Digital Lifetimes: Data Worth Saving
Jun17

Digital Lifetimes: Data Worth Saving

If you ever get a sinking feeling that all your photos and correspondence stored digitally may one day be lost in a computer crash or due to some future software incompatibility, then you might empathize with the folks who spend their professional lives thinking about ways to ensure digital forms of cultural heritage don’t disappear into the ether. In fact, yesterday and today, people concerned with preserving digital 3D visualizations of ancient sites and other digital cultural heritage objects are meeting in London for a conference entitled Visualizations and Simulations, organized under the POCOS (Preservation of Complex Objects Symposia) banner. I’m not there, but many of the talks piqued my interest, such as the one about the Villa of Oplontis project. This is a 3D, navigable model of a gigantic Roman era villa near Pompei. The villa was so enormous that the archeologists trying to excavate the site 20 years ago never managed to find its limits. The villa had at least 99 rooms and a 60-meter swimming pool. For comparison: An Olympic-sized swimming pool is 50 meters long. Although excavators never did find the villa’s perimeter, they did acquire an immense amount of architectural information about the place. This is being used to develop what sounds like a cool 3D digital model of the villa. Art historian John Clarke is one of the leaders on the Oplontis project. He told me (by email) that his team is ensuring a good lifetime for all the digital recreation work by building a database of archival and photographs of the site, at very high resolution, just in case better software is developed than what they are using—and presumably in case there is some future incompatibility. Saving the raw data in an accessible place is a priority for Jenny Mitcham, a curatorial officer for the UK’s Archaeological Data Service. This mega database holds “a wide range of digital objects, from the simple to the complex” including digital images, databases, spreadsheets, GIS, vector graphics, geophysics (of various types for both land-based and maritime), photogrammetry, laser scanning data, 3D visualizations. (I had to look up photogrammetry. Wikipedia says it’s “the practice of determining the geometric properties of objects from photographic images.” Apparently it’s been used since the 19th century to do everything from measure tornado speeds to enable police forensics or archeology.) One cool application of photogrammetry is the VENUS project, where folks are building new tools for virtual exploration of deep water archeology sites. Here's the deal from the website: “Underwater archaeological sites, such as shipwrecks, offer extraordinary opportunities for archaeologists due to their low light, low temperature and a low oxygen environment...

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American Institute of Conservation Meeting + Another AIC Conference
Jun03

American Institute of Conservation Meeting + Another AIC Conference

Wish I could have joined the crowds of conservators who spent this week in Philadelphia at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Conservation. I've been sating myself here in Berlin by checking out the AIC blog launched at the meeting called Conservators Converse, as well as video posts and tweets from attendees. This year the conference aims "to examine how ethics, logic, and perception guide conservation decisions" given that "assumptions long held in the practice of conservation are being challenged by the modern world." That's a somewhat wordy way of saying that conference sessions will broach such issues as: -How to conserve new media/digital art? -What's to be done about the trend of outsourcing conservation services? -What's the balance between conserving a piece of cultural heritage and conserving our outside environment... That is, is it OK to use a lot of energy to protect an artifact--for example, through constant air conditioning or maintaining low-humidity conditions--if that means our outside environment suffers? More on this in a future post. In a quirky twist, there's another AIC 2011 conference happening in Zurich, Switzerland next week that has both art and science components. This second one, however, is the midterm meeting of the International Colour Association, which is abbreviated AIC. The focus of the conference is the "Interaction of Colour & Light in the Arts and Sciences." As you imagine this is an insanely broad field. The program features talks on everything from the interaction of color and light in Turkish shadow theater to how E-books perform under different...

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