Friday, March 16, 2007

Article: The Digital Ice Age

Published in the December 2006 issue of Popular Mechanics, this article tells us what we already know -- digital content can easily become unreadable for a number of reasons. What may be news for many, though, is that digital content can change because the systems that access it have changed. The article begins with this example:
When the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz takes to sea, it carries more than a half-million files with diagrams of the propulsion, electrical and other systems critical to operation. Because this is the 21st century, these are not unwieldy paper scrolls of engineering drawings, but digital files on the ship's computers. The shift to digital technology, which enables Navy engineers anywhere in the world to access the diagrams, makes maintenance and repair more efficient. In theory. Several years ago, the Navy noticed a problem when older files were opened on newer versions of computer-aided design (CAD) software.

"We would open up these drawings and be like, 'Wow, this doesn't look exactly like the drawing did before,'" says Brad Cumming, head of the aircraft carrier planning yard division at Norfolk Navy Shipyard.

The changes were subtle — a dotted line instead of dashes or minor dimension changes — but significant enough to worry the Navy's engineers. Even the tiniest discrepancy might be mission critical on a ship powered by two nuclear reactors and carrying up to 85 aircraft.
So even if you keep the files successfully for years, will they still mean the same as they did originally?

Imagine that history is re-written not because people decide to change the facts, but because details are lost as files become unreadable or file contents change when the software "reads" the file differently.

Technorati tag:

1 comment:

Yvonne DiVita said...

Isn't this exactly why ancient texts, like the Bible, are unreliable? WE know not what the true writers meant...nor how subtle the distinction between their stories and the truth. A dotted line, a word from God, or... not? Wars are fought for these issues... because the people involved will not admit that communication, at all levels, is suspect.