Rescued documentation issues

Ian King IanK at
Mon Oct 26 17:21:53 CDT 2009

> -----Original Message-----
> From: cctalk-bounces at [mailto:cctalk-
> bounces at] On Behalf Of Philipp Hachtmann
> Sent: Monday, October 26, 2009 1:33 PM
> To: On-Topic and Off-Topic Posts
> Subject: Re: Rescued documentation issues
> > This is a tough one. What I'm finding is there is very little
> detailed
> > documentation
> > that has been archived on how systems were built, along with the
> > applications that
> > ran them for exactly the reasons you give. The best you find are
> > overviews in
> > the trade publications of the time.
> Hm, overviews could be of greater historic interest. I used google and
> it seems that my docs belong to a paper making machine control system.
> And it seems that those are still around somewhere.
> What you get from technicians in most cases is not what gives you the
> "big picture" of a system rather than drowns you in detail.
> For the paper thing, I have binders and binders and binders full of
> flowchart diagrams, listings, more diagrams, ECOs, memos etc.
> But I have not yet found the machine's design documents or something
> that gives me an overview.

Of course, there's always a counterexample, and I'm going to offer one.  One of my colleagues needed to decipher some 'images' of DECtapes that were created by simply extracting track contents (essentially, recording the read head output) into a disk file on a modern PC.  Interpreting those images required in-depth research regarding DECtape media format and the use of same by various DEC operating systems and utilities.  

> > Are historians going to be interested in artifacts to this level of
> detail?
> My (little) experience would say: Not really.

I am!  I am!  :-)   My position, that detail is important, is premised on the belief that if we are committed to preserving the history of information technology, we need to preserve the artifacts as *working* systems.  
But I also recognize the practical challenges of saving the immense amount of information created over the last few decades.  Saving it in physical format requires a great deal of space and curatorial care (to avoid damage over time and to provide meaningful access to it) and even the finest such program can be rendered moot by a random spark.  Saving it in electronic format is labor-intensive and runs the risk of loss of information through noise in the process (i.e. scan quality) or the obsolescence of storage and representation formats.  I've had numerous conversations with Library Science types regarding the latter problem.  It's a hard one.  

UNIX is user friendly.  It's just selective about who its friends are.  
Ian S. King, Sr. Vintage Systems Engineer
Living Computer Museum
A project of Vulcan, Inc.

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