Friday Four

Friday, August 24, 2012

1. It's not every day that I get wind of good news from the Drudge Report, but it happened this morning. The fact that this can even be a serious headline is what I find encouraging, rather than any near-term expectations on my part: "Republicans Eye Return to Gold Standard".

2. Thank you! I've gotten a good handful of emails concerning my impending move. I'm a slow, terse correspondent these days, but I will answer them all. Until then, it's good to know that my following has both size and quality -- and better to know that I'll soon be making new friends.

3. Whether you recall Zip drives with a vague sense of nostalgia or had a friend with a BeBox, you might enjoy perusing this essay on "Our Favorite 'Forgotten Tech'".

4. What does this Arsenal fan think of the sale of Robin van Persie to rivals Manchester United? Well, I wasn't happy about it, but it was plain he wanted to leave and I thought team manager Arsene "Moneyball" Wenger (scroll down) did a good job of extracting the most money out of the deal he could get.

And while it is true that van Persie is twenty-nine and injury-prone, I think we get the best perspective on the deal from another Arsenal fan:

Last year, Van Persie scored 37 goals in total (30 in the League) for Arsenal. What we need is to find players that can give us the same amount of goals, and in [new signings] Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla, Arsene Wenger has already done that. Lukas Podolski had a 20 last year, Giroud 21 and Cazorla 9. Even if you put a discount on this being their first season in the Premiership, say for example 30% , you will still get more than the 30 goals that Van Persie scored last year. No wonder Le Boss says he doesn't need to replace Van Persie.
Also, although it was frustrating to see a draw in the opening game of their Premier League campaign last week, I must say I can see why Santi Cazorla made this list of top transfers. As for Alex Song, who also left, all I can say is that I am glad Wenger is also paying attention to team chemistry.

Finally, a Tweet I recall being quoted to the effect that Wenger had sold the phone (van Persie) to United and the charger (Song) to Barcelona had me smiling.

-- CAV


Dismuke said...

I remember zip drives. I thought they were so cool and kinda wanted one. Imagine - a single disk that could replace dozens of floppies. But I never got one because the fact that they had a high price tag and I really didn't NEED one gave me pause. Good thing, I guess.

On the other hand, in favor of the floppy disk, at about the same time they had cameras that used floppy disks for storage. I thought that it was a brilliant idea - and that would be the ONLY sort of digital camera that I would consider. To me, the problem with cameras with internal memory or flash memory, which was expensive at the time, was that, once you ran out of memory, you couldn't take any more pictures unless you could make it back to your computer - which, in my case, would have been at home perhaps hundreds of miles away. Buying more memory for more pictures was expensive and hard to do if you were in a remote area. Floppy disks, on the other hand, were cheap and fairly easy to find. It was the best of all possible worlds - you didn't have to limit the number of photos you took. You didn't have to worry about running out of memory because it used an inexpensive medium almost as easy to find as film. And, as a bonus, you didn't have to pay for film processing on the back end.

I never bought such a camera. Just a very few years later, the whole notion of such a thing was obsolete. Now it seems downright primitive. We are living in an age where you don't have to be old in order to feel like an old timer.

Gus Van Horn said...

I used Zip drives a lot in grad school and in my first post-doctoral position. I shifted to CD-RW, but would have used the optical drives the author spoke of had I used a Mac or been at an institution that did. Organizing image data stored on CDs IS a nightmare.

My use of Zip drives, incidentally coincided with an early enough era in Linux that things like that didn't just work out of the box. In order to work at home, I had to compile a special operating system kernel just to be able to use a Zip drive on my home computer.

Dismuke said...

The other problem with CD-R (not sure about CD-RW) is that, in my opinion, they should not be considered as anything other than short-term storage. I have a NUMBER of CD-R disks that I either burned myself or purchased from others online that became completely unreadable on any computer within a very few years - I am talking here, in some cases, two or three years. These are disks that were stored properly and, in some cases, used only on one occasion.

Now, it is true that in most such cases it involved cheapo low priced CD-R disks. Perhaps the more expensive and the so-called "archival" disks last longer. But I just don't trust the things to last. Given how inexpensive storage has become, my advice is if you have anything important stored on such disks, make a backup to a hard drive or flash drive (which you also back up)

Gus Van Horn said...

That's good advice. I have had a similar experience with DVD copies of data from lab experiments that I found to be unreadable when wanting to recover some file or other.

Of course, I also have commercially-prepared CDs and DVDs that are a few years old and perfectly fine, so perhaps something goes wrong often enough for personal PC users that the average Joe should not count on them...

Dismuke said...

Commercial, mass market type CDs are pressed and not burned. They do have a much longer lifespan.

But even here, there are concerns. When the CD first came out in the 1980s, they were touted as being able to last for a couple of hundred years. The CD has been around now for over 25 years - and, as it turns out, people over the past few years have been discovering that those early CDs are not lasting.

This is actually a huge concern for archivists. Future generations will know our age through digital archives. But the question is how long will our storage media last? Basically, the solution as of right now is to have backups as well as a data migration plan in place to transfer data from older storage media to newer. But that assumes somebody is actually going to do it. It is not uncommon for historically priceless documents such as letters by famous people to suddenly be discovered in archives after having been there overlooked for decades. Many archives have far more material than they have human beings to actually go through it all. But if a hard drive or floppy disc is overlooked for decades or sits on an old computer in somebody's basement, it might be too late.

This is not a new problem, however. A very sizable percentage of films from the silent and early talkie eras are now lost because the film material was unstable and deteriorated after only a few decades. Many early talkies survive only because of the advent of television and a lot of forgotten older films were transferred to new media because early TV stations were desperate for programing they could use to fill up the broadcast day. Surviving 19th century wax cylinder records are rapidly being lost due to mold and age. And magnetic tape from as recently as the 1960s is deteriorating in a process known as "vinegar syndrome" due to the smell that occurs. So major efforts are underway in all those instances to transfer the information before it is too late. But, chances are, in a few years/decades, those transfers will need to be transferred again or else the information will once again be at risk for being lost.

The one storage medium that does seem to stand up over time is the standard shellac 78 rpm record. They have been around for over 110 years now. Of course, many have wear and scratches as a result of use and improper handling. But, in most cases, a copy that has only been lightly played and properly stored will play just as well today as it did when it was brand new. The later vinyl records will last a long time too - but not likely as many centuries as the earlier shellac records.

So the moral to the story is, unless your information is on acid free paper or analog phonograph records, you need to plan for eventual data migration. And, in the case of paper, if the information is one of a kind, you will most likely want to also have a digital backup.

Easy advice to give, harder to practice. I have a bunch of photos I really need to get around to scanning and some CDs from the early 1990s I probably ought to rip to .wav files.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the additional information about CDs. (Shortly after arriving in Boston, I ripped my entire music CD collection, and now rip any additional CD I acquire first thing.)

Another, related issue is that anyone using proprietary data formats should also have a plan in case the company owning the format goes belly-up or the format falls out of favor (and doesn't get supported by later OS's or versions of software). As a corollary, I would make sure anything in a format that can't be read by more than one company's application(s) should be exported to a more accessible one. (.docx, I'm looking at you.)

Dismuke said...

A few years back I was in a used computer store. It was a large building filled with all sorts of REALLY out of date computer hardware. I commented on the appearance of an old monitor. The owner told me that the monitor was designed for and would only work for some sort of pre-DOS era computer and went on about how happy he was to have acquired it. I asked if, besides its historical value, it was worth anything monetarily. Turns out he planned to sell it at a price much higher than a modern monitor - and not as a collector's item but because there are people who are still using such computers and modern monitors are incompatible. "Who would still be using such an ancient computer?" I asked. He said a lot of office buildings built during the 1980s used a software program designed for those computers to run their elevator systems. The software will not run on modern computers. And similar software for a modern computer costs around $25,000. And since all the software needs to do is move elevators from floor to floor, the modern software offers zero enhancements or benefits over the old in terms of its basic purpose. So if the monitor on one of those old computers breaks down, it is a lot cheaper to pay several hundred dollars for used monitor verses many thousands of dollars for a whole new setup.

Gus Van Horn said...

I am a little surprised that someone hasn't written an emulator that would enable the old program to run on a modern platform. (Perhaps it has been done, but lots of people don't know about it.)

In any event, despite the fact that one can't expect EVERYONE to be computer experts (not that I am one), stories like this still manage to leave me surprised that people do not think longer-range about software. There really is no reason an old program that serves its purpose should not be able to run on new software.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "In any event, despite the fact that one can't expect EVERYONE to be computer experts (not that I am one), stories like this still manage to leave me surprised that people do not think longer-range about software. There really is no reason an old program that serves its purpose should not be able to run on new software." And tying into Zip disks too...

I did a research project almost a decade ago in which, because I was low man on the totem pole in my department, I used the oldest Mac still running, with proprietary sound analysis software (and associated hardware in a little box that connected between the keyboard and the computer) that was no longer cutting edge, and saved my sound files on Zip disks. I got interesting results and an MA degree out of it, but (1) the company that designed the sound analysis package folded shortly afterwards, (2) the university lost the technicians able to repair the Mac I was using, and (3) no one uses Zip disks any more. The result? My department gave me the computer and associated hardware, including the Zip drive, because they were total write-offs and no one else in the department was foolish enough to use such outdated hardware. (I signed onto the dead end a year or so before it became clear it was a dead end, I gather.) This was fine...until the Mac died. It turned out to be simpler to retransfer my recordings (which were on DAT and still readable) into other formats amenable to open source software for speech analysis. Ugh, whadda pain.

Gus Van Horn said...

Even OSS sometimes has compatibility issues. I have some old Star Office documents in its native format that I currently can't access -- unless I install my old copy on a RedHat 5.3 VM I set up in order to use Matlab 6.1 a while back to plot some old data.