[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 18:33:04 CST 2008

So am I... well, sort of...  I have been reading this thread with
great interest and, morbid soul that I am, that heady rising emotion
associated with the dark pall of fear and dread of inevitable doom and
an eternity of pain and suffering...  and I see before us a beckoning
road of taxonomic hell and information management perdition.

With all the talk of formats and migration of important documents (and
who decides what is an 'important' document, in what context, by what
standards - a document that was important in 1753, may still be
important today, may cease be important in 2053 but if someone decides
it is 'important again in 2353, we are screwed - but I digress...), I
am struck with an overwhelming impression that although we claim to be
looking to the future, we are actually looking at the past.

Yea, I have seen seen the Face of Hell.... and it is us...

The result of looking at and defining electronic publishing as 'sort
of like a book, only on a computer' is that we will be doomed to a
life of more of the same, only more evanescent, and all we will
produce is are fragile repositories of electronic laminar wood pulp.

What we have been talking about is the equivalent of looking at that
quintessential 'important document', the Rosetta Stone, deciding it
was indeed an important document, taking a black and white photograph
of it (because it is after all black a white object), for security
making black and white prints of it and sending them to other
institutions, for convenience scanning the prints, converting the raw
scan to a TIFF, colourizing the TIFF to add value, converting to a GIF
for compactness, a JPEG to compress a little space, making a JPEG2000
out of it because this is a better more flexible and cool format,
turning it into a PNG so that all browsers can see it, making a PDF
out of the PNG for compatibility with what the libraries are doing,
declaring victory and proclaiming that henceforth the
RAWGIFTIFFJPEG200PNGPDF continuum is the eternal standard and all
important new rocks must now be created this way.

What if we were to focus on the message rather than the medium?  In
taxonomy what is important?  The printed page or the words on the

What if we were to define electronic publishing not as producing an
electronic a document but as an attributed fact/assertion or an
attributed collection of facts/assertions in the 'taxonomy database',
where the metadata standard is declared to be ASCII and the content of
all resources is described in this format?  So instead of constantly
migrating to a new format and a new technology, we just ensure that
whatever is presented is pushed back to the foundation of text in a
structured and controlled database.  (Go Standards! Go TDWG!)  And we
retrofit all prior resources into the same repository.  What if
electronic publishing becomes an act of not what it looks like but
what it contains?  Technology can (should!) be divorced from the
content and concentrate on what it does best - rendering content to
whatever formats may be appropriate in time and context.

Future proofing is not about the latest and best technologies.  It is
about ridding ourselves of as much technology as we possibly can..  Oh
why has the enlightenment of neo-luddism eluded us for so long?

Yep - nothing like a bit of the old fear and dread to achieve clarity
of thought and mission focus... :)

Repent comrades!  Lest you visit an eternity conversion and endless
migration in the wilderness upon your children and the children of
their children and the children of...  (you get the picture...) ...

jim (in the process of deciding whether to abandon hope at Hades' Gates)

... and if PDF becomes part of of any electronic publishing standard,
I shall unleash the rumoured and feared internet TSDB
(TaxonomyServiceDenialBot) that will bring Taxacom to its knees.  You
have been warned!

On Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 1:53 AM, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:
> First of all, like Frank and Denis, I am absolutely *delighted* to see this
> conversation happen on Taxacom.

Jim Croft ~ jim.croft at gmail.com ~ +61-2-62509499

"Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality."
- Joseph Conrad, author (1857-1924)

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