After reading the cover story “Safeguarding Data Has Companies Locking Digital Files,” I have to say that there will always be a need for paper records. It doesn’t take more than four or five years for a new electronic format to become outdated. In 10 years it becomes obsolete and in 20 years it will be unusable and unreadable. Buildings are expected to last more than a few years. If there aren’t plans on paper, or spec books or submittals stuffed in various closets, drawer files or storage bins, there will be no records at all.
I am pushing 60 years of age. I have seen the 78 and 45 rpm record made obsolete by the long-playing record that in turn was made obsolete by the 4-track tape deck, then quickly superseded by the 8-track, then the cassette deck and the CD. Now, the CD is being made obsolete by the IPOD. What is next? You can’t second guess where the next big technological breakthrough is going to be and that will affect the ability of the future to read the past’s documents.
I have had to learn four different word processing systems as technology has updated. Recently I tried to read some documents that I did in Multi-Mate back in the early 1980s. It took a lot of work to finally figure out how to convert these documents to current formats.
The problem with going to a paperless society is that there is not and probably never will be a “gold standard” that will always be intelligible. The only “gold standard” format that has lasted more than 50 years is the scroll and the book.
I read with interest and personal pride the article, “Boh Bros. Has Given New Orleans a Reason to Hope”. The round-the-clock efforts that led to early completion of the reconstruction of this critical New Orleans area transportation artery—the Interstate 10 Bridge over Lake Pontchartrain—certainly warrant the attention ENR provided. Robert Boh's leadership was indeed critical to success.
As the contractor's engineer of record, HNTB Corp. is honored to have been a part of this monumental effort, leading the design of the twin spans’ emergency repairs. HNTB’s staff from Baton Rouge and Kansas City worked closely with Boh and its on-site personnel to devise engineering and construction solutions born of necessity and ingenuity.
Without many of the tools of modern society, such as electronic communications that were not functional in the aftermath of the storm, what the team accomplished is remarkable. For example, there was little or no access to materials and suppliers. A majority of the materials came from Boh’s inventories. Makeshift missing concrete curb sections were replaced with field-welded, custom built-up plate sections. Teflon sliding assemblies were replaced with other composite materials that were fabricated to a radius with a regular table saw.
During my 24 years as an engineer, I have not witnessed a project so demanding and yet so intrinsically rewarding. While I hope the circumstances that led to this project are never repeated, its successful delivery is definitely a highlight of the careers of our engineers who made it happen. I take pride in the role we played to help New Orleans and its residents move toward normalcy.