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.

RUcore, Digital Video, and the China Boom
Oct 18th, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

Recently, members of the Rutgers University Libraries at both integrated Information Systems and the Scholarly Communication Center began an auspicious collaboration with the Asia Society in New York City, in our first project to digitally preserve, to standards, their digital video archive for The China Boom Project.  It is the first time that RUcore has ingested a fully born-digital video archive, using the original source content and project files, and creating presentation video from those source files.

The China Boom Project’s goal is to seek an answer to the question, “Why did China Boom?” The site comprises taped interviews with individuals and experts with insights into China’s rapid economic expansion in recent decades. It offers to site visitors packaged video content from these interviews arranged by subject matter and relevant time periods in China’s history, in a very effective and attractive format that is described as a “mosaic explanation.

But while the China Boom site itself provides snippets and prepackaged commentary, an ancillary goal of the project has been to partner with educational institutions to make the full-length content available to researchers, and to have the video archived and preserved.  This is where Rutgers University Libraries, and RUcore, come into the picture.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

New high-resolution displays will push the envelope for image quality
Jun 11th, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

20120611-152612.jpg

Today, all eyes on the tech world were focused on Apple, who as expected, wowed onlookers with its yearly sneak-peek of what’s to come from Cupertino. And among those announcements came a bombshell for those of us in digital imaging. A major product announcement came in the form of high-resolution, near-print quality image displays that are available beginning right now, on a high-end line of Apple MacBook Pro computers. These Retina displays are boasting 2880 x 1800 pixel densities, at a resolution of 220 pixels per inch, equivalent to some 5.2 megapixels.

By comparison, if you’re reading this on a desktop or laptop, you’re likely seeing it at a resolution of between 72 and 150 pixels per inch, weighing in at a mere 1.2 to 1.8 megapixels.

At the moment, this is only available (at least for desktops and laptops) on a very top level, premium line of systems whose price tags start at $2,200. However, we can expect over the next 12-18 months for these types of displays to become more common on less expensive computers, on all operating systems. And of course, displays of this resolution (and higher) are already available on tablets and mobile devices, such as iPads, iPhones and some high-end Android equivalents.

The immediate impact is that most web-formatted images that are meant to be displayed at the customary 72 ppi, will appear much smaller, and less defined, on these newer screens. This will mean that in order to deliver quality image content to users in the long term, images will have to be larger and more detailed. It’ll be possible for a greater amount of detail from high-resolution digital images to be seen online, instead of having to print these images to get the full effect. Most digital text will be clearer to read. Our computer screens will better approximate print. And hopefully, using a computer to read a document should be a lot easier on users’ eyes.

Fortunately for us at RUcore (and many other digital preservation projects), we’re still well ahead of the curve, with imaging preservation standards that set a baseline of 400 to 600 dpi scanned images. This was originally meant to help us re-create the full print quality of a lot of the documents we scan and preserve, should someone, someday decide to re-print them. But now, it’s clear that computer displays of all types are evolving to catch up with print, and give users an image experience that was never before possible on an electronic screen.

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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