Rethinking the Photometric Data File Format

Three Decades Later

Ian Ashdown, P. Eng., FIES

Senior Scientist, Lighting Analysts Inc. / SunTracker Technologies Ltd.

If you perform lighting design calculations today, you can thank the efforts of the IES Computer Committee (IESCC) some thirty years ago. Its members recognized an industry need, and so developed and published IES LM-63-86, IES Recommended Standard File Format for Electronic Transfer of Photometric Data. With the growing popularity of the IBM Personal Computer for business applications, it was an idea whose time had come.

The need was clear: Lighting Technologies (Boulder, CO) had released its Lumen Micro lighting design and analysis software product in 1982, and luminaire manufacturers needed to provide photometric data for their products. For them, IES LM-63 was a god-send in that it established an industry-standard file format.

In keeping with the technology of the time, the file format was human-readable ASCII text, something that could be printed with a dot-matrix printer. It also resulted in files of only a few kilobytes, a definite advantage when data files were transferred by mail on 5-1/4 inch floppy diskettes capable of holding 360 kilobytes of data. The file format itself revealed something of its origins by limiting line lengths to 80 characters – the width of an IBM Hollerith punch card in the 1960s (FIG. 1).

FIG. 1 - IBM Hollerith 80-character punch cards (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Thirty years later, our personal computers are one thousand times faster, with one million times the memory capacity and ten million times more data storage capacity. Data is transferred by fiber optic cable and satellite links at gigahertz rates … and we are still using IES LM-63 photometric data files!