Tag Archives: archive

Hyperdense terabit storage medium

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]

Archive drive: why we should be saving old websites for future generations

antique computerThe head of the British Library has warned that, unless measures are taken sooner rather than later, we stand to lose vital parts of our cultural heritage to the rapid technological and social evolution of the internet. But why should we care about old websites being replaced by new ones, never to be seen again?

… Brindley cites two examples of losses overseas. When Barack Obama was inaugurated as US president last week, all traces of George Bush disappeared from the White House website, including a booklet entitled 100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration, which is no longer accessible.

There were more than 150 websites relating to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, she continues, but these, too, vanished instantly at the end of the games and are now stored only by the National Library of Australia. “If websites continue to disappear in the same way as those on President Bush and the Sydney Olympics – perhaps exacerbated by the current economic climate that is killing companies – the memory of the nation disappears too,” Brindley writes. “Historians of the future, citizens of the future, will find a black hole in the knowledge base of the 21st century.”

When you think about it like that, it makes a bit more sense. The National Archives are storing government emails, and encouraging us to store our own as well; the problem is that, contrary to popular belief, Google and their competitors do not store a copy of everything on the web.

The falling prices of storage media will help matters somewhat, but someone still has to make the effort to copy and file them all… still, at least a hard-drive full of old emails will take up less space than a few years’ worth of paper correspondence. [image by Nico Kaiser]

But here’s a thought – how much more editable is a digital history? After all, if you can store something as ones and zeroes, you can manipulate those ones and zeroes into a new pattern. The embarrassing photos of your twenty-something fashion disasters, those mawkish and desperate chatroom sessions and forum threads from your teens… all could be smoothed and tweaked into something more in keeping with how you’d like others to see you. A photoshopping of the past, if you will.

Makes you realise that a verifiable archive of governmental websites and communications might be something worth having after all, doesn’t it?

Backing up languages

History may only just be beginning, but we already have a lot of data stashed away as a species, and as we know, it’s always good practice to back it up.

But if you’re thinking in terms of centuries or millennia, it might also be a good idea to record information about our languages so that future historians won’t have to contend with undecipherable writings, like Rongorongo, due to linguistic drift.

The Long Now Foundation has created a modern day Rosetta Stone to help solve this problem, here is a description from Kevin Kelly’s website:

One side of the disk contains a graphic teaser. The design shows headlines in the eight major languages of the world today spiraling inward in ever-decreasing size till it becomes so small you have trouble reading it, yet the text goes on getting smaller. The sentences announce: “Languages of the World: This is an archive of over 1,500 human languages assembled in the year 02008 C.E. Magnify 1,000 times to find over 13,000 pages of language documentation.”

This graphic side of the disk is pure titanium. A black oxide coating has been added to the surface. The text is etched into that, revealing the whiter titanium. This bold sign board is needed because the pages of genesis which are etched on the mirror-like opposite side of the disk are nearly invisible.

This business side of the disk is pure nickel. Picking it up you would not be aware there were 13,500 pages of linguistic gold hiding on it. The nickel is deposited on an etched silicon disk. In effect the Rosetta disk is a nickel cast of a micro-etch silicon mold. When the disk is held at the right angle the grid array of the pages form a slight diffraction rainbow. You need a 750-power optical microscope to read the pages.

Kelly’s description of the project is fascinating, and it seems like a wonderful project, both in practical terms and in artistic terms.

[story via Slashdot]