Institutional Memory and Reverse Smuggling

I worked for several decades at a large petrochemical company. In the early 1980s, we designed and built a plant that refines some hydrocarbon type stuff into other hydrocarbon type stuff. Over the next thirty years, institutional memory of this plant faded to a dim recollection. Oh, it still operates, and still makes money for the firm. Day to day maintenance is performed, and the skilled local crew is familiar with the controls, valves, safety systems, and other such.

But the company has forgotten how it really works. ...

@dredmorbius The fact that this blog post had to be digged from an archive in itself is quite meta…


"Better organization and document management could solve some of the problems. But attempts to fix corporate document management also caused some of them, so one has to be careful."

I think about this for my own data. It's not just about how many copies, or where they are. There needs to be diversity in how temporally-coupled various copies are in creation and update.

if your backups are so up-to-date that they are all ransom-encrypted too, sucks to be you.

@deejoe All imposition of one order is a destruction of another.

The act of recording, preserving, or iconifying is itself a denial of time and progress.

There is no "knowing". There is "doing".

Cultural knowledge, whether of a tribe, civilisation, or corporation, is a knowledge of practice. Stop the practice and the knowledge dies (though traces may remain.)

@deejoe Backups should be subject to processes which are append-only, and subject to specific and autonomous retention / expiry processes which cannot be remotely adjusted.

@deejoe "Should" is the hardest working damned word in the English language!!!


let's give it up for "should," "shall" and the rest of the band!

@dredmorbius "engineering archaeology" would be in interesting course!

I think the closest I've come so far was during construction of an addition to an old facility, we started digging to lay pipe and found some mystery pipes already there, that weren't on any drawings. Had to do some last minute figuring out of where to put the new pipe...

@varve I've called myself a "technological archaeologist" for a decade or so now.

It's a bit less of a joke than it used to be.

@dredmorbius This is wonderful!

If you don't mind, I'm curious about where you originally published it: some website that went away like a disused engineering documentation archive?

@babelcarp That's not my piece.

Found it through a compilation of interesting things online.

@dredmorbius Oh. I was surprised; I'd pegged you more as a software feline.🙃

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