Monday, March 24, 2014

From Moldy Books to Bit Rot

From: GreatBigCanvas

“As man has progressed from prehistoric times to today, the fact of historic documentation has determined implicitly our sense of history and advancement. Prehistoric times were by definition prior to man's ability to record in any way what went on so that future generations could learn from the experiences and mistakes of the prior generations. Advancement went slowly because what little knowledge was generated was passed on verbally or in ways that obviously did not survive for very long.
     Only with the development of the ability to record facts and thoughts (thought to be best noted by the cuneiform writings of scribes tracking goods in early Mesopotamia if my history teacher's work serves me correctly) did information survive easily from generation to generation.
     What we are talking about is blandly called 'bit rot' in the digital world. This describes the loss of data due to any one of a number of phenomena but is typified by the inability of today's generation of computer systems to read the product of yesterday's and the extension of this to anything digital, including recordings of audio and video.”
— Richard Pitt, The Digital Rag
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“Somewhere in a cobwebby corner of my computer's hard disk are a few manuscripts I wrote 15 years ago on my first PC. The word-processing software I used then was grandly named The Final Word. It was anything but. I've gone through a dozen word processors since then, and nearly as many computers. To keep older documents accessible, I've had to transfer and transform them repeatedly, from one disk to the next and from one file format to another. […]
     One cause for worry among archivists is the impermanence of digital storage media. In this respect civilization has been going downhill ever since Mesopotamia. Paper documents cannot match the longevity of the Sumerians' clay tablets, and magnetic media seem to be even more evanescent than paper. That's disturbing news, and yet I suspect that relatively few disks or tapes have yet died of old age. Long before the disk wears out or succumbs to bit rot, the machine that reads the disk has become a museum piece. So the immediate challenge is not preserving the information but preserving the means to get at it.”
— Brian Hayes, American Scientist
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