Thursday, November 16, 2017

Techno-hype part 2

Don't, don't, don't, don't believe the hype!
Public Enemy

Enough about the hype around self-driving cars, now on to the hype around cryptocurrencies.

Sysadmins like David Gerard tend to have a realistic view of new technologies; after all, they get called at midnight when the technology goes belly-up. Sensible companies pay a lot of attention to their sysadmins' input when it comes to deploying new technologies.

Gerard's Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts is a must-read, massively sourced corrective to the hype surrounding cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Below the fold, some tidbits and commentary. Quotes not preceded by links are from the book, and I have replaced some links to endnotes with direct links.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Techno-hype part 1

Don't, don't, don't, don't believe the hype!
Public Enemy

New technologies are routinely over-hyped because people under-estimate the gap between a technology that works and a technology that is in everyday use by normal people.

You have probably figured out that I'm skeptical of the hype surrounding blockchain technology. Despite incident-free years spent routinely driving in company with Waymo's self-driving cars, I'm also skeptical of the self-driving car hype. Below the fold, an explanation.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Keynote at Pacific Neighborhood Consortium

I was invited to deliver a keynote at the 2017 Pacific Neighborhood Consortium in Tainan, Taiwan. My talk, entitled The Amnesiac Civilization, was based on the series of posts earlier this year with the same title. The theme was "Data Informed Society", and my abstract was:
What is the data that informs a society? It is easy to think that it is just numbers, timely statistical information of the kind that drives Google Maps real-time traffic display. But the rise of text-mining and machine learning means that we must cast our net much wider. Historic and textual data is equally important. It forms the knowledge base on which civilization operates.

For nearly a thousand years this knowledge base has been stored on paper, an affordable, durable, write-once and somewhat tamper-evident medium. For more than five hundred years it has been practical to print on paper, making Lots Of Copies to Keep Stuff Safe. LOCKSS is the name of the program at the Stanford Libraries that Vicky Reich and I started in 1998. We took a distributed approach; providing libraries with tools they could use to preserve knowledge in the Web world. They could work the way they were used to doing in the paper world, by collecting copies of published works, making them available to readers, and cooperating via inter-library loan. Two years earlier, Brewster Kahle had founded the Internet Archive, taking a centralized approach to the same problem.

Why are these programs needed? What have we learned in the last two decades about their effectiveness? How does the evolution of Web technologies place their future at risk?
Below the fold, the text of my talk.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Randall Munroe Says It All

The latest XKCD is a succinct summation of the situation, especially the mouse-over.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Storage Failures In The Field

It's past time for another look at the invaluable hard drive data that Backblaze puts out quarterly. As Peter Bright notes at Ars Technica, despite being based on limited data, the current stats reveal two interesting observations:
  • Backblaze is seeing reduced rates of infant mortality for the 10TB and 12TB drive generations:
    The initial data from the 10TB and 12TB disks, however, has not shown that pattern. While the data so far is very limited, with 1,240 disks and 14,220 aggregate drive days accumulated so far, none of these disks (both Seagate models) have failed.
  • Backblaze is seeing no reliability advantage from enterprise as against consumer drives:
    the company has now accumulated 3.7 million drive days for the consumer disks and 1.4 million for the enterprise ones. Over this usage, the annualized failure rates are 1.1 percent for the consumer disks and 1.2 percent for the enterprise ones.
Below the fold, some commentary.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Preserving Malware

Jonathan Farbowitz's NYU MA thesis More Than Digital Dirt: Preserving Malware in Archives, Museums, and Libraries is well worth a more leisurely reading than I've given it so far. He expands greatly on the argument I've made that preserving malware is important, and attempting to ensure archives are malware-free is harmful:
At ingest time, the archive doesn't know what it is about the content future scholars will be interested in. In particular, they don't know that the scholars aren't studying the history of malware. By modifying the content during ingest they may be destroying its usefulness to future scholars.
For example, Farbowitz introduces his third chapter A​ ​Series​ ​of​ ​Inaccurate​ ​Analogies thus:
In my research, I encountered several criticisms of both the intentional collection of malware by cultural heritage institutions and the preservation of malware-infected versions of digital artefacts. These critics have attempted to draw analogies between malware infection and issues that are already well-understood in the treatment and care of archival collections. I will examine each of these analogies to help clarify the debate and elucidate how malware fits within the collecting mandate of archives, museums, and libraries
He goes on to to demolish the ideas that malware is like dirt or mold. He provides several interesting real-world examples of archival workflows encountering malware. His eighth chapter Risk​ ​Assessment​ ​Considerations​ ​for​ ​Storage​ ​and​ ​Access is especially valuable in addressing the reasons why malware preservation is so controversial.

Overall, a very valuable contribution.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Will HAMR Happen?

For more than five years I've been skeptical of the storage industry's optimistic roadmaps in general, and the idea that HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording) will replace the current PMR (Perpendicular Magnetic Recording) as the technology for hard disks any time soon. The first ship date for HAMR drives has been slipping in real time for nearly a decade, and last year Seagate slipped it again:
[Seagate] is targeting 2018 for HAMR drive deliveries, with a 16TB 3.5-inch drive planned, featuring 8 platters and 16 heads.
Now, Chris Mellor at The Register reports that:
WDC has given up on heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) and is developing a microwave-assisted technique (MAMR) to push disk drive capacity up to 100TB by the 2030s.

It's able to do this with relatively incremental advances, avoiding the technological development barrier represented by HAMR. These developments include multi-stage head actuation and so-called Damascene head construction.
Below the fold, I assess this news.