Finale and macOS

I’m not entirely sure where the right place to put this is. It’s a file format issue in part, since if people can’t keep using Finale after a macOS upgrade, they need to salvage all the files they’re created in its proprietary format.

The email which I got from MakeMusic, dated October 18, was alarming:

Finale v25.5 is not compatible with macOS 10.15 Catalina and will not be updated to support Catalina. It is our recommendation that users of Finale v25.5 not upgrade to macOS Catalina.
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Identifying files by programming language

Most of today’s programming languages look vaguely similar. They’re derived from the C syntax, with similar ways of expressing assignments, arithmetic, conditionals, nested expressions, and groups of statements. If the files have their original extension and it’s accurate, format identification software should be able to classify them correctly.

The software should do some basic checks to make sure it wasn’t handed a binary file with a false extension, which could be dangerous. A code file should be a text file. regardless of the language. (This isn’t strictly true, but non-text languages like Piet and Velato are just obscure for the sake of obscurity.) The UK National Archive recognizes XML and JSON (which is a subset of JavaScript) but doesn’t talk about programming languages as file formats. Exiftool identifies lots of formats but makes no attempt to discern programming languages.
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The Apostles of GIF

Biblical picture, Paul and BarnabasThis is as much an excuse to plug one of my favorite satirical websites, the Babylon Bee, as anything else. They’ve got a mock-historical article claiming that the apostles Paul and Barnabas parted ways over the pronunciation of GIF.

It’s hard to tell reality from satire these days, so I should say again that the Babylon Bee is strictly satirical. I think it’s funnier than the Onion.

To me it’s clear that the Shakers got it right when they went with the hard G. You know the song: “‘Tis a GIF to be simple, ’tis a GIF to be free…”

Fileformat.com

In my recent searches, I came across Fileformat.com, which presents itself as a guide for developers. There’s no information on the site about who’s running it, though most or all of the articles on the wiki are credited to Farooq Sheikh. The site looks worth following. The main sections of it are:

  • A wiki on file formats. It isn’t as thorough as the Archive Team wiki, but it has some good technical information on the most popular formats.
  • A news section, which consists of links to articles on other sites, including some of mine. Not all of them are strictly news, but they’re all relevant to people with a specialty in file formats. It has an RSS feed, though it isn’t advertised. There aren’t a lot of RSS feeds on file formats (besides the feed for this blog, of course), so it could be worth bookmarking in your reader.

I’ve added a link to the site in my sidebar.

Zip bombs: Blown up out of proportion?

A Vice.com article has brought fresh publicity to an old trick. The so-called “Zip bomb” is a Zip file with a fantastically high compression ratio. Researcher David Fifield created a 46-megabyte file that expands into 45 petabytes. That’s a compression ratio of about a billion. Fifield’s own article provides a lot more technical information.

The article says such files are “so deeply compressed that they’re effectively malware.” That strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration. “Nuisanceware” seems more accurate, if there’s such a word. However, they could be used in a denial of service attack. They could crash a server or browser, and the work removing the expanded files could cause some downtime. A Zip bomb might be a setup for another attack, tying up system resources and distracting administrators.
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The tape obsolescence problem

An ABC News Australia article calls attention to the problem of archives on magnetic tape. Author James Elton clearly knows something about digital preservation issues, as the article goes beyond the usual generalities and hand-wringing.

Tapes, on the other hand, can only be read by format-specific machines.

And dozens of formats of magnetic tape were created through the last century — one-inch, two-inch, various versions of Betamax.

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Web archiving and languages

Web archiving is difficult. Few sites consist entirely of static, self-contained content. Most use JavaScript, often from external sites. Responsive pages are designed to look different in different environments. An archive needs to make a snapshot that reflects its appearance at a given point in time, but what exactly does that mean? Should an archive pick an appearance for one reasonable set of parameters, or should it try to keep the page’s dynamic nature? Will the fact that it’s an archive rather than an interactive browser affect what the server gives it?
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Aside

JHOVE 1.22 is now available from OPF.

When ebooks die

Microsoft’s eBook Store is closing. According to the announcement, “starting July 2019 your ebooks will no longer be available to read, but you’ll get a full refund for all book purchases.” This shows a basic truth about DRM book purchases: you don’t actually own your copy. You can use it only as long as the provider supports it. It was honest of Microsoft to refund all “purchases,” but digital oblivion eventually awaits all DRM-protected materials.

Andy Ihnatko once told me that DRM is safe because “Amazon will be around forever.” It won’t. The fact that a company as big and stable as Microsoft is abandoning support for its DRM-protected products reminds us that all such products exist only as long as the provider has sufficient motivation and ability. It’s questionable whether Amazon’s protected ebooks from today will be readable in 2050, let alone “forever.”
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HTML mail is a terrible idea — but at least please do it right

Originally email consisted just of text messages. They were straightforward to read. It was very hard to send malware in a convincing way, since the recipient would have to extract any malicious attachment and run it by hand. There was a hoax in 1994 warning of the alleged “Goodtimes virus”, which caused a lot of merriment among the computer-literate. The only “virus” was the hoax email itself, which the less computer-literate forwarded to all their friends.

Then came HTML mail, a huge advance in email insecurity. Now malicious URLs could hide behind links or even be opened automatically. It could include JavaScript to exploit client weaknesses and trick recipients. Today, almost everyone recognizes these advantages, and malware and phishing by email are multi-billion-dollar businesses.

Doing it right, or not doing it at all

Even so, there are good and bad ways to create HTML mail. Continue reading