Digital Scrolls

I’ve written before about my curiosity as to whether or not the period we are living in will be well documented. So much of our lives are digital these days, and so much information has already been lost. I can look back at my own digital history and see how much information of mine has disappeared.

I have this big box of floppies. There are like 200 floppies in this box. Yesterday, on a whim, I picked up a USB to 3.5” drive and started going through some of the old disks in this box. I want to get rid of them because I haven’t looked at them probably in 8 or 9 years. A lot of stuff had already degraded to the point of not being readable - these disks have moved with me many times and have not lived in an environment conducive to data preservation. Many simply refused to mount properly and a lot of what did was often riddled with data errors.

But what I was able to recover … to say it was meaningful would be a woeful understatement. It was definitely worth the $40 I paid for the drive (I would pay much more to get access to all the data I’ve lost).

I found stories I wrote in high school, smack in the middle of my “deep depression” phase. I found some of the first code I ever wrote (in 1990, I will have you know). I found old coursework from my first year at Auburn. I found massively old stuff from when I was pledging the fraternity. Old chat logs from my MUD days. Old programs, some of which may actually still work. And what I could was immediately copied to my file server, preserving the timestamps. The oldest one I’ve seen so far is late 1988. When this data was written to disk, Ronald Reagan was President.

It occurs to me that what I have here is my own digital Dead Sea Scrolls. Buried in this box that I’ve been carrying around for 8 years but otherwise not thinking much about was a treasure trove of old documents, pictures and memories, some of which was damaged but much of which was intact. I guess I probably knew about them at one time, but as time passed what exactly was on them was forgotten as I moved on to new things - CDs, hard drives and online storage. Finding all the data that was actually stored here was a massive and happy surprise for all the wonderful memories it brought back.

This has also made me keenly aware of the need for me to have a more comprehensive backup solution. The problem is that I have accumulated so much data that I want to save. “Burn it to CD,” doesn’t really work when you have 300gb+ of data to backup - I don’t feel like burning 450 CDs. At this point, I’m considering a solution that looks something like this:

  • Build another machine and take it to the office. rsync the changes to it each night. This accomplishes both an active incremental backup and an offsite backup.

  • Once every so often (maybe every six months), a back up to dual layer Blu-ray disks (which hold 50gb each). Those go into my fire safe.

One thing is for sure, though. I was so happy to find all this old data, happy with what I’ve recovered so far (I’m only about half way through the box), and want to be sure I don’t lose any more. These files represent treasured, irreplaceable events in my life and I want to hold onto them as best I can.

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