Category Archives: Digital Archive

Resurrecting Mac Format Floppies

Cleaning through some shelves this weekend, I stumbled on a pile of 3.5″ floppy disks, with labels like ‘DoC Unix Archive’ on them. Intrigued, and vaguely recalling what to expect on them, I set about trying to read them.

Which was not so easy. I currently use an iBook as my main PC, and floppies have long been obsolete on Macs. No problem, I have an old Toshiba laptop running Windows 2000 (Another blast from the past!) which I was thinking about consigning to the bin. Now it is a ‘compact’ model, so I had to find the floppy drive accessory that came with it.

Plugging that in, I could read about half the disks. I found I could copy them to a CF card, and then mount that (via a USB dongle) on my mac. Presto, I had old files from 1993 sitting on my hard disk! Very cool!

The remaining disks seemed ‘corrupt’, until I remembered that at college I owned a Powerbook 100, and in those days, Mac’s had their own floppy format.

Right, over to Google, and I found two old, but still working, bits of software: hfsutils (binaries here) and RSXNT, found here (Thanks again Google – the link in the hfsutils readme had long gone stale).

Now I could, slowly, copy the remaining files to my CF card. After getting the files over to my current PC, I was then extremely impressed that Microsoft Office still recognised the formats it wrote back in 1992-1996. Very impressive Microsoft!

Among the gems were the accounts I kept at the time. Fairly dull (I was that kind of student), but as a side effect a pretty accurate record of my travels and habits. At the time I wrote them up for The Times as an ‘here’s what students spend their money on’ article. Now their URL has long since gone stale, but Imperial College still mention the article in the archive of their staff newsletter. I’m at the bottom of the page, and seem to have been last of the big spenders as a student. Divide those numbers by four to learn my annual budget!

Building Blocks

The digital archive has got off to a slow start. I took a significant step today (it was raining!), by getting a revision control system running to host the software I’ll need to write. My chosen system – Subversion – was not available in a ready to install form for Mac OS X, at least not as a server.

This article seemed to be the best advice, but even it appears to contain a few red herrings, and I certainly didn’t want to install XCode on my shiny, minimalist, OS X Server installation.

So over the last few months I’ve been creating a binary distribution of Subversion, Apache v2 and the various config bits needed to get the https version of Subversion’s server protocol running. Today, it finally went live, and started hosting its first project – a distributable version of the scripts I’ve written to do this. Watch this space – mcaleely.com might be about to host its first new software project in years! Don’t hold your breath though, considering my current rate of productivity.

A Digital Archive

I wonder how many other people out there want this too? I have, on my various computers:

  • Email, mostly complete, since about 1993 (ish)
  • My music collection
  • A few years of photo albums
What I’d like is a way to store that lot, in a vendor-neutral fashion, and then access it from most IP connected spots in the world. It’s the vendor-neutral bit that seems to be hard. My music is all hidden in iTunes, and for a long while, my email was trapped in Outlook.

However, this weekend was a practical first step. I brought up an IMAP server, and started transferring all those archives (over 10 years) to it.

I copped out – having tried to run an OpenBSD server, and hack around on Mac OS X client – I just bought Mac OS X Server, and installed it on my desktop. About 10 minutes later, the server was running. When Apple make it easy, boy do they make it easy! I can access the archive via SSL/IMAP or SSL/HTTP, so most internet connections can reach it. By far the best is my Mac client – spotlight for over 10 years of email is awesome!