Discussion:
Microfilm!
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RS Wood
2018-08-05 22:45:19 UTC
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From the «the equipment to read it, however» department:
Title: Microfilm Lasts Half a Millennium
Author: ***@slashdot.org
Date: Sun, 05 Aug 2018 13:00:00 -0400
Link: http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/OZ0_pIRnUOQ/microfilm-lasts-half-a-millennium

Millions of publications -- not to mention spy documents -- can be read on
microfilm machines. But people still see these devices as outmoded and
unappealing. From a report: I recently acquired a decommissioned microfilm
reader. My university bought the reader for $16,000 in 1998, but its value has
depreciated to $0 in their official bookkeeping records. Machines like it
played a central role in both research and secret-agent tasks of the last
century. But this one had become an embarrassment. The bureaucrats wouldn't let
me store the reader in a laboratory that also houses a multimillion-dollar
information-display system. They made me promise to "make sure no VIPs ever see
it there." After lots of paperwork and negotiation, I finally had to transport
the machine myself. Unlike a computer -- even an old one -- it was heavy and
ungainly. It would not fit into a car, and it could not be carried by two
people for more than a few feet. Even moving the thing was an embarrassment. No
one wanted it, but no one wanted me to have it around either. And yet the
microfilm machine is still widely used. It has centuries of lasting power ahead
of it, and new models are still being manufactured. It's a shame that no
intrigue will greet their arrival, because these machines continue to prove
essential for preserving and accessing archival materials. [...] Microfilm's
decline intensified with the development of optical-character-recognition (OCR)
technology. Initially used to search microfilm in the 1930s, Emanuel Goldberg
designed a system that could read characters on film and translate them into
telegraph code. Further reading: 'You Had to Be There': As Technologies Change
Ever Faster, the Knowledge of Obsolete Things Becomes Ever Sweeter.

[image 2][2][image 4][4][image 6][6]

Read more of this story[7] at Slashdot.
[image 8]

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Eli the Bearded
2018-08-06 06:45:05 UTC
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Post by RS Wood
Title: Microfilm Lasts Half a Millennium
Date: Sun, 05 Aug 2018 13:00:00 -0400
Link: http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/OZ0_pIRnUOQ/microfilm-lasts-half-a-millennium
Millions of publications -- not to mention spy documents -- can be
read on microfilm machines. But people still see these devices as
outmoded and unappealing. From a report: I recently acquired a
decommissioned microfilm reader. My university bought the reader for
$16,000 in 1998, but its value has depreciated to $0 in their official
bookkeeping records.
Which one is microfilm again? The photo-reduced documents on spools of
clear tape? I used to love browsing old magazines on those when I was in
university. Or the photo-reduced to index card sized clear plastic?
Never used those much, a bit more tedious. The only way I can see a
reader for either of those costing more than a couple hundred bucks is
if it was the fancy type that could also "photocopy" the stuff to a
sheet of letter paper. Neither technology is going to be hard for an
amateur to rig up a reader, it's basically just backlight the item and
enlarge.

Compare that to the near herculean task of reading the 1980s Doomsday
Project files, stored on archival LaserVision Read Only Memory: the
laser disk version of a CDROM. Have you ever seen a laser disk player?
If you are old enough, maybe. I haven't seen one since that guy's
microfilm reader was new. I have NEVER seen a LVROM reader.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project

Huh, look at that:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LV-ROM

The format had only one application: To publish documentary video,
children's writings, and other historical records compiled from 1984
to 1986 for the BBC Domesday Project.

Specialized hardware like that is a good way to make your data unusable.
But a $5 (retail) microscope attachment for a cellphone will read
microfiche or microfilm, albeit awkwardly.

The original Doomsday Book (from 1086) is only a little harder to read,
and that mostly because it's in Latin. It's going to hit a full
millennium soon.

Elijah
------
don't knock the old ways just because their old
Roger Blake
2018-08-06 14:40:49 UTC
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...Have you ever seen a laser disk player?
I have two of them, and a decent library of discs.
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Ant
2018-08-07 02:14:58 UTC
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Post by Roger Blake
...Have you ever seen a laser disk player?
I have two of them, and a decent library of discs.
My king ant still has them even though he doesn't use anymore. Same for VCRs
and VHS tapes. :O
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Roger Blake
2018-08-07 03:36:10 UTC
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Post by Ant
My king ant still has them even though he doesn't use anymore. Same for VCRs
and VHS tapes. :O
I like firing up the old stuff once in a while. Even still have a working
RCA "needlevision" CED disc player. VHS? I've got Betamax.
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Michael Black
2018-08-06 14:58:51 UTC
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Post by Eli the Bearded
Specialized hardware like that is a good way to make your data unusable.
But a $5 (retail) microscope attachment for a cellphone will read
microfiche or microfilm, albeit awkwardly.
Someone used to sell a "personal" microfilm reader, it wasn't a microscope
but it was fairly cheap. I'm thinking it was in the Edmund Scientific
catalog.

There were articles in the hobby and radio magazines about using a camera
to copy desired magazine articles. I guess it wasn't "microfilming", but
the idea was that a roll of developed film was smaller than the original.

There was a period when some company was microfilming magazines and
offering to consumers the full run of the magazine. Kind of expensive,
and then not many years later, made useless by digital techniques. People
would rather have an archive on CD or DVD. One magazine that allowed the
microfilming decided that was good enough, no sense offering a digital
archive, at least not till the magazine died and the full run of the
magazine landed at archive.org.

Even the companies issuing on CD or DVD seem to have faltered. Rolling
Stone had all their issues on CD or maybe DVD, and it was somewhat
expensive but with a large book. A couple of years later, 2009, I found
it as a small set minus the book, for twenty dollars. I think that was a
clearance, but there was already a big price drop from the initial foray.
Mad Magazine had a set, but didn't bother keeping it in print. I thought
Playboy had it all on CD or DVD, but that didn't stay in print either,
they decided to sell by the back issue online. National Geographic keeps
at it, I got a full set some years back for $20, though it wasn't the
latest set so I missed the most recent couple of years at the time. I
guess their customers tend to keep the issues, so they'd love to dupm
fifty or sixty years of paper magazines by getting a DVD set.

Michael
Bruce Horrocks
2018-08-06 17:40:19 UTC
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Post by Eli the Bearded
Post by RS Wood
Title: Microfilm Lasts Half a Millennium
Date: Sun, 05 Aug 2018 13:00:00 -0400
Link: http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/OZ0_pIRnUOQ/microfilm-lasts-half-a-millennium
Millions of publications -- not to mention spy documents -- can be
read on microfilm machines. But people still see these devices as
outmoded and unappealing. From a report: I recently acquired a
decommissioned microfilm reader. My university bought the reader for
$16,000 in 1998, but its value has depreciated to $0 in their official
bookkeeping records.
Which one is microfilm again? The photo-reduced documents on spools of
clear tape? I used to love browsing old magazines on those when I was in
university. Or the photo-reduced to index card sized clear plastic?
Micro-fiche is the index card one.

[At the risk of sounding like Dr. Seuss]:
Micro-fiche still has a niche for PDF archive that needs to survive.

i.e. print to PDF, or similar, then transfer the PDF to micro-fiche and
store. Cheap and reliable for long-term storage of large volumes of,
typically Government, records.
Post by Eli the Bearded
Never used those much, a bit more tedious. The only way I can see a
reader for either of those costing more than a couple hundred bucks is
if it was the fancy type that could also "photocopy" the stuff to a
sheet of letter paper. Neither technology is going to be hard for an
amateur to rig up a reader, it's basically just backlight the item and
enlarge.
Compare that to the near herculean task of reading the 1980s Doomsday
Project files, stored on archival LaserVision Read Only Memory: the
laser disk version of a CDROM. Have you ever seen a laser disk player?
Yep. A friend has one. In working order. But not the Doomsday disk,
sadly. I did use one as a child once - one had been set up in my local
public library. It was overrated even then!

Actually, that's a bit unfair - the technology was literally brand new
so as well as acquiring the content, the navigation etc all had to be
designed as well. It worked, but it was all a bit slow and clonky.

There are some well-known (ish) quirks as well: searching for the town
of Tunbridge Wells, for example, returns nothing. You need to know that
the town's full name of Royal Tunbridge Wells was used in the index.
(<https://www.visittunbridgewells.com>)
Post by Eli the Bearded
If you are old enough, maybe. I haven't seen one since that guy's
microfilm reader was new. I have NEVER seen a LVROM reader.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LV-ROM
The format had only one application: To publish documentary video,
children's writings, and other historical records compiled from 1984
to 1986 for the BBC Domesday Project.
Specialized hardware like that is a good way to make your data unusable.
These days you just need a ransomware virus and you can make your data
unusable on non-specialized hardware as well. ;-)
Post by Eli the Bearded
But a $5 (retail) microscope attachment for a cellphone will read
microfiche or microfilm, albeit awkwardly.
The original Doomsday Book (from 1086) is only a little harder to read,
and that mostly because it's in Latin. It's going to hit a full
millennium soon.
Elijah
------
don't knock the old ways just because their old
--
Bruce Horrocks
Surrey
England
(bruce at scorecrow dot com)
Bob Eager
2018-08-06 18:31:32 UTC
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Post by Bruce Horrocks
There are some well-known (ish) quirks as well: searching for the town
of Tunbridge Wells, for example, returns nothing. You need to know that
the town's full name of Royal Tunbridge Wells was used in the index.
(<https://www.visittunbridgewells.com>)
They should have named it with a suffix, like Bognor Regis.

But bugger Bognor.
--
Using UNIX since v6 (1975)...

Use the BIG mirror service in the UK:
http://www.mirrorservice.org
Kerry Imming
2018-08-07 12:44:54 UTC
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Post by Bruce Horrocks
i.e. print to PDF, or similar, then transfer the PDF to micro-fiche and
store. Cheap and reliable for long-term storage of large volumes of,
typically Government, records.
Does anyone know if micro-film/fiche will as long as paper documents
(i.e. 1000 years or more)? In some ways it may be more durable than
paper, but will still need some technology to read it, albeit a simple
microscope.

Anything that needs electronics and/or a decoder for the format does not
seem like a good archival medium.
Bruce Horrocks
2018-08-07 16:31:23 UTC
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Post by Kerry Imming
Post by Bruce Horrocks
i.e. print to PDF, or similar, then transfer the PDF to micro-fiche
and store. Cheap and reliable for long-term storage of large volumes
of, typically Government, records.
Does anyone know if micro-film/fiche will as long as paper documents
(i.e. 1000 years or more)?  In some ways it may be more durable than
paper, but will still need some technology to read it, albeit a simple
microscope.
Anything that needs electronics and/or a decoder for the format does not
seem like a good archival medium.
Given the degree that language evolves, any society that manages to
continue to fund universities and therefore the education of scholars in
historic languages over a thousand year period, will be more than
capable of continuing to be able to provide basic optical instruments.
--
Bruce Horrocks
Surrey
England
(bruce at scorecrow dot com)
Rich
2018-08-07 16:40:44 UTC
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Post by Kerry Imming
Post by Bruce Horrocks
i.e. print to PDF, or similar, then transfer the PDF to micro-fiche
and store. Cheap and reliable for long-term storage of large
volumes of, typically Government, records.
Does anyone know if micro-film/fiche will as long as paper documents
(i.e. 1000 years or more)?
Since no one around today has any 1,000 year old micro-film/fiche the
honest answer is "no one knows".

However, even paper can be problematic at times (consider all the paper
from the 40s-90s or so that was on "acid-paper" that is now slowly
turning to dust). One has to remember that what "paper" we do have
that is 1,000 years old is also the few 'lucky' bits that managed to
survive that long (and then likely also because the bits were 'lucky'
to be in a climate conducive to long term paper storage [dry]). I.e.,
there's a bit of survivorship-bias [1] in looking at our 1,000 year old
samples and declaring "this is good for archiving".
Post by Kerry Imming
In some ways it may be more durable than paper, but will still need
some technology to read it, albeit a simple microscope.
Anything that needs electronics and/or a decoder for the format does
not seem like a good archival medium.
That is the big problem with digital data. The data itself does not
degrade, but the technology to access it disappears much too quickly.
Try buying an 8" floppy disk drive today (anywhere other than eBay for
old-stock). So with digital data there is a constant need to migrate
it to newer storage media as the old media go out of production.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias
Computer Nerd Kev
2018-08-07 23:28:53 UTC
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Post by Rich
Post by Kerry Imming
Post by Bruce Horrocks
i.e. print to PDF, or similar, then transfer the PDF to micro-fiche
and store. Cheap and reliable for long-term storage of large
volumes of, typically Government, records.
Does anyone know if micro-film/fiche will as long as paper documents
(i.e. 1000 years or more)?
Since no one around today has any 1,000 year old micro-film/fiche the
honest answer is "no one knows".
However, even paper can be problematic at times (consider all the paper
from the 40s-90s or so that was on "acid-paper" that is now slowly
turning to dust). One has to remember that what "paper" we do have
that is 1,000 years old is also the few 'lucky' bits that managed to
survive that long (and then likely also because the bits were 'lucky'
to be in a climate conducive to long term paper storage [dry]). I.e.,
there's a bit of survivorship-bias [1] in looking at our 1,000 year old
samples and declaring "this is good for archiving".
Ideally you want something that doesn't burn either.
--
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Dan Purgert
2018-08-08 09:58:01 UTC
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Post by Computer Nerd Kev
[...]
Ideally you want something that doesn't burn either.
Hm, I guess using celluloid was a bad idea then...
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Kerry Imming
2018-08-09 12:22:41 UTC
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Post by Computer Nerd Kev
Ideally you want something that doesn't burn either.
We know the conditions that preserve paper for >1000 years and it takes
no technology to read it other than understanding the language.
Micro-fiche is (my estimate) 500x denser so we should store that in
parallel and in 900 years decide whether it's better.

Maybe I've read too many dystopian novels, but I don't assume that
technology will be more advanced in 1000 years. That archive
information would be most useful to a culture that was starting over
and/or trying to understand what went wrong*.

- Kerry

* Sorry. I'm really not all doom-and-gloom. I hope for the best but
prepare for the worst.
Dan Purgert
2018-08-09 13:20:28 UTC
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Post by Kerry Imming
Post by Computer Nerd Kev
Ideally you want something that doesn't burn either.
We know the conditions that preserve paper for >1000 years and it takes
no technology to read it other than understanding the language.
Micro-fiche is (my estimate) 500x denser so we should store that in
parallel and in 900 years decide whether it's better.
Maybe I've read too many dystopian novels, but I don't assume that
technology will be more advanced in 1000 years. That archive
information would be most useful to a culture that was starting over
and/or trying to understand what went wrong*.
Assuming MINITRU hasn't revised the microfilm countless times in the
interim. :)
--
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Eli the Bearded
2018-08-07 21:58:10 UTC
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Post by Kerry Imming
Does anyone know if micro-film/fiche will as long as paper documents
(i.e. 1000 years or more)? In some ways it may be more durable than
paper, but will still need some technology to read it, albeit a simple
microscope.
The original post claimed "half a millennium", ie ~ 500 years.

Elijah
------
this is obviously a still untested assertion
Bob Eager
2018-08-06 18:29:59 UTC
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Post by Eli the Bearded
Post by RS Wood
http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/OZ0_pIRnUOQ/microfilm-
lasts-half-a-millennium
Post by Eli the Bearded
Post by RS Wood
Millions of publications -- not to mention spy documents -- can be read
on microfilm machines. But people still see these devices as outmoded
and unappealing. From a report: I recently acquired a decommissioned
microfilm reader. My university bought the reader for $16,000 in 1998,
but its value has depreciated to $0 in their official bookkeeping
records.
Which one is microfilm again? The photo-reduced documents on spools of
clear tape? I used to love browsing old magazines on those when I was in
university. Or the photo-reduced to index card sized clear plastic?
Never used those much, a bit more tedious. The only way I can see a
reader for either of those costing more than a couple hundred bucks is
if it was the fancy type that could also "photocopy" the stuff to a
sheet of letter paper. Neither technology is going to be hard for an
amateur to rig up a reader, it's basically just backlight the item and
enlarge.
Microfiche needs higher resolution (i.e. a better lens). That seems to be
where the money goes.

I actually have a printing microfiche reader.

And, as of six hours ago, I have a scanning microfiche reader. Just
unloaded it from the car.
--
Using UNIX since v6 (1975)...

Use the BIG mirror service in the UK:
http://www.mirrorservice.org
Computer Nerd Kev
2018-08-06 23:10:32 UTC
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Post by Bob Eager
Post by Eli the Bearded
The only way I can see a
reader for either of those costing more than a couple hundred bucks is
if it was the fancy type that could also "photocopy" the stuff to a
sheet of letter paper. Neither technology is going to be hard for an
amateur to rig up a reader, it's basically just backlight the item and
enlarge.
Microfiche needs higher resolution (i.e. a better lens). That seems to be
where the money goes.
I'm not sure about that. I was recently introduced to an old
breifcase-sized personal Microfiche viewer, whose owner had
forgotten that it wasn't "something to do with the computer".

Still working, it was all plastic and projected onto a reflective
surface on the lid of its own case. Mains or battery operation.
I had a go and it was fairly usable (probably a bit better once
you got the hang of it).

Then again, said owner did then remember that it cost a lot, and
suddenly started treating it with some greater reverence. :)
Post by Bob Eager
I actually have a printing microfiche reader.
And, as of six hours ago, I have a scanning microfiche reader. Just
unloaded it from the car.
You're clearly (hopefully?) much better off for bench space than me.
--
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Bob Eager
2018-08-07 09:17:30 UTC
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Post by Computer Nerd Kev
Post by Bob Eager
The only way I can see a reader for either of those costing more than
a couple hundred bucks is if it was the fancy type that could also
"photocopy" the stuff to a sheet of letter paper. Neither technology
is going to be hard for an amateur to rig up a reader, it's basically
just backlight the item and enlarge.
Microfiche needs higher resolution (i.e. a better lens). That seems to
be where the money goes.
I'm not sure about that. I was recently introduced to an old
breifcase-sized personal Microfiche viewer, whose owner had forgotten
that it wasn't "something to do with the computer".
Still working, it was all plastic and projected onto a reflective
surface on the lid of its own case. Mains or battery operation.
I had a go and it was fairly usable (probably a bit better once you got
the hang of it).
I have one of those, in storage now.
Post by Computer Nerd Kev
Post by Bob Eager
I actually have a printing microfiche reader.
And, as of six hours ago, I have a scanning microfiche reader. Just
unloaded it from the car.
You're clearly (hopefully?) much better off for bench space than me.
The printing one is OK, but needs hard-to-get toner. Hence the scanner.
Once proved to work, the printing one will be surplus to requirements.
--
Using UNIX since v6 (1975)...

Use the BIG mirror service in the UK:
http://www.mirrorservice.org
Mike Spencer
2018-08-06 20:41:53 UTC
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Post by Eli the Bearded
Compare that to the near herculean task of reading the 1980s Doomsday
Project files, stored on archival LaserVision Read Only Memory: the
laser disk version of a CDROM. Have you ever seen a laser disk player?
If you are old enough, maybe.
Would that be the 12" video disk? The MIT Media Lab's annual report
of 198[mumble] was released on 12" video disk. (I have one but no way
to play it.)

Oddly enough, I spotted a home entertainment player for 12" disks in
a client's home in small town Nova Scotia some time in the 80s, too.
It played the disk on edge with most of the shiny disk exposed. Never
did learn how they came to have such an unusual device in a
neighborhood still with many dial phones.
Post by Eli the Bearded
I haven't seen one since that guy's
microfilm reader was new. I have NEVER seen a LVROM reader.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LV-ROM
The format had only one application: To publish documentary video,
children's writings, and other historical records compiled from 1984
to 1986 for the BBC Domesday Project.
Or maybe that's not the same tech you're talking about.
--
Mike Spencer Nova Scotia, Canada
Computer Nerd Kev
2018-08-06 23:20:37 UTC
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Post by Mike Spencer
Post by Eli the Bearded
Compare that to the near herculean task of reading the 1980s Doomsday
Project files, stored on archival LaserVision Read Only Memory: the
laser disk version of a CDROM. Have you ever seen a laser disk player?
If you are old enough, maybe.
Would that be the 12" video disk? The MIT Media Lab's annual report
of 198[mumble] was released on 12" video disk. (I have one but no way
to play it.)
Oddly enough, I spotted a home entertainment player for 12" disks in
a client's home in small town Nova Scotia some time in the 80s, too.
It played the disk on edge with most of the shiny disk exposed. Never
did learn how they came to have such an unusual device in a
neighborhood still with many dial phones.
Perhaps it was RCA's CED format, which used capacitance rather than
reflectivity to store the data:
http://www.cedmagic.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacitance_Electronic_Disc

I know it mainly thanks to recently seeing this great video that RCA
made about their manufacturing process back in the day:

--
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Visiblink
2018-08-21 03:30:28 UTC
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On Mon, 6 Aug 2018 06:45:05 +0000 (UTC)
Post by Eli the Bearded
Which one is microfilm again? The photo-reduced documents on spools of
clear tape? I used to love browsing old magazines on those when I was
in university. Or the photo-reduced to index card sized clear plastic?
Microfilm is the clear tape on the spools. Microfiche is the card
format.
Post by Eli the Bearded
Never used those much, a bit more tedious.
Agreed. I'm a historian and I despise microfiche. It's extremely
annoying to navigate.

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