25 January 2021

Old Person Rant #59

For no good reason—well, today I’ve been converting old files from one format to another—I’ve been thinking about how much of my life I’ve spent just copying material from one form to another. Typing up handwritten notes, photocopying typescripts, scanning typescripts into a digital copy, copying reel-to-reel recordings onto cassettes, or cassettes into wav files or flac files or whatever, or changing superscript files to wordperfect, wordperfect files to ms word, ms word files from doc to docx, and on and on and on. And there’s constant information loss at every stage of the process. Let’s try converting an old wp file to ms word for example—piece of cake, right? Well, some of my old files are catalogs of project material that—thanks to varying situations of acquisition—exists in different formats itself. I therefore constructed tables of data to tell me where I could find particular items, using Greek letters and other symbols as reference points. (Phi stood for a photocopy, for example, and tau for a transcript, and beta for an old-fashioned white on black copy, and so on and so forth.) Okay, so now I transform the old wp file into ms word and guess what—the table structure comes through just fine, as do the lists of material written in Latin characters—but all the Greek characters and symbols have been stripped out. Useless. Okay—let’s say I use some form of Open Office to convert it instead. Now the symbols come through just fine, but the table structure is destroyed. I’ve found the simplest thing to do is to convert the document twice, using one system on one and one on the other, and then use the compare feature to try to reconstruct the original with a minimum of fuss. Am I happy with this? Well, no, but at least I’m not copying the whole thing by hand. I mean, with some stuff I’ve had to take printouts of the old documents and scan the results into jpegs or whatever to have anything usable.

Mind you, today’s efforts are comparatively simple. The only glitch in converting from the old ms word format to the current is that certain features of the new don’t work unless I create a blank document and manually copy the contents of the old file into it before saving it. Tiresome, but at least I don’t have to transcribe the whole thing by hand. And nothing like the annoyance of trying to copy the contents of an old wire recording into one of the (relatively) new digital formats.

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