On Discovery

Saying that there is no discovery in libraries and archives, because all the discovery has been pre-coordinated by librarians and archivists is putting the case for the work we do too strongly. It doesn’t give enough credit to the acts of discovery and creativity that library users like Papaioannou perform, and which our institutions depend on.


Help the Digital Preservation Q&A at StackExchange

Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: Digital Preservation

Join us.

I’ve recently committed to the Digital Preservation Q&A proposal at StackExchange. This is a resource I really hope  comes to fruition, as there’s a lack of sites to support exchange of strategies and advice for people involved in digital preservation, as well as to field questions from persons familiarizing themselves with the practice.

This latter audience has been on my mind particularly since leaving the DPOE program last year. Although we have fielded questions over an email listserv, this venue has a few significant weaknesses:

  • It’s difficult to bookmark or reference back to advice or information within a thread.
  • The email body and thread is not friendly to text formatting, links, and other formatting that would make information more readable, digestible and inclusive.
  •  The information is unstructured — one can not apply tags, select a topic as a favorite, vote up a discussion, or track edits in any systematic way.

By contrast, the StackExchange approach is a mix between a question-and-answer site and Wikipedia, with some reward elements to provide incentive for good contributions. There are a host of topics covered under the network, from gardening to LEGOs to electrical engineering. The network hosts an Area 51 site, which maintains all the topics proposed presently that users are interested in, but which are not yet formal sites. There’s a lot there, and you’d likely be interested in a few.

Why StackExchange? It features all the methods to structure information I described above. I really can’t imagine a better format (at least, not one already set up and sorted out) for building up a knowledge base in digital preservation, and one that can adjust with time. Digital preservation is a practice that will change immensely with time. There will be an assortment of questions and procedures, ranging from the obscure rescue efforts to large scale and contemporary migration processes.

As part of the state archives here in Mississippi, I do a good bit of training to state employees on electronic records management and preservation. Required retention periods for born-digital objects can range from three to fifteen or more years, while many are marked for permanent retention and will be deposited here at the archives. Considered planning for digital content repeatedly comes up. A single good resource to point them to would be very welcomed.

Consider committing if the topic interests you. It’s especially helpful if you’re already engaged in other StackExchange sites, and as noted there are a whole lot of topics to join, so there’s ample opportunity to get involved with StackExchange. Any interest does help!

Goodbye Goodwill Computer Museum, Hello Museum of Computer Culture

Museum of Computer Culture

I’d like to call attention to a big change for the Goodwill Computer Museum, where I volunteered in Austin, Texas, and worked with many incredibly smart, fun people like Russ Corley, Virginia Luehrsen, Stephen Pipkin, Austin Roche, Phil Ryals and lots others.

The big change is that, because of organizational and aspirational differences between Goodwill and the museum, the museum was taken out back and shot.

No, I kid. But the aforementioned team has amicably parted ways and is now reborn as the Museum of Computer Culture.

The mission remains broadly the same:

We are an Austin, Texas nonprofit organization seeking to inspire and educate the public with engaging exhibits on the evolution of computer history and its influence on our common cultural experience, develop and support digital archival studies through services to universities and other institutions, and conserve computer history information through digital preservation.

I wish them, and Austin Goodwill Computerworks from which the team got its start, the best of luck!

Phil has already posted a thorough, technical and first-hand account of his work as a technician for the Autodin, the Department of Defense’s first computerized message switching system.

Old Site Exhumed, Mostly Gone

Lulu glares out from a sea of compression artifacts.

During my last two years of high school (c. 1998 to mid-2000), a friend and I began an “art website.” Our intention was to have a place to post our writings and visual work, and to solicit similar submissions from others around Internet. Our mascot was the enraged chimp pictured above, Lulu. The site received some modest interest from various users around the Web, and from a few of our friends at school. All in all, not an unsuccessful project.

However as high school came to a close, we grew tired of maintaining the site. We tossed around the idea of maintaining it while we went to our respective colleges, but eventually decided to shut it down. We would be too busy with better endeavors, and no one wanted to log into our hosting service to keep  the old high school art site afloat. We posted the EOL announcement on the site and applied a bullet wound to old Lulu with MS Paint. It was most certainly over.

Continue reading “Old Site Exhumed, Mostly Gone”

Dwarf Fortress Interviews

Dwarf Fortress screen

Before the week is out I wanted to post to the NYT interview with the Adams brothers, who design and build the incredible labor of love that is Dwarf Fortress.

I had the opportunity to interview Tarn Adams (audio and transcript available), who programs the game, for the game preservation project I worked on in school (all interviews are here at the Center for American History). Tarn is a standout guy, who is awfully generous with his time considering the colossal task ahead of he and his brother. He gave a great interview that illuminated important parts of their game-making, which is in kind with the idiosyncratic and singular quality of Dwarf Fortress.

Check out the NYT interview — Tarn has thoughtful and provoking comments on playing games these days.

And, if you haven’t tried Dwarf Fortress, give it a go sometime. I played it for a year on and off – one day I’d like to make a return to it. It’s not as hard as all that, really – although you should have the wiki open as you play.

From My Archives: Derrida’s Archive Fever

Green Fire

Below is a review of Derrida’s Archive Fever. The idea was to relate the lecture to practicing archivists and record managers. This was a really engaging read, and I think Derrida successfully articulates the archive impulse, with all its attendant richness and strangeness.

Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Translated by Eric Prenowitz. 113 pages. ISBN 0-226-14367-8 paper. $14.98.

French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is most commonly known as the founder of deconstruction, an investigative thinking that identifies contradictions in a subject and demonstrates the essentialness of this contradiction to the meaning of the subject. For a thinker so adept at analyzing the valences of meaning in language, Derrida was unsurprisingly hesitant about the broad appeal and use of the deconstruction term, and no doubt would find fault with an overly mechanistic summation as perhaps written here. In Archive Fever, Derrida applies his intensely critical thought and evaluation to the notion of the archive as it is manifested in Sigmund Freud’s oeuvre.

Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression is a translation from the French of a published lecture Derrida delivered in 1994, and is divided into six parts: an opening note, an exergue, a preamble, foreword, theses and postscript. Derrida delivered this lecture to an international colloquium entitled “Memory: The Question of the Archives.” This leads to two caveats for the interested reader. Although blurbs on the paperback reference Derrida’s discussion of electronic media and more broadly the role of inscription technology in the psyche and in the archives, this is not the focus of his discussion, but is only part of a larger examination of the archive notion in Freud’s works. The reader should also know that this a later work of Derrida, and as such references ideas and investigations discussed in earlier works, particularly the essay Freud and the Scene of Writing (1972). This means some of Derrida’s passages can be disorienting if the reader is not familiar with the works of Derrida and Freud. Thankfully Derrida takes pains to convey his meaning through multiple expressions, so the reader has many opportunities to understand the ideas at play.

Continue reading “From My Archives: Derrida’s Archive Fever”