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.

Keeping Your Stuff Safe, Part 3: Your Files in The Cloud
Jan 19th, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

A cloud storage datacenter, housing multiple storage bays. Each red box holds 135 Terabytes of storage. Source: backblaze.com

 

Previously in this series, I focused on local storage; primarily, hard drives and similar media were discussed.  But a lot has changed since that last article was posted!  In particular, flooding in Thailand threatened to severely restrict the supply of hard drives, and retail prices had doubled and nearly tripled for the most common capacities and models.  Pricing for hard drives has begun to stabilize, but supplies are still constrained, and the situation is not expected to go back to anything resembling normal until March 2012 at the earliest.  For you and I, this means that the price of a hard drive, or even a new computer, might bit higher for the next few months and harder to come by, until the region can recover and production of hard drive components can resume.

And so, it makes sense to look at other solutions for backup strategies, with cloud storage being a lead contender.  Cloud (or online) backup services have become quite popular over the last few years.  They offer an attractive option for keeping your stuff safe: for a fee, you get the ability to send your files to a remote datacenter, where maintaining the storage and hardware required for backing up all of your data becomes the responsibility of the backup service you subscribe to.  They upgrade the hardware when it needs to be upgraded.  They fix and replace hard drives that go bad. The idea is to further simplify the backup process so that even buying hard drives and hooking them up to your computer aren’t part of the equation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Keeping Your Stuff Safe, Part 2: the Local Route
Sep 19th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

An External Hard Drive: the easiest method for making a quick copy of your important stuff. Photo taken by flickr user Miss Karen

All, right, so you’ve heard it over and over and again, and you know it’s true: you need to make regular backups of your stuff. But how?  What options do typical computer users have?

In the past few years, the options for preservation and backups have expanded quite a bit, giving users an enormous array of solutions to choose from.  Of course, the diverse options can be confusing: what’s the best choice for you?

The backup options out there can be grouped into two major categories: local storage and cloud storage.  Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and will appeal to different users based on where and how they use their computers.  Some of the best and most secure backup strategies make use of both solutions… a backup-of-the-backup, so to speak.  I’ll discuss that further in a later write-up.

In this article, I’ll talk about local storage.  In the next article, we’ll go into cloud-based solutions.

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Keeping Your Stuff Safe, Part 1: Why you need a Plan B
Sep 16th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

A hard disk drive with damaged platters, caused by a head crash. The data on this drive is not recoverable.

Whether we like it or not, those of us who rely on electronics to get our work done are guaranteed one thing: a data loss event.  This means that at least once in our  lifetimes (and sometimes more than that), every one of us who uses a computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone or similar device is going to one day stare at our screens and realize that the piece of information we expected to be there, just isn’t.

It can happen any number of ways.  Sometimes, we users make a mistake and accidentally erase something we shouldn’t have… or someone else might’ve accidentally deleted something of ours that they shouldn’t have. Other times, it’s the computer’s fault: buggy software might’ve claimed to save something but didn’t, or a 10-year-old hard drive finally decided to give up the ghost.  And sometimes, acts of nature (power outage, natural disaster, or other events beyond our control) will intervene and cause vital work to be lost.

Of course, we’ve all heard it time and time again: to protect your documents, photos, drawings, artwork, and other important data, you need to have backups.  Unfortunately, while we all have heard this before and know it to be true, we don’t always follow through.  In the past it’s been tedious to do regular backups; a chore we all dread.  And so, it always falls but he wayside, and often, we get back into a backup regimen only after something bad has happened, and it’s already too late.

But take heart.  A lot has changed recently.  There ARE personal backup solutions out there that are surprisingly easy… and even automatic!  keeping your stuff safe doesn’t have to be a tedious chore anymore… as long as you’re willing to invest a little time and effort at the beginning, and in some cases a small amount of cash on an ongoing basis.

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The Cranberry Genome: RUcore’s first foray into research data sharing
Aug 23rd, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

Cranberry Harvest in New Jersey. Source: USDA

 

A few months back, I wrote about our efforts to leverage RUcore for the benefit of the academic research community at Rutgers. The result is RUresearch, a place for Rutgers researchers to share their data with the global scholarly community.  This data sharing is particularly important in light of a National Science Foundation mandate to openly share research data that has been funded through them.

Over the summer, the RUcore team has been working with a few researchers to better understand their needs, and to work on preserving and sharing our first samples of actual research data.  In collaboration with the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension, our efforts – if you’ll pardon the pun – have begun to bear fruit.

As part of funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Marucci Center researchers have extracted a genome for a cultivar of the cranberry; a fruit for which New Jersey is the third-largest producer in the US, devoting some 3,600 acres to its cultivation.

The genome research is part of a study in genetics of fruit rot-rresistance, and the data generated (using Applied Bioscience’s SOLiD 3 Plus System) takes up over 60GB of storage when compressed.  Sharing of this data to researchers who would find it useful obviously requires a system that can not only spare the storage, but be robust enough to permit open access.  Enter RUcore.

Although further refinements are in progress, the result of our collaboration is one of our first research data records in RUcore, located at this link.  The PDF attached to that record describes the link to the download point for the data sets.

While the data itself isn’t something the general public will easily recognize and interpret, the ability to share this information with other researchers can benefit all of us, through continued study into which genetic factors can make certain fruits resistant to rotting.  And it’s also a learning experience for us, in how to make that sharing among researchers a little bit easier.


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