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World Backup Day

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 9:54 am

If you aren’t too busy celebrating Cesar Chavez Day*, the 98th anniversary of the US taking possession of the Danish West Indies**, or Gordie Howe‘s 87th birthday, please note that today, March 31, is also World Backup Day. (Why March 31? Because you don’t want to be an April Fool.) The website points out that 30% of people never back up their computers; only about a quarter do any regular backups.

If you use a computer, tablet, or smart phone, you almost certainly have files that would be painful to lose. If they only exist in one place, they’re only one spilled glass of iced tea away from vanishing, or one push half an inch too far off the edge of a table, or one random disk failure. We tend not to back things up because we think it’s complicated or expensive, or that we don’t have a place to put them.

In fact, current versions of Windows and Mac OS X both have good backup programs built in. Plug in a $50 USB hard drive or $15 flash drive and you’re good to go. In Windows 8.x, search for “File History” (or find it in the Control Panel) and click Turn On. On a Mac, check out Time Machine in the system preferences.

Even simpler, for WFU users: move files to Google Drive. This is especially useful for files you don’t update frequently, like photos from your 2008 trip to Baraboo, Wisconsin, or the MP3 files you ripped from your old reel-to-reel jazz bassoon collection. Drive doesn’t care what the files are, and now it doesn’t care how many you park there. You can download the Windows or Mac app for Drive to make it just another drag-and-drop location under your Favorites folder. And once it’s in Drive, your files are safe even if an asteroid strike takes out both your laptop and your USB backup drive.

Total data security is about more than having a second copy of files somewhere, but a backup is an important step to take. Having a backup and not needing it is a lot better than needing one and not having it.

Happy World Backup Day.


Gordie Howe


[* Remember, Cesar Chavez and Hugo Chavez were not the same person.]
[** Yes, Danish. Denmark had a presence in the current US Virgin Islands from the 1670s until World War One.]
[ ZSR staff: your Tech Team is here to help. We have a limited number of USB hard drives and can help you get set up with backups.]
[ FLAC would be a better archival format for such treasures.]

Did Google Drive Just Become Our Institutional Repository?

Friday, November 7, 2014 7:20 pm

Spoiler alert.

Odds are, you didn’t notice that sometime in the last couple of days, the tiny text in the bottom left corner of your Google Drive display stopped saying something like “3GB (10%) used of 30GB” and now just says “3GB used”. That’s because Google no longer has any limit on the storage available to WFU accounts. This is part of a rollout they announced a few weeks ago giving limitless storage to their Apps for Education customers. (Okay, there is one limit: individual files cannot exceed 1TB in size. But if you have a hundred 999GB files, you’re good to go.)

This gives students and faculty an open ended space to park their notes, photos, music, backups – you name it. It can also be storage space for articles, with control over who gets access to them, and likewise data files. In one fell swoop, Drive has become part of the discussion in topics like Open Data and Institutional Repositories. Earlier today, I heard a LITA Forum keynote that stressed (among other things) that “Workflow is the new content” and that repositories need to work with scholarly authors to meet their needs and convenience, not the other way around. Now Drive is a drag-and-drop option from everyone’s desktop, and we need to think about that for a bit.

Did Google Drive just become our institutional repository? No, of course not. The IR has to handle archival responsibilities, provide sound metadata and discoverability, and offer the imprimatur of university branding (think of WakeSpace as an imprint). But Drive did just make itself one attractive answer to a bunch of related questions, and we need to be on our toes to keep other answers, like WakeSpace, viable.

Adobe Digital Editions – Update

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 7:34 am

Last month, I posted some information about privacy issues related to Adobe Digital Editions, version 4.0. The quick summary is that the ADE 4.0 reader app was:

  • Reporting a lot of reader behavior back to Adobe (what you were reading, when, what page you were on)
  • Reporting metadata for all ADE-encrypted e-books found on your system
  • In some circumstances, reporting metadata for other books on e-reader devices attached to your computer
  • Doing all of this unencrypted, making it easy for Bad Guys, Government Agencies, Sys Admins, and just about anyone else to eavesdrop on the communication

This had the potential to affect any ZSR users who downloaded EBL e-books to their Windows or Mac desktops and read them in the ADE app.

Adobe has now released ADE 4.01, which makes important improvements. First, and most important, the communication back to Adobe is now encrypted. Second, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has confirmed that ADE is no longer reporting metadata of books it finds on your system. It now appears that ADE only reports the first time you open an ADE-encrypted e-book.

We should note that encrypting the communication now makes it much more difficult to see what it contains. Adobe could backslide on privacy issues and users will be unlikely to see the difference.

The important takeaway: the few people in ZSR who use ADE should upgrade to version 4.01 at their earliest opportunity.


Patron Privacy and Adobe Digital Editions: The Situation at ZSR

Thursday, October 16, 2014 11:53 am

Threat level: goldenrod. We’re okay – see summary at bottom.

[To avoid confusion, note that there are two separate pieces of Adobe software discussed here, with very similar names. Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) is a library of tools to enforce digital rights management; for library e-books, this usually means encrypting it so that it can only be opened until its loan period expires. Adobe Digital Editions Reader, version 4 (ADE4) is one reader program that works with the ADE rights management. Reader programs other than ADE4 can use ADE to open encrypted books.]

Last week, several library- and tech-world sites reported that Adobe Digital Editions Reader, version 4 (ADE4), was doing two bad things:

First, it records data that we would consider private, but which (at least arguably) verifies you aren’t a pirate: your ADE4 license (who you are) and the license for your copy of the book. In addition, it logs your IP address (where you are); metadata for the book you’re reading, the time and date you start and stop reading; and the specific page you’re on and when you go to that page.

ADE4 has also been shown to record metadata for e-books on your system that are not encrypted with ADE rights management. In some situations, ADE4 also scans e-book readers or tablets attached to your computer to see what books are downloaded there. All of this information gets transmitted back to Adobe.

Second, the data is transmitted to Adobe unencrypted. This makes it visible to anyone with access to network log files, or anyone snooping on an unencrypted wireless network (not the WFU wireless, but for example a no-password network in a coffee shop).

There are a lot of ethical and possibly legal issues here, but the situation at ZSR is this. EBL downloads are encrypted with ADE to enforce checkout periods. That would be a problem, except:

  1. We instruct students to read EBL books in their web browser. In EBL’s world, this is not a “download” and so they do not use any ADE rights management.
  2. We believe that users who download ADE-encrypted e-books primarily do so to read on tablets or e-reader devices. We point them to the Bluefire reader, which uses ADE, but does not report reader behavior to Adobe like ADE4.
  3. WFU does not include ADE4 in the standard software load.
  4. Other e-book sources we provide do not seem to use ADE or and digital rights management (yay!), mostly because they offer no way to download a complete book for offline reading (boo!)
  5. E-Books purchased through Amazon, Google Play, or other sources do not have ADE rights management (drop a comment if you know any that do), but often have other digital rights management tying them to a specific reader program.

As of October 16, Adobe is promising an upgrade within the next week or so that will encrypt the data ADE4 sends back to them. However, they insist that the data they’re logging is reasonable and covered by their end-user license agreement.

Some further reading:

TL;DR Summary: The ADE4 e-book reader program violates library patron privacy. Downloaded EBL e-books use Adobe’s digital rights management and could be read in ADE4. However, we believe other available options give ZSR patrons access to this content without the threat specific to using ADE4. Our users are at low risk from this threat, but should be aware of it.

Open Access Theses and Dissertations

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 1:15 pm

Last month, I was happy to announce the availability of Open Access Theses and Dissertations (OATD), otherwise known as the 1.6-million record bibliographic database I’ve been building on my laptop, and that we’re hosting at

It won’t be news to anyone that libraries and grad schools have worked hard over the last decade or more to begin publishing electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). At many schools – including Wake – this includes putting an open access copy of the ETD in an institutional repository. The problem that has bothered me for a long time is that we’ve had to focus so much on the policy, advocacy, and workflow issues that no one has time to really work on the problem of discovery for this unique and valuable content. The available search services either focus on commercially available, closed-access content (Proquest Dissertations and Theses); toss ETDs in with an overwhelming number of other records (Google Scholar); have oddly incomplete records and/or idiosyncratic search interfaces that many users find difficult to use well (Elsevier’s Scirus and a VTLS Visualizer, two “semi-official” ETD services); or mix together open- and closed-access ETDs with no way to tell them apart (Elsevier and VTLS again).

OATD’s aim is to be the best possible resource for finding open access graduate theses and dissertations published around the world. It currently includes metadata for 1.6 million records from over 800 universities around the world.

OATD’s main components are:

  • A harvester, which pulls metadata from about 350 repositories around the world using a standard from the Open Archives Initiative called the Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). This is a way for repositories to share their metadata openly.
  • A Solr index. This is the same open source indexing program that VuFind uses.
  • A web search interface.
  • A feature I think of as “full text turbo boost”: I run a lightweight web crawler to grab an ETD’s full text, pull screen shots of the first few pages, pull sample images, and index the first thirty pages in order to show search hits in context. This isn’t really an attempt to make a fulltext index, but a way to add features to the search hits you get through a good citation + abstract record

Here’s what I’ve learned:

A lot of repositories have really lousy metadata. Not WakeSpace, of course, but-you know-other schools. Name something you’d expect in a record for a thesis, and I’ve seen examples where it’s missing or stuffed into the wrong field. The name of the school (chronicallly missing: you get a lot of “publishers” named eScholar-tastic DigiSpace @ Tech!); any URL for the record; the degree and department; advisor names; even the author’s name have all come up missing. At least the no-authors school responded with a rueful “Oops” when I let them know. OATD has a lot of ad hoc code to make specific schools’ records look as good as they can, but there are still a lot of sites that could easily communicate more aboutcontent.

A lot of schools honestly never thought about their metadata actually being used by anyone or anything outside their own system.

When Googlebot and Bingbot aren’t hitting OATD hard enough to crash it (we keep tweaking the settings to let them index the site without killing it), people are actually using it. Google Analytics has an addictive real-time display: at the moment, 17 people are using the site, not just in the U.S. but also in Spain, Canada, Lithuania, Madagascar (really!), and a handful of other countries.

When I ask people what they’d like to see in OATD, librarians almost always say browsing by author, but no one else does. I don’t (yet?) have a good way to implement browsing, but I’m not sure it’s a real-world need.


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