Filelock Holmes, the Digital Detective

In our first digital curation class of the year we were set two exercises. The first was an exercise where we shot and corrupted files in order to simulate their degradation over time. You can read about the results of my group’s experiment here:

The second task was entitled ‘Filelock Holmes’. Basically we were given three questions in code and had to decode them, then use the internet to answer them.

The first question seemed very easy to decode. It was just a case of copy and pasting the binary code (consisting of 0s and 1s for those unfamiliar) straight into an online UTF8 convertor which can be found here: What I particularly liked about this converter is that it recommends it be used ‘to send secret messages to friends’… I know what I’m doing on facebook tonight!

And so… the first question was revealed to be: On March 11, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson mandated that all computers purchased by the United States federal government do something.  What was it?

A quick google search leads us to Wikipedia which reveals the answer: Johnson mandated that all computers purchased by the US federal government must support ASCII character encoding. (See:

For the second question I used the same converter but this time selected hexadecimal encoding. Again, it really easily converted to reveal the question as:

The vigesimal system was memorably employed by a U.S. president when dedicating a cemetery.  Which president, and what decimal value did he express in vigesimal notation?  Hint: in Old Norse, a notch on a stick used to tally values in vigesimal notation was called a “skor.”

This question proved a little harder to answer especially as we were trying to avoid the blogs of former years who had answered the question. Eventually we worked out however that it was Abraham Lincoln who stated ‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ He stated this in a speech known as The Gettysburg Address made on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The third question was in Base 64 and I used a different converter, found here: once the code was decoded and downloaded it revealed this final question:


I quickly found the answer for this once again thanks to the almighty Wikipedia. As you can see from the table below, the characters used are 0-9, A-Z,a-z,+ and /.




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