Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Photo permanence and durability

A "house altar" depicting Akhenaten, Nefertiti and three of their DaughtersExperience your memory fading away.

Historically, we humans have been willing to spend any amount of money on communication. We have been willing to spend even more money on communicating with our descendants after our passing — sky is the limit.

In the past you had to be a head of state to afford having your life cast in stone for posterity, or you had to be so good and work so hard that you would leave behind a historical legacy through the history books.

Today, everyone in our society can afford to leave behind their legacy in the form of digital items, such as scanned or digital photos, HD videos, AAC files, etc. Although such an archive is compact and convenient, it is still subject to bit rot. Actually, with the acceleration of technological progress, the span of time until bits have rotted is getting shorter.

With this in mind, there is still a strong argument for printing your memories and keep them around as atoms instead of bits. There is also a remarkable convenience to hard copies, especially when they are in the form of photo books.

Atoms can also rot, and in particular the dyes and pigments in inks fade. Therefore, it is useful to know how long your prints last. More specifically, you want to know how long prints on a specific media printed with a specific ink last.

In a concrete example, imagine you took a photograph during your honeymoon trip and you would like to be able to still enjoy at at you golden anniversary. Can you use refilled cartridges on generic paper or should you shell out money for fancy HP Vivera inks and special photo paper?

My colleague Ingeborg Tastl wanted to find a good answer just to this kind of problem — how will the photo with my memory fade away during the years? Since Ingeborg is our ICC profiling specialist, she built an interactive tool that allows you to simulate the fading of your memory when printed on two different ink and paper combinations. This is how the tool looks in on my PC:

Yoko in Luzern, 1. August 1991. Häppy 700th börsdey Switzerland!

Ingeborg being a very nice person, she lets you have her tool. You can download it from here and look at your own memory fading away. Of course, the lawyers had to have their say to keep us out of Court, so the selections are somewhat restricted, but it is still an interesting tool. For now the simulator is Windows only, but you can run in on an a virtual PC in an Unix system like a Mac.