Sunday, December 2, 2007

Episode 4 - Format is the Enemy of Content

Yes we still exist. However, working at a University you tend to get sorta busy during the term. We aplogize to our listeners, especially faithful commenters like Markus and Rachel, not to mention our recent emailers, Tom and Autumn.

The amazing thing is that, in the four intervening months between episodes 3 and 4 there has been no change in what we wanted to talk about. Format wars affect us all. Indeed, the writer's strike going on in the US right now (which means no new episodes of House, Numb3rs or the Unit, much to Dave's chagrin..) is about formats. Writers get nothing for internet video. So that is why they are on strike, seems like a good cause.

The classic format war is VHS vs. Beta back in the 1980s, and now we have HD DVD vs. Blu Ray. In between we had Amiga vs. Atari ST vs PC vs Apple, we had cassettes vs records, hell, you could even consider Papyrus vs. Paper, sorta....

This comes up of course in Ken's line of work. What if you have a database that was built in the 1970s that nobody now knows how to rad? Dave mentioned that on Star Trek they never seem to have a problem reading alien computers, indeed, it seems that everyone uses some for of UNIX in the future...

Please email us, and thanks for you patience.

Enjoy Episode 4


Ken Hernden said...

Our talk last night kept me thinking about content and social adaptations to its use. This got me thinking about the 5th anniversary of Creative Commons as well as the GPL and CopyLeft. Are we seeing the most interesting thinking about social contracts since the age of Locke, Hobbes, et. al., and is all of this less about technology and more about how we all get along (or don't)?

Dave Brodbeck said...

Ken I think you are right, it comes down to the fact that the tech is just a tool, but it is changing with us and sometimes driving social change. Some of this change is sorta scary... but some is good too.

Anonymous said...

I've got a bunch of randomized thoughts on this one:

Congratulations on your team's victory, Christine! Woo hoo!

As I remember it, Michael Ventris is the guy known for deciphering Linear B, and he was, professionally, an architect. (But he also spoke six current languages and read Latin and Greek, so he obviously had not spent all his time designing houses.) He died very young and a classical scholar took over (John Chadwick).

Speaking of formats, the Voyager spacecraft (the real one, not the one from the Star Trek movie that I pretend never happened) has a phonograph record on it. An LP. That you play on a record player. Today it might have been sent with a digital file, and no one on the other end would figure out how to play it, if they even figured out it was there. But they sent along a cartridge and needle, and some sort of symbolic instructions, and maybe it'll get heard somewhere, someday.

I have a better question about Star Trek's ability to instantly absorb every format of electronic data--what with all this wanton downloading and uploading, don't they have viruses, or virus checkers, or at least think about viruses in the 24th century? Because the one time it happened (Contagion), no one could figure out what had happened. (I suppose you could say that Masks was a computer virus, too, since the alien probe was re-forming the ship altogether....) Anyway, maybe they have a computer "Universal Translator." Which is to say it makes no sense.

What seems to come out of your conversation, ultimately (on topic, that is), is that if anyone wants content preserved, use hardcopy. We can read printed matter, and look at art from the ancient world, but we can't read electronic data from 10 years ago unless it's been consistently updated from format to format. Also, if we have another "dark age" for whatever reason it's unlikely that the electric infrastructure will survive, and nothing electronic will be accessible no matter how up to date the format is. Printed books/manuscripts/codices/scrolls/writing-of-any-sort-in-hardcopy would still be accessible, however. (Unless burned up for heat and light--but would computer disks fare any better?) (Obviously, I read too many post-apocolyptic novels in my youth.)

Happy Chanukah, all (Tuesday night)!

Anonymous said...

Heh--just was reading my new MacWorld magazine, and there's a question to Mac 911 about what format to store documents in, seeing as the writer wants his documents to last forever. (That's HIS word, not mine.) The answer given (by the columnist, Christopher Breen) was that plain text is the best bet, but that he was betting that PDF would be safe for a long time, since governments are using that, and bureaucracies don't like to make changes.

And then he added:
"Finally, if your words are that important to you, may I suggest that you also save them in physical form? If you've see Planet of the Apes, you understand that our civilization could one day revert to a nontechnical, agrarian society--with or without Charlton Heston's help. I'm not anxious to see more trees slaughtered than necessary, but you might want to take your very best work, print in on archival stock paper with archival ink, and place it in a protective binder or case. It may not be the flashiest way to preserve your ideas, but it's one that has worked for countless generations."

Always assuming one has sufficient storage space, and no one needs kindling.