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of goats and the law
January 3, 2003 1:02 AM   Subscribe

Should we think goat when it comes to saving important data? As part of a modernisation campaign the UK Parliament may ditch vellum for computerised records. But what will last the longest?
posted by quarsan (20 comments total)

 
Well, if you're going to preserve one anachronism...
posted by mischief at 1:08 AM on January 3, 2003


they should stick with the vellum. at this time the only way a computer file could outlast parchment is in its ability to be redundantly stored. still, if this company wants to modernize, they might consider developing computer media made from the stuff, maybe modify an architectural plotter to scrape out calligraphy with an auto dipping quill.
posted by cachilders at 1:46 AM on January 3, 2003


Even though it sounds so old-fashioned, the argument in favour of vellum is a good one. There was a story in the last 6 months of how the new Domesday Project was almost unreadable, and that was from the 80s. Nobody has yet come up with a computer storage method that is going to be future proof. Historians of the future need these kind of written records. I just wonder what kind of record they will have of the 21st century. Maybe the entire century will be a complete blank to them?
posted by salmacis at 2:11 AM on January 3, 2003


salmacis: well, the records of other centuries are imperfect because organic media is also perishable: it burns, rots, and occasionally gets eaten by rats.

When it comes right down to it, our ability to assure the preservation of anything over centuries is doubtful.

Do we really need to skin goats? I don't know why a good rag bond wouldn't be equally good. Keep a written record, reproduce everything in ASCII, keep several dupes on different kinds of media in different parts of the country.

The goats really seem superfluous.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:28 AM on January 3, 2003


The only reason we can still read documents from the 15th and 16th century is because they were printed on goat. I have trouble getting back documents from the late 90's because I saved them in a WordPerfect format which isn't really reformatted well into Word or OpenOffice. It must be worth a few goats to save this information.

On the other hand maybe we could use something that lasts even longer like rock carvings? I think we would know far less about the Egyptians if they saved all their information on some proprietary laserdisc format.
posted by sebas at 3:08 AM on January 3, 2003


surely the sheer quantities of stuff we produce must guarantee that future historians have no trouble understanding us - there's not just many more people now than in egyptian times, but each produces and discards much more than in the past. so i think worrying about future historians is something of a red herring.

if historians don't need this, do we? do the contents of the queen's speech matter more than a year or two after it was given? i can't see why - apart from all the pomp and ceremony, it's just a decription of the planned work for the year, written by the government. in practical terms, what the government actually does is more important. it's also hard to see why the queen's speech alone needs velum - if this is a good medium for valuable records, why only, or particularly, the queen's speech?

but it must be nice working in a small company knowing that politicians, concerned more about appearances than practicalities, are certain to defend your job...
posted by andrew cooke at 3:21 AM on January 3, 2003


it's just a decription of the planned work for the year, written by the government. in practical terms, what the government actually does is more important.

I think the gap between a government's stated intentions and its actions is pretty important. Vital in fact.

it's also hard to see why the queen's speech alone needs velum - if this is a good medium for valuable records, why only, or particularly, the queen's speech?

Acts of Parliament as well. I think we should keep them safe.

but it must be nice working in a small company knowing that politicians, concerned more about appearances than practicalities, are certain to defend your job...

Seems to me that it's Cook who's more concerned about appearances. This government is in love with IT without knowing much about it.
posted by Summer at 3:42 AM on January 3, 2003


I think the gap between a government's stated intentions and its actions is pretty important. Vital in fact.
if this information is critical, what's the best way to provide access? wouldn't web pages be preferable to mass distribution of hand-copied parchment? how does vellum help?

This government is in love with IT without knowing much about it.
but we're all experts on goatskin?
posted by andrew cooke at 3:52 AM on January 3, 2003


Ok, it's Friday and I'm discussing writing on goats. Gotta love these holidays.

Of course museums in the future will have much more artifacts of our time than we have of times before us, but it would be nice if they can display a speech of the queen, instead of showing a cd-r disc with smudged marker writing on it saying - Queens speech - 2003. I'm not saying there shouldn't be a fully linked website with references and a dvd with the speech, deleted scenes and the Prince of Wales' commentary. I just think that people in 500 years will have a much better change to be able to read a paper / manuscript than a website.

I never knew they still used goats for this procedure, and to be honest I couldn't care less if it was goat or pig or human skin they use. There is probably a much better alternative for it anyway, altough the article doesn't say there is.

And for the record, yes, I am an expert of goatskin, they always feel soft and warm and lovable when you touch em in the dark on the way home from the p.. Oh, you're still here?
posted by sebas at 4:03 AM on January 3, 2003


if this information is critical, what's the best way to provide access? wouldn't web pages be preferable to mass distribution of hand-copied parchment? how does vellum help?

What, like this.

But we're talking about saving them for posterity, so no.
posted by Summer at 4:32 AM on January 3, 2003


We could write on sheep. Lifted from a previous comment in an earlier thread if it looks familiar.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:15 AM on January 3, 2003


I agree with Slithy_Tove: Leave the goats out of it. BUT (there's always a "BUT") there are a great number of potentially catastrophic events which could consign our great civilization to the dustbin of history and leave survivors (if any) with only a few enigmatic relics of our current age: A few scratched CD's dug up in piles of rubble, for example - ceremonial objects? Mirrors? Magical implements perhaps?

A comet, a meteor, a cloud of meteorites, novas, sudden unexpected blasts of interstellar radiation.....we don't leave in a closed system here on mother Earth. Then, of course, there is the mischief that we humans might inflict on ourselves (and the biosphere). And don't forget - there is quite a lot which is currently unknown about Earth systems, and the Earth's geological processes. Take the idea of a sudden slippage of the Earth's crust. Unthinkable? Einstein thought the idea credible. Remember, the lithosphere we live on is floating on the molten Earth core, and it is furthermore spinning. And the weight distribution around the lithospheric shell is not necessarily even....we are in fact rapidly moving towards a "unipolar" Earth, as ice at the North Pole - and on more signficantly, on Greenland - rapidly melts (experts in the field are predicting an ice free North Pole (during summer) within 50 years or less). Meanwhile the Antartic is rather heavy with ice But enough of this speculative area. Turning to recent startling, but widely accepted, scientific research:

The potential of Sudden Climate Change, on a Global scale, was an area of research inhabited mostly by cranks until about 15 years ago, when a flood of emerging evidence revealed that Climate shifts in the Earth's recent past have been quite abrupt (you might even call them "civilization killing". 20 degrees celsius within a decade, as much as 59 celsius at the poles). "Sudden climate transitions during the Quaternary"(By Jonathan Adams, MS 6335, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA"), "Climate change takes its toll on bygone civilisations... " (UK Telegraph, Jan. 27 2001) "There is "mounting evidence" that the demise of some civilisations was climate-driven, report Harvey Weiss, of Yale University, and Raymond Bradley, of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst... Scientists are now able to link the rise and fall of societies recorded in the archaeological record with evidence of the timing and magnitude of climate change held in ice cores, corals and sediments...'We find a very precise coincidence between the abrupt climate changes and the archaeological record of collapse,' says Professor Weiss. "

Given the welter of nasty suprises which could terminate the current human experiment of technlogical civilization, it is no surprise, then, that Science Magazine, one of preeminent standard bearers of well....Science in the world devoted one of it's precious monthly editorials (one per issue) to a piece written by James Lovelock, originator of the "Gaia" hypothesis (weak "Gaia", at least (if not "strong" Gaian theory), is taken very seriously by much of the scientific community) about the need for humans to condense key scientific information into compendiums printed on -- you guessed it -- PAPER. As Lovelock eloquently observes:

"As individuals, we are amazingly ignorant and incapable. How many of us, alone in a wilderness, could make a flint knife? Is there anyone now alive who knows even a tenth of everything there is to know in science? How many of those employed in the electricity industry could make any of its components, such as wires or switches? The important difference that separates us from the social insects is that they carry the instructions for nest building in their genes. We have no permanent ubiquitous record of our civilization from which to restore it should it fail. We would have to start again at the beginning.

Organisms that face desiccation often encapsulate their genes in spores so that the information for their renewal is carried through the drought. Could we encapsulate the essential information that is the basis of our civilization to preserve it through a dark age?"

posted by troutfishing at 6:45 AM on January 3, 2003


I find this whole thing extremely disturbing.
posted by toothgnip at 7:10 AM on January 3, 2003


On second thought, maybe we should print our "compendium of scientific knowledge" on deerskin? There are lots of deer running around North America, waxing and waning (and starving) in boom-bust population cycles. Thin 'em out. Stash the printed deerskins in well stocked caves.

Hunker down. Look to the sky. Wait.

And wait some more.
posted by troutfishing at 7:18 AM on January 3, 2003


On a related note, it seems to me that there's a good business opportunity out there for specialists in information retrieval from old or obsolete formats. At this moment, I have some stuff on old Colorado Jumbo 250 tapes that I'm trying to figure out how to restore in a Windows XP environment. Would be nice to just drop it off at a Kinko's-type chain and pick up a new CD-ROM later. Might have helped those Domesday guys, too.
posted by rushmc at 8:03 AM on January 3, 2003


William Cowley website and Information on Vellum

I found this pretty interesting. We're talking about dead animals, right?
posted by newlydead at 10:33 AM on January 3, 2003


rushmc -- it's not possible Ive tried. XP wont support it. Youll have to boot up a copy of Windows 95 for the drivers to work.

troutfishing -- I'm with you man. Kill the deer and hunker down. Deer Jerky should store in the caves a long time too.
posted by stbalbach at 11:22 AM on January 3, 2003


Maybe instead her majesty's government should make goat skin drums. These would come in handy while hunkering down in the caves.
posted by Dick Paris at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2003


rushmc -- it's not possible Ive tried. XP wont support it. Youll have to boot up a copy of Windows 95 for the drivers to work.

I suspected as much. Any idea if it works in 98SE?
posted by rushmc at 2:36 PM on January 3, 2003


sebas: In re: Writing documents on human parchment:

From what I understand, human skin does not hold ink well (tattoos excepted). I suppose the same would apply to parchment made from pigs.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 2:48 PM on January 3, 2003


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