Everyday Computing, Letters & Opinion

Working Backwards

Image of Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant
By Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant

One of the more useful features of computer systems is the ability to take snapshots of the system state or behaviour, or to record key details that permit easy reference and understanding of what previously took place or what led to the current situation.

Security cameras capture visual details to identify people; school records and end of term reports identify the progress made by a student; and in our parliamentary democracy the discussions in the House of Assembly are captured in Hansard for later reference.

In the week where our Common Entrance results were announced, no doubt the strong performers (hearty congratulations to them, their parents, families and teachers) have much to celebrate. Equally, those students and schools not achieving their expected results have access to some tools available to better understand the result.

In the world of computing, the term ‘reverse engineering’ refers to the methods used to recreate the functionality of some tools which we may not have originally produced, typically without access to source material, guides or information. You may have encountered that specific term while reading a license agreement.

Although computer hackers may use their skill and ingenuity to recreate the functionality of the tools, they are effectively working backwards, as in reverse engineering. When we design systems for our own use, if we are truly interested in fixing the problems that may appear, we must refer to the history, the logs, the records captured from before.

Unlike in other places where the clichéd thoughts and prayers may seem sufficient to respond to unwelcome events, in our context, we should have the foresight to capture records for later analysis. Policing would fail without evidence captured, and workforce (human resource) issues would be messy business, if staff appraisal records were not kept.

Before pronouncing on a topic, the relevant history should be unearthed and analyzed. The appropriate processing of historical records is itself another topic that requires careful thought and planning. As you assess your own surrounding, think of what simple data could be saved to assist you in recovering from a mishap.

Editor’s note: To share your views, contact the author at: www.datashore.net or via The Voice.

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