[Note: The following was first published in the October 2016 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]
Copyright © 2016 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.
As fall approached, I found myself juggling e-mail messages from my moose hunting buddies planning our annual calling-season trip. I’ve been drawn for antlered moose this year and there’s much discussion about where we should camp, who is going to bring what, and who should be my moose-hunting partner. Along with the e-mails, we’ve been passing back-and-forth digital maps of the area we want to hunt, maps easily made and modified using Google Earth. The maps provide relatively up-to-date information on the terrain, roads and trails, and thus where favourable hunting areas might be found. We can also mark on them the areas we want to look at. Once finalized, we’ll download copies of the maps to our smartphones and tablets that we can use when we are out of Internet access.
Paper versus Digital
All this reminded me how long our party has been at this moose-hunting business. I counted back and determined we’d been at it for 45 years. Some of the members of our party have changed but the party itself has been around for those many years. Of course, the Internet, e-mail and Google haven’t been around near that long. Indeed, in the early years the planning was done mostly over the phone and sometimes in face-to-face meetings.
In those years we had to depend on paper topographic maps for information. We purchased them at outdoors or map-specialty stores at some expense. If we weren’t quite sure where we were going, we needed a lot of maps. Although the maps were accurate in terms of terrain, they weren’t up-to-date in terms of current roads and cutlines, some maps using 20 or more years-old information. So when we got on the ground, we often found things to be different, such as new development roads, pipelines and cutover areas.
We still use those paper maps, and they are good backups to have if digital gadgets fail, but we get a lot more current information from our digital maps. New forestry cut blocks, petroleum development roads, new and old cutlines all become evident from the Google satellite images. Granted, the data is sometimes two to five years old, but better than 20 or more years.
I also print out the digital maps in case there is a problem with the devices or it’s just inconvenient to use them. Battery power is always an issue with smartphones, tablets and GPS units. Sometimes it is quicker to look at a printed document and not bother with fumbling with screens that can be difficult to see in bright light.
All that said, I find myself taking a variety of navigation tools with me when I’m hunting. I’ll use the topo maps and tablet in camp and the truck, and haul my printed digital map, compass and GPS with me when I’m on the trail.
As I’ve mentioned before in this column, I think use of map and compass should be practised at every opportunity. Basic navigation/orienteering skills should be fundamental to using the other devices. Not only are they more reliable but also your skill in using them helps you understand what you are reading on your digital device.
Saving Memories from Data Rot
Going over 45 years of memories also causes me to go back and look at some of the photographs I’ve gathered over those years. Looking at old photographs is one of the best ways to rekindle memories, dragging up stories you thought you had forgot.
When I first started taking photographs as a teenager, the popular image medium of the day was 35 mm color slide film, Kodachrome or Ektachrome being the most popular. Before you could see your work, you had to take the exposed film to a lab; and a few days later receive a box of 2 x 2 inch slides, each slide encasing a frame of the processed film showing a positive color image. The slides were made to fit in certain projectors for viewing on reflective screens or walls. You could also make prints from them but projecting the slides was how the images were most often seen. I have a few thousand of these slides packed in metal boxes and stored in my cool basement. I store them that way because light and warm temperatures affect the inks in film and the colors change over time. Although the slides are ageing slowly, they are ageing. I’ve noticed slight color changes in the oldest ones and I’ve been scanning the most important slides to digital as I come across them.
Over time the popularity of color slides faded in favor of color negative film, such as Kodacolor. You did not make slides from this film but did make positive prints. Although I preferred slide film for my presentations and publications, I also took my share of color negative film and have albums full of prints. Like slide film, photo prints also age and should be protected from light and warm temperatures. You can scan the prints to digital but it is better to scan the negative; and photo-scanning software will turn the negative image to a positive digital one.
Which brings me to the present day when digital photographs are the main way images are recorded these days. I have an array of digital cameras for recording images in a variety of situations, and my digital library expands daily. So, my collection of photographs involves slides, prints and digital files. I transfer the slides and prints to digital on an “as needed” basis, but in the back of my mind I worry about the digital. The problem is that digital files also age.
It’s called “data rot” (“data degradation” or “data decay”), and occurs when the medium upon which you are storing the data (hard drive, flash drive, SD card, CD, DVD) degrades over time. Everything ages. Agents of decay include: warm temperatures; radiation from the sun, other light sources and background radioactivity; and pollution and oxygen in the air. These slowly change the chemical structure of paper, film and digital media. I’ve noticed some of the data files I’ve stored on old media have changed. Some of the manuscript files I wrote decades ago have been corrupted and many are unreadable. The colors in some photographic files have faded; details and sharpness have declined; and others just can’t be read anymore.
Another problem with digital is that the technology and media used also changes over time. Think of the floppy disk, the first medium used to store programs and data when personal computers first came on the market. Unless you have an old computer with a floppy drive, you can’t read those disks anymore. As well, newer software versions might not be able to read the files recorded under older software.
The way to fight data rot is to periodically transfer files to fresher more up-to-date media and software. This takes discipline and some time. It is also a good idea to make hard copies of important files as backups. Eventually, you have to decide what is really important to keep, not just for you but also for the people who will follow you and might want to know who you were and what you did. What media will they most easily be able to access and see?
Comments are always welcome (below).