October 12, 2022
One of my favorite science fiction books is A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr., originally published in 1960. This post-apocalyptic tale of destruction and rebuilding includes “sacred blueprints” so treasured that monks spend their entire lives producing copies. I won’t spoil the book for you by revealing the plot twist, but suffice it to say there was a huge misunderstanding. This novel came to mind while writing on the importance of maintaining written records of product development projects. Before computers came along it was standard practice to have three ring binders full of notes, calculations, and sketches to complement the rooms filled with pen and ink or pencil drawings of the components and assemblies. As long as the roof did not leak and the mice were not too hungry, future designers could count on references for the next product. Even when computers came into play, electronic storage was limited so we simply printed out reports and added them to the archives. As electronic “memory” became more affordable, we stopped slaughtering trees and started putting floppy discs and later CDs into the folders. We did not anticipate the rapid obsolescence of storage formats or the degradation of the storage media itself. What good is a 5-1/4 inch floppy disc these days? Or a 1990 vintage AutoCad file? Where many of us once kept hard copies of every Fall Technical Meeting paper we now expect to be able to access them via the Internet. Here at Gear Technology we take great pride in having all of our content immortalized on the worldwide web. Many of your companies have posted catalogs and application data on your websites. Am I just being a curmudgeon expressing concern that all that content could be gone in a millisecond of mischief by hackers? I am no devotee of the “sacred blueprints,” but would hate to see the collected knowledge of our time vanish in the modern-day equivalent of the Alexandria Library fire. Maybe we need to put some hard copies in clay jars in a desert cave somewhere.