Vol. XXII, No. 1
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April, 2009

Miscellaneous Notes

Miscellaneous Notes is a new -- and expected to be very irrregular -- feature of the CSA Newsletter. A similar section existed in early printed issues, and it seems appropriate once more to have a place for short bits of information of note.

Worries about the Future of MySQL

It has been a very long time since the CSA Newsletter contained news about the computer industry. However, the recent purchase of Sun Microsystems by Oracle requires a brief comment.

Critical to the workings of the web has been the database management system called MySQL. A program developed as open-source software (free to users), MySQL is by far the most common database system underlying scholarly web resources. Indeed, it is so commonly used with Apache server software and the PHP programming language (also free) that AMP has become a standard abbreviation for the trio, and it is all but impossible to find a manual for MySQL separate from PHP. They underlie most scholarly access systems on the web today.

MySQL AB, the maker of MySQL, was purchased by Sun Microsystems in 2008. Sun marketed its hardware thereafter, in part, as a platform for MySQL. Sun has now been purchased by Oracle; so MySQL becomes a property of Oracle as well.

In the commercial world, Oracle is the 800-pound gorilla of database management. Oracle database management systems are used around the world by large companies and governments, as well as some smaller establishments.

Some in the computer industry have indicated that the reason Oracle bought Sun Microsystems was to own MySQL and make sure it did not ever represent a threat to Oracle. If that is true, it represents a real and present danger for those who have been using MySQL to hold scholarly data for access over the web. It may therefore be prudent for all who present data on the web via the AMP trio to reconsider the use of MySQL and to begin preparing for an alternate future. Indeed, there have been comments in the computer press to the effect that many in the industry are concerned about continuing their work with MySQL because of the new ownership, especially since Oracle has been seen as hostile to open-source software and other non-proprietary approaches to data storage.

Stonehenge Experiment?

Anyone interested in ancient technology should take a look at this short video on the web: http://j-walkblog.com/index.php?/weblog/posts/moving_big_rocks. A single man manages to raise from horizontal to vertical a concrete block weighing many tons. No equipment fancier than rope and pieces of wood. Quite impressive and somewhat mind-bending. CSA thanks Professor Richard Hamilton for passing along this item.

CAD capabilities

It has long been CSA Director Harrison Eiteljorg's view that AutoCAD® is the program of choice for scholars for three critical reasons. One, AutoCAD can treat a non-planar surface as if it were a plane for the purposes of making line drawings. That is, a surface of an ancient block that is defined by its four corners will be represented in drawings (as opposed to renderings) as a single, flat surface, even if the four corners do not lie precisely in the same plane (as they virtually never do in reality). Two, AutoCAD permits database-style access to its layers. That access can be achieved either via the procedures outlined in the CSA Layer Naming Convention or by the procedures outlined in the article in the Fall, 2007 (XX.2), issue of the CSA Newsletter, "Using AutoCAD to Construct a 4D Block-by-Block Model of the Erechtheion on the Akropolis at Athens, I: Modeling the Erechtheion in Four Dimensions," by Paul Blumerus and Alexandra Lesk. Three, AutoCAD retains its old-fashioned command-line interface along with the now-customary icons for data entry. As a result, it remains possible to model with AutoCAD by generating long, complex strings of text that can be entered as text or as text files to automate complicated data entry procedures directly from survey data.

Mr. Eiteljorg periodically checks other CAD programs to see if there are alternatives to AutoCAD, but he has never found one that combined the three critical features mentioned here with the more normal capabilities of modern 3D CAD systems. Readers are encouraged to suggest such alternatives since it would certainly be useful to have a less expensive program -- and a less proprietary file format -- for archaeologists and architectural historians.

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