ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Lost in the Sands of Internet Time —

A few weeks ago, I got a mail asking for help tracking down documents:

 

Hi Jason,

I am trying to locate three computer manuals. I just need the title page, copyright page, and date stamp showing a date received from 1996. I have already checked several library resources. A librarian colleague suggested I contact you.

These are the titles:

Asynchronous HDLC MC6360 ASYNC HDLC Protocol Microcode User’s Manual, Rev. 1.1, January 24, 1996

(no record on WorldCat)

Universal Serial Bus Specification, Rev. 1.0, January 15, 1996

(one holding on WorldCat, cannot supply)

MPC860 PowerQUICC User’s Manual, 1996

(one holding on WorldCat, cannot supply)

Would you have anything like this in your collection?

People often come to me asking about this document or that program, and even about this BBS or that online service. Personally, I don’t have that much in the way of data compared to how much data was generated over the years, but I can usually get my hands on it one way or another.

In the case of all three of these, I just couldn’t find it in a reasonable time. (A reasonable time in this case was a day or two of checking idly.)

I was particularly disturbed I couldn’t find a PDF of the Universal Serial Bus Specification Rev. 1.0 with that date – I found later items, and later versions, but not that one, which I think most people would agree is pretty historically significant.

It’d be nice if the audience found these so I could help this person, but it’s the greater lesson that I’m thinking of.

The weird situation I’ve encountered over my years is how blindingly contrasted the availability of historical data is, with regard to computer materials, or “born digital” as the kids call it these days.

When we get our hands on something in the era of “I consider this stuff important”, well, that material is saved. People duplicate it with no effort, spread it around the world, and put it into webservers and torrents and what have you.

But if you can’t find it, it’s gone. There’s almost no way to find the material by just rooting around in the cellar – it’s probably on floppy disks or hard drives or clogged up in some crazy archive format that nobody automatically scans at the moment.

It’s one or the other.

This is partially why I am a huge fan right now of dumping as much crap into the online world as fast as possible – later efforts to go through this stuff can only succeed if the stuff in question is within the reach of spiders, scripts and programs that eyeball vast farms of data. It’s why I’ve been uploading massive .tar files on archive.org, ISO images, digitized videotape, and all the rest.

I deal with people who think it all has to wait, offline or inaccessible, until it is summoned out of the green room for the big debut, wearing the most precious costume of hand-woven metadata and ready for the close-ups and the musical finale. This is short-sighted and not accurate to the situation.

Right now, the person above has a perfectly reasonable request, and the world fails them. I hope, down the line, these and other requests will be more easily fulfilled. My dream is to upload as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and let a thousand legitiate wishes come true.

Until then, it’s gone forever. Well, until it isn’t.

Update: Within about 40 minutes of this posting, several people stepped forward and had been able to find these documents. As expected, they were buried in obscure locations and in one case inside a large .ZIP file. Thanks to everyone who helped here – the general positions in this entry continue to be the case, but the three eggs for the easter egg hunt have been found. 


Categorised as: computer history | housecleaning


7 Comments

  1. Dan Tobias says:

    And then there’s the stuff that’s paywalled to suit some archaic business model (e.g., ISO standards and many academic papers) by dinosaurs who wish they were still in the era when this stuff was distributed on paper and could be sold and rationed.

  2. Jason Scott says:

    Within minutes, “Universal Serial Bus Specification, Rev. 1.0, January 15, 1996″ has fallen – Kristof Lemp found it in the classroom materials section of a MS State electrical engineering site. I’ve now added it to the Internet Archive here: https://archive.org/details/usbspec_1.0

  3. Jason Scott says:

    And a few minutes later, Bill Lefurgy of the Library of Congress found the Asynchronous HDLC MC68360 ASYNC HDLC Protocol Microcode User’s Manual Rev 1.1! http://www.freescale.com/files/32bit/doc/user_guide/MC68360AHDLCUM.pdf

  4. Jason Scott says:

    And finally, Eugaet finds the third document! It’s in a pretty rough setup (a pile of separate PDFs), but it’s the real deal: http://www.datasheetarchive.com/download/32714451-483227ZC/860um.zip

  5. Daz says:

    Good work, I’m glad this one had a happy ending, especially the preservation of USB Spec Rev1.0 on Internet Archive… that’s a significant document, sure to be useful to students in the future.

  6. If only it had been found a few weeks earlier! Then I am sure that Apple would not have invented yet another proprietary USB cable for the new iPhone. :)

  7. slipstream says:

    “When we get our hands on something in the era of “I consider this stuff important”, well, that material is saved. People duplicate it with no effort, spread it around the world, and put it into webservers and torrents and what have you.

    But if you can’t find it, it’s gone. There’s almost no way to find the material by just rooting around in the cellar – it’s probably on floppy disks or hard drives or clogged up in some crazy archive format that nobody automatically scans at the moment.”

    Unfortunately, there’s quite a lot of interesting stuff hidden around that used to be on private warez-related BBSes in the mid-90s. Stuff that would generally be on warez cds sold around the same time. Which are in people’s attics etc. Hidden away.

    Seriously, there’s a lot of history in the warez scene, and for a lot of it all I see are file lists. The files themselves are gone. And that’s a bad thing, for everyone trying to preserve abandonware and pre-release materials.

Leave a Reply