Researchers find old Warhol image files in unknown format

We talk about ensuring that you have backups of your files quite a bit, but one topic that isn't discussed very often is how to ensure that you will have the proper tools to load your backups in the future. While we assume that standards like .JPG and .DOCX will last forever, there's plenty of lesser-known file formats and video codecs that future computers may not be able to read.

A group of people in the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club discovered this first hand. After discovering through a YouTube video that Commodore partnered with artist Andy Warhol in the 80s, the group decided to reach out to the Andy Warhol Museum and other artistic folks to search through old files and see if there were any unique hidden gems. After years of work, they found a staggering 28 images that the world had never seen before.

However, it wasn't as easy as plugging in a floppy disk and loading the files into Photoshop. The disks, circa 1985, were frail and the data on them was in a format that nobody could read. The groups used a KryoFlux to make copies of the disks, and after sorting through many files, identified several that ended with a .PIC extension with no known way to view the images. After reverse-engineering the content of the files, the team was able to convert the files to PPM (a similar raw format), and then convert again to PNG so that they could be displayed. The entire process was quite interesting and the published white paper lends a lot of details on the process.

From an artistic perspective, this is a wonderful find. However, it should also be a reminder that file formats that make sense to you today might not be easily readable in the future.

Source: Studio for Creative Inquiry | Image courtesy of the Andy Warhol Museum

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