O J Way Oren Rosenthal Austin,TX

Archiving Part I: Maintaining Primary Source Information

Posted in Technology by OJWay on May 23rd, 2008 permalink

Appalachian Folk Singer Mary Lomax
Note: I’m dividing this post into parts one and two. The inspiration for this post is a New Yorker article called “The Last Verse” by Burkhard Bilger about musicologists making field recordings of lost blues artists in the Georgia mountains. Part II is available here.


The Digital Memory Crisis

The Information Age has made long-term archiving much more difficult. It’s ironic. At first glance it’s easier than ever to store documents on a flash drive, or Yahoo! Briefcase, or one-touch backup. But easy backup can leave people with a false sense of security because there are serious long-term hazards for stored digital information.

  1. Degradation of the storage media itself. Acidic paper and magnetic tape are the most obvious examples that come to mind, but did you know that even CD-Rs can be counted on to last only up to 5 years? For example, *reportedly* 10-20% of data from the Viking Missions to Mars is lost due to the degradation of the magnetic tape. (BTW, this has fueled conspiracy theories that NASA is suppressing information about life on Mars.) *I can’t find any authoritative confirmation of this fact though, so if you can find it please comment.*
  2. The obsolescence of media technologies often prevents the retrieval of digital information. As a vinyl record collector I know this phenomenon pretty darned well. A good example of this was the near-loss of data from the 1960 census that was stored in a format that could only be read by vintage UNIVAC tape drives. Good luck getting hold of one of those! It took several years to get that data back.

Taken together, the Council of Library and Information Resources calls this the Digital Memory Crisis. But there’s a third hazard as well:

  1. The needle in the haystack problem. The vast quantities of data being produced are often routinely backed up without regard to their long-term usefulness. The really useful stuff is saved alongside the dross of the information age, and the knowledge of where to find it may be forgotten after only a few days.

Way Back Machine

9-track take with protection ringSo let me reminisce about my days at Raytheon. I was working on a radar system, but it was already well along its development path. It had been commissioned in the mid-80s, but it called for technology that was “tried and true” even back then, and presumably bug-free. That had a lot of disadvantages, but a cool part was that I learned to use (more…)

Busting out of Commoditization - Mimobots

Posted in Technology by OJWay on May 10th, 2008 permalink

I think a lot about commoditization. How does a company in a mature industry differentiate its products from its competitors’? It’s a battle we were fighting every day at Dell. So I want to share with you my most recent favorite gadget, my Mimobot.

I have a friend from Babson, Evan Blaustein, who started a company called mimoco. They make designer USB flash drives called Mimobots. He got the idea because he collects limited edition vinyl art toys. Apparently designer toys are big in Japan, but I thought it was a pretty bad idea when I first heard about it. Who would pay $40 - $100 for a commoditized object like a $20 flash drive? I didn’t see much of a market.

R2-D2 mimobotI started to understand the potential last year when Evan came to SXSW. First off, he told me that he had sold out of all of the inventory he brought to town. But what really got me excited was that he’d gotten a license to make mimobots based on Star Wars characters. There are people who will buy any officially licensed Star Wars merchandise, especially if it’s from a limited edition. I went out and bought an R2D2, and I kept it in the packaging. If it appreciates a lot I can sell it to pay for my son’s college education. Here’s a picture of the R2D2 Mimobot in its spiffy packaging.

I’m working from home so much these days that I’ve started to use flash drives all the time. I had a smaller one that I’d gotten for free somewhere. It was utilitarian and it worked and I used it every day. It was a commodity. But then I got my very own mimobot. It’s a model called Rasta Domo. It’s a variation on a Japanese animated character who I knew nothing about, but I liked the fact that this mimobot has a guitar.

Rasta Domo in his hoodieAs I started using it every day I quickly identified with it to the point that it stopped being just a flash drive. I now refer to my Mimobot as “he”. That’s not by accident - Mimoco packages their Mimobots with special features that enhance their personality. For example, Rasta Dojo comes in his own little pouch which can be worn around the neck. Here he is inside his “hoodie.” The Mimobot also comes with SoundByte software that makes random expressions each time you plug your mimobot in or take it out. I’m not sure what the sounds mean - I think they’re in Japanese.    

But the important thing is that my flash drive is no longer a commodity to me. Nice job, Evan! 

About the Delay!

Posted in Technology by admin on May 7th, 2008 permalink

To all my readers - forgive the down time. I’m in the midst of converting the blog from Movable Type to Word Press. It’s much easier to use. I’m still having a little trouble getting images to line up correctly, but I’m sure I can fix that soon. So keep your eye out and I’ll start putting the old posts back up.