Friday, January 29

iPad Frenzy

This is funny.

Someone wrote a post on their blog five years ago, mocking iPod this and iPod that. And tongue-in-cheekly, made a comment on something called an iPad. Really. Replete with image:

It's funny because why? Tuesday I made a similarly tongue-in-cheek reference on Twitter about Apple's new toy tool whatever as such:

"I think iPad is a terrible name. Period."

Little did I know that on that evening I'd find the image above.

Too funny.



I suppose ths would be a fine graphic to use with that motivational poster generator of a week or so ago. Or maybe not.

Saw this on Fark this morning; as I am so emotionally drained - we're still in California - I'm opting for a more non-expressive blog entry. Essentially copying others' work. Sue me.

Maybe expressive wasn't the right word.

Wednesday, January 27

Apple Called It A What?

I think iPad is a terrible name.


Is Search Engine Optimization BS?

I once thought it was, but now I may be "going to the other side".

Looking at my analytic results from Clicky this morning, I had several instances where someone searched for "Double Petunia", a blog post I made in July 2008. Yes, I've been blogging for over a year-and-a-half. Impressive in and of itself. So, just for the heck of it, I did a Google search for the above words and made a startling discovery - the blog post is indexed as:

bob's bs: Double Petunia

...well, now, that's odd. Not so much that I found it, since I knew it was there, but because there was something missing from the title. Not that it was indexed wrong, but that, apparently, once Google has indexed something, there's not much reason for it to go back and take another look. Old blog posts are, for all intents and purposes, static content. Nothing changes. Maybe if I were to add some text or a picture - anything - Google would re-index it.

And what was missing, you may ask?

Look at the title of this post up in the top title bar. IT says:

bob's bs - by Bob DeLong: Is Search Engine Optimization BS?

I had added the Bob DeLong part last year during the "Utah's Top Blogger" competition, put on by Nigel Swaby, an SEO optimizer himself. Due to the way he indexed my site, it was simply by calling out my name, not my blog's title. So I figured I'd better change my blog from being anonymous to something a bit more identifiable. I suppose it was inevitable that I'd do that, since I don't talk about work - much - at least not in name. Besides, somewhere down the line I may reconnect with those who might have need to actually find me. Hopefully for all the good reasons.

So the question remains - how do I get all those old blog posts to be re-indexed? Just by commenting on SEO optimization, I'm sure the web crawlers - machine and organic alike - will pounce on the opportunity like a moth to a flame.

I just hope I don't get burned.

Tuesday, January 26

California Bound

Cousin Erin with her Mom Mary Lou, Balboa Park, July 2007

Marilee and I are headed south to be with Mary Lou and family.

Mary Lou is actually much better than she was yesterday; she's able to move her limbs on command, and is able to follow family members visually around the room.

Updates will be sparse if at all through the weekend.

Please keep her in your thoughts...

Be Aware Of Identity Theft!

You, too, may suffer the same fate as Harold, also seen here and here:

Mary Lou

My Aunt Mary Lou had a massive stroke Sunday night.

She's strong, but she's also 92.

She's on a respirator and on a feeding tube.

She's been like a mother to me all these years - my Mom died 43 years ago.

Please help pray for her.

Sunday, January 24

Social Media Is Global

Apparently, there are those individuals on planet Earth who aren't privy to the realities of the word WORLD in World Wide Web. That everything you say and do - and in particular SAY - can be read by everyone. World-wide. So you better watch it.

Not just your friends, but your family, too. And if that "something" happens to be off-color, however slight, it can be taken in the wrong context.

This isn't about anything in particular - just an observation.

And, surprisingly enough, this isn't at all about gender-specific faux pas - gals do it just as often as guys.

Weird Friends And Relatives

This is a stumper, folks.

The following sign exists somewhere in the world.Where, no one quite knows, as the subject comes up from time to time on social media sites:

Judging by the background - at least to the left of the picture - it's in a mountainous region, possibly near a ski resort due to the empty space between the trees.

But where?

Anyone? Anyone?

Internet Appliances

I was off in some far-off time and space this morning, randomly surfing looking for stuff to spend money on trying to find a plugin that scrolls current Twitter trends on my blog. I did find something to do that, but it was a physical device, with just a need for power and a wired ethernet connection. OK, so it wouldn't scroll from within my blog - but the possibilities of this new find piqued my interest. The product, with but one purpose, is the #twatch (for Twitter Watch I presume); a four-line display watching Twitter for you. At just $40 or so, it's a real steal. Your geek will be overflowing with that one.

Note to self - we'll search for the scrolling Twitter trend plugin later.

After finding the #twatch, what I found next was actually something I'd looked for in the past but was unable to find: a small device to monitor external stimuli, over the internet. For you non-geeks, something akin to watching a webcam trained on a baby in a nursery, but in much simpler terms. Like monitoring if the air conditioner is on or off and possibly even controlling it over the internet from miles away.

Really. Cool. Stuff. Here. Folks.

What I found is, interestingly enough, from the same folks who did the #twatch. From Dangerous Prototypes comes a business-card-sized web server. Yes, you read that right: business-card-sized. While not terribly useful in and of itself, other than to impress your geek friends, the possibilities are rather endless. And with eight I/O pins available, you can do quite a bit with it.

It's time to let your mind wander - and at ONLY $35 as a kit or $40 assembled, it's time to start dreaming.

Paradigms And Synergy

On Twitter last week via @FakeAPStylebook:

Saturday, January 23 Falsehood

There is, along the Wasatch Front in Utah, a billboard campaign set up by Reagan Advertising (at stating that the first word spoken from the Moon was "Houston". As a fellow blogger - Hi Mike! - states on his blog, that's a bunch of hooey - not so much brilliantly stimulating, but Bravo Sierra. Not bob's bs, but real, pure, capitalized BS.

I heartily agree. "Houston" wasn't the first word spoken from the Moon, but "Contact" - when the "feelers" attached to the landing pads made initial contact with the lunar surface.

Forty-one years later, that bit of detail has been lost, likely because "Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed" is monumental, but not necessarily factual, as far as what the record states. Reality is lost in translation. Sticking to the facts is what advertisers should do; changing literal history just to make for better advertising is abhorrent.

If you don't agree with what I've said here, what follows is the actual account of what was said and done during the epic flight of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969:

On this page at time index 102:45:40 (you'll have to scroll through a bit of text to see it) is the "contact" reference from above, beginning with:

Aldrin: Contact Light

followed by:

Armstrong (on-board): Shutdown

It's necessary to comment here that there was a hell of a lot of conversation going on between the astronauts themselves and Mission Control in Houston. And everything was recorded. Had there been an audible burp, even that would have become part of the record. And of history.

It's not until time index 102:45:58 - give or take a few seconds - that "Houston" is said, and one cannot deny that other things were said before "Houston".

I'm sure that Reagan Advertising will have reason to doubt what has been said here, on Mike's blog, and others who have taken this whole matter to task. Continuing the spread of this falsehood and re-arranging history to suit advertising's hold on us should be avoided at all costs - using one of man's greatest accomplishments to do so is just plain wrong.

[Update: Look who has been visiting my blog!]

Sorry, I Couldn't Help Myself

Photoshop these frosty rocks:


OK, I don't have a "thing" for Natalie Portman. But I tend to have my geek on - after all, I did spend hours in line for the original Star Wars in 1977 (do NOT put an IV into the arm of that movie). But after the Natalie Photoshop of last week I figured I'd continue the idea.

After all, it is National Vote Whoring Month on Fark, so I figured what the hell.

Friday, January 22

Technology For Country Folk

Fun stuff for the weekend. From a co-worker...

Another Fark Photoshop

Photoshop this fox:

Aaannnnnnd my entry:
Quick and oh so dirty, I was rather far down the list at only eleven votes.

Another Photoshop contest today was to Photoshop this primo Pacer - as in AMC - but I haven't the patience to find a scantily-clad young lady to drape over the edges of an upturned Pacer.

They always did look like bathtubs, didn't they?

Wednesday, January 20

Weave Me A Cone Yoo Cupid Bat

Using state-of-the-rat technology.

Another classic Dilbert.

You're Welcome

Email from a dear friend the other day - no, not you, someone else - asking how to do something on a website. Went into detail about how to do it, not just any detail, but Bob detail. Those of you "in the know", know what that's like.

Did I receive a thank you? No.

All I got was a totally unrelated email - cuteness abounded within the text - that begged the question: "Would I have gotten the sickeningly sweet email otherwise?"

I'm betting not.

All I could fathom was it was a feigned attempt at saying thank you without actually saying so.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, January 19

Star Bird

Well, that was peculiar; I never posted this. Maybe it was because I was in school and should have been paying attention to... oh, never mind.

This was a Fark Photoshop entry I did on November 30th. Yes, while I was in California. The instructions - Photoshop this soaring sculpture:

Aaannnnnnd my entry:

I had my geek on for this one. In case you want the original - and you know who you are - here 'tis. Maybe perfect for that red shirt you want to embroider...

The contest is now in the Farkives, so there's no more voting; my entry got 16 votes, or ninth place. Not so too bad, no?

Monday, January 18

Harold Gets Around

From a good friend in California:

Free Lunches And Declawing

"The next cat I get is going to be declawed."

So said Marilee, at the beginning of a conversation we just had. The conversation lasted for all of 45 seconds or so.

"Can you imagine how wonderful they'd be if they didn't have claws?"

"Oh yeah. The doctor's bills would be astronomic."

"Is it expensive?"

"Not the vet bill, the doctor's bills."

"But they wouldn't scratch anymo..."

I cut her off.

"When a cat doesn't have their claws to defend themselves, what do you think they use?"

"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."

"Most people don't. They think they answer is to remove the claws to save their furniture, only come to find out the cat is now biting to defend itself. And off the cat goes to a shelter, a humane society, or an animal rescue group. And it scars the cat for life."

"So why is it that when you think of something that's the end-all do-all idea, that something comes up and scatters the idea to the winds?"

"Because there's no such thing as a free lunch."

And that was the end of the conversation. And the end of that whole idea.

Sunday, January 17

Increase Your Visibility

Another Dilbert classic:

Saturday, January 16

Irony Is Ironic

TV commercial just on for Cialis.

Overlaid text said:

See our ad in Golf Digest.

Yeah - may want to distance yourself from that advertising campaign. Gives a whole new meaning to getting it in the hole.

Hull Breach Is Imminent

Poking around an old hard drive backup this morning. Found a whole group of old Dilbert cartoons from the mid '90's. I probably shouldn't post them as I would likely suffer the wrath of [insert ubiquitous cartoon syndicate name here].


Yes, I have more.

Friday, January 15

Vad Betyder

That's Swedish for "what does".

Thus began a search someone did on the Google the other day. Terminated with "quite positive". Apparently, "quite positive" doesn't translate well into Swedish.

So someone IN Sweden did a search for, essentially, "What does 'quite positive' mean?"

No, I'm not providing the answer here, because that's not the issue.

The issue, interestingly enough, is how exactly one finds my blog after doing such a search, and how, exactly, do I know someone did it?

The answer is "Clicky."

Clicky is the way I monitor what all of you do on my blog - what pages you view, how you got here, how long you stayed, etc. And, if you arrived via a search engine, what your exact search terms were.

It's really quite simple and effective. I'd tried other analytic services in the past, but this one tops them all. And at only $30 a year, it's priced right.

They've got a trial version, so you can see what it's like before you plunk down that cash. It's worth taking a look at.

And how do you get Clicky? From their website, of course, at

You'll really like it. I'm quite positive of that.

BSOD And Other Memes

I hadn't seen the following video in a good number of years, but every time I see it, I have to laugh:

Classic funny.

I found it again this morning on a website I was not aware of, and just had to share. "Know Your Meme" gives you up-to-the-moment information on every known internet meme - those ubiquitous tongue-in-cheek sayings and devices that come into our daily routines on the internet.


Thursday, January 14


Apparently, the damn hippie lives in Utah:

And his name is Harold.

Epitome Of The Dog

He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.

You are his life, his love, his leader.

He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.

You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotions.


Wednesday, January 13

Fark Photoshop Entry

[Wednesday evening update: For all intents and purposes, I "won" the contest. Beat out the closest entry by five votes. Yay for me!]

OK, so most of you won't appreciate this Fark Photoshop entry. I thought it was rather clever, considering the premise. The instructions were simple:

Photoshop something into this snowy background:

Aaannnnnnd my entry (yeah, I put it in the foreground. Sue me):

Vote whoring at its finest.

I'm currently "second" in the voting at 19 votes!

New Age Sarcasm

Yeah, but are we really in a new age?

Sarcasm, Inc., is saying that we all need to insert a new piece of punctuation into our already wordy society to offset real, honest dialogue from biting, sarcastic language. How? By inserting a SarcMark, that's how. Like that will work (insert SarcMark here).

Me, I don't like being sarcastic. There are those in our world who really do take things in context, and don't appreciate the unambiguous form of some speech. Myself included. But what I do have a tendency to use is the "other" side of sarcastic language: facetious.

Ask anyone who is around me on a daily basis, and they'll tell you I never say "I'm being sarcastic"; rather, I'll say "I'm being facetious".

So after reading the article at UPI this morning, I did start wondering: am I using facetious language, or sarcastic? And am I using the two terms correctly?

A search for facetious vs. sarcastic brings up first a BlogRot1 entry from 2007 with two examples that sum up the difference nicely:

Facetious: When he whistled at the girls on the street while leering from his convertible, it was easy to make a facetious comment that he was acting like a dog.

Sarcastic: When he whistled at the girls on the street while leering from his convertible, it was easy to make a sarcastic comment that he was acting like an angel.

In other words, the difference appears to be that facetious is a comment that is cute and not hurtful, while sarcasm is irony intended to taunt and hurt.

And what of the SarcMark? You need software to make it work. For only $1.99 you, too, can start using punctuation that half of those on the internet don't know how to use in the first place. The image above is what it looks like. Me? I'll stick with the more-common punctuation of a period.

1 Blogrot refers to a blog which has died an untimely death. Or not. One that may indeed have useful information, but has not been updated for quite some time; as in the case of the one I got the facetious vs. sarcasm reference, it has not been updated since 2007.

Tuesday, January 12

Speaking Of Near-Earth Objects

So that comet or whatever it is I mentioned earlier today may be farther off - that's nuthin.

Tomorrow, Earth will be sideswiped be visited by an object to within 76,000 miles of the Earth's surface. Roughly a third of the distance to the Moon.

Discovered only on January 10th, the asteroid - or whatever it is - is about 10-15 meters in size.

Not to worry, of course. We've had all of three days to prepare. Besides - what could possibly go wro

Artist's Renderings, Or...?

Ever looked at "actual" space telescope photos of supernovae? Honestly, they all look like they were envisioned by artists on a really bad acid trip.

No, I have no knowledge of that.

Still, these images at the Chandra X-ray Observatory from Harvard University are such examples.

Of note on that page is the classically-described, non-descriptive "G1.9+0.3" supernova, which apparently happened just 140 years ago. The explanation as to why there were no accounts of it during the Civil Way are that it was deep in gaseous clouds of matter. Whatever.

What makes this a bit too creepy is that there are naysayers in the outer reaches of credibility that say the ejecta from this supernova is what will spell impending doom for the Earth.

Part of that ejecta is, according to some accounts, is a comet that will be coming our way in the not-too-distant future. When, is anybody's guess.

Yeah, I thought of that, too.


Monday, January 11

Well, I'm Disgusted

But I figure it had to happen, just not so soon.

Folks, it's time for you all to get an Acer Aspire One netbook, too.

Today's woot! is the above-mentioned netbook. For ten bucks less than I got mine for.

Yes, for only $219.99. I'm not terribly bitter. Given the timing, if it were happening only now, I wouldn't be getting one. But for you, there's now time.

Get 'em while they're hot: Get yer woot! here.

Sunday, January 10

Ensuring The Longetivity Of Digital Documents

[The following article appeared in Scientific American in 1995 (full bibliography appears near the end). It presents an intriguing premise we should all be mindful of, even 15 years hence. Food for thought.]

Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents

The digital medium is replacing paper in a dramatic record-keeping revolution. But such documents may be lost unless we act now

by Jeff Rothenberg

The year is 2045, and my grandchildren (as yet unborn) are exploring the attic of my house (as yet unbought). They find a letter dated 1995 and a CD-ROM. The letter says the disk contains a document that provides the key to obtaining my fortune (as yet unearned). My grandchildren are understandably excited, but they have never before seen a CD--except in old movies. Even if they can find a suitable disk drive, how will they run the software necessary to interpret what is on the disk? How can they read my obsolete digital document?

This imaginary scenario reveals some fundamental problems with digital documents. Without the explanatory letter, my grandchildren would have no reason to think the disk in my attic was worth deciphering. The letter possesses the enviable quality of being readable with no machinery, tools or special knowledge beyond that of English. Because digital information can be copied and recopied perfectly, it is often extolled for its supposed longevity. The truth, however, is that because of changing hardware and software, only the letter will be immediately intelligible 50 years from now.

Information technology is revolutionizing our concept of record keeping in an upheaval as great as the introduction of printing, if not of writing itself. The current generation of digital records has unique historical significance. Yet these documents are far more fragile than paper, placing the chronicle of our entire period in jeopardy.

My concern is not unjustified. There have already been several potential disasters. A 1990 House of Representatives report describes the narrow escape of the 1960 U.S. Census data. The tabulations were originally stored on tapes that became obsolete faster than expected as revised recording formats supplanted existing ones (although most of the information was successfully transferred to newer media). The report notes other close calls as well, involving tapes of the Department of Health and Human Services; files from the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, the Public Land Law Review Commission and other agencies; the Combat Area Casualty file containing P.O.W. and M.I.A. records for the Vietnam War; and herbicide information needed to analyze the impact of Agent Orange. Scientific data are in similar jeopardy, as irreplaceable records of numerous experiments conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other organizations age into oblivion.

So far the undisputed losses are few. But the significance of many digital documents--those we consider too unimportant to archive--may become apparent only long after they become unreadable. Unfortunately, many of the traditional methods developed for archiving printed matter are not applicable to electronic files. The content and historical value of thousands of records, databases and personal documents may be irretrievably lost to future generations if we do not take steps to preserve them now.

From Here to Eternity

Although digital information is theoretically invulnerable to the ravages of time, the physical media on which it is stored are far from eternal. If the optical CD in my attic were a magnetic disk, attempting to read it would probably be futile. Stray magnetic fields, oxidation and material decay can easily erase such disks. The contents of most digital media evaporate long before words written on high-quality paper. They often become unusably obsolete even sooner, as media are superseded by new, incompatible formats--how many readers remember eight-inch floppy disks? It is only slightly facetious to say that digital information lasts forever--or five years, whichever comes first.

Yet neither the physical fragility of digital media nor their lemminglike tendency toward obsolescence constitutes the worst of my grandchildren's problems. My progeny must not only extract the content of the disk but must also interpret it correctly. To understand their predicament, we need to examine the nature of digital storage. Digital information can be saved on any medium that is able to represent the binary digits ("bits") 0 and 1. We will call an intended, meaningful sequence of bits, with no intervening spaces, punctuation or formatting, a bit stream.

Retrieving a bit stream requires a hardware device, such as a disk drive, and special circuitry for reading the physical representation of the bits from the medium. Accessing the device from a given computer also requires a "driver" program. After the bit stream is retrieved, it must still be interpreted. This task is not straightforward, because a given bit stream can represent almost anything--from a sequence of integers to an array of dots in a pointillist-style image.

Furthermore, interpreting a bit stream depends on understanding its implicit structure, which cannot explicitly be represented in the stream. A bit stream that represents a sequence of alphabetic characters may consist of fixed-length chunks ("bytes"), each representing a code for a single character. For instance, in one current scheme, the eight bits 01110001 stand for the letter q. To extract the bytes from the bit stream, thereby "parsing" the stream into its components, we must know the length of a byte.

One way to convey the length is to encode a "key" at the beginning of the bit stream. But this key must itself be represented by a byte of some length. A reader therefore needs another key to understand the first one. Computer scientists call the solution to such a recursive problem a "bootstrap" (from the fanciful image of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps). In this case, a bootstrap must provide some context, which humans can read, that explains how to interpret the digital storage medium. For my grandchildren, the letter accompanying the disk serves this role.

After a bit stream is correctly parsed, we face another recursive problem. A byte can represent a number or an alphabetic character according to a code. To interpret such bytes, therefore, we need to know their coding scheme. But if we try to identify this scheme by inserting a code identifier in the bit stream itself, we will need another code identifier to interpret the first one. Again, human-readable context must serve as a bootstrap.

Even more problematic, bit streams may also contain complex cross-referencing information. The stream is often stored as a collection, or file, of bits that contains logically related but physically separate elements. These elements are linked to one another by internal references, which consist of pointers to other elements or of patterns to be matched. (Printed documents exhibit similar schemes, in which page numbers serve as pointers.)

Interpreting a Bit Stream

Suppose my grandchildren manage to read the bit stream from the CD-ROM. Only then will they face their real challenge: interpreting the information embedded in the bit stream. Most files contain information that is meaningful solely to the software that created them. Word-processing files embed format instructions describing typography, layout and structure (titles, chapters and so on). Spreadsheet files embed formulas relating their cells. So-called hypermedia files contain information identifying and linking text, graphics, sound and temporal data.

For convenience, we call such embedded information--and all other aspects of a bit stream's representation, including byte length, character code and structure--the encoding of a document file. These files are essentially programs: instructions and data that can be interpreted only by appropriate software. A file is not a document in its own right--it merely describes a document that comes into existence when the file is interpreted by the program that produced it. Without this program (or equivalent software), the document is a cryptic hostage of its own encoding.

Trial-and-error might decode the intended text if the document is a simple sequence of characters. But if it is complex, such a brute-force approach is unlikely to succeed. The meaning of a file is not inherent in the bits themselves, any more than the meaning of this sentence is inherent in its words. To understand any document, we must know what its content signifies in the language of its intended reader. Unfortunately, the intended reader of a document file is a program. Documents such as multimedia presentations are impossible to read without appropriate software: unlike printed words, they cannot just be "held up to the light."

Is it necessary to run the specific program that created a document? In some cases, similar software may at least partially be able to interpret the file. Still, it is naive to think that the encoding of any document--however natural it seems to us--will remain readable by future software for very long. Information technology continually creates new schemes, which often abandon their predecessors instead of subsuming them.

A good example of this phenomenon occurs in word processing. Most such programs allow writers to save their work as simple text, using the current seven-bit American Standard Code for Information Interchange (or ASCII). Such text would be relatively easy to decode in the future if seven-bit ASCII remains the text standard of choice. Yet ASCII is by no means the only popular text standard, and there are proposals to extend it to a 16-bit code (to encompass non-English alphabets). Future readers may therefore not be able to guess the correct text standard. To complicate matters, authors rarely save their work as pure text. As Avra Michelson, then at the National Archives, and I pointed out in 1992, authors often format digital documents quite early in the writing process and add figures and footnotes to provide more readable and complete drafts.

If "reading" a document means simply extracting its content--without its original form--then we may not need to run the original software. But content can be lost in subtle ways. Translating word-processing formats, for instance, often displaces or eliminates headings, captions or footnotes. Is this merely a loss of structure, or does it impinge on content? If we transform a spreadsheet into a table, deleting the formulas that relate the table's entries to one another, have we affected content? Suppose the CD in my attic contains a treasure map depicted by the visual patterns of word and line spacings in my original digital version of this article. Because these patterns are artifacts of the formatting algorithms of my software, they will be visible only when the digital version is viewed using my original program. If we need to view a complex document as its author viewed it, we have little choice but to run the software that generated it.

What chance will my grandchildren have of finding that software 50 years from now? If I include a copy of the program on the CD, they must still find the operating system software that allows the program to run on some computer. Storing a copy of the operating system on the CD may help, but the computer hardware required to run it will have long since become obsolete. What kind of digital Rosetta Stone can I leave to provide the key to understanding the contents of my disk?

Migrating Bits

To prevent digital documents from being lost, we must first preserve their bit streams. That means copying the bits onto new forms of media to ensure their accessibility. The approach is analogous to preserving text, which must be transcribed periodically. Both activities require ongoing effort: future access depends on an unbroken chain of such migrations frequent enough to prevent media from becoming physically unreadable or obsolete before they are copied. A single break in this chain renders digital information inaccessible, short of heroic effort. Given the current lack of permanence of media and the rate at which their forms evolve, migration may need to be as frequent as once every few years. Conservative estimates suggest that data on digital magnetic tape should be copied once a year to guarantee that none of the information is lost. (Analog tapes may remain playable for many years because they record more robust signals that degrade more gradually.)

In the long run, we might be able to develop long-lived storage media, which would make migration less urgent. At the moment, media with increased longevity are not on the horizon. Nevertheless, the cost of migration may eventually force the development of such products, overriding our appetite for improved performance.

An ancient text can be preserved either by translating it into a modern language or by copying it in its original dialect. Translation is attractive because it avoids the need to retain knowledge of the text's original language, yet few scholars would praise their predecessors for taking this approach. Not only does translation lose information, it also makes it impossible to determine what information has been lost, because the original is discarded. (In extreme cases, translation can completely undermine content: imagine blindly translating both languages in a bilingual dictionary into a third language.) Conversely, copying text in its original language (saving the bit stream) guarantees that nothing will be lost. Of course, this approach assumes that knowledge of the original language is retained.

Archivists have identified two analogous strategies for preserving digital documents. The first is to translate them into standard forms that are independent of any computer system. The second approach is to extend the longevity of computer systems and their original software to keep documents readable. Unfortunately, both strategies have serious shortcomings.

On the surface, it appears preferable to translate digital documents into standard forms that would remain readable in the future, obviating the need to run obsolete software. Proponents of this approach offer the relational database (introduced in the 1970s by E. F. Codd, now at Codd & Date, Inc., in San Jose, Calif. ) as a paradigmatic example. Such a database consists of tables representing relations among entities. A database of employees might contain a table having columns for employee names and their departments. A second table in the database might have department names in its first column, department sizes in its second column and the name of the department head in a third. The relational model defines a set of formal operations that make it possible to combine the relations in these tables--for example, to find the name of an employee's department head.

Because all relational database systems implement this same underlying model, any such database can in principle be translated into a standard tabular form acceptable to any other system. Files represented this way could be copied to new media as necessary, and the standard would ensure readability forever.

Flaws of Translation

Regrettably, this approach is flawed in two fundamental ways. First, relational databases are less standardized than they appear. Commercial relational database systems distinguish themselves from one another by offering features that extend the relational model in nonstandard ways. Moreover, the limitations of such databases are already leading to the adoption of new models. The tables in a relational database cannot transparently show structure. That is, the database could not immediately make it clear that a corporation consisted of one headquarters, five national offices, 25 divisions and 100 departments. Various object-oriented database models (which can represent structure directly) are evolving to satisfy this need. Such rapid evolution is neither accidental nor undesirable. It is the hallmark of information technology.

Furthermore, far from being a representative example, relational databases are practically unique. No other type of digital document has nearly so formal a basis for standardization. Word processors, graphics programs, spreadsheets and hypermedia programs each create far more varied documents. The incompatibility of word-processing files exemplifies this problem. It did not arise simply because companies were trying to distinguish their products in the marketplace. Rather it is a direct outgrowth of the technology's tendency to adapt itself to the emerging needs of users.

As yet, no common application is ready to be standardized. We do not have an accepted, formal understanding of the ways that humans manipulate information. It is therefore premature to attempt to enumerate the most important kinds of digital applications, let alone to circumscribe their capabilities through standards. Forcing users to accept the limitations imposed by such standards or restricting all digital documents to contain nothing but text as a lowest common denominator would be futile. The information revolution derives its momentum precisely from the attraction of new capabilities. Defining long-term standards for digital documents may become feasible when information science rests on a more formal foundation, but such standards do not yet offer a solution.

Translating a document into successive short-term standards offers false hope. Successive translation avoids the need for ultimate standards, but each translation introduces new losses. Would a modern version of Homer's "Iliad" have the same literary impact if it had been translated through a series of intermediate languages rather than from the earliest surviving texts in ancient Greek? In theory, translating a document through a sequence of standards should enable scholars to reconstruct the original document. Yet that requires each translation to be reversible without loss, which is rarely the case.

Finally, translation suffers from a fatal flaw. Unlike English and ancient Greek, whose expressive power and semantics are roughly equivalent, digital documents are evolving so rapidly that shifts in the forms of documents must inevitably arise. New forms do not necessarily subsume their predecessors or provide compatibility with previous formats. Old documents cannot always be translated into unprecedented forms in meaningful ways, and translating a current file back into a previous form is frequently impossible. For example, many older, hierarchical databases were completely redesigned to fit the relational model, just as relational databases are now being restructured to fit emerging object-oriented models. Shifts of this kind make it difficult or meaningless to translate old documents into new standard forms.

The alternative to translating a digital document is to view it by using the program that produced it. In theory, we might not actually have to run this software. If we could describe its behavior in a way that does not depend on any particular computer system, future generations could re-create the behavior of the software and thereby read the document. But information science cannot yet describe the behavior of software in sufficient depth for this approach to work, nor is it likely to be able to do so in the near future. To replicate the behavior of a program, there is currently little choice but to run it.

For this reason, we must save the programs that generate our digital documents, as well as all the system software required to run those programs. Although this task is monumental, it is theoretically feasible. Authors often include an appropriate application program and operating system to help recipients read a digital document. Some applications and system software may remain ubiquitous, so that authors would need only to refer readers to those programs. Free, public-domain software is already widely available on the Internet. Moreover, when proprietary programs become obsolete, their copyright restrictions may expire, making them available to future users.

How can we provide the hardware to run antiquated systems and application software? A number of specialized museums and "retro-computing" clubs are attempting to maintain computers in working condition after they become obsolete. Despite a certain undeniable charm born of its technological bravado, this method is ultimately futile. The cost of repairing or replacing worn out components (and retaining the expertise to do so) must inevitably outweigh the demand for any outmoded computer.

Fortunately, software engineers can write programs called emulators, which mimic the behavior of hardware. Assuming that computers will become far more powerful than they are today, they should be able to emulate obsolete systems on demand. The main drawback of emulation is that it requires detailed specifications for the outdated hardware. To be readable for posterity, these specifications must be saved in a digital form independent of any particular software, to prevent having to emulate one system to read the specifications needed to emulate another.

Saving Bits of History

If digital documents and their programs are to be saved, their migration must not modify their bit streams, because programs and their files can be corrupted by the slightest change. If such changes are unavoidable, they must be reversible without loss. Moreover, one must record enough detail about each transformation to allow reconstruction of the original encoding of the bit stream. Although bit streams can be designed to be immune to any expected change, future migration may introduce unexpected alterations. For example, aggressive data compression may convert a bit stream into an approximation of itself, precluding a precise reconstruction of the original. Similarly, encryption makes it impossible to recover an original bit stream without the decryption key.

Ideally, bit streams should be sealed in virtual envelopes: the contents would be preserved verbatim, and contextual information associated with each envelope would describe those contents and their transformation history. This information must itself be stored digitally (to ensure its survival), but it must be encoded in a form that humans can read more simply than they can the bit stream itself, so that it can serve as a bootstrap. Therefore, we must adopt bootstrap standards for encoding contextual information; a simple, text-only standard should suffice. Whenever a bit stream is copied to new media, its associated context may be translated into an updated bootstrap standard. (Irreversible translation would be acceptable here, because only the semantic content of the original context need be retained.) These standards can also be used to encode the hardware specifications needed to construct emulators.

Where does this leave my grandchildren? If they are fortunate, their CD may still be readable by some existing disk drive, or they may be resourceful enough to construct one, using information in my letter. If I include all the relevant software on the disk, along with complete, easily decoded specifications for the required hardware, they should be able to generate an emulator to run the original software that will display my document. I wish them luck.

JEFF ROTHENBERG is a senior computer scientist in the social policy department of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif. He received a master's degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin in 1969 and then spent the next four years working toward a doctorate in artificial intelligence. His research has included work in modeling theory, investigations into the effects of information technology on humanities research, and numerous studies involving information technology policy issues. His passions include classical music, traveling, photography and sailing.


TEXT AND TECHNOLOGY: READING AND WRITING IN THE ELECTRONIC AGE. Jay David Bolter in "Library Resources and Technical Services," Vol. 31, No. 1, pages 12-23; January-March 1987.

TAKING A BYTE OUT OF HISTORY: THE ARCHIVAL PRESERVATION OF FEDERAL COMPUTER RECORDS. Report 101-978 of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Operations, November 6, 1990.

ARCHIVAL MANAGEMENT OF ELECTRONIC RECORDS. Edited by David Bearman. Archives and Museum Informatics, Pittsburgh, 1991.

UNDERSTANDING ELECTRONIC INCUNABULA: A FRAMEWORK FOR RESEARCH ON ELECTRONIC RECORDS. Margaret Hedstrom in American Archivist, Vol. 54, No. 3, pages 334-354; Summer 1991.

ARCHIVAL THEORY AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES: THE IMPACT OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES ON ARCHIVAL PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES. Charles M. Dollar. Edited by Oddo Bucci. Information and Documentation Series No. 1, University of Macerata, Italy, 1992.

SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: EXPLORING THE IMPACT OF CHANGES IN THE RESEARCH PROCESS ON ARCHIVES. Avra Michelson and Jeff Rothenberg in "American Archivist," Vol. 55, No. 2, pages 236-315; Spring 1992.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN January 1995 Volume 272 Number 1 Pages 42-47

Scientific American (ISSN 0036-8733), published monthly by Scientific American, Inc., 415 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017-1111. Copyright 1994 by Scientific American, Inc. All rights reserved. Except for one-time personal use, no part of any issue may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic or electronic process, or in the form of a phonographic recording, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or otherwise copied for public or private use without written permission of the publisher. For information regarding back issues, reprints or permissions, E-mail

Saturday, January 9

Chris Buttars Is Going To Love This One

It's already a forgone conclusion that Chris Buttars is a homophobe. That much is certain, considering events in recent Utah Legislative sessions. But this year, it's gonna hit real close to home.

On the other side of the Capitol from where Mr. Buttars sits, will be Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, who will have another active role than just being a member of the Legislature. The lesbian lawmaker announced she's a surrogate mother, carrying a baby for two gay men from Salt Lake City.

Senator Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, says "I do respect any woman who will carry and bear a child for a childless couple ... It's my responsibility to show respect and love for one of God's daughters."

House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, agrees. "At the end of the day, it's the gift of life" that is important, he said.

The article from the Associated Press closes by saying "...Johnson said she doesn't think her constituents will react negatively to her pregnancy." Then again, her constituents are from the most liberal city in Utah.

Constituents aside, how one Senator in particular reacts is anybody's guess.

Stay tuned.

When I'm Quiet

...things may be going on in my head Marilee would rather not know about.

Case in point: Just now we were watching a TiVo'ed recording of the Smoking Gun's World's Dumbest. I made some snide comment about the show's uniqueness, and she said something equally as snide that I had found it, and anything - negative or positive - was therefore my fault.

At which time I picked up the netbook and became rather quiet.

What the original thought ws, I cannot remember, but the event will be remembered for quite some time.

"Shall I blog about this next time dear?"

Thursday, January 7


I try not to collect more clutter than I can deal with, but sometimes it gets a bit too deep. Similarly, my blog might, from time to time anyway, get cluttered as I try out new and varied ways to keep you around. After all, the idea is for me to write, and you to read. What a concept.

So tonight, I have added more "stuff" which I hope doesn't clutter the landscape too badly.

It's called LinkWithin; you'll see it as either five small thumbnails of content between my posts or as five separate text links. Not to worry, though - all the links remain within my blog, so you won't have to leave. Immediately, anyway.

Oh, and the best part about LinkWithin? It's free.

Give LinkWithin serious consideration for your blog - it can only increase your traffic, and there's nothing wrong with that!

Seen On Twitter

Johnny Carson once said there were several billion inhabitants of planet earth. That the population had grown to that extent during the entirety of his reign on the Tonight Show. And that the majority of those people would soon have their own late-night talk show.

With the current state of the economy and so many out of work, was this gem on Twitter:

14.9 million Americans are now unemployed. That's a lot of new blogs.

(via @badbanana)

Going Backward

Why is it that perfectly good phrases either go out of style or are replaced by seemingly overburdened phrases?

Case in point: "Going forward". What was so wrong with "in the future"?

Similarly, "at this point" has been further emphasized by adding "in time".

I'd really like to know who the a$$hole overpaid MBA was that originated "going forward". Oh, wait, this isn't just Bob's version of bs. I'm not the only one who believes we've heard enough of the phrase.

In Charles Cooper's blog over at CNET, he wonders the same thing. He suggests it become somewhat of a drinking game. Every time some suit says "going forward", donate a hundred bucks to some deserving charity.

That's a future we can all believe in. Going forward.

Tuesday, January 5

Super, But Not Really A Hero

You read it here first. OK, so you just read it here.

Yes, Tiger Woods is still in the news. At The Daily Planet.

Brought to you by my crack reporting of The Soup's crack reporting of Entertainment Tonight's crack reporting of Vanity Fair's crack reporting is this video of... well, you be the judge.

Tall buildings, etc.

Too funny:

Is It Testing, Or Analysis?

I've a doctor's appointment today that will likely be the most gruelling of all the tests to date for my "condition."

Yeah, OK, so I haven't - still - been very specific. Don't expect anything more. Let's just continue to call it a "condition."

The appointment is a follow-on to this post, where I refer to "pieces being left to pick up."

THIS appointment is about the glue.

Monday, January 4

Just A Quick Acer Aspire Review

You'll recall I wrote about getting a new netbook last week. Not so much a Christmas present, but an early birthday one.

I've been playing with using it for just four days, and I'll tell you what...

Wait, there's a better story about this.

Over the weekend, Marilee bought an e-book from Barnes and Noble online. To view it, she had to download a program as well.

She: "Can I do this?"

Me: "I think you can handle it."

Some time later...

"Can you look at this? The program won't run."

So I look, mentally record the error, then hit the B&N website. I, too, download and run the program, and sure enough, it works OK on "The Little Guy."

The difference? "The Little Guy" is running Windows XP, and Marilee's laptop, Windows 2000.

Since my old decrepit Windows 2000 laptop, still threadbare, does still run, I figured I'd load the B&N program on it, too. Same problem, won't run. Though B&N says it'll run on 2000, it has likely been updated ad nauseum such that it no longer runs on the rock-solid OS.

So what's a geek to do, since she wants to read the e-book?

Begrudgingly I hand her "The Little Guy." And wonder when again I'll see it.

And only a few minutes into reading, says she:

"Do these come in pink?"

Yeah, I like "The Little Guy."

I'm typing on it now. The keyboard spacing takes a bit of getting used to, and the screen at 10.1 inches is just right for what I intend to use it for: Writing.

Small enough that It cradles nicely in my lap, and the screen brightness and clarity is perfect for corresponding and the impending Great American Novel.

Should you get one? Depends on what you'll use it for. Don't expect any high-level graphic editing, or high-end anything for that matter.

I'll have more of an idea in a week or so as far as real usability is, once I try going a bit more mobile and seeing what folks' reactions are. Thus far it's only Marilee, and Taylor calls it a mini-laptop.

If only I had a mini-lap.

Top This And Top That

OK, folks, the originality is waning. Do a search for "top ten 2009" on Google and the number is staggering.

OK, not quite a million, but getting close at 868,000.

Besides, who really cares about the Top Ten 2009 Cryptozoology Deaths? Unless you're a cryptozoologist, I suppose.

And Top Ten 2009 Costumes for Halloween? OK, so that list was made in August. August? Before Halloween?

And this gem: Top Ten 2009 Trinidad and Tobago Soca Songs, with the subtext of "so far".

OK, so maybe I'm going a bit too far. But so are the writers who don't seem to be able to come up with any new material.

What's next? Writing about top ten lists?

Oh wait...

Sunday, January 3

Demotivational Posters

Oh, yes, you are most certainly going to waste time with this one.

I absolutely hate the motivational poster concept. Most people do. Hate them, that is. In fact they turn out to be rather de-motivational. Sometimes even a laughing-stock.

So one company came out with the concept OF de-motivational posters. Despair, Inc., has been creating these familiar posters for some time; one favorite is shown below:

...maybe for obvious reasons.

As you can imagine, it's fairly easy to create this type of image - a picture, a border, and some catchy text. But what if you're not particularly adept at making you own de-motivational posters?

Would it be cool enough for you to find a do-it-yourself de-motivator?

Yeah, I thought so.

Also from Despair, Inc., is their Parody Motivator Generator.

Knock yourself out!

Never A Year Like '09

This was too cute not to post - yet another montage about the year past, but this time with production values:

Trib Trim

An article in the Trib yesterday - yes, I'm commenting on the other Salt Lake daily - says that to cut costs, they're going to make the Sunday comics smaller. Overall, trimming the section from eight pages to just six.

But they're not cutting content, just forcing some of the demographic to use magnifying glasses (their term).

They say in the article that in the past they've polled their readership as to what comics they'd rather see - the younger demographic wants "Get Fuzzy", for example. But the older demographic? Being of that "older" group, my concern would be losing the likes of Dennis the Menace, a moniker I personally have been referred to over the years. Being follicly challenged, I no longer have a cowlick, but still.

But what surprised me about the Trib's reference to the older demographic and what comics they'd rather not see leave the comic section runs to the likes of:

Prince Valiant
Rex Morgan, MD
Judge Parker
Brenda Starr


How long ago was that survey done?

Saturday, January 2

Heard On Tekzilla

If you want me to fix your PC, I accept Pastaware.

In other words, FEED ME.
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