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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Sony starts MiniDisc, a staple of broadcast audio playback, on its path to obsolescence
Jul 15th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

On July 7, Sony announced that production of MiniDisc playback equipment would cease in September of 2011. According to Sony, the format’s creator, the blank MiniDisc recording media will continue to be manufactured for up a year beyond the players’ discontinuation.

MiniDisc never made as big a splash as Sony had hoped, at least in markets outside of Asia.  Introduced in 1992, Sony had envisioned that the format would be just as ubiquitous in the 1990s as the audio cassette – and another Sony invention, the Walkman – was in the 1980s.  Unlike Audio CDs, MiniDiscs offered a more compact design to increase portability, greater durability and anti-skip capabilities, and all MiniDisc playback equipment was capable of writing to recordable and re-writeable media from the outset.  By contrast, the first sub-$10,000 CD writers wouldn’t become available until 13 years after Compact Disc’s 1982 introduction to the market, and almost 3 years after MiniDisc was widely available.

Unfortunately, MiniDisc had barriers to adoption from the outset, most of which were placed – deliberately or otherwise – by the company who introduced the format in the first place.

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Preserving Video: Different Solutions for a Growing Problem
Nov 15th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

The drumbeat continues to sound for the preservation of obsolete and endangered moving image formats, particularly videotape.  As older tape formats become unplayable, either through decay or lack of equipment to play them back, the urgency grows to find ways to preserve their content using modern digital formats.

The problem has been considered by multiple organizations acting separately over the past decade, and all of them have wrangled over the same question: What digital format should be used to preserve this content in the digital space, and help ensure that we aren’t finding ourselves in the same obsolescence predicament right away?  Interestingly, those analyzing this problem and making decisions for their respective organizations have often come up with different answers.

Those differing opinions, and the rationale behind them, were the subject of a talk held earlier this month in Philadelphia, at the Association of Moving Image Archivists / International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (AMIA/IASA) 2010 Conference.  Representatives from the respective digital preservation projects underway at the Library of Congress, Rutgers University Libraries, and Stanford University were each on hand to offer their perspectives and the paths their organizations took for digitally preserving their video.

The abstract of the talk, as well each presenter’s slides and notes, can be found here:

I feel an important conclusion to take away from this talk is that there isn’t always a single right answer to the digital preservation conundrum.  There is a common desire among preservationists to have and use a widely accepted standard format for keeping our digital objects safe in the long term.  However, while formats and standards can be recommended and can work very well for a wide variety of use cases, there are always those local requirements and special needs that need to be considered, and adjustments made accordingly.

Fortunately, a great deal of progress has been made in the last several years, as those who were once wading into this problem alone have experimented and learned from past mistakes.  It’s venues like this which permit that knowledge and experience to be shared, so that those preservationists just starting to consider the problem can use that wisdom, and have multiple case studies to consider in making decisions of their own.

The last days of Kodachrome are at hand… but not film in general
Oct 18th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

If you have any Kodachrome Film stashed away, the last days to get it developed are at hand.  According to Dwayne’s Photo, the last commercial developer of the film format, they will be developing their last received rolls of Kodachrome film on December 31, 2010.  After this date, their remaining equipment to handle this type of film will be shut down forever, and discarded.  Per the statement on their website:

The last day of processing for all types of Kodachrome film will be December 30th, 2010.  The last day Kodak will accept prepaid Kodachrome film in Europe is November 30th, 2010.  Film that is not in our lab by noon on December 30th will not be processed.

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