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Monday, 17 December 2007


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This points to several interesting problems. I understand that the studies are aimed at the permanence of actual prints that you can hold in your hand or display on the wall. There is another set of issues underlying this though, which has to do with the permanence, readability, back-wards compatibility of the torrents of bits and bytes we produce and store every day. I had a computer die on me this weekend and tried to get some work done on a four year-old PC with a 40GB hard drive and Photoshop 6.0. Oops. Not such a productive work session. I also have papers that I wrote in college (now going on 20 years ago) that are stored in an electronic format unreadable by my modern word processing programs. Other files are simply corrupt and can't be read. My father's silver negs, processed by Modernage in the 60's and 70's are still perfectly printable, though. I'm missing silver halide products already. Digital permanence is a pig in a poke.

Ben Marks

Yup, the bits and bytes can be preserved, but that requires active on-going conscious effort. You can't forget or neglect it for very long without penalty.

Photos aside, there's a lot of information being stored on the web nowadays, and because of that I have stopped printing and filing copies of stuff that interests me. But that info will only hang around so long as its creators pay for the storage. Once they get tired or go broke, my library of stored information is gone.

Thank goodness for books.

Kind of irrelevant comments here, like comparing negative longevity and file formats.

This is about image permanence.

Preserving the prints AND the actual bits are very important. Multiple, DVD-copying every year is a good thing. And storage on at least one external harddisk is a must. Make it a standard of your workflow.

Dear Robert,

The problem is not being ignored, but the solution is nontrivial.

There are several projects that archive the entire web. This raises major issues, both conceptual and legal.

The legal one is obvious: just 'cause someone says they're a "library" or "archive," how does that make copying your web page wholesale different from some webpirate who does the same thing? An online "library" is different enough from a physical one (and an online "book" different enough from a physical one)that simple analogies do not resolve the matter. In this case, the library is 100% identical to the source, and the case law does not yet exist to decide whether or not this constitutes a legal use of the material.

Some projects are avoiding proprietary material. Some projects are asking permission. Some are begging forgiveness. And I am fairly certain that some are clandestinely archiving EVERYTHING and keeping it secret.

The conceptual problems are also serious. The web is a constant work in progress. You have to archive every revised instance of a page... but what's a revision? And what do you give people access to? Declaring, blanketwise, that people get access to all versions or, contrariwise, only the most current version breaks readily.

Let's not even think about managing petabytes (verging towards exabytes) of storage!

This is, indeed, the BIG problem the Internet needs to find an adequate solution to.

pax / Ctein

Not to detract from my original post above, but it will be interesting to see the conclusions of these studies. I feel as if I have a fairly good sense of what silver halide products do over a time span of 70 years or so (I have grandparents' snapshots to point to) under various storage conditions. I have very little information on dye and pigment prints from my Epson printers over the last 7 years, except to say that I have not generally been impressed. The market is evolving so quickly that I don't even have confidence that the pigments in the cartridges that I buy today have the same qualities as ones that I bought a year ago. And that is where the digital-permanence and print-permanence conversations cross paths. One school of ink-jet printing thought goes like this: "Oh, I don't care about permanence, when this fades to gray, I'll just print another." Well that is not an option if the life cycle of the data is less than ten years. I tell you, I am going to take a four year-old PC out in back and put it out of its misery later this week and I have been very frustrated at how little use I've gotten from that machine compared to the enlargers in my basement. If all of this sturm-und-drang produces prints that are good for five or fewer years when displayed behind glass, why bother? I don't do this for a living; I am producing a record of family life that has no value, if not to be viewed in a minimum of 10 years.

Ben Marks

Mike, Ctein, and the T.O.P. community,

In any discussion about "image permanence" I think it wise to include the source data for any digital print as an equally important part of the study.

There's no shortage of information about the permanence of inkjet prints, thanks to Wilhelm Research. I'm somewhat confident that my pigment ink prints will last some decades. But I'm already in deep trouble with the lack of permanence now becoming apparent in my mass storage of jpeg files. The full story is on a web page that I've set up for the purpose, but in summary, hard disks are far from archival. They degrade over time, and a file that was intact today will not necessarily be found in the same condition a year later.

Two years ago I discovered some corrupted jpeg files on my computer. Today the corrupted jpegs are more numerous and the degree of corruption is more severe. The term "bit rot" exists in the computer industry to describe the way the Bit Error Rate (BER) of hard disks will slowly degrade until the error correction within the disk's controller can't correct the errors any more - and then it's goodbye jpeg file in part or full.

If any one out there is having the same trouble as I am, I'd appreciate it if you'd read my web page and share with me what you know about the problem and any potential or existing solution. The URL for the web page is here:


Best wishes to you all for the season.

Hong Kong

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