Data preservation in a digital age

Posted on: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 22:44 By: Tom Swiss

As Bruce Sterling and Richard Kadrey's Dead Media Project has shown, information may last a lot longer that our ability to read it. For example, try reading an old WordPerfect file stored on a 5 1/4 inch floppy from the days of MS-DOS.

What to do about preserving information amidst the constant flux of file formats, software applications, storage hardware, and operating systems? The National Archives and Records Administration has awarded Lockheed Martin a $308 million, six-year contract to build an system to preserve federal electronic records in a media, software, and hardware-independent fashion. We'll see.

A different approach to information preservation is being taken by the Rosetta Project of the Long Now Foundation. As fifty to ninety percent of the world's 7,000-odd languages are predicted to disappear in the next century, they are attempting to create a near permanent physical archive of 1,000 of them, in the form of a large number of micro-etched 3" nickel disks scattered about as heirlooms.

Reuters: Court says flag pledge violates Constitution

Posted on: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 18:00 By: Tom Swiss
Reuters reports that Michael Newdow has successfully revived his case against school prayer in the form of the "under God" phrase of the "Pledge of Allegiance".


In June 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Californian atheist Michael Newdow could not challenge the pledge's phrase "under God" on behalf of his daughter because he did not have full legal control over her.

Newdow immediately filed a new federal case in which he offered to represent two families against the Elk Grove Unified School District, the same Sacramento-area district he had previously sued.

Vitamin C and cancer - another round of the debate

Posted on: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 12:16 By: Tom Swiss

The BBC reports on a new study showing intravenous vitamin C in the form of ascorbate may help fight cancer.

The science about the health benefits of vitamin C is, to say the least, fraught with controversy, dating back to when Nobel laureate Linus Pauling first suggested it might help fight the common cold and cancer. Two sides of the issue: from Alacer, makers of Emergen-C, versus Stephen Barrett's "Quackwatch" .

Can we please smack the next person to say "death tax"?

Posted on: Tue, 09/13/2005 - 16:16 By: Tom Swiss

Listening to To The Point while washing dishes last night, I found myself resisting the urge to throw things at the radio during an interview with wingnut Senator Rick Santorum (pick your link: Dan Savage style or Senate website style). No, not because of his famous homophobia (not this time), but because of his references to the inheritance tax as the "death tax".

Lack of confidence in police honesty

Posted on: Tue, 09/13/2005 - 14:57 By: Tom Swiss

The Baltimore Sun reports on a new grand jury convened to prepare a report suggesting ways to restore public confidence in the Baltimore Department.

As evidence that this is a problem worthy of its attention, McCurdy told the grand jury about two recent cases in which city judges doubted the word of police officers.

In the past two weeks, two weapons violations cases have crumbled - and convicted felons who admitted carrying loaded revolvers were able to avoid five-year prison sentences - because judges believed the guns might have been discovered illegally.

Clickety-clack of keyboard can give you away

Posted on: Tue, 09/13/2005 - 13:26 By: Tom Swiss

Freedom to Tinker summarizes a paper on snooping typed information by analyzing a recording of the typing sounds.

The recovered text gets about 90% of the words right and is said to be "quite readable". While passwords don’t have the same statistical properties as ordinary text, as long as the password-typing is accompanied by enough English-typing the algorithm can come up with a short list of possible passwords, which almost always includes the correct one.

"Sounds let eavesdroppers determine what you're typing" plus "cellphone companies can remotely install software to activate the microphone when the user is not making a call" equals "a creepy feeling up and down my spine".

Mike Tidwell: "Get Used To It: New Orleans is Our Future"

Posted on: Mon, 09/12/2005 - 17:38 By: Tom Swiss

I'm not quite sure when I first heard about how a hurricane like Katrina could destroy New Orleans; I know it was at least a few years ago. Mike Tidwell wrote a book about it in 2003: Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast. No one paid much attention to the book then, but since Katrina struck, he's been on "Meet the Press", CNN (three times), Fox, MSNBC, CBS, and NPR. He says, "[M]y main objective in all of these interviews is to raise awareness of how climate change will soon turn every coastal city in the world into a New Orleans unless we make a rapid switch to clean, renewable energy."

Since he pretty much hit it on the nose before, sounds like it might be a good idea to listen to him now, no? Read his essay, which makes clear just how much of the Katrina tragedy was a result of poor environmental policy, here.

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