These impermanent things: going through a near-century of mementos

My mom is getting ready to move to a smaller place, so I’ve spent some of the last few days inspecting a large collection of old photos, papers and scrapbooks that had been collecting dust in the attic.

Dad in 1938One thing I didn’t realize before starting this exercise was how unevenly these old pieces of paper would decay. Black-and-white photos from the 1930s and before (that’s my dad at the right) still look fine, but the brown paper of Mom’s scrapbooks from the 1940s (below) flakes into fine particles at the slightest pressure. There is no preserving some of this stuff.

That’s not an issue I or my heirs will have to deal with, as long as somebody takes a few minutes to copy data to a new storage medium every few years. And if an app exists to open those files, which should be a near-certainty for JPEGs and PDFs.

The other is the frequent absence of metadata. Looking at 1960s photos from cocktail parties–yes, much the same subject material as a typical weekend’s worth of Facebook photos–the only way I can identify their locations, their dates and times, and the people in them is to ask my mom. If Dad took those pictures in his single days, their details will probably remain a mystery, as he died in 1999. At least some of these photos have hand-written captions, some in writing that I can decipher without straining.

Mom's scrapbookThat, too, is a problem we’ll almost never have to deal with again.

It’s now been at least a dozen years since digital cameras went mainstream and we could stop worrying about not knowing the exact instant a photo was taken–assuming you remembered to set the time and adjust the time zone on a digicam. It’s been over eight years since smartphones began automatically geotagging photos. It’s been almost as long since photo-album apps on our computers or on social networks let us tag people in photos and started offering to find more pictures of them. Google Photos can even identify locations and faces in uploaded photos without any such metadata and also promises storage in perpetuity.

So some 50 years from now, when our daughter is going over old photos and videos–presumably in some VR interface–she will have a lot less mystery to deal with. But I hope she’ll come away with the same thought I’ve had while browsing through these keepsakes: You know, Mom and Dad were pretty cool back in the day.

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Weekly output: Android fragmentation, first-sale doctrine, transparency reports, This Week In Law, iPhoto corruption, geotagging

This time of year can bring the potential for serious college-hoops distraction–but not for me, since I was relieved of that worry Friday night. No, I’m not bitter…

3/18/2013: With so much fragmenting, is Android still a single OS?, IT Knowledge Exchange

My friend Ron Miller quoted me at some length in a post about the state of the Android union. Does the linguistic metaphor I chose to describe things work for you?

DisCo Kirtsaeng post3/20/2013: Kirtsaeng Dissent Reminds Us Of The Risks Of Foreign Entanglements In Copyright Policy, Disruptive Competition Project

The Supreme Court said the first-sale doctrine–the idea that once you buy a copy of a copyrighted work, you actually own that copy and can loan it, sell it or donate it as you wish–doesn’t evaporate if the copy in question was published overseas. I liked that ruling; in this post, I argued that the dissent to it unintentionally exposed some non-trivial flaws in how we construct copyright policy. I enjoyed this rare chance to dust off my Georgetown education in international relations and law.

3/22/2013: Forget Your Annual Report, Where’s Your Transparency Report?, Disruptive Competition Project

I thought Microsoft was smart to follow Google’s lead in documenting how many inquiries about its users it gets from law enforcement around the world–and that other tech companies should learn from this example.

3/22/2013: #203: Power Hour Pounding, This Week In Law

I was back on this podcast for the first time since last July, and this time the chatter focused heavily on drinking. I assure you that there were serious intellectual-property dimensions to that part of the conversation I had with fellow guest Ali Spagnola and TWiL hosts Denise Howell and Evan Brown.

(Fun fact: Until writing this, I didn’t realize that my phone includes ringtones by Spagnola.)

3/24/2013: Tip: Repair mode in iPhoto will restore thumbnail icons, USA Today

I was a little worried that my Q&A about dealing with iPhoto database corruption was a little esoteric, but then a reader commented on my Facebook page about her substantially-worse experience: “My entire database was corrupted [….] I had masters and edited pics existing in different places.” There’s also a reminder about not letting a phone’s geotagging function expose where you live.

On Sulia, I quoted approvingly from the Supreme Court’s Kirtsaeng ruling, explained why I’m not too interested in Google Keep, gave some early praise to Microsoft’s transparency report (that item got a mention on Slashdot), and commented on the fallacy of complaining about “taxing Internet sales”