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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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  • 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.

  • by Cardbox ( 165383 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:52PM (#4795744) Homepage
    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.
  • Re:Which computer? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Brian Blessed ( 258910 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:52PM (#4795750)
    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.

  • Re:Domesday? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:55PM (#4795773)
    From the site linked : "Also, as many visitors will have noticed, the extracts from Domesday entries that were previously on the site have regrettably been removed for copyright reasons."

    Copyright? On a book written nearly a thousand years ago?!
  • Re:What's so hard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:57PM (#4795788)
    Only problem is that devices can age and wear out just sitting on the shelf - electrolytic capacitors can dry out, transformers can leak PCB's, metals can corrode, etc.

    A schematic does not contain all of the information needed to build a device, either. Seeing, for example, that a 2N2222 bipolar NPN transistor is required for an amplifier isn't going to be too useful in the year 2100, I would bet. And the paper those semiconductor companies use for those big thick spec books? that crap turns yellow and falls apart in 10 years!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:57PM (#4795790)
    Thanks to emulators and backwords compatibillity. Its still possilbe to run programs orginally made 40 years ago. Think about it. If Microsoft Palladises the future, over 25 years worth of x86 software will be rendered useless! Only open source will be able to keep digital history preserved. In 2986 we will look back at this digital doomesday (if computers as we know it still exist) and say, thanks to the open source heros, we can still see what life was like back then.
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @03:58PM (#4795794) Journal
    Just to react to the dozens of dopey "wine isnt an emulator" answers you're about to recieve, I present the definition of 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!
  • by rkowen ( 135560 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:15PM (#4795935) Homepage
    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 ) <> 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. []

  • by mst ( 30456 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:21PM (#4795979)
    ...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? :-)
  • by Niles_Stonne ( 105949 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:38PM (#4796137) Homepage
    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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2002 @05:20PM (#4796435)
    DMCA is a US piece of legislation.

    Repeat after me: Despite what you might think, America IS NOT THE WORLD. This is ABOUT THE UK. THE DMCA IS NOT RELEVANT. You cannot sue the BBC in Britian under the DMCA. America IS NOT THE WORLD. Good greif.

    Secondly, the BBC would be stealing from the people that commissioned the creation of this computer. That would be the... wait for it.. BBC.

    (This isn't the RiscOS / ARM based boxes - the earlier "BBC" ones.)

    Now, would a US equilviant have DMCA issues? Probably. Is this a problem that the authors of the DMCA aren't willing to accept is an issue? Probably. Is a reason why the DMCA is bad? IMHO, Yes.
  • by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @06:24PM (#4796902) Homepage Journal
    ...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.
  • Re:Frisbee (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Funkitup ( 260923 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:01PM (#4798016)
    A frisbee is a circular object that flies through the air by spinning - it is also a kids toy. It is used in the game ultimate. What's the American term? The laser disks (as far as i can remember) are large and silver and circular, much like a frisbee. Now we have the data they are probably only useful as frisbees, rather dangerous frisbees. (OK maybe not, they would probably keep them for achival / posterity purposes). I admit it was a bit one of those "you had to be there" jokes. * sigh

    On a more serious note - someone working on the project says this...

    The main problem with converting the data to another format and making it publicly available was that all the information was copyright the people who sent it in in the first place - lots of school kids.

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982