Political Animal

DISAPPEARING DATA….Late Night Thoughts has

DISAPPEARING DATA….Late Night Thoughts has a post today about one of my favorite subjects, the transient nature of information today:

In the late 1970s, the Census Bureau discovered that the aggregated data from the 1960s Census could be read only using an UNIVAC Type II-A tape drive. At the time, there were only two of those in existence: one in Japan, and one in the Smithsonian Museum! A massive data rescue effort was mounted and by 1979 the data had been recovered….

Back when I was in the document imaging business this was a well-known but rarely mentioned problem. Instead, when the topic of data storage came up, it was usually treated as a purely technical subject: magnetic tape starts to deteriorate in 10 years, for example, while an optical disk has a lifetime of 100 years.

Physical media capabilities are important, but even more important is the logical structure of the data. If you wrote a manuscript on an 8″ floppy on a TRS-80 Model II twenty years ago, it wouldn’t matter if the integrity of the floppy disk was still OK. And even if you somehow dug up an old Model II somewhere, you’d need to have a copy of Scripsit, the word processor of choice for TRS-80s. And even if you found that, and somehow managed to transfer the data over a serial port (thank God for RS-232!), you’d still have a file that was unreadable on any modern PC.

For anyone who cares about preserving data for more than a decade or two ? a librarian like Emma, for example ? this is a huge problem. Even if you do a good job of recopying data every decade or so onto fresh media, what are the odds that the files themselves can still be read? Will JPEG still be an image standard in 2030? How about HTML? Or even ASCII?

The document imaging industry is dedicated to bringing about the paperless office, but the oldest joke in the business is that the paperless office will arrive at about the same time as the paperless bathroom. All things considered, that’s probably a good thing.

POSTSCRIPT: My example above was not chosen at random: a few years ago I faced exactly that problem with some old TRS-80 files. My solution? Luckily I had paper copies, so I scanned ’em and used OCR to read the text. If I hadn’t had the paper copies, I would have been completely up the creek.

MORE ON DIVIDENDS!….Reader Eric Mauro

MORE ON DIVIDENDS!….Reader Eric Mauro begs me to keep writing about the proposed dividend tax cut. Hey, it’s Sunday, so why not?

And there is an odd angle to the whole thing that I haven’t mentioned before. Sure, a dividend tax cut is about the least likely candidate there is to provide any economic stimulus, but there are other contenders for that honor as well. Top of the list would be a cut in the capital gains tax, a Republican wet dream since the early 80s. So why not that?

Eric replies:

The real scandal is that not even the Republicans think this is a very good idea… it’s a giveaway to the CEOs of big companies, to make their stock more attractive versus that of small capital-gains paying companies. Then the CEO gets to keep his job.

….This is mostly corporate socialism for big, slow-growth companies.

Considering Bush’s recent nominees to economic posts, he does seem to have soft spot in his heart for big, slow-growth companies. Maybe Eric is on to something here.


INTERNATIONAL EXTORTION: TWO CASE STUDIES FROM THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION….Yeah, I know, Atrios warned me about analogies, but what the hell. Live on the edge, I say.

In today’s LA Times, John Balzar writes about the Bush administration loosening restrictions on tuna fishing:

“I had to look at the big picture,” the agency’s assistant administrator, Bill Hogarth, told me.

As he sees it, the big picture is this: If the U.S. did not buckle to pressure and loosen the 1990 labeling requirement, foreign tuna fishermen would simply drop out of the international program that is supposed to protect dolphins and sell their fish elsewhere.

In other news, the Bush administration had this to say about North Korea:

“The issue of a treaty suggests that we should pay something right now for their misbehavior,” Powell said. “What we can’t do and won’t do is reward North Korea for their behavior.”

So which is it? Do we cave in to extortionate treaty-breaking behavior or don’t we? Or does it depend on whether it’s something we wanted to do anyway?