Destroying information.

Progress can be lost and forgotten.

As a child, I obsessively devoured books on the history of science and technology. They all lied to me. The lie, of course, was a subtle and almost certainly unintentional one. These books painted a picture of a ‘wheel of progress’ which could be counted on to turn strictly forward, however slowly. Except for a token mention of the Dark Ages, none of them let on just how wobbly the ratchet on that wheel really is. I formed the impression that knowledge could never be truly lost, except in cataclysmic upheavals like the ancient barbarian victories or a future thermonuclear war. http://www.loper-os.org/?p=4

One of the most terrifying realization everyone must make is that progress can be lost. Brilliant ideas can wither and die, forever forgotten.

I’m pretty sure everyone was told how great the steam engine is, and how its discovery started the industrial revolution. That’s a nice statement… except it forgets to mention that the steam engine was discovered by a Greek named Hero, more than 2000 years before the said industrial revolution.

Were you ever told how the Roman law was forgotten? Yup, more than a thousand years of jurisprudence. It was “rediscovered” in the late 11th century and has influenced most legal system in place today.

Now it’s different… again

Enough with the intro. Surely this can’t happen today, with all our digitized information, redundancy and telecommunication… can’t it?

Look at this video: http://www.youtube.com/embed/mOZqRJzE8xg

At this point, any CAD user will want to cry. Why? Sketchpad has in it everything that makes CAD great. Sure, there has been some ameliorations and some more convenient ways to draw, but the basis is there. Nothing in 50 years has dramatically changed. Stop, reread the last sentence slowly.

OK, so we are in some slow times… doesn’t mean it’s bad…

No, it isn’t bad yet. However, I’m glimpsing at a gloomy future. Every once in a while, I stumble upon engineering firm’s blueprints made in Visio. Now, I have nothing against Visio when used for what it was intended, which is small and quick flowcharts. But I cringe when I see those serious-pay-us-big-money firms drawing in Visio. This software wasn’t designed to do these things! Just like Excel wasn’t designed as a database software and shouldn’t be used as such (yes, I’m looking at you Excel user). Working in Visio seems easy, just like working with exploded dimensions in traditional CAD.

Stuck in time

I would be so happy if it was only a software problem. Unfortunately even the drawers doesn’t appear to care. Some CAD users have written amazing macros, multiplying their productivity ten fold, while others do nothing. They literally draw every single line by hand, or should I say, by mouse. Computers were invented to help! If you do everything just like you would with a pen and a piece of paper, you’re doing it wrong! In fact, if you ever wish you could hire someone to do some tedious task on a computer, you should probably rethink about how you interact with the machine. As a tangent, here is one of my favorite function in a computer: search. A computer can search for text way faster than anyone can. Ask Google about it. When I work, I search for precise string in a document at minimum 20 times per hour, which saves me a tremendous amount of time.

Now, back to the lack of improvements. The single most important improvement since 1960’s Sketchpad is the ability to use the digital files, instead of printed blueprints. There is so many advantages in using a digital version:

  • Every copy of a digital file is as good as the original (every copy is the original);
  • The file is lighter;
  • Can be sent via the Internet;
  • Possible to archive a staggering amount, with multiple redundancy;
  • The text is searchable

Oddly enough, some people don’t seem to see these advantages, or simply don’t care. This is why I think it’s the case:

  • I still receive paper blueprints. I don’t care what’s your age, if you like computer or if an alien abducted you last night. Don’t ever send me a paper blueprint!
  • I often receive PDF that were scanned. Somewhere, somehow, somebody printed the document (destroying every invisible information), scanned it, and sent me the now 80 mo file (yes, it happened). Just send me the friggin’ original file!
  • Lo and behold, when I succeed in acquiring the original PDF, the text is non-searchable. Even if somebody typed in every single letter in the precious CAD document, they destroyed it by printing in some kind of vector-only curves PDF. With a truly nice document, I could hit Ctrl-f, enter my string, and voilà! Instead, I have to look everywhere, slowly, perhaps multiple times, to find what I’m looking for.

So here we have it. These people are destroying information. I admit, most are oblivious to all that. For them, a PDF is a PDF is a PDF. Still, someone worked hard to input all this data in a blueprint and it shouldn’t be destroyed by some thoughtless actions. If you happen to have any influence in this domain, please, oh please, make sure your precious data is safe and can be shared easily.


5 responses to “Destroying information.

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