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Practical Advice on Saving Digital Photos

Most of us (okay, virtually all of us) have tons of digital photos floating around -- many are on our computers, some are on photo-sharing sites, some might even be printed (imagine that) and hanging on a wall or pasted in a book. But what happens if your computer, or your photo-sharing service, goes away? What happens if you save the images on a proprietary format, then want to look at them in 40 years, but that format can no longer be read by computers of the time?

The answer is complex, and deserves a longer article, but it boils down to these elements:

1. Store photo files in a simple, open format. The simplest "format" is an archival grade paper print, since you know paper will be readable for a longish time, and you don't need a computer to do it. Other formats like TIFF and JPEG are good choices, since they're likely to be supported in the future (and a TIFF- and JPEG-reading programs could always be written in the future, since the specification for the file formats are widely available)...but the future lasts a long time.

2. Store photo files in multiple locations. What if your house burns down, and your carefully collected hard drive melts? Make an offsite backup, either by literally copying stuff to a hard drive and mailing it to your friend; or by using an online backup service (I've used both Mozy and CrashPlan). Note: online photo sharing sites like Flickr may count as a place to store photos, but you can't count on these existing forever. Remember Geocities?

3. Store photo files on different kinds of media. This is the hardest one, and you might skip it. The thing is, it's unclear how long things like DVD-R discs will last, once they've been burned. I have CD-R's from 1998 that are still readable, but a few that are not -- that dye in a burnable disc basically melts over time; and then there's the problem of finding a computer that will still read an optical disc down the road. Today, optical drives are still common. Will they be in 40 years? (Remember floppy drives?) Similar issues exist with hard drives -- what if your hard drive is exposed to a big magnet, or is accidentally dropped? Your data may be toast. So ideally you'd have different kinds of storage for your important files, to insure that at least one of them survives.

Below is a video from the Library of Congress's "Personal Archiving Day" discussing some simple ways to archive your own digital photos. Check it out, if your photos are valuable to you.

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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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holidays
The Plugin That Keeps the Internet From Spoiling Santa Claus
iStock
iStock

During simpler times, the biggest threat to a child's belief in Santa was usually older siblings or big-mouthed classmates. Today, kids have access to an entire world wide web, full of potentially Santa-spoiling content. Luckily, there's a plugin that helps parents maintain their kids’ innocence through the holidays.

Created by the virtual private network provider Hide My Ass (HMA), the free software analyzes web activity for any information that might threaten to “bring a child’s belief in Santa crashing down.” In place of the problematic content, the plugin brings up an image of the jolly man himself. Typing the phrase “Santa is not real” into Google, for example, will instead take you to a web page showing nothing but a soft-focused St. Nick pointing into the camera and staring at you with judgmental eyes. The plugin is also designed to work for social media communications, internet ads, and articles like this one.


Hide My Ass

According to a survey of 2036 parents by HMA, one in eight children in the U.S. have their belief in Santa ruined online. Whether it's because of the internet or other related factors, the age that children stop believing in Santa is lower than ever.

The average age that current parents lost their faith in Santa Claus was 8.7 years old, and for today’s kids it’s 7.25 years. Concerned parents can download the plugin for Chrome here, though it may not be enough to hide every type of Santa spoiler: Of the parents who blamed the internet, 26 percent of them reported kids snooping over their shoulder as they shopped for gifts online.

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