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Re: digital age

Richard Miller mentioned problems converting some back issues of digital
records of a newsletter.

The following was posted this morning on the Medieval Text List:

Date:    Wed, 10 Feb 1999 09:04:59 CST
From:    Jim Marchand <marchand@UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU>
Subject: Viewing files, was MAC

I mentioned yesterday that there was a file viewer which would open almost
any format, and two people asked me what it was, so I will post here in case
there are other interesteds: It's QuickView Plus.  With it you can view and
print (even bring into your WordProcessor) .uue, .zip, .bmp, .ppt, .doc,
.wpd, etc. files and even view the original embedded codes, if you have a
taste for it.  It views over 200 file types.  Note that I am not shilling
for them, and that you can get lots of different kinds of file viewers from
the net and from Simtel.
Jim Marchand.

As regards the persistence of digital files/formats, it may be useful to
remember that a few years ago, when the (U.S.) National Archives was
thinking about going to CD's for data preservation (after the Library of
Congress had begun exploring/using this technology) they contracted a
study.  The study (sorry, don't have my copy to hand for a citation) was
headed up by a Bell Laboratory scientist, and the conclusion was that only
human-readable records could be considered permanent.  That meant paper or

The National Archives ignored the recommendation and went for glitz.

In the late 1980's I attended an archival conference in British Columbia
and among the exhibitors was a company selling these new fangled CD-ROMs.
At the time, there were two companies in the US with the capability of
producing CD masters; Kodak and some other firm.  The cost to master a CD
at the time was approx. $10,000.

One of the salesmen poured catsup on a CD and then stepped on it.  After
cleaning, the CD was put in the CD player and the data were still there.


But the length of time that the data contained on a CD is viable is not the
issue, as others have mentioned.

The length of time that the data may be recovered is the issue.

Vacuum tubes and resistors are hardy bits of technology.  Solid circuit
boards, transistors, and computer chips are not hardy.  They degrade over
time because they are the product of ephemeral technology.  The laser beam
which reflects data bits from the divots on a CD can go awry, and when it
does (and it will) who will re-callibrate it?

When the drive motor on the CD goes bad (and it will) who will carry the
replacement motor?  In 20 years/30 years?  I have been unable to locate a
replacement cooling fan for an old (5 yr. old) 500 megabyte hard drive.
The original manufacturer (still in business) could not do so, and neither
could anyone else.

The information on wax cylinders, shellac records (78 RPM records), glass
records, and vinyl records can still be recovered, even when the belts on
the players have gone stiff and break up, because new belts are easy to
make.  Needles?  Gem quality needles are best, but I have played old 78's
with nothing more complicated than a cactus needle (yes, from a cactus

Recovering the information from old wires is more difficult (wire recorders
were the Beta & 8-track format of their day).  In this instance, the
machines may still work, but so many of the reels of wire were kinked &
pinched and turned into rat's nests that it is hardly worth the effort to
untangle them.  Probably.

Just a thought,


Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab.
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, OR  97217

503/735-3942  (voice/fax)


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