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September 1999, Week 2


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 15 Sep 1999 00:31:16 -0700
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Lang Thompson writes:

>A couple of things about this:  (1) The prices here are really for
>dissertations which are generally (from what I understand never having
>written one myself) already very carefully edited for spelling/grammar and
>are, from the ones I've seen, usually rudimentary layout/straight text with
>minimal illustrations.  They're published by UMI "as is" without the next
>layer(s) of editing and design that most other books require.

That is certainly true of most, and all of them written before the days of
wordprocessing and DTP.  However the authors of more recent ones may well
be using the more sophisticated facilities offered by recent equipment.
Anyway that isn't really the point - people don't decide whether or not to
buy an academic monograph on the basis of its aesthetic presentation, but
on the content of the text.  If the lower cost of buying a thesis from UMI
reflects the fact that there are no overpaid graphic designers involved,
that's fine with me.  Most commercially published books certainly get
another layer of editing and design: whether they need it or not is another

>long-term effects for a library are less certain.  Bound on-demand books
>like these clearly wouldn't have as long a shelf life as a perfect-bound
>paperback, let alone a cloth-bound book.  And at the risk of sounding too
>much the Luddite, whatever their storage requirements paper books are
>easily accessible for literally centuries while there's a very real chance
>a CD-ROM might not be easily readable in ten years, let alone twenty or
>thirty.  Add to that inevitable software compatibility (will you be able to
>use a .pdf file in 2010?) and you can imagine some of the potential problems.

Which is why a system such as the UMI one, which enables the purchaser to
decide if (s)he wishes to own a hard copy or just the data is in my opinion
preferable to a lot of conventional publishing, as it lets the end user
evaluate these issues and then make a decision.

As for the longevity of CD media, accelerated aging tests on the
lacquer-press, commercially produced variety suggests a reliable shelf life
of at least 50 years when stored in normal room temperature and humidity
conditions.  However, we all know how misleading these tests can be - after
all, the results of Arrhenius testing on triacetate film stocks in the
early 1950s seemed to indicate that the stuff was immune from shrinkage and
decomposition, i.e. that the 'vinegar syndrome' couldn't happen.  Of course
we now know that it can and does.  That having been said, CDs have now been
in general commercial use for 16 years and I know of no widespread problem
with CD storage that has emerged to date, apart from a minor issue in the
very early days when it was found that certain dyes used to print CD labels
attacked the outer polyeurethane layer.

I am more sceptical about the type of CD that can be written to using
domestic equipment (CD-R and CD-RW).  Instead of having the data-carrying
surface fully encased between two layers of polyeurethane, a polycarbonate
dye surface sits on the OUTSIDE of the disc, into which the data is 'burnt'
using a laser.  We know that these discs are easily susceptible to dirt and
scratching - my own experience has been that even a slight scratch on the
dye layer is enough to turn a data carrying CD into a beer mat.  I wouldn't
mind betting that, especially with cheap CD-Rs, chemical changes over time
might cause the dye layer to part company with the disc base.  In
conclusion, I would not trust CD-Rs to store data which has to be kept
long-term until a lot more is known about them.  But in the mean time, they
are so much cheaper and more versatile than any other data storage product
that I think they are excellent for short-term use.

In short, CDs certainly won't last forever, but there again most books will
eventually fall apart with regular use.  And as you point out, there is
still the software problem, although it seems to me that the software
industry has placed greater emphasis on interchangeability and backwards
compatibility in recent times - for example, software designed for CP/M PCs
in the late 1970s will still run under Windows 98.  Given that DVD drives
are designed to also read conventional CDs, I can't see the format
disappearing overnight.  There are just so many discs out there that they
will continue to be supported for some time to come.  After all there is
still a market for 78rpm turntables, some 40 years after the software
ceased to be manufactured.

But all this does point to the main disadvantage of multimedia compared to
conventional books - you need machines to read any of it.  We can argue
about the longevity of books compared to that of electronic storage media
until the cows come home, but the fact remains that the only hardware and
software needed to retrieve the data from a book can be found in the human

>Just out of curiosity how many professors use these credentials when
>choosing texts for classroom use?  (As distinguished from peer review as a
>professional measure which seems to be its primary function in the arts.)

I couldn't say, because I never have had to choose textbooks for classroom
use (all the university-level teaching I have done has been on courses for
which someone else made those decisions), and the only books I've reviewed
have been monographs.  That having been said I agree - I would want to
evaluate the book myself against what my teaching needs were rather than
rely on the conclusions of a reviewer who would probably not be working to
the same agenda.


Leo Enticknap
Projection and Sound Engineer
City Screen Cinemas Ltd., London, UK
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