Digital Rosetta stone

Tom James @ 30-07-2009

stone_writingJapanese researchers are developing a means of storing data for periods of thousands of years, to help solve the problem of an imminent digital dark age:

The team, led by Professor Tadahiro Kuroda of Tokyo’s Keio University, has proposed storing data on semiconductor memory-chips made of what he describes as the most stable material on the Earth – silicon.

Tightly sealed, powered and read wirelessly, such a device, he claims, would yield its digital secrets even after 1000 years, making any stored information as resilient as it were set in stone itself.

It’s a realisation that moved the researchers to name the disc-like, 15in (38cm) wide device the “Digital Rosetta Stone” after the revolutionary 2,200-year-old Egyptian original unearthed by Napoleon’s army.

This is a very similar concept to the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Disk, which is intended to be a very-long-term record of contemporary languages.

It is encouraging to know this problem is being studied and so many groups are looking for solutions.

[from the BBC][image from bwhistler on flickr]


The dangers of cloud computing

Tom James @ 21-07-2009

cloudJonathan Zittrain explores some of the downsides of the incipient cloud computing revolution in this article at the New York Times:

If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you. For example, if your favorite music is rented or authorized from an online subscription service rather than freely in your custody as a compact disc or an MP3 file on your hard drive, you can lose your music if you fall behind on your payments — or if the vendor goes bankrupt or loses interest in the service.

The crucial legacy of the personal computer is that anyone can write code for it and give or sell that code to you — and the vendors of the PC and its operating system have no more to say about it than your phone company does about which answering machine you decide to buy.

This freedom is at risk in the cloud, where the vendor of a platform has much more control over whether and how to let others write new software. Facebook allows outsiders to add functionality to the site but reserves the right to change that policy at any time, to charge a fee for applications, or to de-emphasize or eliminate apps that court controversy or that they simply don’t like.

As useful as storing links, calandars, emails, and documents in the cloud is I like to keep local backups of all my stuff (where possible). The further threat to the decentralised innovation that has characterised software development over the last several decades is another reason to be sceptical of the benefits of the cloud.

[image from Dan Queiroz on flickr]


Hyperdense terabit storage medium

Paul Raven @ 16-06-2009

computer rendering of a carbon nanotubeAt this point, the human species has more information stored and archived than ever before, and there’s more by the hour. The problem is that our storage media, while increasingly high-capacity, is increasingly frangible: CDRs and hard drives just don’t last long, and we’re in a largely unnoticed race between the growth of our body of knowledge and our ability to store it permanently.

Enter Alex Zettl and friends from the University of Berkeley, who’ve developed a storage medium based on carbon nanotubes that isn’t just extremely capacious but exceptionally durable and resistant to the ravages of time:

The system consists of a minuscule particle of iron encased in a carbon nanotube and represents information in binary notation—the zeroes and ones of “bits.” Using an electric current, information can be written into the system by shuttling the iron particle back and forth inside the nanotube like a bead on an abacus—the left half of the nanotube corresponds to zero, the right half corresponds to one. The encoded information can then be read by measuring the nanotube’s electrical resistance, which changes according to the iron particle’s position.

Because of their very small size, a square-inch array of these nanotube memory systems could store at least one terabit—a trillion bits—of information, approximately five times more than can be packed into a square inch of a state-of-the-art magnetic hard drive. But Zettl believes the technology could be pushed to much higher information densities.

“We can manipulate this particle and read out its position so accurately, we could divide the nanotube’s length into 10 or even 100 units instead of just two,” Zettl says. “Whether this is worthwhile to implement right away, I’m not sure, because it adds complexity, but it could immediately give us 10 or 100 times the information density with the same device.”

I’m immediately reminded of Charlie Stross’s thoughts about bit-per-atom data storage, and how it will enable us to record everything we do – literally everything. Bandwidth, processing power and storage are the pillar commodities of the information economy, and all three of them are still racing toward an omega-point of virtual zero cost; what happens when they’re all as ubiquitous as air itself? [image by ghutchis]


Computer memory to last a billion years

Tom James @ 21-05-2009

lifevsbitIn an attempt to address the problem of a digital dark age engineers at Berkeley have developed a technique called Nanoscale Reversible Mass Transport for Archival Memory that is intended to combine high bit-density and deep-time survival:

We have developed a new mechanism for digital memory storage with the potential to store data with both long lifetime and high density. Our memory device consists of a crystalline iron nanoparticle enclosed in a multiwalled carbon nanotube.  The nanotube can be reversibly moved through the nanotube by applying a low voltage, “writing” the device to a binary state represented by the position of the nanoparticle. The state of the device can then be subsequently read by a simple resistance measurement.

The abstract of the paper claims thermodynamic stability in excess of one billion years with data density of 1012 bits/in2.

[via Next Big Future][graph courtesy Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley]


Vinyl archaeology

Tom James @ 22-01-2009

vinylAs formats wither and die and the digital dark age trundles ever on enterprising hackers are already developing techniques for extracting data from older formats. Here a gentleman has extracted discernible sound recording from a photograph of a vinyl disk:

Remember those flat round things you may have found lying around the house. Those that never really worked well as flying saucers? Well, the other day I happenned to have a good look at one through a magnifying glass. I was able to discern something waveform’esqe in the shape of the groove. I thought, “groovy, there must be a way to extract something sensible off of that” (actual thought quoted).

Once the image was ready, writing the decoder was very simple. All it did was rotate a “needle” around a given center at some predefined angular velocity, attempting to keep track of the groove the needle was initially positioned on. The offsets (dr) between this track and the basic radial were bunched into a sequence of samples. these were later converted into wav files.

It’s a beautiful project – and it actually sorta works. You can listen to the results and compare it to a recording direct from the disk (or were they called discs?).

[via Short Sharp Science][image from Hryck on flickr]


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