Ask anyone in our department at The National Archives and they will say I’m never short of words… Okay, ask anyone out of half a dozen or more departments at The National Archives and they’ll pretty much agree too! Well, that was up to today I suppose. Perhaps it’s writer’s block, perhaps it’s just the natural wrapping up of my duties given that (note it down Wikipedia!) tomorrow, 7 September, is my last day at the organisation. It has been three years, three months and seven days since I started, a fresh-faced C++ developer from the Midlands. My humanities background was Digital Culture at Kings College London and, between you and me, I think I might have confused digitisation with digital preservation at my interview (they let me through the net though!)
In three years, I’ve seen quite a lot happen in the world of digital preservation. I thought my last blog post for The National Archives might be an opportunity to put a shout-out to some of the existing community projects and initiatives which have already done enormous amounts for the cause and look set to continue this trend for a long time.
Digital Preservation Coalition - Save the Bits
Digital Preservation Coalition
While I am sure I was introduced to the Digital Preservation Coalition long before this, in February 2010 Planets held one of its ‘The Planets Way’ training events in London. The first day of the event was in a conference format and, just after lunch, William Kilbride from the DPC took the opportunity to say a few words about the work they do. The statement he made to the room that resonated with me to this day, and a sentiment that can make us all smile in digital preservation, was (to paraphrase):
“Once you solve the problem of digital preservation, I can retire.”
Continue reading »
I think that was the quote we were looking for? Ok, maybe not but If I mention the word DROID you might figure the right one out!
Tenuous links over, in Digital Preservation today we’ve released a new version of the DROID (Digital Record and Object Identification) tool – version 6.1. We’ve spoken about the tool before when I blogged about the PRONOM and DROID user consultation we held at The National Archives last year. The day resulted in a consultation wiki where contribution is invited by all members of the public with an interest in a potential DROID 7. The wiki page lists requirements that users of the tool have for DROID 7 and all future versions.
DROID 6.1 User Interface
The best way to explain the title of this blog is to begin by quoting directly from the Hedgehog Street website:
“Through Hedgehog Street, we are asking people to become Hedgehog Champions to rally support from their neighbours and work together to create ideal hedgehog habitat throughout their street, estate or communal grounds.”
I saw this initiative on BBC Springwatch a while back, specifically, one simple thing we can all do to become Hedgehog Champions – link your garden. Again to quote the Hedgehog Street website:
“Hedgehogs travel around one mile every night through our parks and gardens in their quest to find enough food and a mate. If you have an enclosed garden you might be getting in the way of their plans. Hedgehogs have enough barriers to contend with such as roads and rivers that we can’t do much about. However we can make their life a little easier by removing the barriers within our control – for example making holes in or under our garden fences and walls for them to pass through. The gap need only be around 15cm in diameter and so should not affect your pets’ safety.”
The idea of doing something so simple to protect our cute friends is a nice one. We’re converting one garden into hundreds, and combined with more naturally occurring wildlife corridors, potentially thousands. This is what we’re doing when we link data, the gardens represent our data and datasets and the link we’ve created gives users and machines unrestricted access to navigate from one dataset to another. It’s an almost perfect analogy – an analogy which I hope will help to open up the concept to all our readers, technical and non-technical alike.
Linky - The Linked Data Hedgehog
Continue reading »
Wouldn’t it be cool if every digital file created could be identified with a signature or ‘magic number’ of some kind? This would make preservation, and the concept of knowing what you’ve got in order to be able to preserve it, that much easier.
By design or otherwise, for some file formats this is actually the case. The title of today’s blog post provides two such magic numbers used to identify Java class objects and Java pack200 files. These aren’t the first examples to use magic numbers but 0xCAFEBABE is the one I find the most striking as an introduction to the concept. You can read more on the origins of 0xCAFEBABE at Wikipedia. Continue reading »
As I sit and reflect in my home one evening, thinking back to the day’s events and looking around me, I can begin to see a rich digital tapestry woven into my life. This is prompted by thinking about a conversation I was having with a colleague who was trying to understand an export he had relating to horse racing results and wondered if the data could be extracted to be of any potential use.
Looking around, I see my digital piano in the middle of the room and wonder, beyond the MIDI output I can capture, what exists within its ‘mechanics’ to enable the various functions it performs; I receive an email on my iPhone which I know is downloaded from my Gmail account which potentially means two different storage formats for that email; and I flick through the channels on my digital TV which makes me realise the data which allows me to see a seven-day electronic programme guide must actually be stored as a digital format or data structure within the box to allow it to be displayed and searched through.
Other formats that surround me in my daily life include my mp3 collection, GPS fitness information from cycle trips, and even my computer games and the data video games use, such as save files. Look around you, what formats do you see?
Look around you: How is digital woven into your daily life?
Continue reading »
The theme of my next couple of blog posts will be about reconstructing the world we currently live in. Over the bank holiday weekend I attended an event that gave me new insight into a, for me, little-known digital world and gave me lots to think about in my work in digital preservation.
It has been 30 years since the release of the ZX Spectrum. To celebrate the impact this device has had on the UK in that time Imperica, the online magazine, held an event entitled Horizons. The theme, apart from reflecting on the ‘Spectrum at 30’, was very much binary, reflecting the past, and, exploring the future of computing.
The past. My first computer, still alive and kicking today.
Continue reading »
Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be in Wellington, New Zealand as an invited representative of The National Archives at Future Perfect 2012. I was asked to give a presentation that focused on some of the technical work we do in Digital Preservation, with a nod to the strategy the department has adopted over the last few years and continues to pursue (energetically) in 2012 and through 2013 with the new work being completed on the Digital Records Infrastructure Project.
My presentation was entitled Survival of the Bits and focused loosely on what I perceive to have been an evolution in our work throughout the last few years. The presentation is online and can be viewed here. I received positive feedback about the talk over the course of the two day event, many of the comments praised the honesty of what was presented. The struggle we have in digital preservation is there is so much we have to do, or at least a lot we might want to consider doing to preserve digital records for future generations. We can either try and attack everything at the same time – ultimately this would result in spreading resource too thin and not achieving very much – or we can prioritise and achieve results with the most pressing of problems. Within the department we discussed the idea of an ‘unholy trinity’ of digital preservation: volume, ability to ingest, and knowing what we’ve got. With the aforementioned focus of 2012 and 2013 I suggested to the conference that we are really beginning to see an impact in addressing each of these challenges, but our work in format identification is the most advanced and a challenge it looks like we’re well on the way to beating.
Continue reading »
Greetings from Digital Preservation!
One of the challenges we face in our department is coordinating our efforts to satisfy the requirements of The National Archives, other government departments and a wider preservation and archives sector community that make use of our tools DROID and PRONOM. With such a diverse audience we work hard to listen to colleagues who visit government departments or who actively take part in discussions about preservation and digital continuity. We also maintain mailing lists and have an email address which allows users to contact us directly. This has allowed us to develop strong relationships with organisations across the pond in the US and in the antipodes. We rely on these relationships to help develop our content and improve our services.