"Not of this world, and nothing bites like I do." -Danzig, "Not of This World"

Rescanning Memories

(Another one from the vaults. I think I wrote this a year ago, maybe two, and I’m not really sure why I never posted it. So… Here it is. -Rob)

Back in the fall of 1994 when I was working for Best Buy, very few people were plugged in to the World Wide Web. In fact, that Fall I myself was only using text-based internet services (IRC and FTP mostly, with a bit of Gopher on the side). It was my friend Justin who, early in 1995, first introduced me to the graphical web.

So one day I went to my store manager and pitched the following idea: I would create a basic “online store” containing scans of every program we sold in the computer section of Best Buy. People would be able to find the program they wanted online and then come into the store to buy it. To do this though, I would need access to a good flatbed scanner (and I didn’t have one). Somehow, I got them to agree to the following proposition: I would bring my own personal computer from home into Best Buy and, using one of the display scanners from the sales floor, I would scan in the cover of every software box. With those images, I would be able to build my little online “store”. I keep putting “store” in quotes because I had no idea how to actually set up an online store back then. I just knew how to make static webpages that displayed pictures and played MIDI music.

During this same time, our store was being remodeled from an “old-style Best Buy,” and as a result there were other employees there literally around the clock. I was told that I could bring my home computer in after hours, set it up in the front office, hook up a display scanner, and scan anything I wanted. And so I did.

Part of what I scanned was of course software boxes. I did, however, have an ulterior motive in all of this; with me, each night, I also brought stacks of photographs. After scanning software boxes for a while, I’d scan in my own personal photographs for a while. The scanner (an HP brand, although I forget the model number) was faster than any I had used before — still, it took well over a minute to scan each photo.

Those scans are the ones that still live in my digital photo directory today. They’re not great quality, and the resolution isn’t very high. Take for example this picture:

My digital scan of that photograph isn’t much larger than that (it’s 437 by 297 pixels). It’s big enough to see who’s in the picture and to remember the photograph, but it’s certainly not better or even truly representative of the original.

Last year I purchased an HP C410 all-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax machine. It’s wireless, compact, and does a hell of a job for me. It’s got a 50-page sheet feeder up top for scanning in multiple page documents (I’ve used it a few times to scan in magazines — works great), and a flat bed scanner for scanning in photographs. At 300 DPI (much higher than the scanner I used back at Best Buy), it takes about 5 seconds to scan in a photograph.

To compare the earlier, original scan to the one I did last night, click here. As you can see, the newer scan on the photograph is much larger and more detailed.

I’ve had access to flat bed scanners throughout the years, so I’m not sure why I haven’t done this before. Older, dedicated flat bed scanners took up a lot of desk space, so I didn’t keep my old one plugged in and hooked up all the time. These newer all-in-one units are much more convenient.

Many of our old photographs, including all of our old wedding photos, I only have in the older, smaller resolution. As I run across those, I’ll be scanning them in at this higher resolution.

However, it begs a question; when you convert analog media to digital formats, should you get rid of the original? I don’t think I’ve ever actually thrown away a photograph, but I have tossed out cassette tapes after converting them into mp3s, and what was once good quality 5 or 10 years ago is now considered to be barely acceptable. If nothing else, it makes you think.

(NOTE #1: The photo above is of me, my sister, my cousin Valerie, and a random cowboy. It was taken at Old Tucson in 1984.)

(NOTE #2: The Best Buy project never went live, and the software scans are long, long gone.)

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2 comments to Rescanning Memories

  • ubikuberalles

    In answer to your question (throw away the originals) I would say: no, keep them.

    At least for photographs, since it is unlikely you will have a scanner that will scan at a resolution higher than the photograph it self (thousands of pixels per inch – to the point where you see the actual dye clusters in the photo). If you toss the photos and then get a cheap scanner that has much higher resolution than what you used on the previously scanned photos, you will regret your decision of tossing the pics.

    For video and audio I would give a qualified yes. If the video and audio you scanned were commercial items (movies, albums etc.) then, sure, toss them. Keep the albums if you want the artwork (of course, you can scan that). For personal, original stuff, keep it. Same resolution argument applies but they could also be used as a backup in case your hard drive fails or the data is corrupted somehow.

  • Kevin

    Definitely keep the originals, I agree with Ubik. If for no other reason, they’re a moment in time on the photo paper itself, and they can bring back more memories than a digital scan ever could (no matter how crisp and close the scan is… the weathering is sometimes the best part).

    I do need to ask, do you still break dance?