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.

3 comments:

sappho said...

PFFF. You call that THAT resurrection? You didn't even have to open it up and wash the disk... Just because the disk is old, it doesn't necessarily mean it'll be harder to read than a new disk. A badly stored disk can get impossible to read in a matter of weeks, due to dust and mold, for instance. A common mistake people make is to write with hard tipped pens on disk labels after they've put the label on. That can really damage the disk right away.

Jodi Schneider said...

Check with Chris Rusbridge at the Digital Curation Centre:
http://digitalcuration.blogspot.com/search/label/legacy%20formats

m.o.kane said...

Imagine if the files had been created with Xywrite, Palantir or some other long-gone word processing program. Because they were written using LaTex they were easily recoverable. That's much more interesting than recovering the files off a floppy.