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Old 03-28-2008, 09:28 AM
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Voice recording from 1860 found


This is really cool -- there's an MP3 of the recording posted as well.

From here:
Quote:
U.S. audio historians have discovered and played back a French inventor's historic 1860 recording of a folk song the oldest-known audio recording made 17 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.

"It's magic," audio historian David Giovannoni said on Thursday. "It's like a ghost singing to you."
Here's the recording (mp3)
  #2  
Old 03-28-2008, 09:37 AM
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That is really very cool. I think what's so great about this is that the guy who recorded it had no way to play it back, and probably died a long time ago not realizing that one day the whole world would be able to hear what he had done.

Last edited by Wheeljack; 03-28-2008 at 09:39 AM.
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Old 03-28-2008, 09:39 AM
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It's the teacher, from Peanuts, right?

ETA: OK, it is really, seriously cool though - especially (as Wheeljack says) as it was recorded without any known way to play it back.

I've occasionally read about people hoping to be able to extract audio from indentations on thrown clay pots - picked up and transcribed when a hard tool was used to mark them while they were spinning - which is a great idea, but probably not possible.

Last edited by Mangetout; 03-28-2008 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 03-28-2008, 09:41 AM
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I heard this story on NPR yesterday. For those who don't want to click the link:
Quote:
It was made on April 9, 1860, by Parisian inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville on a device called the phonautograph that scratched sound waves onto a sheet of paper blackened by the smoke of an oil lamp, Giovannoni said.
So it was a visual representation of the sound that was not intended to be played back. (Nor was it possible to do.)
Quote:
"What Scott was trying to do was to write down some sort of image of the sound so that he could study it visually. That was his only intent," Giovannoni said.
Very interesting. It makes me wonder if Edison saw that sound could be recorded, and then figured out a way to play it back (by etching the waves and reversing the process); or if he came up with his idea independently.
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Old 03-28-2008, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Johnny L.A.
Very interesting. It makes me wonder if Edison saw that sound could be recorded, and then figured out a way to play it back (by etching the waves and reversing the process); or if he came up with his idea independently.
The telephone's very public demonstrations in 1876 at the Centennial Exposiion in Philadelphia probably was a more direct inspiration.
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Old 03-28-2008, 11:26 AM
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The father of television, John Logie Baird, also made the first video recordings years before the invention of magnetic tape. Baird recorded his 30 line TV signal on a 78 RPM record but he was never able to figure out a way to play this signal back and display it. Some of these records were discovered by an engineer a few years back, and he digitized the discs and figured out how to recover the video information and display it using a computer.
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Old 03-28-2008, 11:38 AM
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That is seriously cool.
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Old 03-28-2008, 12:01 PM
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OK, this is fantastic.

Additional to the story is that they played the recording on BBC Radio 4 this morning while I was getting ready for work. Charlotte Green, extremely professional national broadcaster, played the recording and then just lost it giggling, live, to millions of listeners, while trying to announce someone's death. Very inappropriate, but hilarious.

Read the story (and listen to her losing the plot via the "Green's laughter" link under her photo).

It was a brilliant start to my day.

Last edited by jjimm; 03-28-2008 at 12:06 PM.
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Old 03-28-2008, 12:06 PM
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It reminds me of that guy a couple of years ago who wrote some software that takes an image of an LP and extracts the sound from it. The example was some classical piece, Vivaldi I think. You could just about make out the tune. Can't find the link to it right now, dammit...
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Old 03-28-2008, 12:07 PM
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Calling this "the oldest known audio recording" stretches the definition of audio recording quite a bit.

What was created could not be played back without 21st Century Equipment.

This is about as amazing as finding a Mozart score and realizing that you could get a symphony orchestra to play it. Maybe, but the score is not a recording.
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Old 03-28-2008, 12:14 PM
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I would say that it is a recording, because the squiggles on the paper were directly caused by the original sound.
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Old 03-28-2008, 12:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
Calling this "the oldest known audio recording" stretches the definition of audio recording quite a bit.

What was created could not be played back without 21st Century Equipment.

This is about as amazing as finding a Mozart score and realizing that you could get a symphony orchestra to play it. Maybe, but the score is not a recording.
I'm going to disagree. A score is a symbolic representation of the music. These recordings are analog representations. That is, they are the actual movements of the stylus, which vibrated with the actual movements of the air.

EDIT: See what I get for going away before posting? I get beaten!

Last edited by Johnny L.A.; 03-28-2008 at 12:22 PM.
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Old 03-28-2008, 12:34 PM
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Old 03-28-2008, 12:57 PM
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I just listened to that, and that is creepy! But cool. Maybe the creepiness stems from it sounding like a ghost in a haunted house. No way I could have identified it as French.

What was that first Thomas Edison recording? Mary had a a little lamb? Is that extant?
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Old 03-28-2008, 01:18 PM
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You can hear Mary Had a Little Lamb here
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Old 03-28-2008, 01:49 PM
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The phonautograph isn't all that obscure. James Burke talks about it (and Edison's familiarity with it) in his books and series. Edison, of course WAS trying to make a replayable system. That these earlier records are now playable is fantastic, but doesn't detract from Edison's accomplishment. (Burke, by the way, claims that Edison's inspiration was the recording telegraph, which made audible sounds when you played back the recorded telegraph message.)

As for the story about recordings from pots, the guy who made that claim also claimed to have actually reproduced the sound of a "noisy potters wheel" from the grooves of an ancient wheel-generated pot. It's open to question. He also claimed to have picked up sound recordings from brushstrokes in hardened oil paint, but it wasn't ancient.

Here's the abstract of the article:

Quote:
Acoustic recordings from antiquity
Woodbridge, R.G., III


This paper appears in: Proceedings of the IEEE
Publication Date: Aug. 1969
Volume: 57, Issue: 8
On page(s): 1465- 1466
ISSN: 0018-9219
Posted online: 2005-06-28 14:46:17.0





Abstract
Pioneering experiments establishing the principles of recalling ancient sounds from antiquity are reported.

http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freea...number=1449244


Artrhur C. Clarke reported it in an article later reprinted in The View from Serendip. "Daedalus" suggested a similar idea (independently, I think) in his Nature column.
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Old 03-28-2008, 01:55 PM
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The New York Times has an article about this here. The funny thing is the inventor's indignation at Edison's work. The Times article said, "In a self-published memoir in 1878, he railed against Edison for 'appropriating' his methods and misconstruing the purpose of recording technology. The goal, Scott argued, was not sound reproduction, but 'writing speech, which is what the word phonograph means.'" Also, the same people responsible for this discovery also published a CD of nineteenth-century recordings of dirty jokes, called Actionable Offenses, which could be interesting.
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Old 03-28-2008, 02:11 PM
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Wow, I've learned a ton from this thread! Thanks for the links to additional resources and research. This is really cools stuff.
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Old 03-28-2008, 03:42 PM
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This is amazing. To think, when this was recorded, among other things, Lincoln was not yet President, and the southern states had not seceded from the Union.
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Old 03-28-2008, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by cochrane
This is amazing. To think, when this was recorded, among other things, Lincoln was not yet President, and the southern states had not seceded from the Union.
And John McCain was barely out of school.

  #21  
Old 03-28-2008, 03:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham
The phonautograph isn't all that obscure. James Burke talks about it (and Edison's familiarity with it) in his books and series.
The question of who was influenced by what is more of a historians' bedtime game than a solvable problem.

There certainly was an international community of scientists and inventors who closely followed one another's experiments and successes. These were reported in publications like Scientific American, first published in 1845 and originally a clearinghouse for news on advances in technology, in scientific journals, and in major newspapers.

France was perhaps the leading country for advances in invention and technology at the time, probably ahead of even Britain, with the U.S. catching up fast at the end of the century. Their newspapers were even more likely to report on progress than ours, and French inventors were even more likely to write books on their notions.

But the whole process was also a bit haphazard. If you didn't speak French you could miss out on many reports that didn't get translated. Local inventors sometimes got noticed by local newspapers but without a national press syndicate (the Associated Press started in 1846, but with only four newspapers) many reports never circulated widely. Or were read even if so. The Wright Brothers flight did make The New York Times almost immediately, but was treated more as yet another report of flight, one of many that people were always making with who knew what evidence to back them up. In October of that year, for example, Samuel Langley, head of the Smithsonian, had a widely publicized failure of his attempt to be the first to fly. A report of a couple of bike sellers in North Carolina wouldn't attract much credibility.

It's more important to understand what was in the air, pun intended, at the time. Everybody was trying to build a powered heavier-than-air craft in 1903, and balloonists, glider enthusiasts, and dirigible builders had shown the way, while theoreticians provided much better technical understanding than ever before.

For this thread, the idea of sending, recording, or playing back sound was also an ancient one, and people were attempting it seriously about as soon as the telegraph was publicly introduced. The word phonograph dates back to 1863, from a paper tape system. People approached it by adapting various existing technologies. Edison himself was experimenting with the acoustic telegraph in 1875, trying to send audio waves over the wires.

Edison could have had any number of predecessors or approaches in mind when he began work in 1877, including people who he might have seen as competitors at the time but are forgotten today because they never got anywhere.

I'm somewhat jaundiced about who did what first, in the same way I went into the does sf make predictions thread to say that people can and do make their definitions so loose that anything can be the predecessor of anything else that resembles it in any way.

None of this diminishes in any way what Scott de Martinville accomplished. I'm just saying that the approaches were so different that trying to draw a direct line between them doesn't lead anywhere. Somebody always fails first, just as somebody always succeeds first, just as somebody always makes it truly successful first, with lots of room for argument every step of the way.
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Old 03-28-2008, 03:52 PM
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I'm familiar with the song itself, having sung it in HS choir. Wow... definitely disconcerting yet cool!
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Old 03-28-2008, 04:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ceejaytee
You can hear Mary Had a Little Lamb here
This is a recreation recorded in 1927 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original recording, which no longer exists.

This 1860 recording is rather interesting, since, as pointed out, it doesn't sound like a human voice. Other than "la lune," it's difficult to make out any of the words. But it's amazing that this snippet, which was never meant or intended to be heard, has survived all these years. The quality of the snippet- and of most old sound recordings- is a testament to how far sound recording has come.
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Old 03-28-2008, 04:45 PM
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The 1860 recording sounds like a girl is singing "Au clair de la lune". Once you know the lyrics, "Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit" ("By the light of the moon, Pierrot replied"), it's easier to hear the individual words.

Unfortunately, it seems that all of Thomas Edison's early sound recordings are now lost, having been made on tin foil and quickly wore out or tore after only a few playings.

The earliest playable sound recording before this 1860 recording had been recorded by Frank Lambert in 1878, using a cylinder made of lead, for a talking clock.

After that, there is a ten-year gap, until the first commercially made sound recordings were issued in the late 1880s which is also when the earliest motion pictures were made.

Last edited by Walloon; 03-28-2008 at 04:46 PM.
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Old 03-28-2008, 04:59 PM
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For comparison, France Gall sings "Au clair de la lune".
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Old 03-28-2008, 05:04 PM
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I think that this type of thing had occurred to many people in that time period, and while it's very cool and interesting, it's also appropriate that France would have the first sound recording and not really get around to digging it up/figure it out for over a hundred years.
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Old 03-28-2008, 05:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cochrane
This is amazing. To think, when this was recorded, among other things, Lincoln was not yet President, and the southern states had not seceded from the Union.

Ironically, reaserchers have long thought that one of Scott's recordings of Lincoln's voice may still exist in the White House archives.
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Old 03-28-2008, 07:49 PM
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At least a couple of posts have made reference to scientists at the time following each other's work. I recall reading that Alexander Graham Bell was slapped with a number of lawsuits from scientists in North America and Europe saying he stole their work. None of them panned out, though.
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Old 03-28-2008, 09:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Mace
Needs more cowbell.
Well played, sir. That was the biggest laugh of my day.

I was watching some technology show about early computers that used magnetic reels to store data. Since most of these machines that could read these tapes no longer exist, a lot of this data is inaccessible despite it's advanced format. Anyone else heard this claim?
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Old 03-28-2008, 10:04 PM
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It's a major problem. NASA has a center lab filled with lovingly maintained 7 & 9-track tape machines. But budget cuts doomed the lab to close and all the equipment to be scrapped. I first heard about this when I read a news story that much higher quality video exists of the first steps man took onto the surface of the Moon - but that nobody knows where the tapes are. This lab will be needed to recover the data from these tapes, assuming the tapes are still playable. Even master tapes from popular albums on the 70s are frequently unplayable without being baked in an oven for 12 hours.
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Old 03-28-2008, 10:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pine Fresh Scent
I was watching some technology show about early computers that used magnetic reels to store data. Since most of these machines that could read these tapes no longer exist, a lot of this data is inaccessible despite it's advanced format. Anyone else heard this claim?
I've heard of things being stored on obsolete media, but the machinery is bound to exist somewhere. I remember using 9-inch floppy discs. There's got to be an old drive in someone's museum to read one. ISTM that if someone really wanted to read an old tape, that a device could be built to read it.

I worked for a company where the boss insisted we use punch-cards. In the late-'80s. Finally IBM said they would no longer support the machines and he was forced to allow people to *gasp* type code into a terminal! Of course anyone who wanted to could sit down and use the Mk.I eyeball to transcribe the code.
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Old 03-28-2008, 10:16 PM
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I've heard of things being stored on obsolete media, but the machinery is bound to exist somewhere. I remember using 9-inch floppy discs. There's got to be an old drive in someone's museum to read one. ISTM that if someone really wanted to read an old tape, that a device could be built to read it.
I worked at a company in the 80s where the engineering staff didn't appear to trust each other. So several of the engineers had written their own floppy disk formats for 5 1/4". Maybe it was job security.
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Old 03-29-2008, 02:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pine Fresh Scent
<snip>

I was watching some technology show about early computers that used magnetic reels to store data. Since most of these machines that could read these tapes no longer exist, a lot of this data is inaccessible despite it's advanced format. Anyone else heard this claim?
And of course, Cecil speaks out about this very issue.
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Old 03-29-2008, 10:49 AM
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I've heard of things being stored on obsolete media, but the machinery is bound to exist somewhere.
Mapcase's Fourth Law: As soon as somebody says, "it's gotta be," it ain't.
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Old 03-29-2008, 10:51 AM
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Cecil implies that only microfilm saved the day when the Census Bureau's magnetic tapes of 1960 census data became "unreadable". That's not quite the story. The magnetic tapes contained only aggregate data, not the individual records, and only a very small portion of the tapes was unreadable. From the National Archives:
Quote:
All of the aprocryphal stories about loss of 1960 Census data have to do with the 1960 derivative data that the Bureau stored on tapes readable only by UNIVAC II-A tape drives, II-A (or, 2A) tapes. During 1975 and 1976, a member of the National Archives' Machine Readable Archives Division reviewed the microaggregation or derivative files that the Bureau of the Census had preserved from the 1960 Census on these II-A tapes. This review identified seven series of low-level microaggregations as having long-term value to compensate for the lack of basic microdata records from the 100 percent Census. The seven series resided on 642 of the II-A tapes which the Census Bureau agreed to migrate to [industry] compatible tapes. But by this time, the Univac II-A tape drives were obsolete, and thus the preservation of these tapes presented a major engineering challenge. Despite the challenge, the Census staff prevailed. By 1979, the Census Bureau had successfully completed the copying of 640 of the 642 II-A tapes onto 178 [industry] compatible tapes. The two II-A tapes not copied could not be found. The missing tapes had 7,488 records, or about .5 percent of the total of approximately 1.5 million records on all II-A tapes that had been identified as having long-term value. Of the 640 tapes which were located, only 1,575 records (or less than .2 percent of the total number of valuable records on II-A tapes) could not be copied because of deterioration. Hence a small volume of records from the 1960 Census was lost, and this occurred because of inadequate inventory control and because of the physical deterioration of a minuscule number of records.
In any case, all of the population schedules containing the raw data from the 1960 U.S. Census had already been microfilmed.
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Old 03-29-2008, 11:01 AM
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I played the MP3 backwards. It told me to "shoot Lincoln."

Hmm....
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Old 03-29-2008, 11:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Mapcase's Fourth Law: As soon as somebody says, "it's gotta be," it ain't.
Cecil said the machines to read the media have disappeared for practical purposes. He didn't say they didn't exist at all. What I got from the article was that the larger problem is that the media tend to deteriorate.

I'll cop to being wrong about the floppies I used though. They were eight-inch, not nine.
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Old 03-29-2008, 12:09 PM
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I played the MP3 backwards. It told me to "shoot Lincoln."

Hmm....
Funny, it sounded like "shoot Edison" to me.
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Old 03-29-2008, 01:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny L.A.
I remember using 9-inch floppy discs.
Nitpick: I believe those were 8 inches square, not 9.
Quote:
Originally Posted by gaffa
I worked at a company in the 80s where the engineering staff didn't appear to trust each other. So several of the engineers had written their own floppy disk formats for 5 1/4". Maybe it was job security.
There could be other reasons. I invented 3 different disc storage systems for different employers for different reasons. First, standards were not as strong or as widespread, so compatibility wasn't as much of an issue. One assignment was to invent a way of writing on the floppy faster than existing hardware/software performed at the time. Speed was paramount for that application.

Another was to make the simpliest operating system and again, speed. Operating systems can really slow down time-critical operations unless optimized for things like interleave.

A third was for a military application, where compatibility be damned, since the military can do what it wants and has the money to see it thru, no matter how inefficient the design may be.

With regard to Cecil's report:
Quote:
Consider a storage medium considered cutting edge 50 years ago--magnetic tape. It's now recognized that tape degrades after 20 years, maybe sooner, unless you're extremely careful.
I disagree with Cecil's blanket statement. I have audio tapes from each of the last 6 decades, and they were stored in a room-temp environment, but with nothing special for humidity control. Some tapes from the 1950's and 1960's are 100% playable with no noticeable degradation (both acetate and polyester bases), while some from the 1970's are too gummed up to play. Others, stored identically, also from the 1970's, are just fine. The difference is the formula and the manufacturing batch, not the storage. And some of the worst ones now were originally the highest-quality material.

I haven't tried baking any.
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Old 03-29-2008, 01:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Musicat
Nitpick: I believe those were 8 inches square, not 9.
I know.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny L.A.
I'll cop to being wrong about the floppies I used though. They were eight-inch, not nine.
  #41  
Old 03-29-2008, 02:14 PM
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With regard, to Cecil's report, I know he was mainly addressing the issue of whether CD's or other storage media deteriorate over time. However, I think it's far more likely the playback machines will disappear. 8 track players aren't as common as they were 30 years ago. I know cassette recorders and tapes are still manufactured, but mainly for personal recording. It's been years since any major label has released an album on tape cassettes. I have several CD players I don't use. All my CD's get recorded to my computer and turned into MP3's and downloaded to a portable player. I don't have a home stereo, I play all my music through my computer's speakers. The CD may be abandoned altogether as more people download their albums. The tapes and CD's themselves may be playable for decades. the technology used to play them back might not still be widely available.
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Old 03-29-2008, 02:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Musicat
With regard to Cecil's report:I disagree with Cecil's blanket statement. I have audio tapes from each of the last 6 decades, and they were stored in a room-temp environment, but with nothing special for humidity control. Some tapes from the 1950's and 1960's are 100% playable with no noticeable degradation (both acetate and polyester bases), while some from the 1970's are too gummed up to play. Others, stored identically, also from the 1970's, are just fine. The difference is the formula and the manufacturing batch, not the storage. And some of the worst ones now were originally the highest-quality material.

I haven't tried baking any.
Even the best preserved tapes lose signal. You probably won't notice it on audio tapes due to the much lower frequencies involved and the much wider track width. But I've been digitizing VHS, Beta and 3/4" tapes from the 70s and 80s and all have more noise than they originally had. All are still playable, although I've had to do very frequent head cleaning. Luckily I have a stash of proper head cleaner - alcohol just doesn't do the job that fluorocarbons did.
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Old 03-29-2008, 02:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walloon
That's a lovely song, but it's an entirely different "By the light of the moon" than the song on 1860 recording - which is probably most familiar to the average person from being one of the "tracks" on the old Fisher Price record player/music box toy.

The only reasonable youtube version of it that I could find is here:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=Hc-sGiZzWwU
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Old 03-29-2008, 05:01 PM
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And John McCain was barely out of school.

Yes, and Strom Thurmond was about to begin his term as C.S.A. senator.
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Old 03-29-2008, 05:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
Calling this "the oldest known audio recording" stretches the definition of audio recording quite a bit.

What was created could not be played back without 21st Century Equipment.
Nonsense. If I burn a CD but don't have a means to play it back, it's still a recording.
  #46  
Old 03-29-2008, 05:04 PM
Walloon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gorsnak
That's a lovely song, but it's an entirely different "By the light of the moon" than the song on 1860 recording
It's the same song. Don't let the "easy listening" arrangement throw you.
  #47  
Old 03-29-2008, 06:00 PM
aruvqan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walloon
Cecil implies that only microfilm saved the day when the Census Bureau's magnetic tapes of 1960 census data became "unreadable". That's not quite the story. The magnetic tapes contained only aggregate data, not the individual records, and only a very small portion of the tapes was unreadable. From the National Archives:In any case, all of the population schedules containing the raw data from the 1960 U.S. Census had already been microfilmed.
meh, I have an ancient Wang Archive hanging out around here somewhere. Now you want to talk about archaic computer equipment?... It goes nicely with the old Sperry Univac 1616 ballistic computer.
  #48  
Old 03-29-2008, 10:36 PM
mobo85 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walloon
It's the same song. Don't let the "easy listening" arrangement throw you.
It is indeed the exact same song as in the 1860 recording.
  #49  
Old 03-30-2008, 02:59 AM
Kozmik is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Saint Cad
Ironically, reaserchers have long thought that one of Scott's recordings of Lincoln's voice may still exist in the White House archives.
That would be amazing.
  #50  
Old 03-30-2008, 08:27 AM
Walloon is offline
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Since this board is devoted to fighting ignorance, is there any evidence to support this rumor that Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville (1) came to America, (2) met Abraham Lincoln, (3) recorded his voice?

I've seen no evidence to support that rumor.
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