HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
June 11, 2007, Herald Journal

Paper, plastic, analog or digital?

By MARK OLLIG

We are facing a problem that has been growing over the last 25 years.

Think about all the information we have been saving onto our computer hard drives, flash memory cards, CD’s, DVD’s and portable external hard drives.

Will these and other modern digital storage devices survive into the future?

Could we find ourselves being lulled into a false sense of security thinking our data is safe forever?

Are we being overly confident that the digital photographs we take with our digital cameras are being archived securely for the future?

Will these “digitized” pictures and other data still be accessible many years from now or will the medium they are stored on deteriorate to a point where the pictures and data are lost forever?

Look at the print media. There are printed books over 500 years old that we can still read today.

The oldest recorded written history can be found on the clay tablets of Mesopotamia (area mostly centered in Iraq). These clay tablets date back as far as 3,500 B.C. and represent the earliest known writings.

The world’s first photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Niepce of France. The original photograph is still viewable after 181 years.

Will the information and pictures we now store digitally on CD’s (compact discs) which are mostly made out of plastic and aluminum, last tens or hundreds of years?

If the CD discs use a gold layer instead of aluminum, they have a better chance to.

I discovered the “Kodak Gold Preservation Disk.” These DVD-R and CD-R disks are made to preserve data for an unbelievable amount of time. 100 years on the DVD-R and are you ready for this – a mind-boggling 300 years on the CD-R.

KMP Media, which is manufacturing the discs under license from Kodak, says they are made with a reflective layer of 24-karat gold, which prevents the tarnish and oxidation that occur with silver or aluminum discs.

These Gold Preservations Disks are available on 700MB CD-R’s and 4.7GB DVD-R’s.

I wonder if these 24-karat gold discs come with an extended warranty.

The disks might last 100 to 300 years, but will there be a CD player available in 100 or 300 years? I can see the great-great-great-great grandkids going to a museum trying to find one. Stay tuned.

Does this mean we will need to keep passing the CD and DVD players down to the next generation?

Back in 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft into the “final frontier” of outer space.

The Voyager spacecrafts are carrying a special message that is recorded in a unique way.

This message is recorded on what are essentially phonograph records – 12-inch gold-plated copper disks, containing the sounds and images selected to represent the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

A committee headed by the late famous astronomer Carl Sagan, selected the records contents for NASA.

On the disks attached to Voyager 1 and 2, Dr. Sagan and his team added 115 images and (analog) recordings of Earth’s naturally made sounds. These sounds included: wind, thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. Music and spoken greetings in different languages were also recorded onto these disks.

You could call this record album a collection of “Earth’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1.”

The records are coated in copper and gold to protect them on their journey. They are enclosed in a protective aluminum jacket, with a stylus needle and a cartridge. The instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the records are to be played.

It is hoped these records will someday be listened to by an intelligent civilization.

The Voyager records are 12-inch gold-plated copper 33-RPM audio LP (long playing) disks.

The recordings made on these disks, or “records” as I have been referring to them as, are not digital, but good old-fashioned analog recordings.

One thing about those old analog records, especially the vinyl ones. . . do not leave them in your car under the back window on a hot day. They warp.

As of June 6 (when I wrote this column), Voyager 1 was 102.094 AU’s (astronomical units) from the Earth.

The Earth is one AU from the Sun. . .or about 93 million miles.

Here is the NASA link that contains all the information contained on these golden interstellar “phonograph” records: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/goldenrec.html.

For the website dedicated to the Voyager mission, check out:

http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/interstellar.html.

Voyager 1 is now nearing the “heliopause” which is close to the beginning of “interstellar space.”

In 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will be within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. This star might have planets in close proximity that may possess an intelligent civilization.

It is anticipated this civilization that will know what to do with this shiny, but very old gold plated phonograph record from Earth.

I hope that one of the planet’s inhabitants has a record player.