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The Art of Data Storage Can Be Found With Andy Warhol

the-art-of-data-storage-can-be-found-with-andy-warhol
August 4, 2014
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If not for the curiosity of new media artist and Andy Warhol aficionado Cory Arcangel, work done by the infamous pop artist 25 years earlier may have never come to light. It was locked away on one of many uncatalogued floppy disks stored with Warhol’s Commodore Amiga 1000 personal computer at his eponymous museum. It took the efforts of the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club and its Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry to unlock and retrieve the antiquated files from the deteriorating disk.

There are only two reasons for storing data: you have to or you want to. If data doesn’t meet either criteria, then delete it. Warhol’s work clearly falls in the latter category although, in distant hindsight, it was handled very poorly. It’s similar to media that many of us have stored at home … for example, video tapes of birthday parties, family vacations and other treasured memories that require a VCR or format conversion to bring to life. Where is that VCR anyway?

There are several lessons to be learned from the Warhol discovery that are germane today. One has to do with how long we retain data. Of course, the answer to that is defined by the data itself. It may be three years, seven or something else. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, certain financial companies that deal in swaps (derivatives) may have to retain related data for two decades or more. Rather than dealing with the issue, the tendency is to let data pile up until it’s lost to benign neglect.

The first piece of advice given to companies moving workloads to the cloud is to rediscover your data. Where is it and what is it? Who uses it, if anyone, and how important is it, if at all? Does it require compliant storage, rapid access or a long time at rest? Going through this inventorying and application mapping exercise, many discover a lot of data detritus, as well as forgotten data with true potential business value to the company.

It’s reasonably certain that Warhol did not make copies of his files, storing them in different formats in different places. Given the reported goings-on at his studio, The Factory, it’s a wonder the disks weren’t used as beverage coasters or chair levelers. He did the work for Commodore as an Amiga promotion so perhaps he didn’t consider it worthy of special treatment even though we do today. For reasons of disaster recovery, regulatory mandate or just good “best practices,” backing up data is an absolute must.

In the 25 years that lapsed, the application, file formats and media used by Warhol have fallen into disuse. The Carnegie Mellon computer club had to retro-engineer the outdated technology to get artwork safely off the media, not an easy task and probably not a service for which there is great commercial demand.

Keeping current with technology can be a daunting and expensive task. If Warhol had such a thing a cloud data storage he would not have had to concern himself with that, focusing instead on his work. And, using the Internet and web, his work would have broken more barriers and flourished in unimaginable ways.

That’s what technology can help all of us accomplish if we allow it to do so.

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