What Nicolas Rougier needed was a disk. Not a pocket-sized terabyte hard drive, not a compact disc — an actual floppy disk.
For those who missed the 1980s, the original floppy disk was a flexible, flimsy disk inside a square sleeve with a hole in the centre and a notch in the corner, and a couple of hundred kilobytes of storage. In the 1983 cold-war film War Games, high-school hacker David Lightman uses one to break into the school's computer and give his girlfriend top marks in biology; he later hacks into a military network, narrowly averting a global thermonuclear war. Rougier's need was more prosaic. He just wanted to transfer a text file from his desktop Mac to a relic of the computational palaeolithic: a vintage Apple II, the company's first consumer product, introduced in 1977.
Rougier is a computational neuroscientist and programmer at INRIA, the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology in Bordeaux. That file transfer marked the final stage of his picking up a computational gauntlet he himself threw down: the Ten Years Reproducibility Challenge. Conceived in 2019 together with Konrad Hinsen, a theoretical biophysicist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Orléans, the challenge dares scientists to find and re-execute old code, to reproduce computationally driven papers they had published ten or more years earlier. Participants were supposed to discuss what they learnt at a workshop in Bordeaux in June, but COVID-19 scuppered those plans. (The event has been tentatively rescheduled for June 2021.)
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