I made it to M

Blognosticator Head

You may be aware that in early December I built a Network Attached Storage server, loaded an operating system on it (FreeNAS), and began the process of copying my large collection of CDs and DVDs to the NAS server.

In the process I discovered the infidelity of optical discs (I had no idea they were dating other men!!), and I discovered how lucky I am to be moving my materials off of the optical discs to the more reliable magnetic disk storage of a RAID array. Let’s face facts here: optical discs are really flaky.

Brian with discs

This is me with my stacks of CDs and DVDs. The two stacks on the right are those I have successfully copied to my NAS server. In the stack on the left are the discs I cannot read at all; I guess the information on them is lost forever.

Back in 1996, when I started putting my documents onto CDs and later onto DVDs, I thought I was doing the right thing. What could possibly go wrong? The discs were stable, or at least we were told they were stable, and they would last until kingdom come. I guess I chose a short-lived kingdom.

(As I am writing this, another disc has failed to read.)

Another curious thing is that in about half of the cases where an optical disc won’t read on my computer, it will read on my wife’s computer. This has saved me from a lot of grief; I just take any disc that fails to her machine, and in many cases I can read and copy the disc on hers. This is weird. The machines are the same, the internal DVD/CD drive is the same brand, but not the same model. One must have a slightly different reading laser than the other, making it possible to read while mine cannot.

My discs are named with city names and other frivolous titles I thought up when I was making them. One is named The Beav, another is named Mr. Peanut. There are about 350 total, and I have now made it through the letter M. What excitement!

I put a disc into my machine, create a folder on the NAS server with the same name, and then copy the contents to the folder. In cases where there is software that will not run on modern Macintosh computers, I leave those files behind. There is no sense copying anything I can’t use onto the new server, and in the process I am saving a little bit of space.

This morning I was taking a portrait of a banker, and I had the lights set up and ready, so I stacked all the discs I have successfully copied to the NAS into three stacks (I couldn’t get them to stand up in just one stack, though it would have been more dramatic). The discs I have copied successfully I put into two stacks. I stacked those discs I have been unable to read in the third stack.

What is most frustrating is when a single file is corrupt and cannot be copied. It stops the whole process, and then I have to search for the file that failed, and try again. (I’m doing this right now). It’s not really very hard, but I am getting really tired of the whole thing.

When I began the process 18 years ago, hard drives were relatively small and moderately expensive. I looked for a method to archive my documents and chose optical discs. I had used SyQuest, ZIP, Bernoulli, Panasonic rewritable optical and a few other technologies, but they all suffered from the same problems: expensive removable cartridges, cartridges that didn’t give me much space, etc. Optical seemed the way to go, and it has served me reasonably well. But I may have been better off with hundreds of ZIP disks.

Am I worried that my magnetic disk drives will fail? Not really. I have created the server as a RAIDz device, meaning that one drive can fail completely, and be replaced without losing any data. And, the drive can be swapped out while the power in running (I don’t think I would try that). I think that the array will be more reliable than my collection of optical discs has been.

I just got to the N’s, and I am making real headway here! If I hurry, I will be done by April.


About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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