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Science Technology

Digital Domesday Rescued By Emulation 395

Posted by timothy
from the good-thing-it-wasn't-palladium-protected dept.
eefsee writes "The BBC announced that the Digital Domesday project which had become unusable has now been revived thanks to the successful emulation of a 1980's era Acorn computer. Folks at Leeds University and University of Michigan did the emulation work. This is just one early indication of how difficult it will be to maintain our digital heritage. Note that the printed Domesday Book, on which the digital project was modeled, is still quite accessible after almost 1000 years."
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Digital Domesday Rescued By Emulation

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  • From the linked BBC article:

    BBC Micro was a popular computer in the 1980s (emphasis mine)

    So which one is it?

    • Re:Which computer? (Score:3, Informative)

      by ryants (310088)
      BBC Micro == Acorn == Acorn BBC Micro.

      See here [cybervillage.co.uk]

      • Re:Which computer? (Score:5, Informative)

        by gwernol (167574) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:00PM (#4795810)
        BBC Micro == Acorn == Acorn BBC Micro.

        Or more accurately:

        The British Broadcasting Company (the BBC) wanted to build a microcomputer in the early 1980s which they could use as part of their effort to promote national computer literacy. The idea was to have a standard machine that they could use in their TV shows - and viewers could buy one of their own and learn to use and program it by watching the shows.

        After approaching several UK computer manufacturers they settled on Acorn. At the time Acorn were a leading supplier of micros, notable the Acorn Atom. The BBC contracted Acorn to produce a new more advanced version of the Atom which was designed and manufactured by Acorn but sold as the BBC Micro.

        The BBC Micro was never sold as an Acorn machine, indeed Acorn produced their own rival (and much less successful) machine called the Electron.

        So your equation is not strictly true, but its close.
    • You're probably too young to remember, but they are referring to one of these. [zoom.co.uk]
    • Re:Which computer? (Score:2, Informative)

      by iggymanz (596061)
      The BBC wanted a computer for its "Computer Literacy Project", and the Acorn was chosen as exceeding specs. http://www.nvg.ntnu.no/bbc/history.php3
    • Re:Which computer? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Brian Blessed (258910)
      What do you mean?
      The BBC micro was a 6502 based machine that lots of people in the UK bought because the BBC ran a series on how to use one, and it is pictured at the top of the article.
      There were a few types, but I have used the BBC's Doomesday Project and it came with a 'Master 128' IIRC.

      Brian.
    • Re:Which computer? (Score:3, Informative)

      by jnik (1733)
      Good question. Original slash article says it was a Master system, but the BBC article has a picture of a model B.

      My model B is still in fine working condition, thank you very much, but I don't have a laserdisc player for it. Now, I certinaly wouldn't mind getting my hands on the emulator either...mmmm, Elite....
  • DRM (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:41PM (#4795653)
    <sarcasm>

    See? This is why we need DRM. If there were proper DRM going on then of course it would have been recoverable! We would just need the exact system(nope, can't change the processor, or the video card, or the hard driver) in order to recover it!

    See, doesn't DRM help us all?

    </sarcasm>
  • I'm curious as to whether this is technically legal under the DMCA. We all know that emulation is almost always in violation of intellectual property laws (doubly so when it is used to steal video games, as in MAME, Stella, and WINE), and I don't know why this would be any different. The Acorn ROM is probably proprietary. I'd hate to see such a valuable educational resource be marred by the taint of theft. Why don't we just start over and do it right rather than make up for our past errors by stealing?
    • Just to react to the dozens of dopey "wine isnt an emulator" answers you're about to recieve, I present the dictionary.com definition of emulator.

      Emulator:
      1.2. (omitted - irrelevant)
      3. Computer Science. To imitate the function of (another system), as by modifications to hardware or software that allow the imitating system to accept the same data, execute the same programs, and achieve the same results as the imitated system.

      Yes, Virginia, WINE IS an emulator!
    • I'm curious as to whether this is technically legal under the DMCA

      Well, gee, since the original project was done by the BBC, on a BBC microcomputer, and the emulation of said microcomputer was commissioned by the BBC, I don't think the DMCA applies.

      The overall question you ask is a valid one, but the answer is "repeal idiotic laws like the DMCA". Not throw it all away and start over, in which case you'll just face the same problem a few years later.
    • Good point - in that case, shouldn't Apple be able to sue themselves over the "Classic" emulation in OSX?
    • Ok, I'll bite...how the hell do you use WINE to steal video games?
  • by Quirk (36086) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:42PM (#4795661) Homepage Journal
    how badly DRM driven by capitalist proprietory concerns conflicts so inimically with culture, history and knowledge.
    • Yes, it is interesting. It is especially interesting since DRM wasn't an issue in the '80s. It isn't being forced on anyone now. If I want content I create to be usable in the future I will not implement it. It is as simple as that. If someone wants to implement it, that is there right. I don't think society will suffer if the Spiderman movie, or Longhorn are not preserved. It is the individuals choice to implement DRM. You cannot force that choice on them, nor has MS et al. I can currently create any type of content I want DRM-free, or with DRM implemented. That will not change in the future. I don't see how we are hurt by giving content creators more freedom to choose a distribution option that they feel is appropriate.
      • Sure, it may be no great loss to us if the Spiderman movie isn't able to be viewed in the future, but the Spiderman movie isn't the only thing that will use DRM.

        What would happen if something as culturally significant as the Bible or other work of a similar level were created and controlled by a DRM system.

        What about music? Look at classical music - certainly some of the music created today would be listened to years in the future. But if it is controlled by a "lockdown" method like DRM how are we expected to listen to it?

        I guess it boils down to two questions for me:

        1. How do we(they?) determine what is culturally significant? Hindsight is 20/20, but we have no way of determining what media are going to be significant at the outset. In other words, we have no way of determining what is culturally significant when it is created.

        2. How do we preserve information for the future? It's been stated before, but I'll repeat it - we're in a dangerous period(historically speaking), with most of our information being stored in manners that may not be retrievable in 30 years time, let alone 1,000 or more.

        *gets off soapbox* err, sorry.

      • I used DRM not in its strict current sense but more as a pointer to the ideology being driven by proprietory concerns. I wasn't as clear as I might have been and I point this out only to mitigate against your argument not in an attempt to vitiate it. For that matter the DomesDay book was most certainly driven by proprietory concerns! But I still hold culture, history and knowledge must be the concern of institutions whose interest is the safeguarding and widest possible dissemination of knowledge. I believe the Muslim warriors who took Alexandria burned the books to heat their bath waters.
      • by Quirk (36086)
        ...information is a co-evolutionary endeavour. We manufacture information as an artifact to impart a message be it plans to construct a further artifact or simply to impart the message. But the effort requires a sender and a receiver. It is co-evolutionary not proprietory. Going back to Marshall McLuhan, and the idea that the medium is the message, in DRM and proprietory schemes to control information, the proprietorship becomes the dominant message and the information, culture, what have you becomes merely the vehicle for commerce and attempted monopoly. Culture, history, knowledge do not spring from one mind they are siphoned by individuals from the well spring of all of recorded information and the tools to use that information.
  • So why (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cybercomm (557435) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:42PM (#4795667) Homepage Journal
    Didn't they just save one of those acorn computers? I mean the voltage hasn't changed, so all they had to do was brong that pc out of retirement, find a way to hook it up to a 486 and transfer the files...or is it more complicated than that?
    • Re:So why (Score:2, Informative)

      by madhippy (525384)
      a recent visit to the Science Museum in London revealed many Acorn BBCs/Masters still running various demos - as per my last visit about 15 years ago ... (probably not the same machines mind...)

      interestingly a large number of NT based demos were not running due to DHCP errors - many of them displaying the errors prominently on huge projectors...

      The BBC Lives! [nvg.ntnu.no]
      • This was a long time back of course, but the Visvesarayya Museum (hope I got the spelling right) in Bangalore, India also ran a lot of demos on BBC Micros the last time I was there (this was `92).It was my first and only exposure to a BBC Micro; was running another Brit comp myself, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum +, which is why I remember it clearly. Any Bangaloreans out there who'd like to update this?

      • Re:So why (Score:2, Funny)

        by Waffle Iron (339739)
        a recent visit to the Science Museum in London revealed many Acorn BBCs/Masters still running various demos - as per my last visit about 15 years ago ... (probably not the same machines mind...)

        interestingly a large number of NT based demos were not running due to DHCP errors - many of them displaying the errors prominently on huge projectors...

        Hmmm... that could explain something. On my last visit, Charles Babbage's Difference Engine seemed to be hung up as well. It just sat there motionless the whole time I watched it. I suppose it might have been experiencing the same DHCP errors as the NT boxes.

    • Re:So why (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There have been articles on the same subject before. In Acorn related magazines etc. The 16 years unreadable are exxagerated. The first Acorn Archimedes that replaced the BBC/Master systems was introduced 14 years ago and the Master was then still available new. The Archimedes + Risc PC systems that run Risc Os can emulate BBC models till this day. The new Iyonix, X-scale ARM, Risc Os system that is launched this weekend will probably emulate a BBC as well if necessary. It could be that the Philips video disk readers went kaputt too soon and can not be repaired. But that's another story. BBC's and Masters that are still running after 15 years of school abuse are nothing special.
  • by newsdee (629448)
    It's indeed a good idea - the original hardware can still be kept as a museum piece (the two "indestructible discs", for example), but everybody would be able to access the content via emulation.

    I hope that they also make the content available online and that they donate the source and content to the different websites that would be interested (e.g. Project Gutenberg for the text, and emulator websites for the program).

  • by Chester K (145560) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:46PM (#4795692) Homepage
    This is just one early indication of how difficult it will be to maintain our digital heritage.

    If something is truly of importance, it will be ported forward to new technologies before the existing technology becomes so out of date that recovering it becomes a Herculian effort, or it will also co-exist in a more future-proof medium. Otherwise it's simply dead data that's more than likely never going to have a need to be accessed again.... not every bit needs to be held forever.

    Would the world have stopped turning if this little chunk of history gone unrecovered? No. Are there other forms of media (books, videos, music) from the 1980's that would have answered the same questions about culture and society that the data in this archive answers? Definately.
    • by Cardbox (165383)
      What is truly important to people in 100 years' time is often what seems unimportant to people today. That is why a 16th-century 4-page pamphlet is more valuable than a 400-page leatherbound book of the same date.
    • by budalite (454527) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:05PM (#4795856)
      My initial reaction was very similar to yours. "Well, gee." Upon further thought, I realized that I am familiar with quite a few cases where a set/bunch of info was initially thought to be useless, allowed to go "fallow" (become forgotten, etc.), and later re-discovered and found to be of "ground-breaking" importance. One of the best examples might be the "losing" of just about everything really useful that was written by the ancient Greeks. The "saviors" of this "technology" were the Arabs. The rediscovery of the Greek philosophers (et al). helped usher in the European Reformation. :})||
    • What is a more "future Proof" medium. Yes you could argue that Magnetic tape is a bad choice but, then again so are CDRoms, Paper and Stone tablets. All of them tend to break down over time. And, even if you print the whole thing to paper (or film for the videos) you face the fact that over the truly long term such recordings get lost or like old languages (such as Ancient Greek and Algol) we occasionally lose the ability to translate them.

      IMHO the first part of your post was more on target, if we want to keep these things around we need to maintain them. We need to be porting them every so often from one format to the next.

      Unfortunately the set of all data that we want to save is monotonically increasing. Therefore the cost of storing and maintaining all of the "important stuff" in purpetuity will be increasing as well. So then we have to start deciding what will or will not be kept (in other words what someone wants to pay for) and what gets dropped. What's more important, the original Domesday book or the digital version?
    • by rodgerd (402) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:57PM (#4796284) Homepage
      Yeah, that's right. The current generation *always* knows what's valuable and what isn't.

      For example, we don't miss any of the treasures of the Roman empire lost under Constantine, Justinian and his successors when the newly ascendant Christians went on a Taliban style orgy of destruction, smashing up anything they considered "pagan" or "unacceptable".

      And scholars of Rome *certainly* don't miss any of the works held in the libraries of Rome that were destroyed by the Gothic invaders before the so-called dark ages.

      Nor does anyone regret that poverty striken Icelanders took to using ancient manuscripts for dress patterns and firelighters in the 19th century. Nope, didn't lose much there at all.

      Hell, we don't even miss all those Egyptian writings destoryed in the 19th century. Or by the Aswan Dam project.

      And of course, accidents never happen. Just forget about that little fire in the Library of Alexandra.

      I genuflect to your superior wisdom and knowledge.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:46PM (#4795694)
    From the article:

    'The software and hardware needed to access the Domesday discs is to be deposited at the Public Record Office once the project is completed.'

    This is all fine and good, but it has already introduced the problem we'll face in approximately 2015:

    We're going to have to create an emulator for the emulator.

    And so on, ad infinitum. What we really need is some universally acceptable method to store digital data that isn't likely to decay or fall out of favor in the next ten years. That, I'm afraid, is a difficult proposition.

    I just hope the emulator's emulator works.

    • by Jester99 (23135) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:04PM (#4795852) Homepage
      "What we really need is some universally acceptable method to store digital data that isn't likely to decay or fall out of favor in the next ten years."

      Project Gutenberg's done it for a while.

      It's called "ASCII."

      Readily convertable to dead-tree format by every printer. Ever. Backward and forward portable on every 7- and 8-bit machine in existance. Ever. Readable on any screen by well over 1/3 the world's population. Can convey an immense amount of information.

      (They didn't have images in their records for the last 2000 years; frankly, if something's really So Important That It Must Be Saved, it can be done in the good queen's English.)

      If you just take a disk and don't do any crazy filesysteming, just write one big honking text file sequentially to it, and mark down somewhere on the top that it functions in 8-bit units, well, it doesn't take too much effort to figure out how to write a driver for it to port it to the next media that comes along.

      (Or just print it out. After all, high quality acid-free paper, stored in a vault somewhere, has a shelf-life measureable in centuries. Not too shabby.)
      • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:38PM (#4796138)
        Read the article, this isn't just text but video and graphics. ASCII isn't going to cut it, and if was just text you'd think we could spring for unicode.

        Regardless, the problem mentality is pretty well represented in your post. The assumption in the 80s was to make the discs like the book - make them last forever. The trick with digital is to assume the media and format will expire, become obselete, etc. To preserve the data they should have planned for this (migrating data, etc) instead of keeping the old book mentality of preserving a relic forever.

    • We're going to have to create an emulator for the emulator.

      Not necessarily. If we have the source code for the emulator, and if it was fairly portable, we can just tweak it and recompile it on future systems. The real difficulty is probably the medium that the data is stored on: sure it may be indestructible, but you're not going to be able to read it on today's DVD drives, or the future's even better drives.

      So maybe the problem isn't a software or hardware or medium problem. Maybe the problem is that we just assumed that it would "just work" in the future like it just works now, without putting together a recovery plan. Sure we've got it backed up, but in this case, we need a long-term recovery plan, probably one that requires regular maintenance in order to ensure recoverability.
    • Out of curiosity -- are there any digital media specifically designed for centuries of storage? (In reality, as long as the specs for whatever reader are kept, we can always build another one.) I'm pretty sure that standard CDs, tapes, etc. don't last more than a few decades if you're lucky.
      • Out of curiosity -- are there any digital media specifically designed for centuries of storage?

        Punch cards. Especially if punched into UV-resistant plastic instead of paper, but even the paper ones will do.
      • Out of curiosity -- are there any digital media specifically designed for centuries of storage?

        In a nutshell - no.

        Any data archiving system has to incorporate a plan to recopy data onto new media as needed. This of course raises the cost of long term storage SIGNIFICANTLY. It should also make you think twice about what exactly is worth saving.

        This reminds me of the last time I moved into a new house. When faced with having to pack boxloads of junk up for shipping, I began to rethink just how important it was for me to preserve some things for all of eternity. I've never seen such full trashcans in my life.

        A good plan for a project that has to be low-cost is to save the data on several types of media to lower the risk of short-term obselecense. Then if it is really important you can also print using OCRable font on acid-free paper in base64 format.

        Good brands of CD-Rs often boast 100 year estimated shelf lives if stored properly. However, storing CDs "properly" may not be all that much cheaper that just sticking boxloads of paper in a closet.
  • The Curse of History (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alien54 (180860) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:47PM (#4795708) Journal
    The politcal implications of this are interesting.

    It is very much easier to educate a person according to the curriculum you desire if contradictory information is not available, especially regarding the history of a place. The extreme example is that of the Pol Pot regime. But you also see it in a newspaper when they fire all of the old hands who know where the bodies are buried, and only the young bucks are around who can be easily stampeded. No institutional memory.

    On another note - if you want to damn a politician to history, make sure to get those stone obelisk and stelli erected with heavy engraving. Make sure some are out in the desert so that they are properly preserved.

    Archeologists will come by centuries later and will take what you say as truth. Or at least very seriously. Have a field day.

    the digital data will have disappeared, and the testimony on your stone monuments will be one of the few surviving original source records from the era.

    • But you also see it in a newspaper when they fire all of the old hands who know where the bodies are buried, and only the young bucks are around who can be easily stampeded. No institutional memory.


      Heck, you see it even if they keep all the old hands around! Here's a good case in point, concerning weapons inspectors and Iraq. [fair.org] And like the archaeologists, most people take what is said for truth. Even super-reputable magazines like the Economist are parroting this lie from the State Department. Nobody's rocking the boat.


      The irony is that this is sourced from a web-site. Heh.

    • by Alien54 (180860) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:28PM (#4796034) Journal
      the digital data will have disappeared, and the testimony on your stone monuments will be one of the few surviving original source records from the era.

      I can see it all now. LUGs getting together to make testimonial stone glyphs testifying to the Ages their opinions of the character of their least favorite politician or software company.

      • We have gathered together to have this monument built as a testimony to the ages of our opinion of Mr. X.
      • We recognise that much of what we know will not survive our age and our time. And therefore we want to make sure that the following is known to the ages.
      • That He was rich through the sale of inferior goods
      • That the inferiority was such as to cause many people to also become wealthy throught the repair and maintenance of these goods
      • that the time and effort wasted in the repair and maintenance of these goods was a sore and a parasite on the health of our whole community
      • that the loss of these resources are a curse upon the land.
      • That therefore we place a curse on him and his descendents for the damge done to the future of our lives, and that of our posterity.

      You get the idea. Also applies to politicians.

      have a blast. Have it placed on you tombstone or something. or in the side of a cliff.

  • This is why... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by core plexus (599119)
    you need to back up regularly, and to a format that is useable by something else. And don't start in proprietary formats. Couldn't access the data for 16 years! Imagine if you had to try and explain that to an IRS auditor.
  • Emulate? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Vladislas (537527)
    Why didn't they just go to the Flea Market or the local Community College trash bin? That's where I find all my obsolete equipment...
  • Let's hear it for preserving our digital heritage! I'm so relieved to know that my descendants will be able to read my blogs centuries from now.
  • Abandonware (Score:4, Funny)

    by slipkid (442316) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:52PM (#4795748) Homepage Journal
    The Domesday Project is now officially abandonware...

    Rumor has it that MAME 0.7 [mame.net] will support it.
  • by sheldon (2322) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:02PM (#4795837)
    "Note that the printed Domesday Book, on which the digital project was modeled, is still quite accessible after almost 1000 years."

    Not really. I saw one volume of the Domesday book at the White Tower back in 2000. It was sealed under a sealed glass box, and you could only look at the two pages it was turned to. I would have tried to get access to it under the box, but there were these guards that looked quite intimidating and they kept saying "Move along..."

    Even then, I could barely make out the cryptic scribbles. Sure didn't look like English to me.

    At least with a digital version they can make infinite copies of it and distribute it to anybody interested, unlike the paper version locked up under a glass box.
    • by Selanit (192811) on Monday December 02, 2002 @05:05PM (#4796350)
      Even then, I could barely make out the cryptic scribbles. Sure didn't look like English to me.

      There's a good reason for that: the Domesday Book wasn't written in English. It was written by Norman monks as the article mentions. They wrote it in Latin. That was the language of government, the arts, and bureaucracy in those days. Old French was a strong second. And Old English, as the language of a subjugated populace, came in a distant, distant third.

      æ And even if it had been written in English, you still wouldn't have been able to read it without special training. Here is an example of Old English (from memory, so if there are any mistakes, they're mine!):

      Sume dæge hit gelamp æt an nunnan of æm ilcan mynstre geforon in on hire wyrt-tun. Ond ær heo gesawon an leahtric, and hit gelyste æs.
      Translated roughly, that means:
      It so happened that a nun of that same monastery went into their garden. And there she saw a particular lettuce, and she wanted it.
      The language has changed substantially since those days, no? And as if that weren't bad enough, styles of handwriting have changed an awful lot too. Once you get into postgraduate-level medieval studies, you get special training in reading historical forms of handwriting, the study of which is called palaeography.

      Lastly, the project is not a copy of the original Domesday Book: it was an effort to create a resource of similar utility for future historians by gathering interesting stuff from around the country and storing it in digital form. Videos, maps, and so on, as the article said. There have been some electronic editions of medieval texts, notably the sole remaining manuscript of the poem Beowulf, which was written down in the early 1100s. Alas, it is proprietary, and you have to pay a rather large sum to the British Library if you want a copy. Some of it is web accessible [uky.edu].

      Next question!

      • Sume dæge hit gelamp æt an nunnan of æm ilcan mynstre geforon in on hire wyrt-tun. Ond ær heo gesawon an leahtric, and hit gelyste æs. It's funny, half those words sound Icelandic or German, how long does it usually take someone with those languages and English to pick start reading olde english? My native tounge is Icelandic but while not understanging say a Swedish speaker I can read the other Scandinavian languages without any formal training, which is usual I think. (Leaving out Finland, a Nordic not Scandinavian country in my opinion.) Same with old Norse you just forget some of the constinants ever existed and pretty quickly you start reading it. The trick with cross reading Scandinavian languages is almost the opposite, the vowels change but the constinants are similar... A gloss instead of a proper translation of the above excerpt might be more useful... Oh and why the inconsistency of Ond & and? og(IS), und(DL), and(EN) Just from a quick look I saw this [The] Same day, she X X a nun of that same monistery went into X valuable land. And there she saw a/an X and she X it/this/that. Although not exactly, the "æ.." words can actually carry different and greater meaning depending on the X words I couldn't understand but could guess at from your translation.. Also the word endings seem to be like Icelandic or Japanese in how they connect the sentence together, telling you what belongs to what else, how they are related, etc... I was totally amazed when I learned Japanese also had 17 word endings like Icelandic, but then I guess you have to express all the same things on the other side of the world using a similar mechanism. Not so surprising after all. They don't do all the same things though Icelandic doesn't have the "ga?" and I don't think Japan sexes as many words as most European languages, so some of those dual or triple connectors collapse to one (The it/he/she are covered with a single ending, though Icelandic reuses some for endings different purposes, so it gets complicated.) Ok this was a huge digression I really just wanted you to write a word for word translation... with the grammar explained instead of rewritten in modern english word order.
  • by Flamesplash (469287) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:08PM (#4795877) Homepage Journal
    Acorn Computer

    Damn, and I thought the Professor was all that by making a radio out of a coconut. A computer in an acorn? DAMN!
  • When seeing the comment about how computers are becoming tombs for information, I was immediately reminded of the "atomic priesthood" (discussed here [ratical.org] and elsewhere) that has sometimes been offered as one way to keep track of another kind of decaying technology, old nuclear fuel dumps and reactor sites. Those can remain deadly for eons, certainly beyond the survival even of the English language (or any other current language). How do you warn people 10,000 years from now that a small hill in an unnamed valley is actually highly radioactive? What is the equivalent of "don't dig here" in the language of 10,000 years hence? One answer seems to be that only commands from G*d are translated with any tenacity (let alone accuracy) such that future generations will know not to dig on ground hallowed by some presumed religious event in the dim past (um...that would be next year for us). If you can overcome the rank cynicism, the implications in all this for the future are troubling to say the least.
  • Note that the printed Domesday Book, on which the digital project was modeled, is still quite accessible after almost 1000 years.

    I don't know about you, but not many English speakers can still read/decode old middle English. I haven't tried reading the Domesday book myself, but if it's anything like Chaucer, the spelling is dynamic (i.e. not even consistent within the same document) and obscure by even modern English standards. Let alone the language itself is far different from modern English.

    Therefore, saying that the original domesday book is still accessible is like saying the that all my old C64 files are still accessible because I still have the 5.25in floppies. (Note: the C64 floppies had varying number of sectors/track depending how close the track was to the hub ... these floppies can't be read on a DOS machine.)

  • I was 12 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:18PM (#4795951) Journal
    My school took part in creating the Digital Domesday book, as most schools did. We did the normal scapebook thing; pictures and stories. Only the best stuff made it in.

    I also remember see the finished version in the Natural History museum (or was it the Science museum?). It had one of those Marble Madness balls on the front for navigating - great fun.

    If they put this online it will make a good read.

    The original is here. [domesdaybook.co.uk]

  • ...if the language is forgotten when the rock itself is found.

    Obviously, it is overly simplistic to assume that you, as long as the physical medium is durable enough, your data will be preserved forever. Look at the difficulties we have interpreting the Rosetta stone, the hieroglyphs, etc today! The data IS there, but what use is it if nobody really understands it? Yes, lots of progress has been made in understanding them - but still, look at the difficulties.

    The laserdisc was "decoded" with emulation. Any proposals on how to emulate ancient Egypt? :-)
    • Except, it HAS BEEN translated. Sure, we don't know what what ancient aramaic sounds like (first person to tell me what it takes to translate spoken ancient aramaic gets a cookie) but we can READ IT. And even without the rosetta stone, translation of ancient egyptian would have eventually been possible from other small scraps of information here and there.

      Linguists can do some pretty amazing things when it comes to tracing the roots of a language. Don't discount the ability of future historians to do the same with english.
    • Any proposals on how to emulate ancient Egypt

      Yes - just send corporal^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h Indiana Jones

  • by eXtro (258933) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:26PM (#4796022) Homepage
    Digital media is the easiest thing in the world to preserve. Digital data can be migrated to more modern media (casette v.s. hard drive v.s. digital video disc) with increasing efficiency with every passing generation. People have already copied data off of 5 1/4" floppies onto 3.5" floppies onto Syquest drives onto CD-ROMS. Nothing is lost in this process. A photograph of the Mona Lisa loses something over the original painting. A digital copy of a photograph of the Mona Lisa doesn't need to lose anything over the photograph.


    The real problem is that people don't look any further than right here, right now. All that's required to preserve digital data for future generations to revere or vilify is an effort to keep migrating it onto future media and to publish the method of reading the data along with it. Software formats come and go, there are probably software packages that can't even reliably read data using older versions of that software package.


    The specification for the format in which the data is stored is the Rosetta Stone of the 21st century. Make this open and data can live in perpetuity.

  • I played with this kit for ages when my mother brought one home from the school she worked at. I was just a small kid at the time but was a budding programmer, so was fascinated when I saw the BBC micro (6502 based with 64 or 128Kb of RAM) do things that I hadn't imagined for it. This was because of the video disc player (which was enormous) must have overlayed its output onto the video signal of the computer.

    There were a few relevant video clips, e.g. of the Falklands war, but the most interesting content for me was where they had walked round Brecon (in Wales) and taken photos at various intervals and in about eight directions (and then with zooms of interesting features), so the effect was that the user could explore the place. Interaction was via a mouse as I remember and the display quality was far in advance of what the BBC micro was capable of.
    All the sections of the content were navigated around in some sort of virtual art gallery (a bit like someone might make with VRML).
    Another useful feature was the extensive maps of the whole of the UK that were easily manipulated/zoomed.

    Most of the posts here are assuming that the content was protected in some DRM style way, but I don't think that is true. It seems likely to me that the navigation system for the data was encapsulated in the program, and so emulation or rewriting are the only options.

    Brian.
  • Aliens (Score:5, Interesting)

    by saihung (19097) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:40PM (#4796157)
    I think the only way to preserve data over the very long term (thousands of years) is to assume that whoever reads it in the future will be an alien (eg so different from us as to make any assumptions impossibile). Assume nothing about what we may have in common, and start from the basics. Any digital data that wants to be permanent in the same way that cuneaform tablets are permanent must contain not only data, but must begin with a complete description of what it takes to decode the data, starting from establishing a basic mathematical language. Very, very difficult. Perhaps we should be consulting linguists and archeologists when we're looking to put together these kinds of archives? Ask an archeologist, "What would make your job easier if you found it in the beginning of an ancient inscribed stone tablet? What kinds of things would aid you in translating it?" and go from there.
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:44PM (#4796200) Homepage
    Think about the next few centuries for a bit:
    1. This became inaccessible after 10 years.
    2. Archaelogogists in 1000 years are likely to be interested in what we are (were) up to today, that is 100 times as many generation times as it took the Acorn to become unusable.
    3. Many of the designers of the original machines are probably still around - and able to help. They won't be in 1000 years time (insert caveat about medical advances here).
    4. The article talks about changes in hardware and software that made the old formats unreadable, how often will that change over 1000 years - especially if proprietary s/ware vendors need to churn to get upgrade fees?
    5. The data was stored on 2 video disks, not a large amount of data - quite pheasable to have a project to recover the data. What about the data that we might want to store today ? What about the data that will be generated over the next 1000 years ?
      To be kept available future data archives will need to be copied over and over. They will have to be copied in bulk, there will not be the man power to do specials on anything.
    6. Data is only useful is readable and searchable. Will a future archaeologist be willing to learn to use 100 generations of applications to look at 1000 years of archive ?
    7. Disasters happen. This data must be free so that it can be freely copied many times to many places.

    What am I trying to say: this problem will get worse, worse than you can imagine. Well defined, simple Open standards for data is a must for the basics. Well defined, simple Open standards for Open Source applications to implement anything richer - these applications growing gradually over time, but maintaining backwards compatability. I still use troff and can still maintain/print documents that are over 15 years old.

    A proprietary future will be much poorer than an Open one. A future that overly controls copying will be much poorer than an open one.

    All of the numbers above are probably an underestimate.

  • still working (Score:2, Informative)

    by twem2 (598638)
    There was an original Doomsday machine going on e-bay not long ago.
    IIRC it was a BBC Master 128 with 2nd processor, SCSI card, video disc player and track ball.
    Still worked, although some of the disks were damaged.
  • What format and storage medium you adopt for truly long term data storage is still a thorny issue. The only medium we know can survive this long, and which has a reasonable data density, is good old fashioned acid-free paper and ink. This was the approach that the Hipparcos Project [estec.esa.nl], a satellite mission to measure the positions and motions of stars to unprecedented accuracy, chose for their long term archive. As well as electronic storage, they published a paper catalog in books using acid free paper, long duration inks, and a font specially designed to make OCR easy, and then made sure that lots of different libraries, scattered over the world, had copies.

    We still can't beat paper for durability.
  • by elronxenu (117773) on Monday December 02, 2002 @06:59PM (#4797183) Homepage
    It sounds like the recovery team had only the finished, "executable" version of the system to work with. Using an emulator allowed them to use the content without really understanding the data structures or algorithms within. And therein lies the problem. By making the "binary" work, they have doomed (heh) themselves to continue to keep that binary working until somebody gets the right idea, and converts the system into "source code" which can be used with any modern technology.

    As the GNU project says, "source code" is the preferred form for modification of a work. For this project, the source code for the display program might be BASIC or assembler, but that's not important. What's important is the text/image/video/audio content, and the source form for that content might be XML PNM (no lossy compression), uncompressed AVI and WAV files.

    Converting the original, BBC-Micro specific program into a modern source format will eliminate the need for a special or unique system to access that content.

    Furthermore, distribution costs on the Internet approach zero, so that work can be made widely available to everybody, not just a few schools or visitors to a museum.

    Over time our popular formats such as JPEG and AVI files will become obsolete, so the work must be converted into that newer form in future, possibly ad-infinitum. At least those future conversions will occur from one well-known and popular format into another.

    The software and hardware needed to access the Domesday discs is to be deposited at the Public Record Office once the project is completed.

    They haven't really learned from their efforts, have they?

    So here's the new reason to use open source: It is important to preserve our digital heritage, and using source code is the best means we have of making works accessable and compatible with the computers of the future.

  • by Pont (33956) on Monday December 02, 2002 @07:32PM (#4797425)
    I work at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center [stanford.edu].

    Back in the day(TM) before RDBMS were a commodity, SLAC used the SPIRES database written at Stanford running on an IBM Mainframe. Well, as these things go, the IBM Mainframe was getting long in the tooth, but there was a ton of data in this SPIRES database. SPIRES wasn't going to get ported to anything modern. I forget who exactly, but one engineer just up and decided to write an emulator for the IBM mainframe in practicly no time at all.

    Now the SPIRES database is still running. However, it now runs on Solaris using a home-brewed IBM Mainframe emulator. Even though it's in emulation, it runs faster than it ever used to on the real deal (Moore's Law and all).

    As a side note, the first truly useful web site was here at SLAC when George Crane and Paul Kunz hooked up a web front end to the SPIRES database so the High Energy Physics community could easily get at other's papers.
  • by epeus (84683) on Monday December 02, 2002 @08:14PM (#4797717) Homepage Journal
    I worked at the Interactive Television Unit (the BBC department that was founded for the Domesday Project) for the last 3 months of its existence in 1989 before it was spun out into the MultiMedia Corporation in Jan 1990 (I then worked at MMC until 1997, when it bacame a shell company owned bythe stockbrokers, but that's another story).

    When we left the BBC, they had all the original Video data on Broadcast quality masters, and all the digital data preserved on VAX tapes. They must have thrown those out in the intervening 12 years (which wouldn't surprise me).

    I know of two former MMC directors who have CD-ROM backups of the digital data and working Domesday systems.

    Which is not to decry the work in emulating it - that si the real long-term answer. The Church-Turing thesis is the ultimate refutation of DRM too.

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