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Humanist Archives: July 16, 2020, 7:02 a.m. Humanist 34.167 - strata of abstraction

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 167.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2020-07-16 00:51:34+00:00
        From: Henry Schaffer 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.166: strata of abstraction & their influence?

I'm going to argue that computer systems have two distinct information
storage regimes.

One is the file/directory regime (where a file can be the usual document,
spreadsheet, an executable, a database, a collection of files (I'm thinking
of .zip) and this is a stable artifact. The information is in a file which
is in a (sub)directory and that's stable and predictable.

The other regime is when the computer system is processing a file and
dynamically moves pieces around through RAM, disk and any other storage
device can be used for a microsecond or maybe a week or two. E.g., while
processing a spreadsheet, all or part may be in memory, there may be
multiple levels of memory (main, cache(s), disk) and the Operating System
(OS) may be moving that information around without the user being aware and
even without the program being aware. (In fact we don't want the user to

It is this latter which fits the "less predictable" description - but who
cares. Where the information is situated any millisecond depends on not
just the user and the program, but also on which other programs and
processes may be there and how they are working. E.g. when I'm running a
text analysis program on my desktop computer, my mail program is also up
and running and may, or may not, be receiving pieces of mail. That affects
how much storage is being used and exactly where in memory the data from
the text analysis is sitting.

But who cares?

When I save the results from the analysis, that will go into a file which
goes into a chosen directory. Again, The OS determines the *physical *location
of the file, but the location I care about is the "address" in the

P.S. If I"m missing the point, please tell me.

On Wed, Jul 15, 2020 at 4:34 AM Humanist  wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 166.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                    Hosted by King's Digital Lab
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>         Date: 2020-07-15 08:23:52+00:00
>         From: Willard McCarty 
>         Subject: strata of abstraction and their influence?
> In their book Forensic Discovery (2004), Dan Farmer and Wietse Venema
> note that,
> > Over time, computer systems have become more and more complex. As
> > seen by the user, systems become increasingly mature and stable.
> > Under the surface, however, computer systems have become less and
> > less predictable regarding when and where they store information, and
> > how they recycle storage space.
> They use metaphors of archaeology ("the direct effects from human
> activity, such as artifacts that are left behind") and geology
> ("autonomous processes that humans have no direct control over") to
> describe what digital forensics explores when probing the implemented
> 'layers of abstraction' or layers of system architecture. I suspect
> these metaphors have considerable leverage, but finding the literature
> in which 'digital archeology' and 'digital geology' are applied to
> computing systems rather than to the disciplines of archaeology and
> geology respectively is difficult. I would very much appreciate
> references to sources that use the archaeological and geological
> metaphors to describe investigation of the strata of computing systems
> for evidence of their shaping influence, despite the pretense that by
> taking another or a different step back from the machine anything
> thinkable can be implemented.
> Many thanks.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
> Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org)

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