Subject To Technical Issues
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Information Storage And The Dreaded 404

I was doing some research for an article I have been asked to write on the “404, page not found” error message and I came across an article on “…the aging of information in the information age (link removed as it has broken)” which totally blew my mind! It’s a pretty long winded article but I was interested so, lucky for me, I read it all.

The bit that made me sit up and take notice is almost halfway down the page where it quotes someone named Hubert Daugherty, a Rice educational technology specialist, as saying transportable media, such as CD’s, have only “mediocre” reliability. According to Mr Daugherty “The CD-ROM is a pretty robust storage medium – it’s not magnetic but a format in which pits stamped in the plastic are read by a laser.”

Apparently this guy said CD-ROMs will last about 20 to 30 years. I figured anything I have burned to CD will probably not interest me in 20 to 30 years so that didn’t bother me much.

It was when they went on to talk about the shelf-life of CD-R’s and CD-RW’s that I got a nasty shock. I was not aware the CD’s I burn my stuff onto are different from the CD-ROM’s I buy ready-made but this article put me straight.

The article says that, according to Daugherty, “The newer recordable CDs are fairly reliable for writing a disc, taking it somewhere else, and reading it, but they’re based on organic dyes. Instead of creating physical pits, the CD-R drive mimics the pits by burning spots on the dye. The drive can read the spots just as it reads the pits, but the discs don’t last as long because the dye is photo-sensitive. If you leave them in sunlight, they can degrade over just a week or two. Even conventional room lighting can make them degrade in just a few years.”

I sat there, my eyes popping and my jaw on the floor, trying to absorb this dreadful news.

Were they really telling me the CD’s I just burned my back-up data onto are imposters? Are those CD’s really going to let my precious data go *poof* and disappear if the sun touches them? Worse – will they really lose the data if I even leave them exposed to ROOM LIGHTING!?

I firmly believe there are many times when it is imperative to be sceptical of so-called “experts”. I think it is important to be willing and able to question authority at times. Most of the time I investigate the credentials and credibility of someone before letting what they say affect my life.

This, however, is not one of those times. I know zip about technology. The article says Mr Daugherty is a technology specialist. The site the article resides on is a university site. That’s all the credentials and authority I need to convince me I better listen to what the article says!

I may be a pessimist but I see no need to investigate whether there is such a place as Rice University or an educational technology specialist working there named Hubert Daugherty. I’m willing to take those two things on faith so now what?

I guess the first thing I need to do is find a very DARK place to store my burnt CD’s and try to avoid exposing them to any kind of light as much as possible. I will also need to check them regularly and, perhaps, reburn them now and then or make a more reliable copy of anything I am likely to really want to keep forever.

I hate to think how this is likely to affect anyone who makes a habit of burning their family photo’s to CD thinking they are safe there and it is not necessary to print them out!

As for the research on the “404, page not found” error messages I discovered there are some places who are compiling archives of web pages. If you get a “404, Page Not Found” error and discover the page you were after has been removed from the internet you might still be able to find a version of the page in one of those archives.

One such site has a search facility called “Wayback Machine” where you can enter the url of the page you seek and see if they have it archived.

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