I've had thoughts on dead media before but I never thought about a real solution.

I've decided paper tape is the way to go. Everything needs to be transferred to paper tape.

Can you image the piles of paper tape that a 500GB hard drive would create? Okay, so that won't work either.

This topic came up yet again on the latest Twit podcast in which I took part.

I was discussing the old Silicon Spin TV show and how I managed to grab all the tapes of four years' worth of shows before they were unceremoniously given to the Waste Management Corporation as refuse.

Now some readers may think this is where they belonged, but I have some sense of history and know that there is a lot of material on those tapes that can be used to embarrass a lot of CEOs.

That said, the tapes were recorded on a specific kind of digital broadcast system that will probably disappear.

Though dead media is all around us, in broadcasting the whole scene is strewn with it. The few 2-inch, four-head Ampex videotape machines that are still working are busy dubbing old analog tapes to digital formats, and it's unlikely they will get everything transferred before the last head wears out. This means a lot of material from the 1960s will be forever lost.

Meanwhile, early kinescopes will last forever. A kinescope was the first type of recorder. Essentially, when a live TV show was broadcast someone would film the broadcast from a TV tube. This became a kinescope.

Curiously, the apex of lost media is in our own era. The problem cannot get worse than it is.

The irony is that this is an era where unprecedented technological revolutions are taking place, and yet we're losing important information. This has to be as tragic as the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria around 47 BC.

The media are not the only problem. Far too many expensive devices have become useless overnight because they were never designed to do much more than be sold and forgotten.

I still recall a Maynard DAT backup system that I used with an old 486 DOS machine that could never work with Microsoft Windows. The company was sold from one vendor to the next, discontinued and orphaned. Although the DAT system cost over $1,000 new, it was worthless, and all the backup tapes were useless and unreadable.

So I'm digging around the archives (aka closet) and I find two old digital cameras that cost $500 to $1,000 when new and now cannot even be used unless I can find the old software and cables.

This is a new form of dead media: old digital cameras. I was actually hoping to take some pictures with these "antiques" to post on my blog. No dice.

The first camera is the fascinating Agfa 1680. It still works, but so far I have been unable to find any way to read its SmartMedia cards, since the camera uses a strange file format. And I have long since lost the cables that would let me transfer the photos directly from the camera.

The other classic I unearthed was an old Olympus D300-L. This 1996 camera has no removable media. I was never a fan of this, but was always assured that it wasn't important. Yes, it's not important if you can ever find the extremely weird cable that hooked to the camera to transfer pictures (slowly). See the images here.

Olympus has always been at the forefront of making things ever so slightly inconvenient for its users. The company stuck with SmartMedia when it was a dead end. It produced early cameras with no media. Then it developed its own proprietary memory in the form of the xD card, which I can assure you will become a collector's item.

In the meantime, to assuage complainers like myself, many Olympus cameras, such as the 5050, ended up with slots for both SD and CompactFlash. Can someone explain the logic of this? It's a waste of money and adds to the price of the camera. And for what?

Sony, of course, is the specialist when it comes to proprietary nonsense. It brought out the MemoryStick for no good reason, and now there are various iterations of the stick, including a small one that may as well be SD memory. Oy.

Many of these strategies have to do with the fact that standards are not enforced the way they should. This is very inconvenient. The DV camcorder sound formats, for example, vary wildly. I have numerous tapes that cannot be played on certain players and cameras. It's ridiculous.

This week I'd love to hear your stories about dead media in the forum. Go for it!

Discuss this article in the forums.

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