The Mike Toppa Archiving Project
I’ve begun work on a daunting task: the Mike Toppa Archiving Project. I have many shoeboxes full of floppy disks: Commodore 64 5 1/4″ disks, old PC 3 1/2″ disks, Zip disks, and a few Mac disks. These contain research papers, correspondence, software (including programs I’ve written), games, and lots of data. With my current PC, I obviously can’t access the C64 disks, and I can’t read about half the data on my old PC and Mac disks due to file format incompatibilities. For current versions of MS Office, Microsoft no longer provides filters for my old Ami Pro (word processor) and Quattro Pro (spreadsheet) files.
Aging computer files are actually a very serious, worldwide problem, as described in this excellent Technology Review article: Data Extinction. “The layman’s view is that digital information is more secure, when in fact it’s far more ephemeral…We know how to keep paper intact for hundreds of years. But digital information is all in code. Without access to that code, it’s lost…more and more of what matters to us is digitally produced, and we can’t guarantee that any of it will be usable 100, or 10, or even five years from now.” The article describes four possible solutions (see the table at the bottom of the article) but the only one that’s practical for your average person is “migration,” so that’s what I’m doing.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I got may hands on a newly developed network card and a web server for my C64. I spent some time this weekend trying to get it talking to my home network, but haven’t succeeded yet. Once I do, I can transfer C64 disk images through its web server, onto my PC. At that point, there’s a PC program I can use that will extract files from the disk images. My primary goal is to get at text I’ve written (mainly letters and research papers – I used my C64 all the way through 1992). The C64 used a variation of ASCII, so I should be able to extract the majority of the text. It would take forever to migrate the hundreds of games that I have, and others have already migrated most of the old games anyway, so I don’t think I’ll bother (you can download C64 games to your PC from various sites and then run them with C64 emulator software).
For my old PC files, I still have the install disks for the old software that can read them. But I don’t want to pollute my PC with those programs (since they’re Windows 3.1 programs, I doubt they’d uninstall properly). Maria’s old laptop is overdue for a full re-install of the OS, so before doing that, I’ve installed my old versions of Ami Pro and Quattro Pro there. I’m converting everything to rtf and csv format, which I’m hoping are generic enough to keep them compatible with whatever kind of software we’re all using 10 years from now.
The last step is to put everything on CD-Rs. I’ll go from 5 shoeboxes of floppy disks to probably less than a dozen CDs. Of course the problem there is – despite claims that they’ll last 100 years – you can actually end up with unreadable disks in as little as two years. See The Myth Of The 100-Year CD-Rom. So I guess I’ll just have to regularly make copies of them until something more durable comes along.
Wish me luck!