Thursday, January 22

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Pst Fnd in a Blg

Glenn Reynolds has a new Tech Central Station column up, this time about memory - both computer and human. It's worth reading, though I do have a couple of nits to pick.

First, he suggests that 10TB of storage would be enough to hold a lifetime's worth of experiences, given an estimated data stream of 100MB per second. A quick calculation (86,400 seconds in a day, 365.25 days per year, say 75 years life expectancy) yields a number around 2400 times larger than that. The original article is just a short piece in Wired (scroll down to Digital Recording for the Analog Soul) so I'm not sure exactly what was meant to go into that 10TB - possibly just selected or compressed data.

When Glenn says

Every time I buy a new computer, I just copy my old files over. I should go through and delete the unnecessary ones, but I don't. The reason is that it's too much time and trouble, and the new hard drive -- being, inevitably, much larger than the old hard drive -- has plenty of room. The result now is that I have over 100,000 files.
I just have to laugh. Not at him, mind you, but at myself. My latest Linux box has a 720GB RAID 5 array containing 1.7 million files... There are actually more than that, but some of them are still compressed into archives following the Great Transition a few weeks back. My Windows box holds another 350,000 or so, a point which was brought to me with great force when my filesystem got corrupted. Just scanning the file allocation table took hours. It took several days to recover all the files.

There's one flaw in the article, though, that I can't easily excuse. Glenn talks about indexing and library science, even quoting Robert Heinlein on the subject:

Figuring out how to index and find all of this stuff simply underscores the wisdom of Robert Heinlein's statement: "library science is the foundation of all sciences, just as math is the key -- and we will survive or founder, depending on how well the librarians do their jobs."
But he utterly fails to mention the seminal work of literature on the subject, Hal Draper's Ms Fnd in a Lbry. It's been out of print for decades, though you may be able to find a second-hand copy of Laughing Space, a collection of science fiction humour edited by Isaac Asimov and Janet Jeppson.

Ms Fnd in a Lbry is about the collapse of civilisation when the master index to the Great Library becomes corrupted, a quite remarkable insight given that the story was written in 1961. The other key insight in the story is that the indexes, bibliographies and glossaries (not to mention the index to indexes, the bibliography of glossaries, and so on) so far outweigh the actual data that the data itself ends up getting lost.

A hint as to the source of this insight came from (of all places) a Marxist mailing list from 1997: Hal Draper became a part-time microfilm acquisitions librarian at the University of California at Berkeley. I can see how that job might have sent his thoughts heading in a particular direction.

If you can find Ms Fnd in a Lbry somewhere - it doesn't seem to have been posted to the web, which is something of a surprise since everything else has - then do read it, because not only is it both insightful and foresightful as I have said, it is also very funny. (As a geek I particularly enjoyed the discussion of how to store multiple bits of data on a single subatomic particle, and how nudged quanta won out over notched quanta. But that's just me.)

Note: The first version of this post used GB when it should have said TB. Twice. I'm sure that's a sign of... Something.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 10:31 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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1 Pixy - that is not only extremely interesting, it's about the first thing I've read here I can understand. Good post.

Posted by: Simon at Thursday, January 22 2004 11:37 PM (GWTmv)

2 That story description sounds damned familiar, but I'm positive I've never read that Asimov collection. I wonder if it's shown up in some other short story anthologies over the years? I used to read a lot of short fiction when I was in school, but you eventually run out of Golden Age material, and the various Nebula & Hugo collections. I guess I could get myself a subscription to one of the surviving monthly magazines, but I'm pretty bad at taking my castor oil. I still have a third of The Education of Henry Adams and Ferguson's history of the Roman Republic bookmarked from a short-lived burst of pseudo-intellectual virtue a month or two ago...

Posted by: Mitch H. at Friday, January 23 2004 03:24 PM (tVSJJ)

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