The rumors of the deaths have been greatly exaggerated

In my not-all-that-long lifetime, there was a period of time when school children had to learn to do "base 2" math. Why did we have to do this? Because the day was coming, they said, when ordinary people would use computers, and computers use Base Two Math, and we would need to know how to talk to the computers. Our familiar counting on our fingers and toes wouldn't apply here. Base Ten was dying - at least for the world of technology.

Nobody thought about the possibility that the people who make computers would make computers people friendly. Base Ten didn't die, and the only use I can think of now for the Base Two math that's stuck in my head is as a boredom game of figuring things out - it's good for waiting rooms and things like that.

Another death that has been predicted is the Death of Paper Use. Oh, bruther has that been a crock of full and overflowing (literally!) poopums! Library books: obsolete -- yeah, right! The opposite effect is the reality of the situation. Our books are made of better paper, and better bindings than they have been for a very very long time, and the use of paper has become so insane (and cheap, comparatively) that now it's a virtue to recycle all that paper. In fact, the use of paper isn't really discouraged - it's good to use paper - use lots and lots of paper - because in the end, what can you do with it? This:

Nice, eh? Tidy. Clean. Green. (Fortunately, there are always people who will be sensible and realize things like ... oh, like maybe there's a better wood to use for paper than Douglas Fir, and maybe we don't need to use trees at all for really good paper ... people figure things out.)

And that, my friends, is why I do not panic at the gloom and doom predictions of humans having caused global climate change that will lead to a great warming of the earth and melting of the polar ice caps and flooding of everything in the Northern Americas, right up to the Dakotas and parts of Canada. (Okay, I haven't heard it stated in quite those terms, but very nearly.) See, when I was in high school, shortly after the Base Two Math craze, and at the beginnings of the Paper Will Be Obsolete craze, we were also in the midst of a Global Cooling craze. Thaaaat's right. Global Cooling. It was imminent. Immediate. On our very doorsteps. Another Ice Age - right around the corner. Uh huh. Right. Climates change - that's what they do. And people figure things out. That's what they do. (And meanwhile, they sell magazines with headlines like "be worried - be very worried.")

Today I heard about one more thing that people have figured out. It's just so cool! Or, should I say, she is just so cool? Her name is IRENE - and in this picture, Peter Alyea, a digital conservation specialist at the Library of Congress, scans a record from the 1930s.

See, here's the deal. These old recordings are so fragile that if they're played, they fall apart. So they're taking pictures of the recordings, and playing the pictures!

IRENE isn't perfect. It removes pops and clicks, but it sometimes has a hissing noise in the background. Still, the Library of Congress finds all this encouraging enough that it has started testing the system on hundreds of discs, what Alyea describes as a kind of simulation of what a mass digitization project would be like.

When taking flat photographs, it can create a three-dimensional image of the groove on a record, or on an old wax cylinder. Haber been working with the University of California's Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, to reconstruct sound from field recordings, like one wax cylinder made around 1911 that features a Native American called Ishi.

Haber says it's amazing to hear these voices from the past. "There's this whole human and cultural component to what we're looking at," says Haber, whose main job is studying subatomic particles at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. "That makes it wonderful."

For the full story, and an interactive test you can do to listen to the results, go to NPR's website. And please. Don't talk to me about the doomed anything. I'm not stupid - stuff on earth comes and goes - I know the going happens. But so does the coming. People figure things out.

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