[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Fri Dec 5 01:11:44 CST 2008

On Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 2:50 PM, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:
>...  If I had to guess, I suspect that PDF file resoution
> software will be with us for a long time.

Agree.  But that does not make the practice, even between consenting
adults, excusable.

> Adding one more (but still fundamental) layer -- XML --
> gives us a great deal of structuring power on top of the UTF-encoded text.

Agree.  And the reason this has gained some acceptance is that it is
still readable and understandable (more or less) when dumped to paper
by humans.

> This is the context in which I meant the format issue is a red herring.  As
> long as we have binary computers, we will also have at least ASCII, and very
> likely also UTF-8 and XML.

This issue is not whether it is binary or not but how much and how
complex is the technology required to get it from the stored form to
the human form, which in this case is the alphanumerpunctobet.  This
is something we can probably keep in our sights with textual
information, but when it comes to digital images and other multimedia
there is no equivalent of ASCII and we are already in *deep* trouble.

> And short of the complete collapse of civilization,

... happening as we speak...

> when we move beyond binary computers, there is no doubt in my
> mind that there will be ample opportunity to translate the binary-encoded
> information into whatever the next fundamental computer information system
> is.

You are quite right... sort of...  with any new technology there will
be a mechanism to migrate from the existing to the new - to do
otherwise would be a suicidal business decision.   The problem is,
because it is a business model, they will offer the the minimum
migration they can get away with.  Thus your solution will only work
if you migrate (and test) *everything* - every time.  The reality is
(or has been) that in every migration process some things get
overlooked and forgotten surviving in the old format until one fine
day, 'sorry this format is no longer supported'.  There is a strong
analogy in the evolutionary process here that will probably not be
lost on Taxacom.  And the more taxonomy we do the more we will have to
migrate and test each time.

This is happening with us now and I assume it is happening everywhere
- make a migration to a new system, test a few random (or targetted)
instances and assume (and hope) the rest are going to be ok.  With
millions of items we can not do otherwise, and if something did not go
right it may be years before we stumble on the records in question.
And as the asset grows, with every iteration the possible QA
percentage of the entire data set gets less and less.

Most things I do not give a stuff about, but this this one keeps me
awake at night.  "What did you do in the war Granddad?"  "Oh, not much
really, I just help herald and usher in the dawn of Digital Dark
Age..." *

> The issue of "what's important" and what gets perpetuated is, in all
> respects, the same for both electronically encoded information and
> ink-on-paper information.  If books are important, they will be maintained
> and cared-for and perpetuated in libararies. If e-documents are important,
> they will be maintained and cared-for and perpetuated in electronic
> archives.

I think there is a fundamental difference, and this that is the
contraction of time scales in the digital world.  The paper just sits
there and no-one has to (or should) offer an a priori value judgment
of their importance; you will be able to come back in a couple of
centuries and make an assessment in that context.  The works are *all*
important, even is the taxonomy is later deemed to be invalid,
illegitimate, etc.  With the electronic stuff, its future depends on
its value being flagged as important, in anticipation of what might or
might not exist in the future.   While we can say it is 'all
important' too, in the migrating digital world importance is (or has
been) guaged by whether the item is still in use at the time of
migration.   For managers of archival things and information, this is
the stuff of nightmares.

> "...let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from
> the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such
> a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of
> accident."

This is a very valid sentiment to quote and we use this strategic
principle ourselves.  But it has to be asked, how valuable will be a
million copies of something that can not be read?

> It is in this capacity -- the ability to quickly and cheaply produce "such a
> multiplication of copies" -- that e-documents utterly blow the doors off of
> paper (and especially stone-engraved) documents.  In the long run, I believe
> that this attribute will dominate over the issues that place e-documents at
> a disadvantage. But, of course, only time will tell.

And this is exactly the trade off that is exercising us at the moment.
  A single simple bomb-proof solution or a multitude of complex
fragile ones.   Or, the age-old problem of whether to put put the eggs
in one stout basket, or in a dozen paper bags.   Or, to put a dollar
on  the 100:1 or  $10 on the favourite.  Or...

It is all about risk... and you just know when you are taking too much...

But on the other hand it would be kind of cool to be able to blog a
new species...  :)


* becuuse the foregoing should keep you awake, some bedtime reading:

> Aloha,
> Rich
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Jim Croft [mailto:jim.croft at gmail.com]
>> Sent: Friday, December 05, 2008 1:33 AM
>> To: Richard Pyle
>> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic
>> publishing
>> 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 page?
>> 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)

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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