If you have, or expect to have, 8-inch floppies in your collections, you may be interested in a paper I have put together with Abby Adams at the Harry Ransom Center and Austin Roche, an independent collector of Datapoint hardware and media, also in Austin, Texas. This paper was presented at iPRES 2018.
Data Recovery and Investigation from 8-inch Floppy Disk Media: Three Use Cases (osf.io) (CU Scholar)
As the above diagram suggests, working with 8-inch disks requires a few more pieces than 3.5″ and 5.25″ disks – though KryoFlux is no less critical here. Namely, adapters need to be acquired to both power and connect an 8-inch drive (D Bit is a great resource here). Even then, translating a sector-level disk image into workable files for a researcher can be very tricky.
We go into more detail in the paper, and I hope this can be useful for any practitioners who have this media in their stacks. Though 8-inch floppies come from some of the earliest days of personal computing, there is extremely valuable content on them. As we show in the paper, major creative works are stored on those platters, from script drafts for blockbuster films to early experimental computer graphics work.
In February, I took part in the first Advanced Topics webinar for the BitCurator Consortium, centered on using the KryoFlux in an archival workflow. My co-participants, Farrell at Duke University and Dorothy Waugh at Emory University both contributed wonderful insights into the how and why of using the floppy disk controller for investigation, capture and processing. Many thanks to Cal Lee and Kam Woods for their contributions, and Sam Meister for his help in getting this all together.
If you are interested in using the KryoFlux (or do so already) I recommend checking the webinar out, if only to see how other folks are using the board and the software.
An addendum to the webinar for setting up in Linux
If you are trying to set up KryoFlux in a Linux installation (e.g. BitCurator), take a close look at the instructions found in README.linux text file located in the top directory of the package downloaded from KryoFlux site. It contains instructions on dependencies needed and the process for allowing access to floppy devices through KryoFlux for a non-root user (such as bcadmin). This setup that will avoid many permissions problems down the line as you will not be forced to use the device as root, and I have found it critical to correctly setting up the software in Linux.
Early in January I attended the first-ever BitCurator Users Forum in Chapel Hill. This was a fantastic day with a group of folks interested in the BitCurator project and digital forensics in an archive setting — definitely one of the most information-packed and directly applicable conferences or forums I’ve attended. I’m very much looking forward to next year’s.
Two files with different passages of 1s and 0s automatically have different checksums but may still offer the same experience; for example, two copies of a digitized film may differ by a few frames but look identical to the human eye. The point of digitizing a Stanley Kubrick film isn’t to create a new mathematical artifact with its own unchanging properties, but to capture for future generations the experience us old timers had of watching his cinematic genius in celluloid. As a custodian of culture, my job isn’t to ensure my DVD of A Clockwork Orange is faithful to some technician’s choices when digitizing the film; it’s to ensure it’s faithful to Kubrick’s choices as a filmmaker.
As in nearly all storage-based solutions, fixity does little to help capture context. We can run checksums on the Riverside “King Lear” till the cows come home, and it still won’t tell us that boys played women’s parts, or that Elizabethan actors spoke with rounded vowels that sound more like a contemporary American accent than the King’s English, or how each generation of performers has drawn on the previous for inspiration. Even on a manuscript level, a checksum will only validate one of many variations of a text that was in reality constantly mutating and evolving.
In my own preoccupation with disk imaging, generating checksums and storing them on servers, I forget that at best this is the very beginning of preservation; not an incontestable “ground truth” of the artifact.