Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Apollo 11 tapes go missing

"A SCIENTIST is trying to track down a series of high quality magnetic tapes that record the Apollo 11 extra vehicular adventure (EVA) on the Moon before it is too late and they disappear forever."

Interesting, and sad, and probably related in a way to this story. Nobody cares about this old data until it's gone missing.

When I was at a well known agency there were people at least speculating about archiving data to DVD or large format CD type storage for long-term, but as far as I know nothing actually came of it. During my time there there were a couple of incidences of back-up data mishandling and in at least one case, a contractor got fired over it (although I think for the wrong reasons as no change in procedures took place afterward). Typical scape-goating.

I was told recently regarding backup procedures "We don't bother with backups any more, just rely on the fact that all the important stuff is on more than one computer." That, I guess, and leaks-like-a-sieve security will allow them to just ask the Chinese for anything that we accidentally erase.

I have another idea: Put a sticker on the bottom of every government laptop that says: "If you steal this computer, please make a backup of the hard drive before you reformat it for sale. Backups can be sent to: (address). No questions asked."

As one old friend says when things go wrong: "Life is funny." At least we keep telling ourselves that since we don't have the option of whacking someone up-side the head.

I've been most encouraged by the fact that NASA has published every single photo taken by the Mars rovers since they landed. I'm sure there are at least a few people downloading every one for their own archive. There is a good chance that those photos will never get lost from our collective memory. The advantage of digital formats is that what would otherwise be analog data can be copied endlessly without loss of quality. That is, as long as the possessors of the original make it available for people to copy.

Something to think about as we watched Microsoft being dragged kicking and screaming to the ODF pond and being forced to drink. Now, when ODF becomes widely available will government managers be smart enough to require that it be used for all new documents, and all extant old documents be converted? I'm taking bets.

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