Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Secret Service text message situation

The disappearance of the Secret Service’s text messages from January 6, 2021 is a data preservation issue, so I’m briefly reviving this blog from its long sleep to analyze it the best I can.

What we know

“Text messages” sent between Secret Service phones on January 6, 2021, during the unrest in Washington, DC, became unavailable within the bureau. News reporting has gotten so bad that it’s hard to find out just what this means; this CNN article contains more detail than most of the reports I’ve found.

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The risks in PDF

PDF is a very popular format. It’s also a hideously complicated one and keeps getting more complicated. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it has security issues. I just came upon Processing Dangerous Paths — On Security and Privacy of the Portable Document Format, which enumerates many of these risks (and is ironically posted as a PDF). It’s worth a read. Thanks to Johan van der Knijff for mentioning it on Twitter.

Have ebook readers surrendered to DRM?

Late in the first decade of the 21st century, solid opposition to DRM in music made the publishers back down. The arguments were that Digital Rights Management is ineffective against determined crackers, diminishes the value of purchases, and punishes the honest. However, readers have largely caved in to DRM in ebooks, even though the arguments are equally valid there, as confirmed by experience. Some publishers don’t use DRM, and some authors don’t let their publishers use it, but a large proportion of e-books are restricted by encryption. I can’t find any figures on the proportion of sales, but DRM is the default with many major distributors, such as Amazon, and many readers just don’t seem to care.

'DRM Free' logoPeople are beginning to notice, though, that they don’t own a book under DRM; they only license it as long as the vendor supports it. The Sony Reader is dead. Barnes and Noble’s Nook is dying by slow stages. Many smaller publishers are issuing their books DRM-free; it’s mostly the biggest publishers that restrict access. My own e-books, Files that Last and Tomorrow’s Songs Today, are unencumbered by DRM.

Removing DRM isn’t hard. You can find lots of pages with information on how to do it. I don’t know which ones work safely, since I don’t buy ebooks with DRM in the first place.

If Simon and Schuster had its way, it could sue me for huge amounts of money for posting that link, but a federal judge ruled against it. So I’m legal in providing you that link. I hope.

I also hope that eventually the big publishers will figure out that they’re only hurting their readers and losing business by restricting users’ ability to save and convert the books they download.

fixit_tiff, a TIFF repair tool

The Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (Saxon State and University Library Dresden), which somehow gets abbreviated to SLUB, has developed a tool for working with TIFF files in digital preservation. fixit_tiff is a command line utility, written in C, which can do some repairs on defective TIFF files. The focus appears to be on correcting common errors, not on repairing corrupted files. A blog post from July (in German) indicates it can do configurable validation using a simple query language.

It’s available under the same license as Libtiff. Just what is that license? The only thing I can find is a very outdated “Use and Copyright” statement, which is on a page so old it warns about patents on LZW compression. It’s available for free, anyway.

The Roddenberry floppies

Star Trek featured advanced computers that could take instructions and respond in spoken English. The actual computers of the time were more primitive, though, and personal computers didn’t exist in the sixties. In the 1980s, though, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry used two custom-built computers to enter scripts, story ideas, and notes. They ran the CP/M operating system and used 5.25 inch floppy disks.

Star Trek TNG logoSome time after his death in 1991, Roddenberry’s estate discovered almost 200 floppies of his. They went to a company called DriveSavers Data Recovery, which took years to recover the documents due to the unusual challenges. They’ve now reported success in recovering “lots of documents” from the disks. Revelation of just what’s in these documents is up to his heirs, but material related to Star Trek: The Next Generation, which started in 1987, is likely to be a big part of it.
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Through December 31, you can buy my e-book Files that Last: Digital Preservation for Everygeek for just $3.20 on Smashwords. Use coupon code XY29D to get the discount.

Digitizing motion picture film

In this age of digital video, it’s easy to forget that until recently movies were all made and released on film. The Library of Congress’s digital preservation blog has a discussion of “Digitizing Motion Picture Film”, though this title doesn’t fully represent the ongoing debates. Some people, the article notes, think that film is still best preserved with film. Even now when a terabyte of data costs less than dinner for four at Denny’s, it takes a lot of bits to preserve movies at full resolution.
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JHOVE on Github

The JHOVE repository on Github is now live. The SourceForge site is still there and holds the documentation. The Github site is a work in progress.

No, Andy, Amazon won’t last forever

Last week I attended a talk by Andy Ihnatko at the Nashua Public Library. He talked about a lot of interesting things and gave us a close-up of Google Glass in action, but there was one point I had to take issue with. He said it was unreasonable to complain about Amazon’s DRM, because you can play Amazon media on just about any device. During the question period I asked him: If you buy a DRM product from Amazon today, how long do you think they’ll support it? He answered that “Amazon will be around forever.”

This is an astonishing thing to say, especially for someone so intelligent. If he thinks Amazon will never go out of business and will support its DRM through all the coming centuries, probably a lot of other people think that. If you look at DEC, Data General, Wang, Commodore, and Control Data, though, it’s hard to believe in corporate immortality. Even when companies don’t disappear or become assimilated, they usually stop supporting old products after a while.

Maybe Andy’s definite of “forever” is 10 or 20 years. A lot of people don’t think any books or recordings are worth keeping even that long. Personally, I have quite a few books from the 19th century, and it would be a sadder and poorer world if those weren’t available any more.

DRM isn’t forever. In the future, if there are materials that aren’t distributed except in DRM form, they could disappear completely, making the world sadder and poorer.

Before leaving, I handed Andy a card promoting Files that Last. I hope he reads it and learns something from it. Oh, yes, and that he reviews it and boosts my sales. :)