Saturday, May 22, 2010

Digital Longevity

I've been working on a project over the past few months to upload my family/genealogy videos to "the cloud" so as to be able to access them anywhere and to add another layer of protection against bit rot, house fire, future indifference, etc. I already have them on my home computer and also backed up to a co-located external Firewire/USB hard drive using Apple's "Time Machine" software. For offsite storage, I've subscribed to Mozy online backup for a couple of years. I highly recommend Mozy, by the way: it works automatically when you're away from your computer and keeps your data safe for $4.95 per month for unlimited storage space. Since I compulsively "print to PDF" and troll Facebook for family pictures, this is starting to add up.

But these are just disaster recovery plans. I also want to be able to access my personal stuff from anywhere while keeping it both secure and private. Privacy is paramount. Google recently added a service using "Google Docs" that allows you to upload up to 1 GB of files free-of-charge. They also offer ridiculous amounts of additional space for cheap (very cheap!), which appeals to me, on account of I'm very, er, frugal. This Google Docs space allows you to access and edit files of any type -- word processing, spreadsheets, photos, PDFs, etc. -- from anywhere. It's associated with your Gmail account so it's still yours and still secure from others.

At some point, once I have literally everything uploaded and organized, I'm thinking it might obsolete my Mozy account. But Mozy is automatic, hoovering up everything without my having to think about it. Google Docs isn't.

I've come a long way since using 100-MB "Zip" disks in the mid-1990s to back stuff up. (Which led me to lose a lot because of that infamous "click-of-death" phenomenon. I still hurt about the loss of that data, although fortunately it wasn't family/genealogy material.)

My Google space also includes Picasa for pictures and videos. The videos are converted to Flash animations but look very good. Since Flash won't display on my iPad or iPhone, I've been splitting videos into 10-minute chunks and uploading them to YouTube, which is also owned by Google. It turns out that you can designate all, some, or none of your uploaded YouTube videos as "private" instead of "public", which is what I've done. What's the advantage of YouTube over Google Docs/Picasa? Two things: (1) it's free and apparently provides practically unlimited upload space, and (2) if you upload your videos in QuickTime format, the conversion carried out automatically by YouTube results in a video that *can* be viewed on your iPad and/or iPhone!

So how do I convert my non-QuickTime videos (*.m4v, etc.) to QuickTime (*.mov) format? There is terrific and free-of-charge video "swiss army knife" (my terminology) called "MPEG Streamclip" that can be downloaded for both Windows and Mac. I've been using it to systematically change all the digital videos I had previously snarfed from DVDs using "Handbrake" (also highly recommended) to QuickTime format. (The DVDs were made using a VHS-to-DVD video player/recorder.) MPEG Streamclip can also break up long videos into 10-minute or smaller chunks, which is a requirement of YouTube.

The only glitch in all this is the small loss of video quality in each step. Someday I would like to snarf an analog-to-digital hardware filter from, say, Ebay, and use it to connect a VHS player directly to my computer.

This is definitely an addiction but surely there are worse vices to have? :-)

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