Bit Rot

People want to treat data like a thing. They assume that if you buy some storage, and you put your bits in it, it’s more or less like a safe deposit box – as long as the thing looks okay from the outside, there’s no problem. Just pop the key in when you want to, and – hey presto – the data springs out, pristine and ready.

Would that it were so.

Data is dangerously fragile and ephemeral. It’s a not-entirely-accidental collection of electrical charges that manage to emerge in some useful order… most of the time. But shift just a few of those bits around, or drop a couple on the floor, and the whole construct become no more intelligible than line noise on a telephone wire.

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

It’s happened again.

The life of a technology professional can sometimes feel like that of a doctor. You’re introduced to someone, and the moment you tell them your metier, their eyes take on a particular look and they say, “You know, I’ve been having this problem recently….” Immediately, the conversation becomes a diagnostic session.

I suppose everyone a lawyer meets has a court case pending, too.

So there I am, sitting down at a local cafe with a book and my morning coffee, and someone collars me with a request. “You need to write about CD Rot,” She says with a wry, knowing smile. Immediately, I put the book away. This is going to take some time.

(Before I go on, let me say that I actually enjoy these little conversations. If I didn’t, I would never have lasted as long as I have in IT. Heaven knows I wouldn’t be writing this column.)

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