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Interactive Software Archival

August 19, 2016

Interactive Software Archival

Over the years, computation has substantially increased our creativity and opportunity. Computers constantly improve along with our ability to create and collaborate toward new art, science, and furthering existing technology. However, there's also a danger in that software becomes difficult to run over time. This fragility leaves us with a tech field that is somehow simultaneously growing and yet narrowing: Word documents become difficult to open, video games on specialized hardware become difficult to play, a researcher's simulator of protein synthesis becomes difficult to find-- these represent a loss of perspective and culture, an inability to revisit the past, and a lack of scientific accountability. In response, librarians have created a collection of digital libraries that archive images, video, and even the most vibrant of GeoCities websites. In the end this is not enough. We have media that is interactive and real-time. We have tools that can create new content at any point. Scientists have a dire need for accountability in research as experiments become harder to replicate. How do we make archives and libraries that can handle the preservation of code while allowing us to -- 100 years from now -- build, run, and archive anything new we create with that code? Where are our museums of interactive art? To answer that, we will take a look at the libraries and archives of the hypothetical, ones that exist now, and those in development. Focusing on the motivations and technology behind them, we will look at what they could do better and how. You will leave with an appreciation for the concept of provenance and how librarians can teach us the importance of systems that can trace an object back to the code that generated it. Finally, a look at the state-of-the-art and how Pittsburgh is leading the effort with two such interactive archives in development centered around using various levels of virtualization to preserve interactive art, games, and scientific experimentation. Our discussion will culminate with a demonstration of these new interactive archive systems, how they work, and what the future looks like.


August 19, 2016

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  1. Provenance • Even if you’ve never heard the word, we

    developers have created a culture around using provenance. • Software development is sometimes aptly referred to as a Garbage Fire. • Bundler, npm, pip, CPAN… etc… all solving the problem of the chaos of development through maintaining a record of where and when and who dependencies come from.
  2. Ada Lovelace ...the Analytical Engine might act upon other things

    besides numbers… the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent. -- "Notes" Section A, 1842
  3. نب نسحلا ،يلع وبأ مثيهلا نب نسحلا Abū Alī al-

    asan ibn ʿ Ḥ al- asan ibn al-Haytham Ḥ c. 965 – c. 1040 CE
  4. Dang it Code Publicly Available 35% Asked and received code

    22% Asked but told NO 36% Asked but no response 7%
  5. That’s a Little Better Got it to Build: <30 minutes

    58% Got it to Build: >30 minutes 28% Couldn't build it; told it should 10% Couldn't build it; told it sucks 4%
  6. Solution: Virtualization “Not a Graveyard” – Erika Linke and Dan

    Ryan introducing the concept of Olive and executable archives.