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Science Technology

Digital Domesday Rescued By Emulation 395

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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  • Phew (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Salsaman ( 141471 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:39PM (#4795639) Homepage
    Good job they're not a US company, otherwise they'd be forced to sue themselves under the DMCA.
  • DRM (Score:5, Insightful)

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

    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?

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.

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

    by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:48PM (#4795716) Homepage
    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 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:50PM (#4795729) Homepage
    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...
  • Re:Phew (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:55PM (#4795767)
    No they wouldn't. Whoever currently owns the Acorn copyrights could sue them.

    The BBC wanted a micro which they could use in their educational stuff. They went to Acorn, who was a successful manufacturer of the Atom [planet.nl], and basically they agreed that the next generation computer, which was to be called the Proton could be called the BBC Micro. This gave Acorn exposure and extra sales, and the BBC the machine they were looking for. For about a decade, you saw BBC micro's popping up in BBC shows including Dr Who. Acorn later made the Electron, and then the Archimedies, before going bankrupt.

    Therefore the BBC do not own the copyright on the ROM's in the BBC micro.

  • by kent_eh ( 543303 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:56PM (#4795781)
    All the more reason to be very careful what storage format you archive your pr0n collection on.

  • 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 King of the World ( 212739 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:04PM (#4795848) Journal
    Since when did emulation have to involve hardware?

    Oh, that's right, it didn't, and before WINE the term 'emulation' was more generic and didn't create ridiculous non-dictionary distinctions.

  • 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. :})||
  • Re:Which computer? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <ed@membled.com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:08PM (#4795879) Homepage
    There are plenty of good BBC Micro emulators - and plenty of functioning computers still out there (I wouldn't be surprised if some were still in use in schools). I think the difficulty comes in finding a laserdisc player.
  • by Prince_Ali ( 614163 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:18PM (#4795953) Journal
    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.
  • 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.

  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:37PM (#4796123) Journal
    >> So, exactly what software or hardware did WINE modify to complete the WINE project?

    You mean linux natively supports DLL (Dynamic Linking Library) and PE (Portable Executable) binary formats?

    WINE emulates the Windows environment. It doesn't emulate an x86 or any other hardware directly, which is why it won't work under PPC linux, and why they don't want to consider it an emulator.

    It is, however, in the logical and literal senses, an emulator. It's just not a hardware emulator.
  • 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.

  • Linear B? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dismentor ( 592590 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:48PM (#4796234)
    Yes, the domesday book is still readable 1000 years later. This is probably the norm for systems taht have a low rate of change and evolution. However, a feature in evolving systems is that some branchs die out, and the understanding/knowledge/system disappears. If we take a few examples, we can see that it is not so uncommon in to have dead languages too. Egyptian heiroglyphics were undecipherable to western civilisation (and modern egypt afaik) up to and including the early part of the century, after the Egyptian empire dissolved and the written language was lost. Another example of lost languages are Linear A and Linear B; the former was discovered to be a form of greek with different symbols (and some slightly modified rules) for writing; the latter has yet to be decided.
  • 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 scsirob ( 246572 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @06:50PM (#4797106)
    It's a lot more difficult than just copying. If I handed you a CD-ROM with WordPerfect 4.2 files, you would have little problems getting the information on screen. If that same disc also had Wordstar 1.0 files, things would be a lot harder already. Now what about a couple of files with Tandy TRS-80 Scripsit format?!?

    Besides just the data, any preservation system needs to consider interpretation as much as the data itself. ASCII sounds like a common format today, but so did EBCDIC thirty years ago. Anyone have a 7-track tape reader handy these days?!?

    If we really want to store digital data and make sure it will be information for generations to come, we'll have to think looong and hard, and take nothing for granted.

  • 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.

"Well, social relevance is a schtick, like mysteries, social relevance, science fiction..." -- Art Spiegelman