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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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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Lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, on the digital front
Nov 8th, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

Con Edison Worker

A Con Ed worker makes efforts to restore power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The East Coast’s Infrastructure was heavily damaged by this storm, testing not just our survival skills, but how well we preserve our data and memories. Photo by Robert Francis on Flickr.

 

 

No greater a test of our resolve and our preparedness exists than a true trial by fire, and the past two weeks have been living proof of this. There isn’t any way to overstate or exaggerate it.  Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, New York and other sections of the East Coast, taking away lives, homes, power, and safety.  It could take years before a sense of normalcy is restored for the lives of those most impacted, and as has been stated by many officials and news outlets: it will never be the same.

A stark reality coming from this is the notion that landmarks and attractions washed away by the storm will now exist only in memories, and in people’s photo and video archives.  But what hasn’t quite been acknowledged fully just yet, is that Sandy has also taken a toll on the archival and digital front as well.

For some, Sandy was just a rather annoying inconvenience.  Power and heat were out for a while.  Cell phones didn’t work as well as they used to. Internet access was scarce, and websites were taken offline for a few days until power was restored. This very blog, for instance, had an emergency plan that kicked in when its usual home base at Rutgers sat safe but idle, without electricity. It was digitally “evacuated” to a backup cloud datacenter in Los Angeles for a few days, until all was clear and the power was back on.

These were the lucky ones. Others fared so much worse.

With homes and businesses being washed away, so too were all of the things inside.  We’re starting to hear about this in the media: trillions of dollars in on-paper riches, potentially wiped out. Computers with important family documents and personal data, gone.  Photos, and keepsakes, destroyed as in this article chronicling the situation in Breezy Point:

[Shamus] Barnes, 43, has spent every summer he can remember here at the sandy tip of the Rockaway Peninsula. Those years were lovingly documented in photos of what his family calls “the pyramid” — the intergenerational group photo op that seemed to grow larger each year.

Those photos were lost when, in the midst of Sandy’s assault, fire destroyed more than 100 houses on Monday, including Barnes’ and his parents’ homes.

“We’ll never be able to replace those things,” he says. He is standing in the mud, holding the lighthouse-shaped sign for No. 16 Fulton Walk, all that was left of his bungalow. “It’s just pictures, but they show the legacy of what’s gone on here. That’s the backbone of everything out here — memories.”

Sadly, the events of these past two weeks have meted out a cruel lesson: use the technology you have to save your important memories, before it’s too late to save them.  Storms can take away our physical possessions, but our photos, videos, recordings and documents can always be saved, if we work to keep them safe. We can’t always get back what is lost, but we can take steps to prepare for what may come.

Always Have a Plan B

How do we do this?  A year ago, I wrote a couple of articles on keeping your stuff safe.  The information in those articles is still relevant today, now more than ever:

  1.  Keep a local backup of all your important stuff.
  2. Supplement that local backup with a remote, or cloud, backup.  And I’ll add: do some research to make sure that this cloud provider is in a different geographical area from where you normally keep your digital stuff. This way if your local backup is just as waterlogged as your computer, you can still get your stuff back.
  3. I haven’t written about this part yet, but you should even back up your mobile devices. It’s easy to do, whether you have an iPhone or an Android device.
Yes, many of these options cost money. But they’re quite affordable to most people who own their own computers and pay for their own internet access, and the costs are astoundingly low when they’re weighed against the value – sentimental and otherwise – that is lost when your digital stuff is gone forever.
Options for storm victims 
If you didn’t have a backup plan and were affected by Hurricane Sandy, it’s possible that not all hope is lost.  This article has tips on what you can do to minimize water damage to computer hardware, and possibly save your data.
If your computer’s hard drive was waterlogged or otherwise damaged, some of the data inside might still be salvageable as well. DriveSavers, a data recovery service out of Novato, California, is offering $500 off its data recovery services to Hurricane Sandy victims.
“If you cannot access your data from your computer or storage device, no matter what its been through, the data may still be recoverable,” said Chris Bross, Strategic Technical Alliance Engineer at DriveSavers Data Recovery. “We have repeatedly been successful in recovering data from storage devices that have been exposed to sustained water and fire damage, corruption, corrosion and erosion. We have the most advanced technology and methods available to help Hurricane Sandy victims get their data back safely.”

Here’s to hoping that no one will ever have to experience such great losses again. But in case we must, let’s take the steps we need to better prepare for next time.

Digital preservation goes rogue: ArchiveTeam scrapes the web to preserve heritage
Jul 2nd, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

Mobile Me is Closed

MobileMe was shut down on July 1 by Apple, as part of its efforts to transition users to other services. Not making the transition, however, were users’ public web sites, shareable Photo Galleries and iDisk, a cloud storage service similar to Dropbox.

Note: It’s important that readers of this article understand that the purpose of this post is to document a growing, grass-roots movement to archive the web, in spite of some rather controversial methods practiced by this movement. While I sympathize with the philosophy, I am not affiliated with, nor do I condone all of their actions, nor is this something we at Rutgers would do without first clearing permissions and rights to archive any content.

One of the big problems with the web is its inherent lack of permanence. There is no formal archiving structure, and like anything digital, it’s very easy for something deemed important by someone to just disappear overnight, with little or no notice.   Sometimes these deletions happen on a mass scale, affecting millions of websites of varying quality, and sometimes arguably of significant cultural value.

Now it appears that, for better or for worse, a group of individuals are working to do something about it… with or without our permission.

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Indiana University Moves Forward with its Media Preservation Initiative
Jan 23rd, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

1/2 inch, consumer, open reel video format used in the 1960s-70s. This format suffers from Sticky Shed Syndrome, making playback difficult. Working machines for this long-obsolete format are scarce. Source: IUB Media Preservation Initiative, used with permission. Note: IUB has asked me to stress that the above photo is not representative of all media collections at the university.

The Media Preservation Site at Indiana University – Bloomington (IUB) makes its message loud and clear the moment you first set your eyes on it: “Our History is At Risk.”

Home to at least 3 million media objects, including sound and moving image recordings, photos, documents, and artifacts, IUB has come to grips with the issue at hand: a great deal of their heritage is locked within obsolete electronic and analog playback formats for sound and moving images.  As an old format becomes obsolete, it gets harder by the day to find working equipment to play back these objects.  And that assumes that the objects can be played back, not having succumbed to age, wear and physical decay. Lacquer from old aluminum audio discs can delaminate, making them unplayable. Video tapes from the 1960s, 70s and 80s can suffer from a condition where the binding agent that holds the recording material to the plastic base sheds, allowing audio and video recordings to literally flake into nothingness. Film, too, has its own serious decay problems.

With its vast collection, faculty and staff at IUB knew the situation could become serious if nothing was done.  Their first step was to take stock of the situation, and consult outside experts (myself included) to get input how how best to address the problem.

Their efforts began nearly 18 months ago when a group of IUB faculty and staff, concerned about the potential fate of important special collections on campus, approached their Office of the Vice Provost for Research about the critical issues of media, and to impress upon them that time was of the essence to address these issues.

“Even though [IU Bloomington’s] needs are now documented, and it is far better equipped than most universities in the country to meet them, there is no guarantee that IU can adequately preserve its collections in the near future.”

The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States, Council on Library and Information Resources for The Library of Congress, Washington 

The culmination of their efforts to date have been documented on the IUB Media Preservation Website, where they document their comprehensive effort to preserve IUB’s vast audio, video, and film holdings.  Some important documents from their study and efforts including IUB’s Director of Media Preservation Services Mike Casey‘s  Media Preservation Survey (PDF), outlining the collection holders, preservation stakeholders, the risks involved, and potential preservation strategies.  A follow-on public report (12MB PDF) also lays out the situation and what steps are being taken to save their special collections and historic content.  Continued engagement, updates, and discussion on decisions made and procedures undertaken are regularly made available on their Media Preservation Blog.

The IUB Media Preservation Blog

IUB has many years of work ahead of it, not only to transfer older content into more modern digital formats, but also to continue to maintain those archives, preserve new content, and keep pace with new technologies and formats to ensure that their collections are accessible.  It’s encouraging to see them in action, and their efforts stand as a potential framework for other organizations in a similar bind to model their initiatives after.


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