Gimmicky to the point of distraction
October 11, 2012 6:07 PM   Subscribe

What is the most efficient paper-based data storage format? Is this available to the public? And if not, is there a reliable format that would be able to be used in a real world scenario for say.. an incredibly gimmicky album release? Massive volume of paper necessary not a concern.
posted by mediocre to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Efficient as in "amount of information encoded on a page?, "stackable, inexpensive boxes for storing papers," or something else?
posted by zippy at 6:11 PM on October 11, 2012

It will be something like:

Create a grid of the smallest possible differentiable squares, fill each square with one of 256 colors (pick 256 Pantone colors that can be told apart from one another) representing any arbitrary byte. Now, if you can do 200 dots per inch, you can put about 3.5 megabytes on an 8.5x11" sheet of paper.

You'll have to find a 256-color printer, though.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 6:13 PM on October 11, 2012

In the early 2000's, I released a noise based composition I had made ("Black Lodge" - the raravis grouprelease #37-6h) in the form of a long form music video. It was released as an audio file that had to be recorded, in the proper manner, to a series of cassettes and replayed in a PXL-2000. So even if I went through with this paper concept, it wouldn't be the most I have done to release something while simultaneously making it nearly one hundred percent unviewable.
posted by mediocre at 6:14 PM on October 11, 2012

Thank you, tylerkaraszewski, but I am not any sort of computer engineer or anything of the sort. I would need a program to do the encoding and visualization for me.

And zippy - Amount of information storable on a page, while still being something that can be reliably printed at a reasonable cost.
posted by mediocre at 6:17 PM on October 11, 2012

And for that matter, easily scanned I suppose.. since the person who gets it on a page would need to digitize it..

The more I think about it, the less and less it seems possible. Seems odd that I could do something as backwards as the PXL-2000 release and not this however.
posted by mediocre at 6:19 PM on October 11, 2012

Easily scanable, dense encoding? I'd try this: take source data file, gzip it, print it out as hex.

For decoding, scan it and use optical character recognition to recover the original gzipped stream, then unzip it.
posted by zippy at 6:30 PM on October 11, 2012

You're looking for binary-to-text encoding. If you want mystery, easy reproducability, and a reasonably small amount of text, you probably want to XXencode a Bzip.
posted by eschatfische at 6:40 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

My suggestion is to use QR codes on the old green fanfold paper. Have you thought of how the user would scan it? I suggest making an iPhone app. Size the area to be photographed within the Nyquist frequency limits. Include a cardboard scanning jig with the package. Perhaps to really save on the data, the music could be Midi and the vocals separate, then the app combines them.
posted by anon4now at 7:11 PM on October 11, 2012

A CD audio frame (1/75 of a second) is 2352 bytes. A Version 36 QR Code can hold this amount of data in a 161x161 pixel square. At fax resolution (~100 dpi), you could get about 12 per page, so a three minute uncompressed song would only take 1125 pages ...

Decoding the audio would be left as an exercise to the reader.
posted by scruss at 7:23 PM on October 11, 2012

Coding Horror has a good rundown of options for paper-based data storage. This Ars Technica story claims that there is a theoretical maximum storage capacity of about 134 MB per sheet of 8.5" × 11" paper, achieved by encoding each byte of the file into a single ink dot using one of 256 colors, then printing them at 1,200 dpi.
posted by pmdboi at 7:34 PM on October 11, 2012

I think PaperBack may be exactly what you're looking for. It's a program that handles both the writing of digital data to paper, and its restoration from scanned images of the paper.
posted by pont at 7:35 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here's another page about PaperBack with an example of what the format looks like. I agree that it may be your best bet.
posted by pmdboi at 7:43 PM on October 11, 2012

By the way, I just downloaded the latest version of the illustration program Inkscape and it can produce Data Matrix 2D barcodes, via Extensions → Render → Barcode - Datamatrix. Though that's probably lower density than you're looking for.
posted by XMLicious at 10:50 PM on October 11, 2012

I just spent the afternoon playing with Optar. It's a bit of a bear to use, and the defaults don't produce anything useful with the gear I have at home. Once I knocked the resolution down a bit, I could reliably get ~45kB of data per page to print, scan and decode without losses. Optar has a (somewhat) hard-coded limit of 9999 pages, so each file could "only" be 450 MB.

The neat thing about Optar is that it has the footer TWIBRIGHT OPTAR on every page, which is enough for someone to search for. Then it just becomes a small exercise of compiling the program to decode the pages. I like that idea.

Unrecoverable scanning errors make for some interesting glitch noises if your file is an mp3, incidentally.
posted by scruss at 4:56 PM on October 13, 2012

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