Old wax in your ears. Whats next?
December 13, 2004 1:37 AM   Subscribe

"Its like a fancy xerox machine": taking unplayable, broken, cracked, or worn-out wax cylinders and shellac disks, Lawrence Berkeley Lab scientists have found a way to image the grooves directly into digital sound files (some examples on this page). News summaries on this research make me think of obsolete computer media and the digital archaeology that may be needed to read them. What stable media should we use to communicate with the future? High density analog disks are one idea, nuclear waste warning monuments (long, surreal PDF) are another, and, of course, who can forget the pictographs for aliens sent out with Pioneer 10?. Serious thinking about this at the Long Now Foundation and the Foundation for the Future.
posted by Rumple (13 comments total)
It looks like LBL took some inspiration from Digital Needle

[this is good]
posted by LimePi at 1:50 AM on December 13, 2004

Cool link, LimePi. I remember seeing some novelty act on TV about 20 years ago in which a guy could look at vinyl records and tell at least the composer if not the actual piece, tilting it to the light and squinting at the grooves.
The LBL team is also using scanning confocal microscopy which is an extremely interesting (newish) microscope type, mainly used for biological structures.
posted by Rumple at 2:10 AM on December 13, 2004

What stable media should we use to communicate with the future?

i vote we all go back to using philips vr 2000s (7th from bottom, or thereabouts). ah, beautiful machine.

quite extraordinary coincidence, rumple, that would've been my uncle tommy on the telly! sad story behind that. he used to get granny to sit in the audience with a fine pair of binoculars, & she would read the sleeves as the vinyl was being removed about 40 minutes before they brought out uncle tommy. granny would communicate with a highly refined system of coughs. unfortunately when she fell under the number 42 bus nobody else was quite able to replicate the timbre of her coughs, & uncle tommy took to the bottle.
posted by n o i s e s at 3:10 AM on December 13, 2004

I remember when the dude on TechTV broke one of these (WMV 1.1MB), it made me giggle.
posted by StephenV at 4:12 AM on December 13, 2004

Arthur Clarke once made a remark about the plaque on Voyager. It went something like this: "Let me get this straight. You sent out a space probe where it might get found by aliens -- and you told them where we live?!"
posted by lodurr at 5:31 AM on December 13, 2004

A couple of tinfoil derby conjectures...

Considering how rapidly data storage media has progressed in the last twenty years, if a really advanced civilization had existed in our prehistory, we could find their data storage devices and never recognize them as such, much less be able to read them.

Regarding Clarke's remark about Voyager, I've often wondered if the reason SETI hasn't found any signals is because broadcasting where you are is like ringing the cosmic dinner bell.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:58 AM on December 13, 2004

Great link, creepy to think how real the sound could get. Once a scientist finds a way to retrofit technology to replicate the sound that went into the old spring magneto microphones, we could actually hear the true voice of Robert Johnson.
posted by ifoughttheapemen at 6:24 AM on December 13, 2004

Great link to the Yucca Mountain PDF. They sure have to walk a line between an effective deterrent to future generations and the political considerations of today. Myself, I think they should make the tunnel entranceway into Yucca in the shape of a giant skull. I bet that would get the gist across to future generations.
posted by anthill at 7:07 AM on December 13, 2004

--As well as make a nifty Command Post / Lair where the mutated army of the future will base operations.
posted by Balisong at 7:19 AM on December 13, 2004

Imaging to sound is nice, but how about going in the opposite direction?
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:54 AM on December 13, 2004

Great, they can choose anything in the world to use as the text in their Rosetta Stone, and what do they pick? Friggin' Genesis. Right. Because there's a neutral, easily translated piece that really conveys the intricacies of modern language.

I bet the future is really looking forward to being able to say "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" in 1077 languages.
posted by Simon! at 11:42 AM on December 13, 2004

Also of interest, the archives of the Dead Media Project. Started by Bruce Sterling, currently run by Steve Baldwin of Ghost Sites. Bruce's original manifesto is here.
posted by kreinsch at 12:22 PM on December 13, 2004

n o i s e s -- freaky coincidence. That act always stuck in my mind - could have been the 1970s even - so sad in a way that it was mediated by coughing. Wasn't there a UK game show that turned out to be rigged the same way?

Thanks kreinsch for those great links, I hadn't heard of that. Some of this can be seen as analogous to the disappearing languages thread form a while back - what do you lose if a media dies? In some cases, perhaps little, in some cases a lot, but its recoverable, in others - think if there was no way to decipher whats left of Maya glyphs - incredible insight into other ways of being-in-the-world.

Simon! - I was surprised by that as well, but I think the idea is for it to be a demonstration disk, followed by seeding the world with durable analogue repositories of accumulated wisdom. Or something modest like that.

AlexReynolds -- thats just bizarre. I listened to a few shich sound like farts, so decided not to send my own self in....
posted by Rumple at 3:36 PM on December 13, 2004

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