Saturday, March 12, 2011

on ebooks and ownership

Here's a philosophical question - Do I own the ebooks that I have purchased?

This question came to me after performing a mundane task - compiling my annual "What I Read This Year List." I was performing my recordkeeping in a Facebook service. The Facebook service included a datapoint whether the book was owned or borrowed. This was easy, as I bought books or borrowed them from a library. I didn't track this in my LibraryThing account because I felt strongly that LT was where I managed my personal library, and never made any notations about books that I'd borrowed.

Then, in fall 2010, I bought a Nook. I travel a lot, and I an a pretty speedy reader, so my trips often require that 3-6 books accompany me. As I was due to make a trip that would require 10 hour of travel time each way, bracketing a 5-day stay, I was looking at taking 8 books. This would have been at least 1/4 of my suitcase. So I researched and decided on a Nook because I could expand its memory, swap out batteries, load my own pdbs, epubs and pdfs, and use the cool "loan" feature to trade some title with other Nook owners (even though I only knew 1 such person at the time). Its eInk screen is very easy to read. I got to travel with clothes and leave room for souvenirs.

I still buy books. I love books. I still frequent public libraries. I cannot say enough about the quality of the Alexandria Public Library. But I cannot deny that I have bought more ebooks that print books over the past 8 months. At least one a week.

I first considered the concept of ownership when I attended a reading by William Gibson. I loved his most recent book, Zero History. I took a number of my older Gibson paperbacks with me for him to sign, as I hadn't been to one of his signings since 1984.

But not Zero History, because you can't get an ebook inscribed. That saddened me.

I had a related moment when I bought ebooks that the latest n two different series. I owned the others in paperback. This felt wrong, like I really owned the earlier ones but not these. I couldn't see them next to each other on my shelves. No one perusing my shelves would know I had them. But when I was reading the ebook I wanted to refer back to something in an earlier volume, which I did not have on the reader. Might I buy physical copies out of a sense of completeness and the ebook for mobile access and searchability?

Then, when I was updating my year-end reading list in Facebook, I found myself puzzling over the "owned" or "borrowed" column. Did I really own my ebooks?

In one sense I do. I have files on my Nook. I can access them using Adobe Digital Editions or the Nook PC App. I can preserve them to some extent. I have some sense of control over the files.

In the legal sense I do not. I have actually licensed the use of that file for use on one or more devices. The Nook legal notice says that I cannot "copy, transfer, sublicense, assign, rent, lease, lend, resell or in any way transfer any rights to, all or any portion of the Digital Content to any third party, except in connection with the normal use of the lending feature available through the Service, or as expressly permitted by the Terms of Use or applicable third-party license agreement." So, I can only lend using the Lend feature, and I can' resell my ebooks like I could sell my paperbacks.

I don't really own them. How confortable am I with that? Moderately, but not entirely. How much do I miss the physicality? It depends on the time of day. When I'm on the Metro hauling things to and from work, or rushing through an airport, I do not miss books at all. When I'm standing in front of my bookcases, I want to see all my books on those shelves, not on a device charging in my living room.

So, I'm conflicted. I suspect I will sometimes end up buying both.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

My year in reading

I pulled together my list of books read in 2010, which comes to 84 books. It's not actually all the books that I read, but all the new books I read, not the re-reads. There were at least a dozen of those. I have a lot of time on my Metro ride to and from work. Also - no judging, please. As a colleague noted this year, I have "unexpected depths of shallowness" in some of my reading. I read horror and science fiction and mysteries. Live with it.

I need a new way to do this. I was using Visual Bookshelf in Facebook, but its export does not include the data from lists, as in "Read in 2010." I also had a custom filed if I own or borrowed the book -- also lost. I don't do this in LibraryThing because I borrow so many of my books and don't want to include them there. I'm open to suggestions.

Here's the list:

“Yellow Blue Tibia” by Adam Roberts

“Polystom” by Adam Roberts

“Gradisil” by Adam Roberts

“God of Clocks” by Alan Campbell

“Iron Angel” by Alan Campbell

“Scar Night” by Alan Campbell

“Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” by Barbara Ehrenreich

“Dead in the Family “ by Charlaine Harris

“How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” by Charles Yu

“Dreadnought” by Cherie Priest

“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest

“Kraken” by China Mieville

“The Love We Share Without Knowing” by Christopher Barzak

“Bryant & May off the Rails” by Christopher Fowler

“Bryant and May on the Loose” by Christopher Fowler

“Seventy-Seven Clocks” by Christopher Fowler

“Ten Second Staircase” by Christopher Fowler

“Full Dark House” by Christopher Fowler

“White Corridor” by Christopher Fowler

“The Victoria Vanishes” by Christopher Fowler

“Rune” by Christopher Fowler

“Seventy-Seven Clocks” by Christopher Fowler

“The Water Room” by Christopher Fowler

“The Tears of the Furies” by Christopher Golden

“Bite Me: A Love Story” by Christopher Moore

“Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa” by Dambisa Moyo

“The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York” by Deborah Blum

“The Alchemy Of Stone” by Ekaterina Sedia

“The Half-Made World” by Felix Gilman

“Blameless” by Gail Carriger

“Changeless” by Gail Carriger

“Soulless” by Gail Carriger

“Andy Warhol and the Can That Sold the World” by Gary Indiana

"House of Fallen Trees" by Gina Ranalli

“Basilisk” by Graham Masterton

“The Fall” by Guillermo del Toro

“The Man from Beijing” by Henning Mankell

“Parasite Eve” by Hideaki Sena

“Stone's Fall: A Novel” by Iain Pears

“The Secret of Crickley Hall” by James Herbert

“O Gentle Death” by Janet Neel

“You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto” by Jaron Lanier

“The Bellini Card” by Jason Goodwin

“The Snake Stone: A Novel” by Jason Goodwin

“The Janissary Tree: A Novel” by Jason Goodwin

“Shades of Grey: A Novel” by Jasper Fforde

“Aurorarama” by Jean-Christophe Valtat

“The Burning Wire” by Jeffery Deaver

“Changes: A Novel of the Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher

“Johannes Cabal the Detective” by Jonathan L. Howard

“Something to Declare: Essays on France and French Culture” by Julian Barnes

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin

“Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia

“The Indian Bride” by Karin Fossum

“He Who Fears the Wolf ” by Karin Fossum

“When the Devil Holds the Candle” by Karin Fossum

“Black Magic Sanction” by Kim Harrison

“Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape” by Kirk Savage

“Paradise” by Koji Suzuki

“The Betrayal of the Blood Lily” by Lauren Willig

“Fever Dream” by Lincoln Child

“Far North: A Novel” by Marcel Theroux

“Bad Monkeys” by Matt Ruff

“Critique of Criminal Reason” by Michael Gregorio

“The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“In Light of India” by Octavio Paz

“The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi

“Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray

“The Mao Case” by Qiu Xiaolong

“Kill the Dead” by Richard Kadrey

“2666: A Novel” by Roberto Bolano

“Whitechapel Gods” by S.M. Peters

“The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements” by Sam Kean

“The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters

“Daemons Are Forever” by Simon R. Green

“The Kingdom Beyond the Waves” by Stephen Hunt

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest” by Stieg Larsson

“The Slynx: A Novel” by Tatyana Tolstaya

“The Better Mousetrap” by Tom Holt

“You Don't Have to Be Evil to Work Here, But it Helps” by Tom Holt

“In Your Dreams” by Tom Holt

“The Portable Door” by Tom Holt

“Earth, Air, Fire and Custard” by Tom Holt

“Big Machine: A Novel” by Victor LaValle

“Zero History” by William Gibson

My favorites:

"Zero History." I love the story arc of the characters through his recent books, and his take on international marketing culture.

"The Kraken." I am a fan of novels where someone discovers a destiny that they were unaware of, and unknown societies just hidden from our own. Of course, I also love everything that China Mieville writes.

"Monument Wars." I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of urban planning, or the history of Washington D.C.

"The Alchemy of Stone." I loved this lyrical novel about what it means to wish to be human.

"Kill the Dead." I cannot recommend the Sandman Slim books enough for their gritty portrayal of Los Angeles, by way of Hell. That said, these books are not for everyone, as there is some extreme violence. Not gratuitous violence in my estimation, but more than some might be able to handle.

"Bad Monkeys." I am still not sure I know what the truth is.

Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century novels. Novels that make the steampunk aesthetic make sense, and feature the south and the pioneer west. I also had the pleasure of meeting her this year, and she's a gracious woman with a fabulous sense of humor.

"The Half-Made World." A steampunk western. I was extremely annoyed when it ended and it seems that there will be another book, because I wanted to find out what happened right away. But hooray, there will be another book.

"The Windup Girl." One of the most lauded SF novels of the year, which was highly deserved.

"The Disappearing Spoon." Fascinating personal stories from the history of science, framed through the discovery of elements.

"Aurorarama." I keep having to add that word to spellcheck dictionaries. An amazing concept where a decadent utopia in the arctic is poised for cultural revolution.

Alan Campbell's Deepgate Codex books. I don't know how I missed these intriguing books about a city chained in the sky over a gateway to Hell, and the wars between the gods when Hell opens up.

"Bright-Sided." I am not a fan of the self-esteem movement, especially in education. This book discusses the positive thinking movement, which I find equally fuzzy-headed.

Some of my surprises:

The Christopher Fowler Bryant and May books. I love quirky, and these English mysteries are full of that. I was particularly amused to read "Rune," one of Fowler's horror novels, to find that an earlier version of the characters were featured.

Tom Holt's J.W. Wells & Co books. I read a Tom Holt book some years ago and just didn't like it, even with its quirkiness. For some reason I picked up one of the Wells, book, and it struck the right note with me. The concept of taking the firm from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sorcerer" and bringing it into present day with clueless employees is a lot of fun.

Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate books. Supernatural historical romance-y fantasies. Silly, yes, but fun.

"2666." This book seems right up my alley -- academics, missing scholars, serial killers. And yet, I just could not finish it. If my friend Mike -- who is in the same boat -- ever finishes it, I have sworn to try it again.

"You are Not a Gadget." I agreed with some of its positions, but vehemently disagreed with others.

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Review

I am mortified to find that I only posted three times in 2010. I'd like to be able to say that it was for some glorious reason, but, to be honest, I just haven't made time. I've tweeted (and re-tweeted) quite a bit. I went out on the road and spoke at a number of conferences. I had one article come out that I wrote in 2009. But in 2010, I just didn't make much time to write.

I could make a public resolution, but that's risky...since the proof of failure or success would be right here. So no resolution.

There were a number of topics that caught my attention this year.

Twitter donated their archive to the Library of Congress this year. It has been startling to me just how much public outcry there was. It's not unlike a journal -- a very public journal, aggregated from millions of people. Given the Library's collections of personal papers and man-on-the-street collections, Twitter seems perfectly in keeping with the Library's other analog and digitial collections. And, the Library archives web sites. In one sense, archiving Twitter is archiving another part of the web.

I got more involved in web archiving this year. I've been involved in web archiving before - I started up an initiative to archive course web sites in 2000. It's been gratifying to become involved again, and see how much has been saved and will be saved. Not just at institutions like the Library of Congress or other national libraries or research universities (check out the institutions that are part of the IIPC), but through personal, volunteer efforts. I'm looking at you, Archive Team.

Archives are acquiring increasing numbers of born-digital collections. I've been thrilled to see the increased interest in the use of digital forensics tools in the appraisal and processing and accessing of such collections. But there are challenges. Archives are looking at vintage media, which often requires vintage hardware and software. The collection at the Library's Package Campus is something to behold, but I shudder at what it will take to keep the equipment operational. To understand some of the challenges, a couple of key reports came out this year, on Preserving Virtual Worlds and Digital Forensics in Cultural Heritage.

In that same vein, I've always been interested in computing history. I am going to resolve to return to reading more on that subject.

I've been thinking a lot about documenting computing history in aid of digital preservation. There are multiple initiatives to document and verify file formats. There is at least one initiative to document carrier media. There are archives of manuals and media. I am thinking a lot about what other sorts of documentation are needed - operating systems, application software, hardware of all types... I heard these challenges subtly woven through many presentations and discussions at our storage architecture meeting this year.

I've been thinking a lot about standards this year. That comes from working with an initiative to collect content from the wild, as published. How do we collect things as they are, but minimize the grief required to deal with variety when ingesting them into a managed environment? That I wish I had a great answer for. But that's what 2011 will in part be about.

I almost forgot about personal digital archiving! We started an initiative at the Library in 2010, with Personal Archiving Day and a Personal Digital Archiving booth at the National Book Festival. I loved working at both events. There's a lot more to be done about public awareness and promoting best practices.

Monday, May 24, 2010

writing more very soon

Since switching jobs on March 1 (I moved from the Repository Development Center at the Library of Congress to the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library) I have had much less time to write. I have a couple of long posts on a couple of topics waiting to come out - more very soon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day 2010

I find it incredibly challenging to identify a single individual to write about on Ada Lovelace Day. I have a number of colleagues that I admire more than I can say, and what I really want to do is give a shout out to everyone I can think of (being sure that I am forgetting many women to whom I apologize profusely):

Grace Agnew, Rachel Allen, Ivy Anderson, Martha Anderson, Caroline Arms, Murtha Baca, Carol Bartels, Maria Bernier, Liz Bishoff, Suzanne Bonefas, Sandy Bostian, Cristine Bostick, Kristine Brancolini, Lois Brooks, Colleen Cahill, Laura Campbell, Lisa Chan, Robin Chandler, Patricia Cruse, Robin Dale, Ann Della Porta, Christina Deane, Robin Dowden, Laine Farley, Eleanor Fink, Daisy Flemming, Rachel Frick, Michelle Gallinger, Wendy Gogel, Cathryn Goodwin, Trisha Gordon, Emily Gore, Beth Gould, Laura Graham, Ronda Grizzle, Abbie Grotke, Kat Hagedorn, Susan Hazan, Geneva Henry, Nancy Hoebelheinrich, Gina Jones, Katherine Jones, Anne Kenney, Stacey Kowalczyk, Elisa Lanzi, Cindy Maisannes, Martha Mahard, Maura Marx, Amalyah Keshet, Michelle Kimpton, Katherine Kott, Liz Madden, Jane Mandelbaum, Cathy Marshall, Kathleen McDonnell, Bethany Mendenhall, Marla Misunas, Bethany Nowviskie, Susan Patterson, Sandy Payette, Toni Peterson, Cecilia Preston, Abbey Potter, Merrilee Proffitt, Suzanne Quigley, Michelle Rago, Vicky Reich, Oya Rieger, Jenn Riley, Chris Ruotolo, Bess Sadler, Dorothea Salo, Beth Sandore, Lenore Sarasan, Jodi Schneider, Candy Schwartz, Sarah Shreeves, Katherine Skinner, MacKenzie Smith, Erin Stalberg, Deb Thomas, Jennifer Trant, Jennifer Vinopal, Jewel Ward, Susanne Warren, Amanda Watson, Robin Wendler, Olivia Williamson, Debra Weiss, Holly Witchey, Ann Whiteside, and Diane Zorich.

I want them all to know that they have influenced and inspired me again and again over the years and today.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I think a lot about obsolescence in my work: hardware, software, and file formats. I encounter a lot of obsolescence in my personal life as well: I own a Saturn (I am currently looking for a place to get it repaired since the Saturn and GM dealerships near me both closed -- I haven't needed to drive it since it developed a coolant leak late last year, but I need it again soon); I can't seem to find the dish washing liquid I prefer except at one store; and the body wash I used for years was discontinued, as was the product I choose to replace it soon after. My liking a TV show seems to be the kiss of death, an assurance that it will soon be canceled.

It's the anniversary of my mother's death today, and for some reason I've been experiencing a strange sense memory of a beauty product my mother used, a cosmetics counter lotion that I could not for the life of me remember the name of, but I remembered the black art deco packaging and its scent vividly (and that I used to sometimes buy it for her at Hart's department store in San Jose, California, also defunct). Last night I found some web sites with images of vintage cosmetics ads and, after some extensive browsing, found an ad that jogged my memory (thanks, Found in Mom's Basement). It was a Charles of the Ritz product called Revenescence. Not surprisingly, the product and brand no longer exists.

Circling back to obsolescence, this product was apparently beloved by generations of women who continue to seek it out. I found a 6oz bottle on eBay priced, optimistically one hopes, at $395, and smaller bottles for $150. There are warnings about pirate versions! And someone has attempted to recreate it, emulate it if you will, with some success. In other words someone so valued this that a market re-emerged, and it became worth someone's while to bring back a product that was made obsolete.

How often does that happen with software? I have seen innumerable games and applications brought back through emulation, and translation and transformation tools created for file formats. But how often is a market recreated, and market value reestablished at a higher rate? Should it ever happen, as an incentive to keep a application or format alive?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review

As is always the case for me at the end of the year, I find myself waxing nostalgic.

What were my favorite books of the year?

  • Finch
  • The City and the City
  • Sandman Slim
  • The Chalk Circle Man
  • Chronic City
  • The Year of the Flood
  • The Girl who Played with Fire
  • The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price
My favorite movies?
  • District 9
  • Food, Inc
  • Julie and Julia (the Julia parts)
  • Coraline
  • Star Trek
  • Coco Before Chanel
  • Up (I know, I don't usually like sentimental things, but this was just so darned likable)
There's a longer list of movies I haven't seen but want to:
  • Avatar
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Up in the Air
  • A Single Man
  • A Serious Man
  • The Young Victoria
  • Bright Star
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • 9
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • The September Issue
  • The White Ribbon
  • Bad Lieutenant
  • Creation was never released in the U.S., but it looks like I'll get to see it at a screening in January
My favorite conferences?
  • OR09
  • DigCCurr 2009
  • 2009 NDIIPP partners' meeting
  • We released our BIL Java library on SourceForge to support the BagIt standard. Kudos to Justin Littman and Brian Vargas.
  • We moved a number of our tools into supported LoC production, and opened up some of our in-development tools for limited external partner testing. Kudos to Justin Littman, Dan Chudnov, Dan Krech, Paul Petty, Jon Steinbach, Chun Yi, Praveen Bokka, Sohail Aslam, and Brian Vargas.
  • We launched an expanded internal LoC transfer and workflow service with a greatly improved UI (and more features and improvements to come). Kudos to Justin Littman, Dan Chudnov, Paul Petty, Chun Yi, and Brian Vargas.
  • The National Digital Newspaper Program hit a million page milestone and updated their entire underlying infrastructure. Congratulations to David Brunton, Deb Thomas, Ray Murray, Ivey Glendon, Henry Carter, Tonijala Penn, Dory Bower, Ed Summers, Dan Krech, Dan Chudnov, Curt Harvey, Justin Littman, and Brian Vargas.
  • The World Digital Library launched. Congratulations to Dave Hafken, Michelle Rago, Sandy Bostian, Kapil Thangavelu, Risa Ohara, Mike Giarlo, Sohail Aslam, Paul Petty, Chun Yi, and Laura Keen.
  • Thanks to our QA testing team for all their hard work on all the group's projects during the year: JoKeeta Joyner, La Tonya Freeman, Tasmin McDonald, and Preethi Mothkupally.
  • Thanks to our Ops team - Scott Phelps, Salim Malik, Ken Stailey, and Kurt Yoder - for all their support on all our group's projects this year.

stories from a maker childhood

A TV show about vintage toys brought on a discussion in our house of toys we had when we were kids. Not too surprisingly to anyone that knows me, my favorite activities were making things and reading.

My love of all things spooky, supernatural was inborn in me. My earliest comic books at 5 years old were Casper the Friendly Ghost and Wendy the Little Witch. I attended church preschool at The Falls Church, and I was often found wandering the small cemetery that is there. I still have a glow-in-the-dark ghost family that I know we bought one figure at a time on visits to the drug store in Falls Church. It should be no surprise, then, that my absolutely favorite toy from my childhood was the Thingmaker. I have a photo from either Christmas 1968 or my birthday in 1969 where I am joyfully displaying my favorite present - a mold with which to make my own little skeletons.

Don't remember the Thingmaker? It was later re-branded as "Creepy Crawlies." It was basically a hot plate, accompanied by metal molds, into which you poured colored "Goop." The heat set up the goop in the mold, and once the mold was cooled you had soft rubbery things. There were molds for bugs, but there were also molds with which you cast parts to make larger items (skeletons) or 3D objects (so-called "Dragons," which were THE hot trading item when I was in the 2nd grade after clackers, those glassy resin balls on thin rope that you clacked together to make really loud noises and sort of perform tricks). You could mix the colors of goop and create some really startling color combinations. It later years they also had "jewel" molds with jewel powder to cast hard plastic jewels. I am sure the company that manufactured these made quite a bit off the goop and jewel powder consumables. The product disappeared and came back in the 1990s in a safer version but it just didn't look as good to me. OK, I guess it's not acceptable anymore to give 5 year-olds a toy that consisted of an open hot plate, metal molds, and some flimsy tongs with which to extract the hot molds, but I really loved that toy.

I did not have an Easy Bake Oven. Mom would give me a toy that was an open hot plate but not one with an enclosed light bulb? I once enacted the roasting of my talking Bugs Bunny puppet with a neighbor girl with a roasting pan in a dresser drawer. I spent a lot of time at her house because they had a color TV and her mother would let us watch "Dark Shadows" after school.

I was not one for playing much with dolls. I had a large baby doll and baby furniture - I cherished and still have the doll blankets that my mother knitted but can barely remember the doll. I had Barbie dolls (the rotating electric kitchen of the future was my favorite accessory), a Chrissy doll with hair that grew and retracted again (that fascinated me), and Dawn dolls (I loved her dress with the crystal-pleated organza skirt, and her beach house with the inflatable pool). I later transformed some of those dolls into superheroes by making them little costumes. Then there was the one I turned into an Andorian by painting her skin blue with permanent marker and coating her hair with liquid paper. I gave all those dolls away to the daughter of a friend in the late 1980s.

I did have a dollhouse, my most desired gift for Christmas 1969. That was the Imagination dollhouse, an amazing reconfigurable mid-century modern style plastic dollhouse that consisted of three movable transparent colored plastic structures. The figures and furnishings were all sleek and modern. I know they sometimes appear on Ebay. In a future where nostalgia overwhelms me and I am flush with cash and storage space, I may buy one.

I never had Legos, but I did have Lincoln Logs. I have no idea if Mom knew they were developed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright's sons, but she had a Frank Lloyd Wright obsession (she lived in the FLW Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in the 1950s) that she passed along to me.

Mom was a maker at heart. She knit and crocheted, and had a fondness for paper crafts. Somewhere I have a picture from Easter 1970 where you can see on a table an astonishing tableaux of two stylized rabbits, where the clothing/bodies were constructed of a number of different coordinated patterned and plain colored glossy stiff paper (why do I remember that the paper came in folded squares from a Hallmark store?), the heads were decorated blown eggs made to look like bunnies, and they had as Easter hat and an Easter bonnet perched over their ears. I know the templates came from a magazine. Mom kept them for years, but I did not find them when I cleaned out her house after her death.

We crafted a lot together. Some time around 1970 Mom bought The McCalls Giant Golden Make-It Book for us. It was full of templates and instructions to make dozens of projects. Mom was annoyed by my lack of patience in waiting for glue to dry and my insistence in using scotch tape for every paper project instead. She despaired of my seemingly profligate use of tape. Yes, I still have that book.

Mom was an excellent cook but a so-so baker. At Christmas she obsessed about making cookies. Her attempts at bread were disastrous, so she resorted to frozen bread dough. Her Pfeffernusse were like dog kibble. When I was in elementary school I bought The Cookie Book by Eva Moore through one of my Scholastic book orders. It had one recipe for each month of the year, and we made its December sugar cookie recipe with "Peanuts" Christmas cookie cutters which we decorated in glorious detail. (I still have the book, too, and think it has the best Snickerdoodle recipe.) Mom also had a cookie press and made butter cookies that she dyed in batches of red and green. Some years they were very pale tints and some years they were very vivid. Both were unappetizing to look at but yummy. I have that cookie press in its original box with all its dies, and I use it almost every Christmas. I do NOT dye my dough.

I never picked up knitting. I was OK at crocheting. I loved embroidery, needlepoint, and sewing. Mom taught me to sew, I had classes as part of my Girl Scout sewing badge, and I took a summer school needlearts class (we will not speak of my knitting attempts in that class). I still sew but I haven't tried anything else in decades. I am daunted by my expert knitting friends.

Mom had excellent copyist drawing skills. She never created any original works that I remember, but she could copy anything. She was astonishingly skilled with charcoal and pastels. She and I took an oil painting class together when I was a child - the instructor must have been extraodinarily understanding that she let a single mother bring her elementary-aged daughter to class with her. Luckily I was a good painter. My drawing skills were never great. I took lessons in Chinese ink painting in middle school, and I somehow talked my way into a life-drawing class when I was 17 (in post-Proposition 13 California most high school art classes were canceled, so I took adult education and community college classes). My high school classmates just could not deal that I was drawing nude models. I also took a print-making class. I was working with oversize printing plates and had to work with them in the acid with my bare hands. The yellow and black chemical discoloration of my hands freaked out my high school chemistry teacher, who was afraid I'd done it in her class. She was relieved and horrified when I told her what I was doing.

My early childhood room in a number of houses was decorated with little paint-by-numbers paintings. Mom loved the precision of those little kits and pots of paint. I hated the clowns and strange, stylized dogs. I still have the ocean scenes she painted for me. I don't remember doing this myself. I preferred playing with Colorforms when I was 4 and 5. And my Etch-a-Sketch. And my favorite toy before my getting my Thingmaker - a Lite Brite. I always used up the black sheets of construction paper out of the mixed-color pads first as Lite Brite refills. The sensation of pushing the light pin through the paper and through the round mesh and seeing the pin light up was just so cool.

I may have had a couple of tiny Liddle Kiddle dolls, but what I loved was my Liddle Kiddle branded tracing light box. I used that light box - its body was lavender plastic - at least 15 years through the mid-80s when it finally died. I also had a Barbie branded "fashion plate" set that consisted of a series of outline templates that you used to draw Barbie figures that you could color in. There were patterned rubbing plates you could use to create textures. I loved the fashion design aspect of it.

Didn't every kid in the 1970s have a Spirograph? I could create intricate patterns for hours, and I kept a stash of colored ballpoint pens. Actually, I know not every kid had one because I always took it with me to my cousins' house, along with the Barbie fashion plates. My cousin Sandy may have had the Mousetrap and Green Ghost games, but I had those.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


My colleague Thorny Staples often uses the metaphor that digital humanities projects are, at their most basic level, online exhibitions. Curated content is presented with key descriptive information not unlike exhibition tombstone labels and contextualized through categorization and by scholarly essays of varying lengths as well as site information architecture (not unlike rooms of an exhibition with wall texts). The end results include the identification and explication of relationships and the presentation of deep readings of objects. That metaphor always resonated with me.

In a recent discussion a small group was trying to work out some generalized models to for the processes we follow from the receipt/creation of digital files through to providing access. We were having a particularly lengthy discussion about description and contextualization -- at what point in a digital file's life cycle is it related to other files and identified as a digital object, and at what point is some sort of intellectual meaning overlaid onto that digital object?

My new colleague Terry Harrison -- a big fan of using metaphors -- commented that when museums acquire objects they cannot know every context in which the object will be exhibited or published in the future, but they acquire it and put effort into description and conservation to prepare for future display/publication when the object will be contextualized many times over.

This sent me down the road to a metaphor that's still developing in my head which may not yet translate to something that anyone beside me thinks is sensible. Or it may not be sensible at all.

First, I'm starting with an assumption that there are four very broad categories of activities that we need to describe (leaving out "preservation" for now). On the museum side, it's these:

Acquisition: Items are proposed, selected, and acquired
Accessioning: Items have accession numbers assigned, are assigned storage locations, relationships between parts are identified (a tea set is made up of individual components), and basic descriptive information is recorded in a registration system
Preparation: Items are cleaned, repaired, mounted, framed, or otherwise stabilized and made ready for research use and public viewing
Exhibition: Items are further described and presented in the context identified by a collection or exhibition curator; an object will be exhibited many times and assigned to multiple contexts

This roughly translates to this in the digital realm:

Creation/Transfer: Selection and digitization or transfer of digital (master?) files to an institution
Inventory: Files are assigned identifiers/names, placed into some sort of meaningful (or not) storage location in a server environment
Processing: QA, manipulation, derivative creation
Access: Making content discoverable and usable, which can include a curator providing context and intellectual overlays for objects (not files)

I'm having one real issue in making this metaphor work for me and for others, and that's around the creation of metadata and recording of file relationships. At what point is the relationship of files to each other recorded? Is the creation of metadata identifying/describing an intellectual object part of inventory, processing, or access? When is the relationship of files to that intellectual object recorded?

I think that inventorying should include a step whereby the relationships between files are recorded so it is recognizable that some set of 300 files go together. There wasn't a lot of push back on this in our discussion. When descriptive metadata for an intellectual object is created and when the relationship of files to an intellectual object are recorded engendered a lot of discussion. I personally think that descriptive metadata for intellectual objects represented by those files is also created during the inventory stage, and that files in hand at that stage should in some way be associated with the intellectual objects at that time.

This is complicated because the recording of all the relationship of files to intellectual objects is not fully possible until objects are prepared and added to an access application. That's where the contextualization happens, so one can argue that that is where intellectual objects are truly defined and the process of associating files to objects takes place. Preparation is driven by access. If access applications are siloed at all, each might use different derivative files, and there has to be some association of those derivatives to the master and to the intellectual objects.

So, we have master files, derivative files (possibly multiple sets over time per access point), intellectual object metadata, relationships of all files to each other and to that intellectual object, and the need to inventory and manage all of the above. Which may be separate from an access application or multiple access points. Where is this recorded, in what order, where, and how do we describe these activities? I'm struggling with that part of the metaphor/model.

How did this conversation arise? Well, we're trying to scope out some future directions and activities, and a shared understanding of the model for the activities we support is vital. Mine is not the only model proposed and it just may not be right. I'm sharing this as much for my own process as anything else.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

LoC on iTunes

The Library of Congress now has content on iTunes U. iTunes U is the area of the iTunes Store which offers open educational audio and video content from universities and other educational institutions. The Library’s initial iTunes U content includes historical videos such as original Edison films and a series of 1904 films from the Westinghouse Works, as well as event videos such as author talks from the National Book Festival, the "Books and Beyond" series, discussions with curators, and lectures from the Kluge Center. The audio content includes Library podcast series such as "Music and the Brain," slave narratives from the American Folklife Center, and interviews with authors from the National Book Festival. The collection also includes Library-produced classroom and educational materials, such as courses from the Catalogers’ Learning Workshop.

You must be running iTunes to be able to view the LoC content.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

new BIL on SourceForge and update to BagIt spec

This week saw a couple of events around the BagIt specification and tools.

A revision of the BagIt specification went out this week. You will note that it is still 0.96 -- the revisions were only in language to clarify some questions that had been received. There are some discussions going on about 0.97 - join the Digital Curation Google group. I'd like to see some more activity there!

Version 3.0 of BIL, the BagIt Library for Java, was released on SourceForge this week. It's available as binary and source code.

Plus, there was the BagIt video ...

BagIt video

The first in a planned series of digital preservation videos is available on the site -- an introduction to BagIt! Brian Vargas did a great job as "the talent" -- e.g., the narrator -- but folks should know that Brian was not selected just for his acting experience: he wrote many of our transfer tools (like the transfer scripts on SourceForge) and is a co-author of the BagIt specification.

The video premiered this week at the annual NDIIPP Partner's Meeting to great acclaim. It's aimed at a general audience.

EDIT: The NDIIPP site has added a great new page on the Transfer Tools with a link to the video.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chesapeake Project Legal Information Archive

I came across a very interesting resource today -- the Chesapeake Project Legal Information Archive -- and the just-released results of a study they did on archiving legal resources on the web:

The Chesapeake Project Legal Information Archive has released a comprehensive report evaluating its digital preservation efforts during the project's two-year pilot phase.

The project evaluation reveals that nearly 14 percent — or approximately one in seven — of the online publications archived between March 2007 and March 2009 have already disappeared from their original locations on the Web but, due to the project's efforts, remain accessible via permanent archive URLs. A similar analysis in 2008 showed that slightly more than 8 percent of archived titles had disappeared from their original URLs, demonstrating a dramatic increase in "link rot," or inactive URLs, among archived content over the past year.

During the two-year pilot phase, the libraries participating in the project archived more than 4,300 digital objects and tracked more than 177,000 visits to, the home of The Chesapeake Project's digital archive collections. Users of the project's Web site visited from educational, government, and military institutions in the United States, as well as from countries abroad throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.

Not too surprisingly, the second highest class of domain to where resource loss is found is .edu, after .info. Academic institutions are not always very conscientious about preserving access to their content, and with their academic term structure and the movement of faculty between institutions, web content on .edu sites is highly variable in its longevity. I don't see a characterization of how old the resources are that they harvested -- that can be very difficult to identify -- but it is a high percentage of bitrot, and there was quite an increase from the end of the first year to the end of the second year.

Download the PDF of their report.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

milestones for the National Digital Newspaper Program

Today there was an exciting press event at the Newseum for the National Digital Newspaper Program, sponsored by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. There was a great live demo, a video on digital production for the project from the University of Kentucky, and some nice speechmaking. The event promoted the milestone where the project surpassed 1,000,000 pages available at the Chronicling America site, the addition of seven new state partners, and the addition of images of illustrated newspaper supplements to the LoC Flickr Commons set (with more to come every month).

So far the AP has an article available, and there were representatives of other news outlets at the event. Check out the press release. Roy Tennant has a post that includes some of the technical specs supplied by my colleague Ed Summers. Ed and Dan Krech have done some great work to update the underlying application, improving the ingest and search functionality, adding the functionality that allows the site to be crawled, and exposing the data as RDF for a multitude of possibilities.

Edit: Here's the Washington Post article, and the official LoC blog posting.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

something odd happened today

Last weekend I went to my local public library (which I love), where I spotted a book that was on my to-be-read list. I keep a list of books I want to read, and periodically search the library's catalog to see if they have it at any of their branches. I had this book noted on my list as being held in the collection of my local branch. Depending upon how much I want to read the book, I'll put a hold onto the book if they have it in the collection but it isn't checked in. This is a book that held a middling position on my list for a while, a 2007 sequel to a science fiction novel by a newish but award-winning author which I liked but didn't love, but thought might be interesting. I grabbed the book off the shelf, but, in the process of wandering around and gathering up other books, I must have set it down and it didn't make it to the self-checkout with me, something I didn't discover until I got home. Ah well, I knew I'd be back this weekend, and maybe it would still be available.

I returned today and wandered over to the shelf. It wasn't there. I decided to look the book up and see when it was due and put a hold on it this time.

It wasn't there any more. It wasn't in the catalog, and the author wasn't in the catalog either.

I left with the books I found and one that was on hold for me. I considered asking about the missing book/author, but there was quite a line and I didn't want to hold people up while I asked my crazy-conspiracy-sounding questions -- how did this author and his books disappear in the last week? And why?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

how did a month go by?

In re-writing the opening sentence to this post about seventeen times, I have alternated between apologizing, rationalizing, making excuses for, and outright ignoring that I haven't posted here in a month.

I've been attending conferences and traveling a lot. Four meetings/trips in three weeks, and four states (yes, one state was Virginia, but I was off site for three days, followed the next day by a trip over two hours away and overnight for two nights, so that counts). That doesn't stop most folks from continuing to reach out and share, but I find travel very draining. I can happily spend my days chatting with colleagues, taking notes and tweeting, and talking about what excites me about my job. By the time I collapse in my room at the end of the day, I sometimes feel like I hope to never discuss the BagIt specification again (But I will, you know I will, and with great enthusiasm). And when I get home, I hole up and do not feel social for a good 24 hours. Yes, I might be the most outgoing Myers-Briggs "I" out there, but I'm still an I who just wants to sit quietly and think for a while.

And, if I also want to make some semi-valid excuses, my work PC died again and it was out of my possession for 3 weeks, one of my projects had a major deadline that was almost fully met on time and required some last minute scrambling on my part so I didn't blow the deadline too badly, and we had to pack up and move out of our office suite so some duct repairs could take place. I should not even admit how far behind I am in studying for my Japanese class.

I hope to resume normal blogging this week. The coming attractions: the IS&T Arching 2009 conference, Open Repositories 2009, and a visit to Scola, the Library's international newscast preservation partner.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Digital Karnak

I am a huge fan of 3-D visualizations of archaeological sites, and there's a new one developed by a team under Diane Favro and Willeke Wendrich at UCLA. Digital Karnak provides a Google Earth visualization of the site of Karnak, a massive temple complex in Egypt that was in use for some 1,500 years. There's a nice interactive timeline through which you can view the development of the site over time. Start with the overview if you're unfamiliar with Karnak.

The web site includes an amazing archive consisting of stills from the 3-D model and photographs from the archaeological site. I'd like to see that expanded some day to include any smaller objects from Karnak that are in various cultural heritage collections. Historical renderings (there are known drawings from the early 18th century onwards) would also be a nice addition.

There's a nice article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.