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Ask Slashdot: Best Way To Store Data In Hard Copy?

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the pc-load-letter dept.

Security 329

First time accepted submitter bmearns writes "I have some simple plain-text files (e.g., account information) that I want to print on paper and store in my firebox as a backup to my backup. What's the best way to encode the data for print so that it can later be restored to digital form? I've considered just printing it as text and using OCR to recover it. The upsides are that it's easy and I can even access the information without a computer if necessary. Downsides are data density, no encryption, no error correction, and how well does OCR work, anyway? Another option is printing 2D barcodes. Upsides are density, error correction, I could encrypt the data before printing. Downsides are that I'll need to split it up into multiple barcodes due to maximum capacity of popular barcode formats, and I can't access the data without a computer. Did I miss any options? What do slashdotters suggest?"

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329 comments

Text, but why? (1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about 9 months ago | (#44210641)

It would be far easier to scan a lot of text back to digital form than read numerous bar codes. Converting the text to useful data may be the more difficult part. But why would you want to go through this hassle?

Re:Text, but why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210697)

It says in the first sentence. As a backup for his backup.

Re:Text, but why? (4, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 9 months ago | (#44210721)

And as long as a decent font for OCR is used - like OCR-B then it should be feasible.

The reason for doing it - well, if you want to preserve something for a few decades then it's printing on lint paper and using ink that can survive a long time. The latter is probably the hardest since nobody really knows which kind of ink used in computer printers that's able to survive for centuries.

My suspicion is that the dot matrix printers are better off than lasers and inkjets.

Re:Text, but why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210785)

Somehow I doubt he'll need his passwords and other relevant personal data "to survive for centuries."

Re:Text, but why? (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 9 months ago | (#44210953)

No need to worry about ink: even the cheapest and nastiest laser printers use toner, and a mixture of thermoplastic and carbon black thermally fused to your paper isn't going anywhere(in fact, if you use lousy enough paper, some lucky future archeology intern may have the... unmixed pleasure... of picking the little plastic character glyphs out of the pile of dust, trying to keep them in their original order!).

His data-restore needs probably don't extend to truly epic lengths in any case, so it shouldn't be a big deal.

Re:Text, but why? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 9 months ago | (#44211007)

I have already noted that laser prints can come off in flakes from the paper it's supposed to be attached to leaving unreadable text, and that's only after a few years.

Re:Text, but why? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 9 months ago | (#44211357)

"The reason for doing it - well, if you want to preserve something for a few decades then it's printing on lint paper and using ink that can survive a long time. The latter is probably the hardest since nobody really knows which kind of ink used in computer printers that's able to survive for centuries."

I don't know about "lint" paper, but you definitely want acid-free paper.

Regardless, a definitive answer for long-term paper storage won't come from Slashdot. Ask the Universities, who insist that they get a copy of every thesis paper for their archives, printed in such a way that it WILL last for centuries. They'd know the best practices.

Re:Text, but why? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210761)

Why, the answer is simple, there is no standard for Digital backup. zero zip. There are only two methods of time test backup.
1) Text printed on no acid paper.
2) Microphish. or film.

I suggest you print it with ocr readable characters with a pigment based ink. If you are that serious about backup, take it to a printer and have them printed with good ink on the best paper you can find. store the copies in two separate locations.

Remember every one, there is NO standard on digital backup medium.

Text printed correctly on zero acid paper or film is the only time test way.

IMHO

Re:Text, but why? (5, Insightful)

Hans Lehmann (571625) | about 9 months ago | (#44210837)

How many accounts can anyone have that they actually need to have bar codes or some other such nonsense to be able to regain entry to them? Print out you account information, user names, passwords, etc., and put the printout in your fire-resistant safe. If your house burns down, or some other calamity happens, and you need to regain access to all of your accounts, then you'll just re-enter tha passwords for each one. This can't possibly be more complicated than setting up some OCR / Barcode / Rube Goldberg solution.

Re:Text, but why? (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 9 months ago | (#44211089)

I agree - introducing needless complexity is always dumb. However in the case where he needs to get at this data backup, re-entering everything by hand is tedious and unnecessary.

Scan all the physical documents to PDF or whatever format you prefer. On a Mac? Keep your passwords in the Keychain. On a PC? Windows 7 has a similar feature, and there are third-party encrypted password wallets that work with older versions of Windows. On Linux? There are myriad ways to accomplish this.

Copy it all to an encrypted hard drive. Tape the password to the drive, and lock that in your safety deposit box. Alternatively, just lock the password in the box, and keep the drive at a family member's residence.

Re:Text, but why? (2)

bmearns (1691628) | about 9 months ago | (#44211255)

Maybe I missed something: Why encrypt the hard drive if I'm going to tape the password to it?

The whole point of using a hardcopy is to avoid a number of problems with digital copies, the biggest of which is that harddisks, flash memory, and optical discs all suffer in terms of data longevity. They can also be damaged relatively easily, and, as someone mentioned above, data and hardware formats go obsolete and may be practically inaccessible in relatively short order.

Re:Text, but why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44211369)

If you want to sound like a "get off my lawn" type, why not suggest text files on floppy disks?

Re:Text, but why? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 9 months ago | (#44211301)

It would be far easier to scan a lot of text back to digital form than read numerous bar codes.

If I recall correctly, there's a format for bar codes that put them (vertically squashed) under the characters or words that they represent.

Easy (2)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 9 months ago | (#44210645)

Print a human-readable copy and add a computer-readable format, like barcodes or a pen drive, a hard drive, SD card... (CDs might not survive very long if you're unlucky)

Flash memory is not archival storage (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210825)

> pen drive ... SD card
No, absolutely not. Flash memory is not archival storage. Flash memory is subject to charge leakage over time and current MLC / TLC flash is even more vulnerable because 2 or 3 bits are stored per cell at the cost of reduced resolution margins.

Re:Easy (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#44210865)

Print a human-readable copy and add a computer-readable format, like barcodes or a pen drive, a hard drive, SD card... (CDs might not survive very long if you're unlucky)

Actually a high-quality CDR can be much better than pen drive, hard drive or SD card. Laser-burnt track versus electronic charge.

Re:Easy (2)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 9 months ago | (#44211019)

Hard drives are definitely better than any of the other options. CD-R versus flash memory is open for debate, but I've had bad experiences with CD-R/DVD-R. As long as it isn't dropped, exposed to unusual magnetic fields or high temperatures, a hard drive won't randomly lose its stored data.

Re: Easy (2)

statusbar (314703) | about 9 months ago | (#44211075)

I have a 20 meg MFM hard drive that is not readable by any computer anymore... just because of the interface.

Re:Easy (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 9 months ago | (#44211151)

With consumer-grade drives, at least, they'll have trouble spinning up properly after a few years. (I know this from personal experience.)

Re:Easy (1)

bmearns (1691628) | about 9 months ago | (#44211271)

Hard disks are vulnerable to heat though, aren't they? In the event of a fire, the inside of a fire box can still get pretty hot, and I suspect a hard disk will take damage well below the burning point of paper.

Re:Easy (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 9 months ago | (#44210983)

SD cards might not survive very long either. Some of the expensive ones claim 100 years data retention, but so do expensive CD-Rs/DVD-Rs. They key is that they assume ideal conditions, which a locked strong box probably isn't.

Same goes for USB drives and hard drives.

Re:Easy (3, Informative)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | about 9 months ago | (#44211115)

Modern barcodes like PDF417, QR, and Data Matrix have robust error correction built into their spec and can take a lot of damage. If you're really wanting to print stuff on paper as a backup, these are definitely your best bet.

Personally, I'd just encrypt and shove into a few different off-site backups.

Re:Easy (1)

bmearns (1691628) | about 9 months ago | (#44211287)

I agree, the robustness of a modern barcode is highly desirable, but I haven't found any that have good solutions for arbitrarily large amounts of data. Even the programs that generate them don't seem to have any built-in functionality for splitting data across multiple barcodes.

QR codes? (2)

jehan60188 (2535020) | about 9 months ago | (#44210653)

there must be some way to do QR codes
http://qrcode.kaywa.com/ [kaywa.com] can do it 160 characters at a time, but that seems really inconvenient

Re:QR codes? (2)

mlts (1038732) | about 9 months ago | (#44210699)

I've used Paperbak to an extent, and it is a very good tool. The only problem is that it isn't widespread, so if one loses access to the download site, it might be hard to find a copy for decoding. QR codes are useful, but compared to the ability to print out data with variable compression and error correction like Paperbak, they are not that useful.

Re:QR codes? (5, Informative)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 9 months ago | (#44211143)

Here's a link for Paperbak: http://ollydbg.de/Paperbak/ [ollydbg.de]

PaperBack is a free application that allows you to back up your precious files on the ordinary paper in the form of the oversized bitmaps. If you have a good laser printer with the 600 dpi resolution, you can save up to 500,000 bytes of uncompressed data on the single A4/Letter sheet. Integrated packer allows for much better data density - up to 3,000,000+ (three megabytes) of C code per page. ....

Actual version is for Windows only, but it's free and open source, and there is nothing that prevents you from porting PaperBack to Linux or Mac, and the chances are good that it still will work under Windows XXXP or Trillenium Edition. And, of course, you can mail your printouts to the recipients anywhere in the world, even if they have no Internet access or live in the countries where such access is restricted by the regiment.

This. (3, Informative)

sideslash (1865434) | about 9 months ago | (#44210747)

In terms of their ubiquity in modern marketing, QR Codes are a slightly annoying [gizmodo.com] solution in search of a problem; but as an engineering approach to the sort of problem the OP described, they're fantastic. There are many free and open source QR Code generation utilities [google.com] and libraries, and the QR Code spec itself was patented, but freely licensed for public use by the Toyota subsidiary that invented it.

QR codes include error correction, and can encode binary data on the order of a hundred times the density of a regular bar code.

Google (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210655)

I am sure you googled for it and you checked the first result (http://ollydbg.de/Paperbak/) it gave?

Re:Google (5, Funny)

sideslash (1865434) | about 9 months ago | (#44210851)

I think using a proprietary standard for this has potential for disaster in the long term. QR codes would be much better. Scenario: the author of "Paperbak" discovers a huge improvement in his algorithm and deprecates the old version. 20 years into the future somebody needs to decode their stuff, and they search for the source code to "Paperbak" and realize that the only version they can find on the future internet is the "new/improved" version that can't read their stuff. So they are just the lucky owners of some paper decorated with a very specific arrangement of dots.

With QR Codes, on the other hand, it is difficult to believe that the knowledge of their format will be lost in our lifetimes. They have their own Wikipedia entry describing their structure, for example.

I have a suggestion. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210659)

I'm not sure why you want to use paper, so I don't know if it's compelling or not. If not, consider this: paper is inexpensive, but ink and toner are not. So ... why not back up your data to an inexpensive hard drive and put that in your firebox? Depending on the drive and the amount of data, the drive may not even take up as much space as the paper. This is just a suggestion.

Re:I have a suggestion. (1)

bmearns (1691628) | about 9 months ago | (#44211319)

Thanks for the idea, but there are a number of reasons I don't want to rely on digital storage. In fact, I do have a USB harddisk in the same fire box that I use for backups, but for my most important data, I want a second, more robust, backup. I only have data on the order of kilobytes, so cost is really not a concern. Digital storage of any practical variety is fairly susceptible to damage and just general data loss over time. There's also the very real possibility of obsolescence and an inability to access my data over the next few decades with a digital backup.

Whatever you do.... Use papyrus (4, Funny)

pollarda (632730) | about 9 months ago | (#44210663)

The Egyptians used hand written papyrus and we still have copies to look at. The laser printed paper copies of the Book of the Dead simply didn't survive.

Re:Whatever you do.... Use papyrus (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210811)

This old myth again? OP, use paper or papyrus. It won't make much of a difference as long as you learn the real lesson from the Egyptians: Live in the desert and bury yourself and your belongings in large stone vaults.

Re:Whatever you do.... Use papyrus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210995)

Stupid old Egyptians, why didn't they print those laser copies on papyrus? Now all we have is the drafts.

Re:Whatever you do.... Use papyrus (3, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | about 9 months ago | (#44211067)

In the case of the Egyptians, it helps to store the documents in a low-humidity desert.

Why paper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210667)

Flash media is probably demonstrably more durable than paper. Get some hardened flash keys and store multiple copies of your Library of Alexandria in redundant lockboxes.

Re:Why paper? (1)

bmearns (1691628) | about 9 months ago | (#44211359)

Most flash media is only specified for a data retention of about 10 years under ideal conditions. There's also the issue for trying to find a computer that can access a USB 2.0 flash drive in ten or twenty years.

print the GPG of the text file. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210673)

Print the hashes. Then come up with a secure storage method for the passphrase.

Re:print the GPG of the text file. (1)

MachDelta (704883) | about 9 months ago | (#44211059)

You just reminded me of a song [frontalot.com]

Sadly, Frontalot is probably right... today's secure crypto tends to be tomorrows old and busted.

QR code (1)

carlhaagen (1021273) | about 9 months ago | (#44210679)

Just to cover more alternatives. But, really, why make things unnecessarily complicated for yourself? If the papers are in your firebox anyway, why encrypt? If you insist, try encrypted RAR with parity, converted to base64 and printed as the resulting plaintext in a decently large print to make sure no smudging will cause trouble during OCR.

Re:QR code (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#44210931)

I dunno. I would keep it simple. It might be slightly dangerous to depend on technologies like base64 and RAR which might not be around 20-30 years from now.

QR Codes (1)

Zarhan (415465) | about 9 months ago | (#44210681)

They contain error correction, they are scalable, and have quite a nice information density. And you can generate them with tons of free tools and several APIs are available as well.

Personally, I just keep backups and don't bother with hard copies.

Re:QR Codes (1)

maz2331 (1104901) | about 9 months ago | (#44211147)

I'd rather use the Datamatrix format instead. The density is much higher - up to 1556 bytes per barcode, and it can be encoded in either ASCII or binary forms.

You're the decoder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210687)

You're printing text... So print text. Error correction? You, which is yer best bet when the papers are waterlogged after a basement flood or what ever else isn't going to happen to YOU.

Use the correct font for OCR (4, Informative)

chill (34294) | about 9 months ago | (#44210691)

Google for OCR-A and OCR-B as TTF. There are freely available versions. I use them for mailing labels, along with PostNet bar codes to make it as easy as possible for the Post Office.

Re:Use the correct font for OCR (1)

twistedcubic (577194) | about 9 months ago | (#44210801)

i totally agree about the font. I used to store ascii encryption keys on plain paper. The one time I needed to recover the key, I realized I was too lazy to train the OCR to distinguish O's from 0's and 1's from l's. Months later I found a USB thumb drive with the key in a pile of my junk at home.

One word (3, Interesting)

vikingpower (768921) | about 9 months ago | (#44210695)

QR codes. You can encrypt these. If you print them e.g. on plastic foil, they'll last close to forever. Of course, you will need to keep a piece of hardware that can read QR codes.

I would, however, take another route, although outside of the scope of your question. It is something I already do for files that are very valuable to me: I put them on magneto-optical disks. The things last forever and withstand the roughest of treatments. Writing and reading are slow, but that is a downside I just accept. I still have a database ( invaluable to me ) I acquired in the middle '90s on magneto-optical disk. It survived: a fire; spilling of liquids, including dog pee; some mild X-ray radiation; an inadvertent stay in our home's trash can; being jumped upon by a kid; and a 20-foot fall.

Wrong question. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210703)

First of all to answer your question, just print it. Document scanners today are awesome.

BUT:

I have some simple plain-text files (e.g., account information) that I want to print on paper and store in my firebox as a backup to my backup.

Why?

What is so important that you need so many hard copies?

The only thing I can think of is maybe your mortgage if you have one. I've seen banks screw up so bad that on rare occasions folks need to go back decades worth of records to keep their house. So that's what? 360 statements?

And there's legal requirements on some things. Statute of limitations only go back so many years, so keeping a lot of stuff for certain things - like taxes - really isn't worth it.

So, maybe reevaluate why you need your backups.

Paperback (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210717)

Created compressed password protected files and then use Paperback http://www.ollydbg.de/ to print the results. Downsides are PC based program to encode/decode but upside is you get the source code.

Print and flash (1)

morcego (260031) | about 9 months ago | (#44210739)

Get one of those thin flash cards, save the data on it, and tape it to the printed paper.

I mean, c'mon. What's the point of having it ONLY on paper? Yes, this is the backup of the backup. So what? Add another layer and save you the trouble later. Or two layers. It is obviously not too much data, since you are considering backup it up on paper. So just for a few 5ers and get some low capacity flash cards, make lots of copies.

More information! (1)

onyxruby (118189) | about 9 months ago | (#44210749)

We need more information to be able to answer your question! What kind of barcode scanner? How much information? Are you talking a few pages of account numbers or are you talking reams of source code? How do you plan to get the data once you need it? More than once data recovery project has failed over the years when the data was available but there was no means to recover the data from the media!!

Are you going to keep at least two barcode scanners in your lockbox (a decent one is about $6-$800), what about a license for a product to read the data and it's media? Do you have a preferred operating that you have to use? Is this for legal purposes where you have to maintain the chain of custody?

Do you need the ability to recover data in a hurry, or can you take a couple days to recover data for account numbers for another country, or is this a legal recovery so that you can prove that /you/ wrote the source code to something? Why not use tried and true methods of data archival like tape backup, hard disk, or archival qualities of optical media? It almost seems like your deliberately trying to be obtuse for the sake of being obtuse.

If you simply want privacy go with your pick of an open source crypto program and store with an 2048 bit key or some such thing. For lack of a better way to put it you sound like your asking for the best wrench to hammer a nail into a board with - just get a hammer.

Hard Copy Okay (2)

DERoss (1919496) | about 9 months ago | (#44210759)

For printing, pick a font that has no ambiguous characters. This makes OCR easier if you have to retrieve the data back into a computer. I suggest Trebuchet, in which I (upper-case eye), l (lower-case ell), and 1 (one) are distinct. Alternatively, use either the OCR-A or OCR-B font, which are not easily read by humans. Place the hard copy in a sealed envelope and store it in a bank safe-deposit box.

Also in the same safe-deposit box, store electronic copies using at least two different media (two so that, if one becomes obsolete and unreadable, the other might still be used). You might want to change the media -- or at least review them -- annually to ensure they are still useable.

Re:Hard Copy Okay (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#44210989)

You might want to change the media -- or at least review them -- annually to ensure they are still useable.

That and, always mount them read-only so that no software gets to tamper them. Preferably even use a dedicated computer for the verification if we are talking about extremely important data.

Re:Hard Copy Okay (2)

JDevers (83155) | about 9 months ago | (#44211105)

Alternatively, use either the OCR-A or OCR-B font, which are not easily read by humans.

Huh? Pretty, well no...but VERY readable. Simple monospaced block type. Not sure why it wouldn't be readable, especially since that was the original mission statement for OCR A and B, to be easily machine and human readable.

Twibright Optar (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210765)

Take a look at Twibright Optar (http://ronja.twibright.com/optar/)

(A review is at: http://lwn.net/Articles/242735/)

Punch tape (2)

erroneus (253617) | about 9 months ago | (#44210779)

Might be hard to find, but a nice plastic form of punch tape might do the job of both having a hard copy (technically human readable) and being machine-readable. You'd have the added advantage of being able to encorporate encryption if you so desired.

Re:Punch tape (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44211269)

Still reliant of software and hardware that make not be available or capable to run on newer OSs and hardware in the future. Scanners can be especially difficult since newer OS usually don't support obsolete drivers.

If you are worried about long term archive for hardware software obsolescence, then the solution is to store it plain text and periodically replace the media its stored on. Plain text has been around since the 1960s so its likely to be around until the english lauguage evolves or is replaced.

If your worried about EMP or some disaster, then the solution is to store the data on media with the necessary hardware and software on in a sealed metal container. This way you have a self contained system to access the data. The only issue for long term storage of equipment is the electrolytic caps that dry out over time. Laptop batteries are also a problem. But you can also periodically refresh the hardware and media.

For Media, DVDs or spinning harddisks would be preferable to solid-state hardware, since solid state storage relies on a charge. if you properly store the disks in a sealed container they should last for hundreds of years. Harddrives usually use solid tantalum caps and ceramic caps which do not have the problems of electrolytic caps. A Ammo bot would work well for a storage container that will shield electronics, for extra measure seal the media and electronics in metalized mylar bags sealed with a desiccant. The mylar bags can also be flushed with dry nitrogen to remove additional moisture and Oxygen. Further Oxygen can be removed using Oxygen absorbents. Mylar bags should not be vacuumed packed since the metalized mylar bags still have some permability its better to leave a partial positive pressure when you flush with nitrogen.

Another option would be to use OTP PROMs. These are ROMS that use fuse-blown bits to permanently store data, and should last nearly indefinitely. However you would probably have to design a custom circuit so you can have an user interface to the data (perhaps RS-232) or some protocol which will be available into the foreseeable future. There are some limits, I doubt you will find devices that can store more than 128 Mbytes. You could build your circuit to use multiple PROMs to increase the storage capacity, or operate as cartridges. This would still beat the storage density of paper media.

If you really ambitious, a custom designed storage system using a laser etched stainless steel tape. Stainless doesn't corrod. A long stainless steel tape could be wound on a pair of reels that programmed using a laser etching system, and can be read back using a optical system. The Stainless tape will last a very long time and will not be subject to damage except if dropped in acid or subject to extreme temperatures (which no media would survive)

Fixed-width Base64 (2)

shadowknot (853491) | about 9 months ago | (#44210809)

If you're really serious about having hard printouts that you want to later get back in should a disaster occur, an idea I would have would be to base64 encode the text and then print it using a fixed width font in order to make OCR easier down the line. The downside of this is that should the scan not be great or the paper become degraded then you may find you'd get weird encoding issues if, say, a lowercase "l" is read as an uppercase "I" I'd also take hashes of the text files and print them in the header/footer as a rudimentary way of verifying the files are the same after scanning them back. Maybe do a few tests before committing to such a method, this is totally off the top of my head BTW!

SD Cards (1)

Paperweight (865007) | about 9 months ago | (#44210817)

SD cards are surprisingly durable. While diving, I've recovered cameras that have been lost underwater for years and the flash cards work fine. I don't know about heat resistance, though, or how hot it might get in that firebox.

braille digitial reader? (2)

RedHackTea (2779623) | about 9 months ago | (#44210823)

There used to be one called Bridge, but I couldn't find it. Anyway, it's popular enough so that you can learn braille if you ever lose the digital reader. Also, if you can code at all, it'd be easier to parse the count of dots than the thickness of lines from scanned-in images; perhaps make up your own "braille" system and store the algorithm in plain text along with a bunch of other algorithms. I think you'll be safe enough from most thieves, just not the government (but they can already get your account information). Really, instead I'd rather recommend a remote server (or cloud) and just use Duplicity (rsync+gpg software).

Engraved to stone (4, Insightful)

vasster (1535427) | about 9 months ago | (#44210839)

Engraved to stone. Guaranteed for centuries.

Re:Engraved to stone (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 9 months ago | (#44211173)

Engraved to stone. Guaranteed for centuries.

Stone might not have very good resolution, but laser-engraving a Paperbak pattern onto a slab of aluminium might be an interesting strategy.

PGPi OCR project (2)

jaak (1826046) | about 9 months ago | (#44210843)

Back in the late 90s when it was difficult to export strong crypto out of the USA, the PGP project came up with a program to get around this by using some loopholes in the law that allowed the source code to be exported if it was printed in book form.

So the PGP source code was printed out, made into books, shipped overseas, and scanned and OCR'd. My memory is somewhat fuzzy, but they had a suite of utilities to do this reliably. See http://www.pgpi.org/pgpi/project/scanning [pgpi.org] for a description and links to the tools.

Online backup (2)

mc_botha (469887) | about 9 months ago | (#44210849)

I would compress it with a password (7-zip, RAR etc.) and then use Google Drive, Dropbox etc. to store it.
Thus it will be future proof for many years and accessible on any computer.

Use print AND electronic backup (1)

linebackn (131821) | about 9 months ago | (#44210869)

If you are going to encode it in a non human readable format, there is little point to storing it on hardcopy over electronic storage medium (hard disk, USB flash, floppy, etc). You will still need a computer to access it.

There are some fonts out there specifically designed for OCR, but in practice any little spec of dust or dirt can change how the computer reads it (an "O" can become a "Q" for example. And "1" is easily misread as "i" - in some fonts they are even 100% identical). So OCR is OK for text that you can spellcheck, but not for other kinds of data.

Depending on the kind of data, you could include something like a printed checksum to verify you read it write.

To conserve space, just make the fonts as small as you feel comfortable reading, use both sides of the paper, possibly reformat the data to utilize more space on the page, and use thin lightweight paper. And include an additional electronic backup so you don't have to bother OCRing until the world ends next Thursday.

Make it last forever! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210881)

Ridulian crystal paper.

I would never have thought of this. (1)

ls671 (1122017) | about 9 months ago | (#44210909)

I would never have thought of putting my backups on paper. I instead multiply the backup locations to insure the redundancy I am comfortable with.

Good god. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210927)

This doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

You could encode the data in barcodes, but it'd be as silly as maling copies of your book collection using paper and pen.

Your eat bet is to just encrypt the hell out of your data using trucrypt, and toss it on a dirt cheap server somewhere that isn't publically accessible.

Encrypted Text on Punch Cards (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 9 months ago | (#44210929)

There is no reason why you cannot print encrypted text, but OCR of fonts is more difficult and error prone than bar codes. How about totally geeking out with paper tape or punch cards?

Why so concerned about it being 'secure'? (1)

Greg01851 (720452) | about 9 months ago | (#44210949)

What information is so important that you have to deal with it in this fashion? Just curious...

Microfilm is the answer (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210955)

Microfilm is still the best way to store large quantities of data in hard copies. Easy to store on film, easy to copy, easy to convert to digital files again if needed. Cheap. It doesn't require complicated machinery or defunct software to access

Stone (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 9 months ago | (#44210957)

Chisel the data in stone. Then use the stone to build your house. It is known to last for thousands of years.

Re:Stone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44211079)

Stone [extremetech.com] only lasts 1000 years. Do you want to be forgotten in 1000 years? Better use sapphire [extremetech.com].

Punched cards or punched paper tape (1)

Sesostris III (730910) | about 9 months ago | (#44210971)

It's how we used to get data into the system, or store data from the system, many (ahem) decades ago!

Seriously, it's a shame these technologies are no longer used, as they would be ideal for this purpose.

mdisc might be an option (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44210985)

I don't see it as being mentioned but since CD's were mentioned why not look into Mdisc, they claim to last 1000 years + and they offer both dvd, and now bluray options.

QR Codes (1)

Alsee (515537) | about 9 months ago | (#44211011)

QR Codes [wikipedia.org] are 2-D barcodes. Each QR square can support 4k of (capitals-only) alphanumeric text, or nearly 3k of binary data. It has built-in support for error correction and spanning data across multiple QR Code blocks. And of course binary data can be encrypted.

-

As title cards on B and W film (1)

istartedi (132515) | about 9 months ago | (#44211039)

Shoot title cards of the text onto BW film which is flammable nitrate stock. Mix in with scenes of people acting in early 20th century costume. The actual film may not last, and might burn your house down; but if anybody ever finds it they'll do their best to transfer it to something else.

Re:As title cards on B and W film (1)

Jiro (131519) | about 9 months ago | (#44211363)

There isn't a very good recortd for those surviving when they are actual B&W early twentieth century films.

Simple comparison (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44211041)

What is harder:

procuring and digitizing this information in some way that's "machine-recoverable"?

Or... just typing the account info back in again by hand in the odd case you absolutely need to recover from your backups?

If you seriously have enough "account information" that it would be ridiculously prohibitive for you to type them back in using your paper copy in an hour or two some Saturday afternoon, then this is a problem for your accountants and lawyers to solve.

Jesus, you people will over-engineer ANYTHING.

M-DISC (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44211055)

The Milleniata M-DISC is a writeable DVD that is supposed to last a thousand years. Accelerated ageing tests conducted by an independent tester seem to support this claim. For less than a hundred dollars you can get some disks and a compatible drive. Add a fire safe rated for 2 hours and you are all set.

Even if the media itself survives, you might be wondering if the chances of finding a drive capable of reading it in the future are better than your chances of finding a 5.25" drive today. I think they are much better.

The 12cm disk form factor has survived since 1981 and has seen the transition from pressed CD to writable media and higher densities. The only real alternative are formats that have electronics as part of the media. I believe there will be a market for passive recording media for a long time to come and there is no real reason to leave the form factor. And as long as the drive accepts media of the same shape it will probably support legacy formats.

Font (1)

wbane (12572) | about 9 months ago | (#44211087)

This might be a bit of a stretch.. but if you want some "encryption" on your printed copies.. have you considered using a font like wingdings or webdings to use as the print font? I was thinking about some of the previous posts regarding Egyptian glyphs and tho it's not a solid "encryption" (more obfuscation).. It would be a security deterrance, if anything. And if you need to "decrypt" your text you could utilize an in-hand charmap to decode it and OCR should allow you to scan it in with "read as font". Just an idea.

theres an app for that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44211091)

http://ollydbg.de/Paperbak/

OCR is fine (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 9 months ago | (#44211095)

If your text is entirely in a single, simple font, OCR can work really well on that. You shouldn't have any trouble. QR codes might have been forgotten in 20 years, and are hard for humans to read.

Personally I'd just stick a USB stick in the safe, printing it out is too much work.

How about multiple formats (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 9 months ago | (#44211103)

If I was doing it I'd use a combination of 3 techniques:

1 Plain text for human readability
2 QR codes for scanning and error correction
3 Redundant Gold stabilized Azo dye CDRs with ECC codes for fast machine readability

Does it degrade gracefully? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 9 months ago | (#44211123)

DVD videos, for example, have error correction, yada yada yada.
But, at the same time you can put a tiny tiny nick in one and the entire thing can become unreadable.
VHSes mean-while will degrade gracefully.
I do not know anything about barcode encoding, but you should always consider how damaging a small amount of damage/warping is and how the data degrades when damaged.

Text degrades very gracefully, the entire page needs to be completely destroyed to lose the entire data set.
No idea about barcodes.

Archival quality CD/DVD blanks (2)

david.emery (127135) | about 9 months ago | (#44211203)

Are available at camera stores. I suspect we'll be able to read CD formats for quite a while longer.

Text. It's the only way. (4, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about 9 months ago | (#44211211)

This is a backup to your backup, so digital means must have failed before you'd consider using it. Text is low density, but it has an advantage that any encrypted barcode or other high tech means do not have -- it can be read by human eyes. When you're huddled in a rough lean-to roasting a feral cat over the campfire amid the wreckage of civilization, you will still be able to read your backup. That might come in handy.

Re:Text. It's the only way. (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 9 months ago | (#44211229)

Sorry, I omitted: Over a campfire of old burning tires. It gives the cat a nice smoky isoprene taste. Try it, you'll.... well, it'll keep you alive.

tatoos? (3, Funny)

methano (519830) | about 9 months ago | (#44211213)

I'm thinking tatoo might be a good medium. Depends on your storage needs and the size of your back.

Then what will you do? (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 9 months ago | (#44211231)

You should print it on acid-free paper if you plan on scanning it back in because regular paper will be useless to you in about 150-200 years.

An exercise in data reduction (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 9 months ago | (#44211239)

First: get rid of 90% of the stuff. If you truly have that many accounts, how many have you used in the past year? Just close all the rest. For all the other stuff, just keep your DoB, driving licence, passport, social security, address (in case you forget - but then you wouldn't know where your safe was located), bank accounts numbers and maybe a few utility accounts.

After you've done that the problem will have resolved itself to the point where most people just have a folder of "stuff".

If you still feel the urge to put printed copies in a fire-safe, take into account the type of ink you print your stuff with (you wouldn't want to come back in 5 years to discover all you have was faded sheets with no printing on them) and also just how long your safe remains fireproof for. It may not be as good as you'd hoped.

Datamatrix - etched on metal sheet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44211335)

Datamatrix (2D) barcodes provide a good method for storing data, at a maximum geometry of 144x144 'pixels' you can store a maximum of 3116 numerical digits or 2335 alpha characters - encoding could be further optimised by pre-processing the stream, but just changing to all uppercase can improve encoding density. Furthermore upto 16 barcodes can be 'joined' to extended the size of the record.

Although not easy a datamatrix can be decoded by a human, but there are many applications and devices which will do it for you. If you are making a time capsule include a hand-held scanner which can output RS232.

Laser or acid etching metal sheet would produce an almost indestructable record, which could be included along with human readable pages for maximum redunancy.

punch holes (1)

jjbarrows (958997) | about 9 months ago | (#44211337)

punch holes in cardboard.
here at hobarthackerspace we have a pdp8 a chap is restoring so soon we may be able to have reliable paper backups.

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