December 02, 2005

Trilobites & Kilobytes

I want to prevent cruelty to dead horses & avoid beating them whenever possible, and I hate scare tactics. But sitting on the floor of my apartment this week, trying to hoover the data off my old beige G3/266 and onto my PowerBook, I was reminded of why we’re bothering with this whole DNG thing. Innovation means change, leading to incompatibility, meaning that without some thought given to preservation, your work is at risk.
It was only 5 years ago that the G3 in question was my desktop workhorse, but in simply trying to recover its data I discovered:

  • AppleTalk transfer between OS 8.6 and 10.4 fails. The machines could see each other, but transfers would immediately stall. I get why Apple wouldn’t test this scenarios heavily, but still, it’s only been 5 years.
  • Connecting a current hard drive was out, given that USB and FireWire weren’t supported on this machine. And good luck finding SCSI components in a store now.
  • You can still track down a Zip drive these days, but the new ones can’t write Zip100 disks. Luckily they can still read them.
  • GoLive 8 (CS2) can’t read a site file produced by GoLive 4.
  • Self-running Director presentations no longer work (my fault, given that I don’t maintain Classic on this machine, but it’s an indicator of the transience of the work).

Sneakernet and Zip disks ended up providing the solution, and as I played three-card monte with the disks, I browsed Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Reading about the development of the fossil record, I had to smile. Picking through a circa-2000 machine felt a little like looking at the Burgess Shale, searching for signs of life.
In the end I was able to keep the bulk of my data, but the process offered some useful perspective. If talking to a machine from 5 years back was this tricky using the same platform, how would it be for one from ten years back? 15? And how will you get at today’s data in 15 years? Seems like a good case for making images & the edits done to them as open and portable as possible.

Posted by John Nack at 2:42 PM on December 02, 2005
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