Monthly Archives: March 2018


Troubleshooting the Disk Imaging Workflow

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Under Discussion, 2005, color video, sound, 6 minutes 14 seconds
Philadelphia Museum of Art

I’m winding down on the 8th month of my NDSR Art Residency at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I still have not viewed any of the pieces in the time-based media collection. I’ve seen the DVDs in their cases and the external hard drives neatly tucked away in a storage cabinet, but I have not viewed a single work.

You might be wondering why I don’t just pop a DVD into a DVD player and watch it. Sounds simple enough. Well, think of it this way: if we are to treat the artwork stored on this DVD with the same care as we would a Picasso painting, you can’t just yank it out of storage and throw it in a gallery. Because the condition of the piece is unknown when it is first purchased or pulled from long-term storage, it must first be assessed for degradation or damage. Furthermore, not a single piece in the PMA collection has been backed up: that single copy is all we’ve got. Since I’m not a time-based media art conservator and the PMA does not have one currently on staff, watching a one-of-a-kind DVD has not really been an option.

Until now!

After months of research and meetings with many stakeholders across the Museum (conservators, curators, executives, IT, and archivists) and building a framework to preserve the time-based media art collection, I finally have the resources to create backups of the works currently stored on DVDs and external hard drives.

In order to make certain I am fully backing up the artwork, I have chosen to create forensic disk image backups. A forensic disk image captures every bit of the drive, including the software that makes that hardware work and any deleted content that has not been overwritten. Simultaneously, during the disk imaging process vital technical metadata is extracted and made human readable. The reason for using this approach is simple: forensic disk images produce an authentic and complete preservation backup of the object.

For reference, here’s my workstation setup:

Computer: Digital Intelligence Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED)

External Hard Drives: G-Technology 6TB G-Drive with Thunderbolt 3 and LaCie 6TB d2 Thunderbolt 3 Desktop Drive

Write Blocker: Tableau Ultrabay 4d

Computer OS: Windows 10

Software: Windows Defender Antivirus software; Oracle VM VirtualBox running the BitCurator Environment. In BitCurator, I’m using prepackaged software: Guymager for creating images; Bulk Extractor for pulling technical metadata; BitCurator Reports for making that metadata easier to read; and Bagger for securely transferring the content.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve slowly and carefully been imaging the master and exhibition DVDs of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s 2005 video piece Under Discussion. As expected, this undertaking has not been without its fair share of unexpected obstacles that have required troubleshooting. Although troubleshooting is very much a learn-as-you-do activity, I think it could be useful to share a few examples of the issues I encountered and how I eventually solved them. (Disclaimer: If you find any of my solutions lacking or inaccurate, please do not hesitate to contribute your thoughts to the conversation.)

Problem: BitCurator would not recognize a DVD.

Solution: This can happen for a number of reasons. In my case, BitCurator didn’t automatically recognize the DVD and, consequently, I had to do it manually. At the top of the BitCurator window in the Devices dropdown menu, I found the missing device under Optical as “Host E:”. When BitCurator finally recognized the device, a disk icon appeared in the desktop dock.

Problem: Windows 10 would not recognize an attached disk.

Solution: Devices can only be recognized by one operating system at a time. Once BitCurator is running, it will automatically recognize any devices I attach to the computer; therefore, if BitCurator is open the device will not be recognized in the computer’s native Windows 10 environment. Once I closed BitCurator, the device could be recognized by Windows.

Problem: Guymager does not accommodate some special characters (hyphens, umlauts, etc.) in the disk image file names and destination folders. This has become a larger issue for me because I want to use the TMS Object Number in the unique identifier of digital files and these Object Numbers contain hyphens. When I use a special character that Guymager won’t recognize, an error message informs me it will automatically remove that problem character (i.e. 2006-84-1e becomes 2006841e).

Solution: My solution thus far has been to manually add the hyphens into the file names after the files have been created by Guymager. To make sure the file names match the metadata in the .info file, I have to open the .info file in text software like LibreOffice (included in BitCurator), alter the file names to include the hyphens, and then resave. As this adds a number of steps to the workflow, this is not an ideal long-term solution. Next steps are to explore other imaging software options and/or reassess our unique identifier standards.

Problem: Scanning an external device for viruses without putting the computer at risk of infection.

Solution: Turn off all “Autoplay” and “Auto Mount” settings in Windows 10 and BitCurator and then manually select the drive for virus scanning.

Problem: The newest version of BitCurator VM, 1.8.16, will not fully boot up and gets stuck at an Ubuntu login terminal screen. Additionally, after installation of the new version, the older 1.7.40 version of BitCurator that was still installed in the VM also stopped fully booting.

Solution: This issue is still not fully resolved, unfortunately. After reading through the BitCurator Google Group threads and a number of Ubuntu forums, it would appear the issue derives from the version of Ubuntu in the 1.8.16 BitCurator package. (Please correct me if I am wrong about this!). As it is not recommended to update the programs packaged in BitCurator, these Ubuntu bugs will not be fixed until the next version of BitCurator is released. In the meantime, I have removed the 1.8.16 version completely from the FRED computer. The most thorough way I have found to do this is, from the VirtualBox home screen, right click on version 1.8.16 and select Remove. I was then asked if I wanted to remove BitCurator from VirtualBox or if I wanted to remove the files from the computer. I selected the remove-all-files option. I removed the older version 1.7.40 in the same way and then reinstalled it. The older version is working again.

Problem: Cannot update software on the FRED because it is not connected to the Internet. Consequently, important virus software definitions are always out-of-date.

Solution: On a computer that was connected to the Internet, I found the most recent update of, for example, the Microsoft Defender Antivirus software and downloaded it to that computer. I copied the downloaded file to an external hard drive which I then plugged into FRED. I ran through the installation steps and found that the software was automatically updated. I then deleted the downloaded file off the FRED as it was no longer needed.

NOTE 1: Keeping a log of the updates and setting updates standards/schedules will help with making the updating process consistent and accurate.

NOTE 2: Before adding any new files to the FRED computer, a quick virus check of the external hard drive should be performed in order to verify that it has not been infected by newly downloaded content.

The last example is just one of many issues I’ve stumbled upon related to working on a non-networked computer. I had not anticipated how difficult it would be to manage a computer like the FRED! I’ll never again take for granted all of the automated updating my computer does, because manually managing an non-networked computer is no small task.

If you have any digital forensics troubleshooting experiences, please share them!


Back from ARLIS/NA 2018!

Time is flying by and we’re already past our halfway mark into the residency! I am writing this blog post after coming back from the 46th Annual Conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) in New York City.

During ARLIS/NA, I presented in the following sessions:

Presenting with the fellow residents

In the first session, I presented with the NDSR Art cohort on the progress we’ve made in our residencies. We have very different projects and it was interesting to see the progress the others residents have made at their institutions. We all stressed how collaboration has been crucial to our projects and how developing soft skills, like communication, has been a big part of the residencies. We all agreed that NDSR Art has already helped us grow as professionals.

The NDSR Art crew

Discussing “fugitive” digital platforms

My second session focused on the “fugitive” digital platforms portion of my project. This means that I am exploring attitudes and strategies in libraries towards acquiring, cataloging, and preserving digital platforms for art such as apps, web-based projects, audio and video compositions, relational databases, and even video games. Digital content that is at risk because it is ephemeral.

I presented on the outcomes of the interviews I’ve conducted with the bibliographers, catalogers and acquisitions personnel at Penn and with creators of digital art platforms. The slide below contains some of the challenges to acquiring these types of platforms as identified by the library team:

I also discussed some of my initial findings based on the interviews with creators of digital art platforms.

I had made the assumption that all the content creators would look at preservation in a positive light. However, some of the interviewees, such as Kenneth Goldsmith, creator of ubuweb, stated that he intentionally had no preservation plan for his database. He stressed, “When it’s gone, it’s gone. If you love something, download it. The web is ephemeral.” Even though this was not the overwhelming attitude, it was still an important point.

App-based content has presented some of the most interesting findings.

The two interviewees that created app-based content were early adopters and created native apps during the early 2010s. According to the creator of DailyArt Pro during that time, “everyone was creating apps” and it was seen as a way to “reach people in their pockets,” extending the democratic mission of the internet.

Eight years later though, a certain disillusionment has crept into the app-creators’ world. According to the creator for Art Swipe, “I liked the idea of creating an app… but have realized how limiting that is because Apple [via the Apple Store] has so many rules. In many ways it is not the ideal place for such a project. My experience has been frustrating. While I feel I infiltrated the platform, the reach is limited.”

After talking with the creators of app-based works, I realized that there are many barriers to entry that I didn’t foresee at the beginning. Creators are at the mercy of an app store with changing algorithms that controls discovery. The frustrations presented by the content creators reminded me of the net-neutrality debate. App stores present a model of what a gate-keeping, revenue-oriented model around content looks like. This reality is especially frustrating for creators making free educational content that want more people to access their work. If they could go back, the two interviewees stated they would have created web apps. Even though it’s a small sample population, they are not alone in this sentiment.

Take-Away

The reception towards both of my presentations was very positive. It also proved to be beneficial to discuss my project midway through.

I had initially split my fugitive digital platform research into four themes: creator’s intent, access, discovery, and preservation. However, while talking with my fellow panelists, I realized that legitimacy is another important theme. Content found freely online and via our phone is still regarded with suspicion in library land. “Put it on a libguide” is a regular reply when discussing the inclusion of this content in our catalogs. Is acquisition only meant for material with a price tag? Does quality content only count when it’s found through a paywall? So far, that seems to be the attitude. As a fellow panelist mentioned to me, it is a hardened perspective on what a library is supposed to be.