News Wire: Conrail predecessor documents bound for shredder saved instead

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Posted by Brian Schmidt on Thursday, August 15, 2019 9:25 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Northeastern railway preservationists have saved hundreds of drawings — some dating to the 1860s — from Conrail predecessors from the shredder in what has been called a “monumental achievement” for rai...

http://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2019/08/15-conrail-predecessor-documents-bound-for-shredder-saved-instead

Brian Schmidt, Associate Editor Trains Magazine

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, August 17, 2019 8:06 PM

The bigger question - had the documents been 'backed up' by either microfilm or digital means.  Paper is much heavier and more bulky to store than either of the other forms of preservation.  While the data contained on the documents may be important - the paper that holds the data is of next to no importance if the documents have been preserved by either of the two methods I have listed.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, August 17, 2019 9:52 PM

Lots of data/documents have been digitally backed up on now obsolete equipment or no longer supported software, and are not retrievable.

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, August 17, 2019 10:06 PM

I hope all this material is eventually scanned at preserved digitally.  The format that seems to me to be both economical in terms of bit-count and long-term comopatibility with computer upgrades is pdf.  The earliest pdf documenets I have are still readable and usable with the the latest computers and latest Adobe and Firefox readers.  But some early MS Word documents seem to be unreadable with what I am using now, requiring an addiitonal conversion program.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, August 18, 2019 8:26 AM

A further consideration is whether or not the stored pages have been OCR'd and the text extracted for electronic access.  Sometimes this is difficult to accomplish with typical book/document scanning packages and there has to be a way to view and edit the text metadata independently of the physical page image.  PDF does accomplish this, and I think it is one of the reasons Google Books chose this format for its very substantial digitizing and repository efforts.

In the past there have been commercial programs designed to convert older image formats.  This was more necessary before the JPEG recommendations became reasonably standard for image-file storage; one notable 'early adopter' casualty being the US Patent Office which famously started digitizing its records in a form of TIFF that many computer systems couldn't readily read.  (To this day I use Google Patents to give me PDF copies of patents, so I don't know how the current USPTO access system looks)

I agree that it's dangerous to presume that any standard, no matter how pervasive it becomes at a given point in time, will persist or even exist decades from now.  But the 'correct' response is to maintain conversion programs, even if they have to be run entirely in virtual machines or other emulation, and corresponding support for input and output devices.  

I have to confess that since the days of Office 98 I've set my default storage format to Rich Text format, which is the 'default' storage choice for purely text-based files, precisely because easy interchange between various word-processing formats was officially discouraged by Microsoft, WordPerfect/Corel, and a couple of other 'usual suspect' people selling proprietary software.  Microsoft as far as I know will provide you a conversion utility to use older files with current versions of Word, but I have not bothered to find out how that currently works as I refuse to use any subscription-based product on moral grounds.

In my experience, a far more significant problem than 'format' has been 'media'.  Many supposedly "archival" media have started encountering various degradation problems, early WORM media being an example.  Of course magnetic-storage self-demagnetization is a problem, and one not always covered by the solution of periodic re-recording.  Flash memory -- any current version of flash memory -- isn't a safe archival choice for technical reasons.  Solutions like fused microfilm on glass require careful handling, proprietary devices to read them and access them, and frequently astoundingly long access times; they're best for bulk storage that can be 'read' into newer forms of random-access memory to work with.

I know there were groups at both ITU and IEEE CS that were working on long-term stable storage alternatives; I don't know the current state of their work.

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Posted by MP173 on Sunday, August 18, 2019 11:41 AM

I am not a museum curator or preservanist, but I attempt to collect as much "paper railroad stuff" as possible...within reason.  

Of interest are "railroads of my life" such as Illinois Central, PC, Conrail, NS, B&O, CSX, etc.  

My modest collection includes Official Guides (primarily 1940's thru 1970), passenger and employee timetables, old tariffs, maps, etc.

The past couple of years I have looked for old railroad freight schedules which are pretty difficult to find.  Also old Tower Reports (movements of trains), dispatch sheets (got luck with an entire month of 1996 Conrail sheets from Indianapolis) and other interesting "paper".  Also, I am collecting old railroad mechanical pencils (with logos).  I have several old Moody's Transportation Manuals from 1950s - 1990s which provide financial data on railroads and other transportation companies.

Not sure what I will do with this, but my wife has been told "dont throw it away".  

Actual libraries such as Barriger at UM/St Louis are outstanding.  That collection is amazing, but they also have huge collection of boxes donated.  The Multimodal website is a nice reference for certain documents which were scanned and saved.  A great collection of PC and Conrail freight schedules are there.

Suggestions on what to do with this "collection" are welcomed.

 

Ed

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, August 18, 2019 3:53 PM

MP173
Suggestions on what to do with this "collection" are welcomed.

Look at the discussions on building homemade 'book scanners' or acquiring used or older ones cheap.  Learn how to fine-tune their operation and how to manipulate the files they generate for straightness, color, etc.

If you don't want the trouble or the learning-from-a-fire-hose tech experience, consider contacting Google Books directly to see if you can schedule a scanning session for your material. 

Then scan the hell out of your collection, just as Google Books would, and keep some organized track of what the individual files and directories contain.  That doesn't mean 'go paperless' afterward, it just reasonably ensures that the content won't be destroyed in some awful disaster.

Two things:  (1) strongly consider some sort of cheap 'cloud' backup with a reasonable provider, being sure to demand contractual provision that you'll have the right to keep or download your data no matter what happens in subsequent business or mergers; and

(2) remember and practice diligently the art of safe offsite backup.  Don't keep all your chips or portable drives in the same room or house as the paper -- they burn nearly as well and as permanently.

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Posted by Leo_Ames on Sunday, August 18, 2019 6:37 PM

MidlandMike

Lots of data/documents have been digitally backed up on now obsolete equipment or no longer supported software, and are not retrievable.

 

While unbeknownst to most people, there are a lot of classic computer fans out there on all the popular formats of the past like Atari's 8-bit line. I'd be very shocked to find out that there are files not realistically retrievable, at least from consumer grade computer equipment of the past. 

For instance I keep a fully operable Coleco ADAM around the house. While just for playing Colecovision cartridges, the disk and tape drives are still fully functionable and I'm able to read programs off those. 

While I'm unaware of the steps and equipment needed, I know other Coleco fans have been able to bring files forward into the modern Windows environment from these. And we're not even talking about what could be considered a popular PC of the past, with the Coleco ADAM being a major reason for why the company imploded. 

For an example of how easy it can be to step back into the past in the computer world, a buddy of mine just easily and cheaply put together a Windows 95 and a Windows 98 machine for classic computer gaming. Not exactly sure what the 95 machine can do that the 98 machine can't, but he didn't have any trouble locating components economically from that time period, many of them NOS, to build what would've been top of the line PC gaming machines for back then to run Win 95/98 games fully maxed out. 

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Posted by MP173 on Monday, August 19, 2019 3:19 PM

Overmod:

Great suggestion....perhaps when I retire.  Not sure when that will be.

 

Ed

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, August 19, 2019 3:27 PM

MidlandMike
Lots of data/documents have been digitally backed up on now obsolete equipment or no longer supported software, and are not retrievable.

Corporations have Officials that are charged with the responsibiliy of maintaining the documents necessary for the operation and history of the company.  Such officials are not doing their job if some segment of the company records remain on some form of storage that is not supported going forward.  A continuing part of their jobs is to ensure that the documents are available whenever necessary.  Without access to that 1830 Deed at the proper time significant damages could be the result.

Concerning the documents in question, I have no idea what the ConRail Archivest may or may not have done.

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, August 19, 2019 5:06 PM

There is just SO much stuff out there and just getting it into a decent climate controlled building is a huge effort.  Next step is to catalog it all.  Then finally digitize.  All of this take more time and money than most places can even come close to.  

Yes, it would be great to have all of this stuff out there in the interwebs as searchable text, image databases, etc.  But, there's just too much stuff and too few resources.

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, August 19, 2019 6:15 PM

Leo_Ames
For instance I keep a fully operable Coleco ADAM around the house. While just for playing Colecovision cartridges, the disk and tape drives are still fully functionable and I'm able to read programs off those.

Please tell me you still have the printer and that it runs (or if not, that all its little plastic pieces are still reasonably intact).

The Coleco Adam was one of the greatest unsung threats to the International Business Machines company of the early PC years.  And all because of a little secret involving that printer: that you could make a carbon-ribbon cartridge for it.

Thing rattled and shook and was a pathetic 10 characters per second.  Which was only pathetic until you realized that this was 600cpm, which translates into 125wpm, which is faster than most secretaries can type ... onto the nice heavyweight laid letterhead that would easily feed through the thing ... via the thoroughly letter-quality ball. 

With the software in the box to set margins, do tabs, use a long typeahead buffer and store documents... everything you needed to make your Selectric or Wheelwriter functionally obsolescent.  For $119 or so brand new, which is what it cost when I saw it demonstrated.

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Posted by mudchicken on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 9:56 PM

Overmod

 

 
Leo_Ames
For instance I keep a fully operable Coleco ADAM around the house. While just for playing Colecovision cartridges, the disk and tape drives are still fully functionable and I'm able to read programs off those.

 

Please tell me you still have the printer and that it runs (or if not, that all its little plastic pieces are still reasonably intact).

The Coleco Adam was one of the greatest unsung threats to the International Business Machines company of the early PC years.  And all because of a little secret involving that printer: that you could make a carbon-ribbon cartridge for it.

Thing rattled and shook and was a pathetic 10 characters per second.  Which was only pathetic until you realized that this was 600cpm, which translates into 125wpm, which is faster than most secretaries can type ... onto the nice heavyweight laid letterhead that would easily feed through the thing ... via the thoroughly letter-quality ball. 

With the software in the box to set margins, do tabs, use a long typeahead buffer and store documents... everything you needed to make your Selectric or Wheelwriter functionally obsolescent.  For $119 or so brand new, which is what it cost when I saw it demonstrated.

 

Overmod

 

 
Leo_Ames
For instance I keep a fully operable Coleco ADAM around the house. While just for playing Colecovision cartridges, the disk and tape drives are still fully functionable and I'm able to read programs off those.

 

Please tell me you still have the printer and that it runs (or if not, that all its little plastic pieces are still reasonably intact).

The Coleco Adam was one of the greatest unsung threats to the International Business Machines company of the early PC years.  And all because of a little secret involving that printer: that you could make a carbon-ribbon cartridge for it.

Thing rattled and shook and was a pathetic 10 characters per second.  Which was only pathetic until you realized that this was 600cpm, which translates into 125wpm, which is faster than most secretaries can type ... onto the nice heavyweight laid letterhead that would easily feed through the thing ... via the thoroughly letter-quality ball. 

With the software in the box to set margins, do tabs, use a long typeahead buffer and store documents... everything you needed to make your Selectric or Wheelwriter functionally obsolescent.  For $119 or so brand new, which is what it cost when I saw it demonstrated.

 

(1) Keep the hardcopy. Getting volunteers and storage space to economically  scan stuff plus index it is impossible.

(2) There  is a certain PRR/CR warehouse in Philadelphia on the threatened list.

(3) National Archives has tons of USRA /PC/CR stuff on magnetic reels that nobody can read or access anymore.

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west
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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 8:50 AM

mudchicken
(3) National Archives has tons of USRA /PC/CR stuff on magnetic reels that nobody can read or access anymore.

What physical tape-drive format do they use, what operating systems were they intended to be compatible with, and (ideally) what recording format is the data encoded in?

There are two (really, three) considerations for reading this sort of thing: first, physical access to the tape; second, reconstructing the magnetic information if it has become degraded due to self-magnetization; third, running something in emulation that can parse and work with the data retrieved from the tape.  There are computer hobby groups that love this sort of thing.  

There is a secret underbelly of conversion equipment, like System 36-compatible tape drives for IBM PCs, that was designed to facilitate use of 'legacy' storage resources but is now its own flavor of unobtanium and forgotten support.  Still, I'd suspect that the mentioned tapes all share common formats, so one frenzied hardware-hacking session on a compliant tape drive should produce relatively smooth 'data harvesting' to a new platform thereafter.

No, you'll go blind trying to do this with 'professional' data recovery services.  As stupid doing that as ordering instrumented driver wheelsets for the 5550 T1 from a commercial manufacturer.

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