JOD goes into the Arctic Code Vault

This was a pleasant surprise. A few weeks ago, I noticed this little message on my main GitHub page.

Arctic Code Vault Contributor

Curious, I hovered on the text and learned that a few of my open-source repositories — JOD in particular — had been archived in GitHub’s Arctic Code Vault.

That sounded literally cool!

The arctic code repository is what you would expect. Open-source code is being preserved on silver-halide film in the form of QR codes deep in the permafrost of a decommissioned coal mine on Svalbard in the Norwegian arctic. The source code archive is close to the global seed bank; both archives have been set up to preserve code and seeds for future generations.

It may come as a surprise to some that good old fashioned black and white film is orders of magnitude more stable than commonly used digital media. I scan and restore old films and even after sixty or seventy years well-fixed black and white negatives show little if any degradation.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my recurring rants about the outrageously short lifetimes of digital media. We are constantly told that once it’s on the Internet it’s there forever. The idea that information is safely stored on the Internet is pure dangerous bullshit. If things are so permanent explain link rot, site closures, file purges, censorship, copyright takedowns, account deletions, and all the other “slings and arrows” online content suffers. The Internet is a giant ephemeral froth: always bubbling, always changing, never constant; it wasn’t built to last, and it doesn’t.

Fortunately, many people and organizations are aware of the digital archive problem, and some, like the Long Now Foundation and the Internet Archive, were involved in the GitHub Arctic Code Vault project. The Arctic Code Vault is only one of many planned archives. The archivists are employing the LOCKSS, (lots of copies keep stuff safe), philosophy and plan on storing archives in many formats in many locations. The most ambitious projects envision off-planet stores. SpaceX has already launched copies of Asimov’s Foundation novels into space where they will be safe from culture canceling mobs for the foreseeable future.

And, just to make things absolutely clear, the biggest threat to all archival projects is the mob. No matter how permanent your work motivated mobs may destroy it. Mount Rushmore and the nearby Crazy Horse monument are gigantic sculptures carved into hard granite on geologically stable mountains. Left alone their faces will endure for tens of thousands of years. They won’t be left alone! There are already bitter seething little basement Marxists calling for Rushmore’s destruction. In 2020 attempts to destroy Rushmore will land you in prison. Will the same hold in 2220, or 3020? You honestly cannot say.

If you want something to last for millennia it must be replicated and hidden. Saving open source code on stable film rolls and stashing them on a hard to get to island in the high arctic is a good first step but like Long Now’s 10,000 Year Clock project the mere fame of these endeavors endangers their long-term survival. Never underestimate the viciousness of hate-driven mobs.

We cannot control the future but we can make it hard for future generations to forget us. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to create a low cost, highly durable, and compact means of archiving large volumes of digital data. If we all cached billions of digital archives all over, and off the Earth, the memory holing mobs of the future will be left with a monumental task to silence us.

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