This is a problem that has been vexing be for a while, but came up again in conversation with twistedcat
A while back, one of my lovely researchers in the Electrical Engineering group approached me with a desire to make his new cleanroom absolutely perfect. He was shooting for a Class 100
certification and knew that having any paper in the lab was going to make him fail. So he wanted to make all records in the lab entirely electronic, including the logbook of machine usage which is one of those regulatory required thingees. He was not going to let the logbook for one machine cause his entire two building floor cleanroom fail, so he was ready to fight. Let's call him Bob. The conversation went something like this:Bob: I've got everything, training, access, job recharge logs, everything tied in electronically. Use is already logged electronically so I can bill people, so why do I have to do a damn paper log?
Phil: Per the regulations, you have to maintain use logs of machine usage with user name, date, time, and technique factors. Do you electronically log all of that?
B: No, but it easily could.
P: Okay, the next part is that your records have to be unalterable. If there are changes, the changes also have to be logged. This means part of your project analysis for radiation safety is that you have to provide the department's network security plan, specifically as it relates to this machine and the collected data.
B (looking a little deflated): Seriously?
P: And lastly there is the requirement for records retention. Logbooks must be kept for 30 years after the termination of the license. Seeing as how we've been playing with radioactive materials and machines for 60 years prior to the advent of the Atomic Energy Commission, I think it is safe to say the license won't be terminating any time soon.
P: So, you are going to have to also provide your data management plan that will ensure the accessibility of your use logs for perpetuity. My office just upgraded to Excel 2007, which means I can't talk to files I made the week before. Your lab here is littered with equipment that MUST use an old 386 architecture computer for data capture and output to 3.5" floppies. They just stopped making those! How will your files be accessible in 10 years, or 25, or 200? I think there's probably a doctoral thesis or two in that.B: I can't do electronic logs can I?
P: No, but you could use those nice cleanroom paper logs made of plastic they've been doing since the mid-70s. Sorry to force you to be a Luddite.
Hard copy is great, but the problem it doesn't solve is translation of semantic drift. As twistedcat
's father states:
"My bookshelves have copies of the Hebrew bible from more than 2,000 years ago, the Vulgate (Latin) from 1,600 years ago, several English versions from 400 years ago, several copies of Shakespeare's plays from that time. A mere 30 years would include several items that are so new they still have their original dust covers. If you want to store a file for 30, or 3,000, years. don't let Bill Gates any where near it -- he'll invent a new language every month and do his darndest to convince you to switch so that he can make more money. The technology you want has been in use since Gutenberg about the year 1500."
Yes, he has those books on his shelf (admittedly current printings) and they have preserved wisdom from the ages but if he was handed the original, would he be able to read it? Handed a ceramic wheel from Ur, would you assume you had a record of a government official or a part of a child's toy cart, etched for better traction?
This is a problem I've come across before. The most current example is the WIPP in New Mexico
where they are trying to properly communicate that this nuclear waste repository is a dangerous place, do not dig here until at least 12000AD. I would like to point out how successful the Egyptian warnings to this effect were from keeping grave robbers out for the last 3000 years. Their warnings were truly dire, but we assumed that is because there was something valuable worth having down there.
On the flip side, we would like our descendants from The Bold & Amazing Future to know where to dig in order to clean up our messes. Heck, once you decide that nuclear power is the way to go, the WIPP becomes a mine for enriched uranium and actinides.