Monday, August 10, 2009

In which I resurrect a 13 year old 3.5" floppy disk and reprint my doctoral thesis

This is a follow up to a post from the weekend about playing with my old Sharp MZ-80K. Someone commented that they'd be more impressed if I resurrected a 15 year old floppy disk than a 30 year cassette tape.

I don't have a 15 year old floppy disk to hand, but I do have this one that's 13 years old and according to the label contains a copy of my doctoral thesis. The disk was created in 1996 and the files on it date to 1994 for my doctoral thesis which I completed in 1992.



But would it still read?

The first step was finding a drive. I had an old-ish 3.5" USB disk drive kicking around, so I plugged it into my MacBook Air and fired up Windows XP under VMWare. It happily recognized the drive and the magically it loaded up the floppy disk:



The disk contains a single ZIP file called oxford.zip. Unzipping it and poking around in the directories reveals that it contains my thesis, all the papers I wrote as a doctoral student, my CV and helpful READ.ME files: a gift to my future self.



That's all well and good, but are any of these files usable? Can I take the LaTeX based source files and produce a copy of my thesis? Or can I take the DVI file that I had saved and make that into a PDF?

A quick copy over to the main Mac machine and a download of LaTeX later I had a working LaTeX system again and all the files.

So to get started I grabbed the DVI file of my thesis and ran it through dvipdf. Apart from complaining about various missing fonts it produced a totally readable PDF file and suddenly I was staring at my thesis. You can download the PDF by clicking on: The Formal Development of Secure Systems. Here's a sample page (the code at the bottom is written in Occam):



But it's not enough to stop at a DVI file, what I wanted was to compile from sources. My first test was to start with something small: my CV. Magically, that worked:



And so on to my thesis. I'm not going to show all that I went through, but it worked after I'd got things in the right directories and tracked down a couple of additional style files.


BTW Does anyone have a Research Machines 380Z with working 8" drives? I have a couple of my really old floppies that it would be fun to read.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

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