.”

But lest the idea of an “archive” should call to mind anything stuffy or rigid, the project involves much more than preservation alone. Epler hopes to revive computer art by translating it into a contemporary programming language, and thereby making it available for others to learn from and use in their own creative pursuits. (This isn’t storage – it’s “movage.”)

Furthermore, the archaeological endeavor of deciphering the obsolescent code in which works of digital art were written invites us to learn something about the history of computer languages. As such, Epler hopes that the ReCode project will generate awareness of the historical and cultural context in which computer art is created. In a blog post on Wired’s web page, Epler writes:

“… this project aims to start a larger discussion about the transitory nature of not only our work but also the languages and platforms on which we create it. Can we see a common conceptual thread through these pieces that speaks to the digital art practice as a whole over decades? Or will our work always be limited by our machines? … I feel these discussions are necessary to push through the “Tumblr-era” of digital art works and into one that legitimizes itself through critical reflection and historical grounding.”

If you’re interested in getting involved, Epler invites you to join in on the process of translation. Here’s a guide to get you started.

TimesMachine: “All the News That Was Fit to Print”

Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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If you’re a fan of this video showing a years’ worth of front pages for NYTimes.com, or the Way Back Machine, which allows you to browse the internet of the past, you might also love a project released by the New York Times today: The TimesMachine.

TimesMachine can take you back to any issue from Volume 1, Number 1 of The New-York Daily Times, on September 18, 1851, through The New York Times of December 30, 1922. Choose a date in history and flip electronically through the pages, displayed with their original look and feel.

You’ve got to be a subscriber to access most of the content, but issues from several important days in history are freely available in their entirety:

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