Floppy disks and modern gadgets: Keeping a safe distance
Mar 25th, 2016 by Isaiah Beard

iPhone and 3.5" floppy

Never do this: smartphones can be deadly to magnetically stored data in some circumstances.

In my dealings with preserving older, born-digital documents and data, I’ve run into this situation quite often: Someone comes into the DCRC with a 3.5″ floppy disk or other magnetic media and asks if we can help them migrate the data to more modern storage, such as a USB flash drive.  We do maintain a couple of floppy drives for this purpose, so normally we can help.  However, we sometimes cringe and express a bit of concern at how they’re holding the floppy disk(s) being brought in, or rather, what people commonly hold those old disks against.

What’s the problem?  Smartphones, and sometimes tablets or even modern laptops. With mobile devices being nearly ubiquitous in the US and particularly among college students and faculty, it’s a normal occurrence to see them being carried around in one’s hand. It’s also not uncommon to stack a smartphone against some other object a person might be carrying… like a book, or a laptop, or, unfortunately, that floppy disk you might want to recover data from.

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Civil rights and Activism in the Digital Age
Jan 21st, 2015 by Isaiah Beard

The recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in juxtaposition with multiple civil rights-related incidents of the past year, have set the stage for people to discuss the civil rights landscape in the US, and debate our progress (or perhaps, lack thereof).  We are once again living in a  time of unrest, where racial divides are back in the spotlight. Further tempering the debate is the increasingly thorny issue of civil rights in the digital age. The unanswered question: Where does a person’s right to keep their data private end, and the government’s right to pry in the name of safety begin?

In the past, I have written about ways to “keep you stuff safe.”  At the time, the context was simple, and most users and data experts (myself included) remained relatively naïve about what that truly meant.  The discussion of data safety often revolved around making sure you didn’t lose your data; that it was safely backed up.

Now, “keeping your stuff safe” also refers to security: keeping the data safely away from hackers who might want to profit from your loss. And perhaps more controversially: protecting individual privacy from unwarranted state intrusion.

These issues – civil rights, privacy, race, and personal data – have collided pretty spectacularly of late.  Protests relating to various ill-fated run-ins with law enforcement are being talked about in parallel with the civil rights marches of old.  But, there is one major component that differentiates now from then: the prevalence of smartphones, mobile internet, and digital recording.

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Library of Congress releases recommended format specifications
Jun 24th, 2014 by Isaiah Beard



For a very long time now, preservationists have been looking for someone to take a leadership role in defining a set of standards for the types of file formats we should be using to keep our collections safe.  In the absence of such an authority, many organizations have resorted to developing their own standards (Rutgers, for instances, has its own guidelines for digital preservation outlined on this very site), or deferring to specifications already developed by other institutions or partnerships.  As a result, while there is some general consensus about what we should be doing, there are occasionally differences and disagreements here and there.

The Library of Congress, too, has been working on this issue as well, and today they’ve taken some steps by releasing a set of recommended format specifications for a variety of object types.  These guidelines are useful in that they provide a baseline to go by, for those who are trying to preserve their content, both in the analog and digital realm.

blog post discussing the recommendations has also been posted, including an acknowledgement by Ted Westervelt, the head of acquisitions and cataloging for U.S. Serials – Arts, Humanities & Sciences, that the LoC need to ramp up its digital preservation initiatives.

There is no point pretending that the Library is collecting digital content on the scale and scope with which it is collecting analog content.  We would like to and the specifications are one step to help get us there, but we are not there yet and it will take some time and effort.  However, the specifications are meant to engage with the world outside the Library.  And, inside the Library and outside it, no one is under any illusion that digital content and analog content are two separate and unrelated spheres and never the twain shall meet.

On putting old software out to pasture
Apr 7th, 2014 by Isaiah Beard

Three generations of Windows operating system versions.  Upper left: Windows 8.1, the current release from Microsoft. Upper right: Windows 7, its predecessor and likely upgrade candidate for most Windows XP users. Lower left: Windows XP, whose support from Microsoft ends today.  Lower right: the Virtualbox control panel, where each of these virtual instances are controlled off the host computer, a Mac.

Three generations of Windows operating system versions. Upper left: Windows 8.1, the current release from Microsoft. Upper right: Windows 7, its predecessor and likely upgrade candidate for most Windows XP users. Lower left: Windows XP, whose support from Microsoft ends today. Lower right: the Virtualbox control panel, where each of these virtual instances are controlled off the host computer, a Mac.

Tomorrow marks an important milestone in the lifecycle of computer software, and should be a day of concern for perhaps hundreds of millions of computer users worldwide.  April 8, 2014 is the final day that Microsoft will provide extended support for its aging Windows XP operating system.  Although Microsoft has not been providing any new features or functionality to this operating system since 2009, tomorrow’s deadline means that the company will also cease to provide important security updates to Windows XP going forward.  This potentially means that users still running the OS could be vulnerable to security risks such as viruses and malware. Although a great deal of new software titles already require a version of Windows that’s a bit more recent, it is expected that support will further decrease dramatically after tomorrow.

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When copiers aren’t copying as they should…
Aug 12th, 2013 by Isaiah Beard

German researcher D. Kriesel discovered that certain characters are being modified by Xerox copiers, when documents are scanned to PDF.  In this example, the meanings of numeric figures were altered when the Xerox system changed out the number “6” and with the number “8” in multiple locations. The cause appears to be faulty compression settings, causing similar-looking characters to be overlaid and repeated in an effort to reduce the size of the scanned files.


Over the past week, there has been a great deal of buzz in the IT community about a discovery by a researcher in Germany that certain Xerox Workcentre copy/scan stations are altering the content of documents scanned to PDF. In particular, attention has been focused on the Xerox WorkCentre 7535 and 7556 models. Kriesel found that “patches of the pixel data are randomly replaced in a very subtle and dangerous way. In particular, some numbers appearing in a document may be replaced by other numbers when it is scanned.”

According to Xerox, a software update is coming to address the issue.  From their official statement:

We continue to test various scanning scenarios on our office devices, to ensure we fully understand the breadth of this issue.  We’re encouraged by the progress our patch development team is making and will keep you updated on our progress here at the Real Business at Xerox blog.

We’ve been working closely with David Kriesel, the researcher who originally uncovered the scenario, and thank him for his input which we are continuing to investigate.  As we’ve discussed with David, the issue is amplified by “stress documents,”  which have small fonts, low resolution, low quality and are hard to read.  While these are not typical for most scan jobs ultimately, our actions will always be driven by what’s right for our customers.

There are still points of contention, however. Read the rest of this entry »

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