Rosetta Stone -- 02/20/04

So I'm sitting here in my den drinking coffee out of a coffee mug decorated with the inscriptions from the Rosetta Stone, morning sunlight coming at an angle through the window. In a month we will reach the vernal equinox....

The Rosetta Stone mug is a souvenir of a quick jet-lagged Sunday afternoon visit to the British Museum about five years ago (Sunday, June 27, 1999 to be exact -- no, not due to perfect memory, but I knew that I returned from London the night before a 4th of July road race, which I wrote about a year later)

I find it fascinating, however... how things connect, how one memory leads to another (yeah, yeah, insert a literary comment about Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu -- once an English grad student, always an English grad student.)

This Information Age is so strange. Terrabyte databases. Google. Everything online. Poetry, novels, stories, essays, blogs and journals and porn and newspapers and on and on... all available 24/7.

And yet... and yet...

How much is lost? Technology moves on and on. Moore's law. Ever faster. Technological obsolescence.

We used to have in the basement of our house in upstate New York a computer tape (the big reels of tape you would see in those reel-to-reel tape drives that would always be shown in movies when they wanted to show a high tech computer) that contained data files that, when printed out on a big printer, would form pictures of famous works of art (or a picture of the Enterprise, etc.) -- if you are of a certain age and had computer experience in the 1960's and early '70's you know just what I mean -- the "pixels" would be combinations of various letters overstruck, looked at up close it was just garbled random letters, but step back ten feet or so and you could see the picture. It was probably thrown out when we packed to move to Rhode Island in '95... along with decks of punched cards, mostly old programming assignments from the mid and late 1970's, although I also had a large FORTRAN deck that would print out a large calendar for any given year -- one page per month -- it was a large deck because it there would be Snoopy pictures on each page.

Where would you find a reader for a deck of punched cards today?

And what did you do with your old 8-track tapes? Your Betamax video tapes? Your 33 rpm records?

In the spring of 1980 Nancy and I took a course (threaded code structures) in which we wrote programs in the Forth computer language on Cromemco computers. We stored our programs on 8 inch floppy disks. (Just for fun, I wrote a poetry-generator program in Forth -- it used a random number generator to select words to insert into a template -- alas, it was on that obsolete media.) When's the last time you saw an 8 inch disk? (If you weren't involved with computers in the '70's or very early '80's you've probably never seen one.)

Our first family PC had a five and a quarter inch floppy drive. We bought it in 1986. Several years later we bought a Windows machine and we ordered it with both five and a quarter and three and a half inch diskette drives so that we could continue to access our old data files. I took the old PC to be my writing machine, although I really mostly used it to type papers on... Nancy and I were took a couple of grad courses together (Syracuse U.) and with two computers we could both write our papers at the same time. When we moved to Rhode Island the old DOS PC became Jill's and she was writing a novel on it (she was in 8th grade at the time). We got a new PC (a few months before this journal began) but the old Window box stopped functioning (and eventually we gave it to a nephew who scavenged it to build a server for his home LAN) -- so what about all of those term papers and and essays and uncompleted stories and Jill's novel and such that were on those old 640k floppies? And even if we had a diskette drive that could read them, what about a copy of the word processor program we used to write them? (Zenword.)

And how long will three and half inch diskettes be viable? And do you think your CDs are safe? How long before DVD technology completely replaces CD technology? And when will DVDs become obsolete?

Did you have your old 8mm movies copied over to VHS tape? And now you need to copy them over to CD. Or maybe you should move them to DVD?

What kind of Rosetta Stone will archeologists of the future need?

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