Will we need cyber archaeologists.
Looking at it, its the oddesd of things. This flimsy plastic box with two round holes in it, seems to come from another age. A brown warn little plastic tape worms itsself from one side of the container to the other. Only 20 some years old , the cassette is as obsolete as the dinosaurs. Yet a few weeks ago my dear aunt called me up in a panic, telling the tale how the evil old cassette player she had owned for so many years had 'eaten' a cassete with a recording on it of my late grandmother singing. I of course offered to go ahead and fix it. After half an hour of poking and prodding with a pair of tweezers and some sticky tape I managed to get the cassette back together. Now I just had to find a cassette player to play it on… It was at that moment i realised .. I did not have one anymore. The thought propped up to me that we store so much information these days on so many carriers, but yet all these media are futile and soon we won't be able to recover anything we stored 10 years ago because technology moves so fast. Will we need cyber archeologists in the future ?
Media are futile.
There are few media that survive the test of time. Even paper turns to dust after so many hundred years, depending on how it is stored. And so are the media we store stuff on today. The average lifespan of a cassette tape, a cd-recordable, a dat tape or even a floppy disk does not even come close to the lifespan of paper. Yet while a single peace of paper can hold out for a hundred years, a DVD rom with all the collected works of Plato won't last a hundred years at all. The loss off information that can occur when our media turn sour is only multiplied by the enormous amounts of data they can carry. To loose a single sheet of paper over the course of a thousand years might be a loss, To loose a thousand documents on a single cd-rom after 10 years is even worse. So what is there to do but to transfer information from medium to medium in order to let it stand the test of time ? Or what if we find the carrier that will last us to infinity.. What format must we use to write our data ?
Formats are fleeting
If your average DLT tape will turn brittle and break in a hundred years you might just have been lucky. Think not of the medium the information is written on , think of the format the information is stored in. Format types like .doc , .xls and so on are even more fleeting then their carriers. You can make your programs backward compatible into the extreme , supporting exotic fileformats of days long gone is a painfull task. Some, like .html, .txt .pdf and .rdf, might be supported for years to come, but what about other, exotic and propriatary standards, formats of backup programs and so on. One might hold a treasured box of data in ones hand but if the fileformat is no longer supported .. How can we ever access it ? Perhaps we will find the key to the format .. but what about the system it was written for ?
Systems are fleeting
It can be even worse. Say we have salvaged the medium and have somewhere found the original application to read it with. What if it only runs on specific hardware ? An evolution that is even faster then the formats and the media , must be the hardware ! What if the information we need only runs on some ancient system like say for example a commodore 64 ? Where to find one ? and even more importantly : where to find the parts if something breaks. Even to this day some "legacy' programs that are still being used in production, run on hardware that is no longer supported by the manufacturer. So what do we have to do ? Store both the information, the media, the original application AND the hardware it runs on in our archives ? What can be so important that we need to go through all this hassle ?
what is important
"So what .." I hear you say ? What if we loose that excell file thats 8 years old ? Who cares ? … But that is just it. We might know what information is important today, but we will never be able to tell what information is pivotal or trivial in the future. The first posting by Linus Torvalds on usenet might have been unimportant, Yett only history will tell wether this one event might be something for the historybooks. The fact is we store more and more information these days on systems, media and in formats that might not stand the test of time. Wether or not something will be important in the future is impossible to tell at this time, thus we risk turning the digital era we live in today, into tomorrows informational dark ages , from which nothing will be remembered in the future.
I see a new profession emerging. Perhaps starting out as a niche market, later to evolve in something that will turn into an exact science. People who spend their time looking through old digital archives. Who have the skills to work with old legacy hardware, know which side is up on a floppy disk , and God forbid, even speak the language of the old commodore 64. Cyber-archeologists digging through our digital past, being able to unlock and uncover the secrets of the past and bring them back in the light of whatever modern civilisation there might be. A proffesion that holds both the keys to FINDING information and being able to ACCESS it aswell. A trait of archeologists not speaking of the jurrasic but of the "basic" or the "x86" period of the past …
As evolution speeds up .. so does the regression of the past into oblivion.
I for one do think we will have them in the future. Experts in finding what was stored but yet was lost. Keepers of keys that can unlock the files from our past and bring them back. With the amount of information we produce, the digital legacy we leave behind… its unthinkable that these things would be lost forever in a period of only a few decenia. Prove me wrong .. Digg into your past and find the first digital document you ever made ? Perhaps you"ll need a cyber-archaeologists to complete the task.
When a new linux distribution hits the scene its always a little bit like Christmas. As the beta releases taunt you like packages beneath the tree, tempting you to try them out .. The hard part is sitting on your hands untill the website screams FINAL and the fun can begin. Thus here is my little christmas carol about how I updated my good old Ubuntu Linux 6.06 version to the latest in 6.10.
No beta's please.
Every new release of a linux distribution (in this case the new Ubuntu) puts the blender in the rumor pot. What is new , what is going to change, this and that cool stuff is going to be new, are they gonna drop this and that. The only way to divide fact from fiction is downloading and installing the public beta versions that are released. Now I have never been one for beta's. And that is for two reasons. First of all because a beta never gives you a clear picture of what is going to be the final product. Sure, you might get a glimpse in the general direction, but the difference between the beta and the final release may be as dramatic as the difference between cookie dough and the finished brownie. Secondly : Beta's are mostly far from stable. Unless you are a developer or some genius programmer who can find and fix bugs in this PRE-released version of a final distro, its not gonna do you much good. Forget using a public beta as a stable system. You are riding an unfinished car to the finish line. If you are masochistic and love to hog unpredictable kernels I would suggest turning to any version of Windows before its service pack one.
Thus I bide my time till the final comes. And when my curiosity gets the best of my I'll just download the fucker and run it in a virtual machine.
Why should we care to upgrade ?
Erm.. Good question. In the case of Ubuntu 6.06 it was out of sheer curiosity.
I (finally) got my current version to play nice with my home network, had it all eye-candied out so it looked smooth and more importantly, gotten used to the look-feel and possibilities of this worthy windows-replacing operating system. Since it was a "decimal" upgrade (from 6.06 to 6.1) there was no rush. (When however they moved from 5. to 6. I was all over the place with joy). The other thing is, Linux distributions evolve differently from windows distributions. In mickey-software they whack in all the cool toys and worry about security POST RELEASE. In Ubuntu they make sure the system is steam liner-stable and "Fort Knox secure" before they release it. All the "fancy smancies" are developed later by the community. So a Ubuntu distro can be considered "ripe for use" about two weeks after release when the command-line-geeks have had enough of caffeine driven all nighters and coded the crap out of themselves to prep the add-ons.
But upgrade we shall ! (reinstall / upgrade)
Now, If I had absolutely nothing to do with my life, and installed/reinstalled my system every time there was a kernel fart, a re-installation was something to consider. Wiping ones hard drive clean and installing an OS from scratch is like wearing clean underwear or sleeping in fresh sheets. But since I had my 6.06 running so smoothly the thought of upgrading crossed my mind. With windows I would never EVER Consider this , and even on my mac i like it better when i can erase/reinstall rather then upgrade. But I decided it was time to test the agility and maturity of Linux by going for the upgrade.. (and just maybe I'm a lazy fuck who did not want to wipe his porn ?) If you have the time go for a clean reinstall , If you don't want to wipe a working system, try the upgrade. You can always reinstall when it goes wrong.
Upgrading a working system.
I could tattoo the following advice into peoples forehead yet they would not listen to me until one day .. they loose everything. " BACKUP BACKUP BACKUP" what ever you do to a working system, make sure you backup everything before you begin. Don''t even try to come over and wine about all the crap you lost. I'll laugh in your face , step on your toe and write "I TOLD YOU SO' on your belly with pink lipstick. Afterwards you can run around naked in shame for all I care. I have no compassion for persistent stupidity. Next up : Be prepared for failure. Don't try elaborate shit like this if you need to get a paper out by next morning. Be prepared for total system fucky-uppie and start working on emergency response scenario's should your "kernel based acrobatics" fail.
The magic command line code
So lets get started. We have " one cup of Ubuntu 6.06, with the important data and settings skimmed' Next up I found this great website that teaches you how to upgrade using just one line of code. Just pop open your command line window and type :
gksu "update-manager -c"
Next up enter your administrator password. The message will come up a new update is available and you need to click the 'update" button to do so. So what should you do ? … Hit it you twit !. The upgrade process will take quite some time so be prepared to actually spend time with your family and do what "normal' people do. Don't bite your nails awaiting the completion of this process.. Why ? cause its not nice !
After about an hour the whole thing will be done, Reboot your system and say a prayer to "Sint Rita" who is the holy chaperone for lost causes. If Rita can't help you .. you are officially screwed.
The magic word : Automatix !
If all went well you'll have a completely upgraded system. Otherwise enjoy your horrible " KERNEL PANIC" message heralding the end of your operating system as you have know it thus far. But you backed up all important data anyway .. didn't you .. So now the trick is to make this fancy new version of Ubuntu into a working operating system. This means, being able to play *wmv files, play dvd's, be able to run Google earth and what have you . In short : All the good stuff. To do this there is the magical script of AUTOMATIX that will help you accomplish what takes geeks months, in mere minutes.
If you had automatix installed on your old 6.06 system , lets remove it first shall we ? : Open a command line an type :
sudo apt-get remove automatix
enter your admin password and be gone with the old automatix.
Then we prepare to install AUTOMATIX2. So in our command line window we type : sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list
this will let you add the following line to the end your sources list ( where your linux gets his good stuff)
deb http://www.getautomatix.com/apt edgy main If you see any simular lines with a # in front of them, remove the # and save the file.
Now we enter some geeky lines in order to make automatix work. (hit ENTER after every line)
gpg –import key.gpg.asc
gpg –export –armor 521A9C7C | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install automatix2
If all went well you will now have a little AUTOMATIX icon in your
gnome menu ( APPLICATIONS / SYSTEM TOOLS / AUTOMATIX
And then some.
Now the good stuff can start. As you see , in automatix you can choose what good stuff to install , if I where you I would check every little tickbox and then get some more quality time with the family. The installation of programs like , skype , google earth , picasa and more might take some time. But when you are done all the stuff works fine and you are the proud owner of a fully working Ubuntu 6.10. Have fun.