What constitutes successful format conversion?

[31 December 2010]

I wrote about the International data curation conference earlier this month, but did not provide a pointer to my own talk.

My slides are on the Web on this site; they may give some idea of the general thrust of my talk. (On slide 4, “IANAPL” expands to “I am not a preservation librarian”. On slide 20, the quotation is from an anonymous review of my paper.)

Over time, I become more and more convinced that formal proofs of correctness are important for things we care about. The other day, for example (29 December to be exact), I saw a front-page article in the New York Times about radiation overdoses resulting from both hardware and software shortcomings in the device used to administer radiotherapy. I found it impossible not to think that formal proofs of correctness could help prevent such errors. (Among other things, formal proofs of correctness force those responsible to say with some precision what correct behavior is, for the software in question, which is likely to lead to more explicit consideration of things like error modes than might otherwise happen.)

Formal specification of the meaning of markup languages is only a smaller part of making possible formal proofs of system correctness. But it’s a step, I think.