Everything Must Go

PC Magazine’s Bill Howard has a short article about digital archiving of personal records, photographs, etc. The past few months I’ve been working on a personal project to digitize and get rid of as much physical material as I can.

It occurred to me back in August that today I spend about 60 to 70 percent of my waking hours on my laptop. When it comes to books, photographs, etc., for the most part if it isn’t on my laptop or external hard drive, it doesn’t exist.

The first thing I did was something that previously had been close to unimaginable — I got rid of most of my book collection. I’ve gone from about 1,500 books to about 150 books. For books that I really wanted to keep but hadn’t opened in awhile, I simply created high resolution scanned PDF copies with OCRed text so I can include them in searches with DTSearch.

Next, I used a sheet-fed scanner to convert tens of thousands of pages personal papers to high quality scans and then destroyed the physical copies. There were a few things like birth certificates that I really needed to have physical copies, but for most of this stuff it’s much more useful on my hard drive than in some box in my basement.

I’ve made a couple of attempts over the years to digitize all of my non-digital photographs, but I’ve just got too many to do on my own efficiently. In 2004 I’ll be paying someone else to digitize my images (despite what Howard claims in his article, if you do it in bulk you can get high -quality scans at significantly less than $1/frame).

One of the things that had me screaming in horror at Howard’s article was this tidbit about photographs,

You can help future generations by culling your digital photos now. If you can’t cut this year’s 2,500 digital images to 500, then create a 2003 Favorites folder and copy over your favorite 100 photos. A CD with those 100 photos makes a nice holiday gift for the in-laws. Make sure to annotate each picture, either in the filename or in the JPEG file information field: year, place, and people in the picture. Before culling, it’s probably best to make one full backup, in case you mess up and delete the photos you meant to save. Have I ever messed up like that? No comment.

Okay, I didn’t take 2,500 digital images in 2003 — it was more like 8,000 digital images. And the thought of deleting any of them is just ghastly, especially given how cheap storage is these days. Buy a decent photo management package like Photoshop Album 2.0 rather than permanently destroying information.

As far as analog video, I’m probably a bit extreme on this. I converted all of my analog video to DV and then imported the DV onto my laptop and then archived it on to several DVDs using RAR. I then converted all of the DV video to MPEG-2 movies then burned those to DVD-R. And then, just so I can have a local copy that is high quality but still clocks in at a decent size, I converted the MPEG-2 to DivX.

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