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Re: Bridges to the past; links to the future

At 1:02 AM -0800 97/05/11, Jack C. Thompson wrote:
>If the point is archival storage and retrieval of meaningful information,
>then digitzation is far from the perfect medium.  Hardware is part of the
>problem, but some people think that there will always be someone around who
>can cobble together a work-around.  Well, it is possible to replace heads
>after a head crash, but the disk, floppy or hard, is shot and the data it
>held is no longer available.
>But what about chips.  There ain't a garage in the world capable of
>cranking out a Pentium chip.  When the chips are down, and they do go down,
>the computer becomes a paper weight.
>It is not at all obvious that archives or libraries will keep up with
>technological change at a rate sufficient to preserve the information in
>their care.  And it is not cheap.  If it were, there would not be so much
>concern about the huge expense of simply changing the date on computers as
>we move into the next century.
>There is a very simple relationship to keep in mind.  The MTBF (Mean Time
>Before Failure) of electronic equipment (such as computers) is measured in
>the thousands to tens of thousands of hours of work.
>The MTBF of competently manufactured paper is measured in centuries and
>No contest.

Jack, you are absolutely right. The French government considered
digitization for their new billion dollar library and gave up on it for the
reasons you just mentioned. By the time the whole library could be
processed (millions of books, billions of pages) they would have gone
through several generations of equipment, software standards, etc. Since
1980 I have used at least 14 generations of computers (on 3 platforms) and
countless of software updates. There is an Encyclopedia of computer
graphics out there, and it is about one thousand pages thick. Yes, life is
that simple...

I understand that massive amounts of data from the Vietnam War era are no
longer accessible. I remember hearing that there were only two computers
left in the world to process the data and nobody alive to do it.

At one point, over the next decades, it should be possible to store data at
the atom level on something as stable as stainless steel. Some patents have
already been granted regarding this technology. Then we'll be talking about
*massive* storage and hopefully means of massive digitization and
transfers. This ain't here yet and I'm not holding my breath. The Library
of Congress and other major organizations are keeping an eye on these
issues. The Go Ahead signal will come from them.

Luis Nadeau
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

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