ST’s Alternative Approaches

About 6 weeks ago (on 6th March), Sara Thomson of the Digital Preservation Coalition kindly spent some time on the phone with me discussing the archiving of web sites. I wanted to find out if there were any other solutions to the ones I had stumbled across in my brief internet search some 16 months ago. Sara suggested 3 approaches which were new to me and described them as follows in a subsequent email:

  1. UK Web Archive (UKWA) ‘Save a UK Website’: https://beta.webarchive.org.uk/en/ukwa/info/nominate Related to this – two web curators from the British Library (Nicola Bingham and Helena Byrne) presented at a DPC event last year discussing the UKWA, including the Save a UK Website function. A video recording of their talk along with their slides (and the other talks from the day) are here: https://dpconline.org/events/past-events/web-social-media-archiving-for-community-individual-archives
  2. HTTrack: https://www.httrack.com/  I gave a brief overview of HTTrack at that same DPC event last year that I linked to above. I have also included my slides at an attachment here – the HTTrack demo starts on slide 15.
  3. Webrecorder: https://webrecorder.io/ by Rhizome. Their website is great and really informative, but let me know if you have any questions about how it works.

Shortly after this, I followed the link that Sara had provided to the UKWA nomination site and filled in the form for pwofc.com. On 14th March I got a response saying that the British Library would like to archive pwofc.com and requesting that I fill in an on-line licence form which I duly completed. On 16th March I decided to explore the contents of the UKWA service and found it collects ‘millions of websites each year and billions of individual assets (pages, images, videos, pdfs etc.)’. I started looking at some of the blogs. The first one I came across was called Thirteen days in May and was about a cycling tour – but it seemed to lack some of the photos that were supposed to be there. The next two I looked at, however, did seem to have their full complement of photos; and one of them (called A Common Reader) had a strangely coincidental entry about ‘Instapaper’ which provides what sounds to be a very useful service for saving web sites for later reading. It looks like the UKWA does an automated trawl of all the websites under its wing at least once a year, so I guess that, as a backup, it should never be more than a year out of date.

An hour after completing this exploration, I got an email confirming that the licence form had been submitted successfully and advising that the archiving of pwofc.com would proceed as soon as possible but that it may not available to view in the archive for some time due to the many thousands of web sites being processed and the need to do quality assurance checks on each. Since then, I’ve been checking the archive every now and again, but pwofc.com hasn’t emerged yet. When it does, it’ll be interesting to see how faithfully it has been captured.

Regarding the other two suggestions that Sara made, I’ve decided to discount Webrecorder as that entails visiting every page and link in a website which would just take too much time and effort for pwofc.com. However, I’m going to have a go at using HTTrack, and I’m also going to try and get a backup of pwofc.com from my web hosting service. Having experienced all these various archiving solutions, there’ll be an opportunity to compare the various approaches and reach some conclusions.

The PAWDOC Preservation story

In May 2018 the inaugural digital preservation work on the PAWDOC collection was completed. The story of the work that was done, and the lessons that were learnt, are documented in the following paper which can be downloaded from this site subject to Creative Commons conditions:

The Application of Preservation Planning Templates to a Personal Digital Collection

Instances of the populated preservation planning templates that were used to control the work are also provided:

A summary of the work done and the lessons learned has been published as a Blog Post on the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) website.

The preservation planning templates were updated as a result of insights gained in the work and these are available as embedded files in the above ‘Application of Preservation Planning Templates’ paper and also in the DPC website.

Getting started with the Findings

Having initiated a preservation planning regime for the collection, and having moved it onto the Windows 10 platform, I’m feeling that the only remaining things I need to do with it are to find it a permanent home and to write up the findings of this lengthy experiment. I took a step forward on the latter activity earlier this week when I had a very interesting phone call with Peter Tolmie, a UK Ethnographer based in the School of Information Systems and New Media at the University of Siegen in Germany. I was given Peter’s name by Richard Harper when I asked if he knew of anyone who is knowledgeable about how professionals manage their documents and who would be interested in working on a wrap-up paper with me. An initial phone call with Peter last Thursday indicated that we have a great many common interests – I found it a very stimulating conversation indeed. I’ve sent Peter some documents describing the collection and we’ve agreed to talk again on 21st March.

Regarding the search for a home for the collection (which is documented in various posts in this Blog going back to 2015), my current efforts lie in conversations I’m having with Dr James Peters, the Archivist of the National Archive for the History of Computing at Manchester University, who has kindly agreed to help me in my search. In a phone call last month, James told me he was waiting for a response from someone he had emailed, but that, if there was no interest from that source, he could issue a note to a relevant mailing list on my behalf. If it is to be the mailing list route, I’m hoping to get James’ advice on what needs to go in the note.

March: Long and Plans

It looks like the blog post describing the Digital Preservation work undertaken last year on the PAWDOC collection, will be published next month on the DPC website. It will refer to the full paper describing the work in more detail, which will be published here within pwofc.com. At the same time, the preservation planning document templates will be replaced by updated versions in the DPC website.  The publication of all these materials will be a fitting end to the preservation planning activities that are described in previous entries in this site. However, there will still be one thing to do before the topic can be considered complete and that is to review the effectiveness of the Preservation Maintenance Plan template when an instance of it will be used in the PAWDOC Preservation maintenance exercise scheduled for September 2021.

Backup Bolstering

Backing Up has always been an essential part of maintaining my personal document collection; but it was never something I enjoyed – I did it out of a fear of loss. And I have, indeed, experienced loss: in 1996 one of the MO Disks I was using became corrupted and I lost a number of files; in 2004 my laptop was stolen and my whole document collection had to be re-instated from the backups; and in 2017 I had a system crash and, although the repair company was able to recover all my data in that instance, that might not always be the case.

When I was working, I used to take a backup of the more recently created material every month or so, as well as complete versions of the whole collection as it kept growing. This produced multiple copies on many disks which increased my confidence in being able to replace any file that got corrupted or mislaid, but which required managing in its own right as the number of disks grew. As time went by I added other backup mechanisms including storing a copy on another laptop in the househoId, storing a copy on disk in a relative’s house located many miles away, and storing a copy on disk at my son’s house in New Zealand.

After I retired I tried to put the backing up on a more orderly basis and finally fixed on five different types of backup – Cloud, copy on another laptop in the house, local hard disk, remote (in the UK) hard disk, and New Zealand copy on memory stick. I scheduled backups in my iPad calendar for each of these (though, for the Cloud, it was more a matter of checking that it was working and that I could recover from it). However, the iPad calendar doesn’t have a To Do mechanism and I wasn’t looking at the calendar anything like as often as I used to at work. Consequently, I kept missing scheduled backup activities – and, in most cases, didn’t realise I’d missed them; and when I did realise I just kept putting off what was an annoying extra thing to do. One answer would have been to get a To Do app – but I’d had enough of To Dos at work.

The opportunity to come up with an alternative approach, came when I created a Users’ Guide for my document collection in May 2018. I structured the Guide so that it had a Quick Reference Guide to the Collection on the front page, and a Backup Quick Start Guide on the back page. The latter listed the different types of backups to be performed and provided cells to be filled in with a date when that particular backup had been done, as shown below.

This was a definite improvement over dates dotted about a calendar, but unfortunately the schedule was still hidden because the Users’ Guide was tucked away inside an archive storage box.

When I replaced my Windows 7 laptop for a Windows 10 version in December 2018, I decided to review all my backup arrangements again and to try to overcome this lack of visibility. The answer turned out to be really quite simple: I have a display frame for the latest issues of UK postage stamps, on the wall in front of where I sit at my desk. So, I created a table with columns for when backups have been done and when they are due; and this table now resides in the display fame as shown below.

I have a clear view of when the next backups are due every time I sit down at my desk. The next time I miss a backup it’ll be because I just don’t enjoy doing them, not because of blissful ignorance!

Portfolio boxes for physical objects

This is an example of how the construction of a multi-purpose portfolio case can be used to store, display and describe physical mementos and other objects.

About 40 years ago I acquired a paperback copy of the I Ching – the Chinese book of change which provides a guide to divination or prediction of the future. The inside cover of this book notes that it was written in 1000 BC, is probably the oldest book in the world and is the most powerful distillation of Chinese wisdom. The divination method is to hold 50 sticks upright in a bundle and to allow them to fall randomly, and the text assists the reader to interpret the resulting positions of the sticks.

The book instructs that the fifty divining sticks should be yarrow stalks which should be stored in a lidded receptacle which is never used for any other purpose; so I duly collected yarrow sticks from a rural verge side and placed them in a terracotta lidded jar. I only used the I Ching a few times – and still have the notes I made on two of those occasions. The book ended up on a bookshelf and the terracotta lidded jar mostly resided on the bedroom window sill of the various houses I lived in.

In 2018, as part of my effort to eliminate all paperbacks from my bookshelves, I decided that I would convert the paperback to a hardback book and, at the same time, to unite the sticks with the book. This was achieved by first turning the paperback into a hardback and including the two sets of notes at the back of the book. The inside sleeves of the cover were used to document the story of the collection of the yarrow sticks, my use of the I Ching, and the creation of a folding portfolio case for both.

Then a case for the book was created as shown below.

Next a box for the sticks was created with thin magnets in the flap and in the side of the case, to secure the flap.

Then a surrounding cover was created onto which the case and the box were glued. Thin magnets on the top of the case and the top of the box help to keep the structure in place.

Finally a dust jacket was created and the story of where the yarrow stalks came from and where they had previously resided, with photos, was documented on the back cover.

A few insights and conclusions

The sort-out of my publications, reports and CSCW proceedings (broadly categorised as ‘things I had created and done’) confirmed that I have a particular interest in material I had created or had made significant contributions towards. It was undoubtedly rewarding to revisit the material – though I wouldn’t anticipate doing it again very often. In fact, it made me realise that just having the knowledge that all the material is available and easily accessible, is itself a very satisfying and reassuring thought. Of course, having a complete collection of work documents to draw on when assembling full sets of my publications and reports, was slightly unusual; most people might only have partial sets depending on what particular material they had saved in the course of their careers.

The items included in the category ‘things I had created and done’ are only a subset of all the work items I’ve kept over the years. I have previously digitised over 80 of my work book collection as described in the Electronic Bookshelf journey; I’ve created story boards for 30+ work books that I regarded as special in some or other; and my PAW-PERS collection of memorabilia contains aver 120 other items in the following additional categories:

Formal job documents (offer letters, job specs, pension info, pay slips etc.): I originally kept these for reference; but now, of course they have become very informative pieces of memorabilia.

Company information (brochures, newsletters etc.): Many of these are well presented documents providing detailed information about the organisations I worked for.

Recognition objects (certificates, long term service awards, contract win artefacts etc.): I didn’t keep the originals of certificates confirming I had completed in-company courses as they didn’t seem very significant; however I do value a certificate from my professional body and keep it framed on my study wall. I’ve kept the cut glass paperweight celebrating a contract win, and the cut glass bowl for long service, which are both in our crystal cabinet; though they are retained more because of their looks than as reminders of work. I also value the long service domino set (very nice in a large wooden box) which I chose deliberately because I knew I would want to keep it long term for both its utility and its looks.

People I worked with (humorous documents, social gatherings, leaving cards, etc.): These are generally mementos of the people I worked with and the activities we did together.

Associated activities (company sports and social clubs, trade unions, professional bodies etc.) These are mementos of my activities in organisations associated with my work, and they are surprisingly prominent in my collection. I guess they such organisations have played a significant part in my working life over the years.

In thinking back about what I’ve done with all these different sets of work items, I was reminded of how sometimes particular items have corrected a fact that I had mis-remembered. For example, for several years, I believed that I was the instigator of the Alvey project I was involved in (Cosmos). However, in trawling through my documents to create one of the Electronic Story Boards, I discovered that it was a colleague who had been the instigator and I was a very ardent subsequent advocate. I guess that often we remember things in the way we would like them to be, not necessarily the way they actually were. Hence, having some documentation or other artefact can cast a truer light on the past. However, it must be remembered that the documents we have may only be a subset of all the relevant documents that were produced; and/or that their contents may just be reflecting the biases of the authors. Hence, whatever the nature of our ‘record’, be it memory, or a selection of the relevant items that you have, or all of the items that you have, or, indeed, all the relevant items that exist in the world, we should always remember that it may not be the whole story.

As with my non-work mementos, most of these work items have been digitised and the originals disposed off; though a small number, which I decided are special in some way or other, have been retained in physical form. In this respect, these work items are very similar to other types of memento. However, there is one very significant difference: many of these work items will not be recognisable by my wife and family. That’s because my work took me to a different place and a different life for a part of each day – as it does for very many people; hence, work mementos are likely to mean more to the individual than to family, relatives and friends. Consequently, I suspect that such collections are even less likely than other types of mementos to be retained and maintained by future generations of the family. I believe this to be almost certainly true for physical work mementos (I can’t see people hanging onto bulky books and papers which mean little to them). However, I’m less sure about digital collections which, in principle, are much less obtrusive and much easier to keep in the short term, but do rely on some care and attention as computers are replaced and technology advances. In fact, this uncertainty must apply to all informally-held digital collections – too little time has passed so far to be able to discern if such material is being passed down the generations. Interestingly, I do see the possibility of Artificial Intelligence playing a role in managing such material, and this could significantly affect how much of its digital history a family may have access to in the future.

In summary, this short review of my work mementos seems to have thrown up the following insights:

  • Categories of work mementos include; things the individual has created and done, work books, formal job documents, company information, recognition objects, people the individual has worked with, and associated activities.
  • While work mementos are similar to other type of mementos, they do provide reminders of a part of life that is often very personal to the individual and often separate from family life. In as much as work is often done with other people, it is almost like a parallel life with a separate family; hence, it generates a separate set of mementos.
  • Work concerns making, creating and doing things; and if individuals are in any way proud of what they have done, then they may well be keen to retain examples of what they achieved and to inspect it from time to time.
  • It is very satisfying and reassuring to know that examples of what you have produced at work, are safely stored away and accessible when you want them. Just being able to have those thoughts may be as rewarding as actually looking at the material.
  • Our ‘record’ of events is only as good as the material we have, be it memory or a few relevant artefacts, or lots of artefacts. We should always remain open to the possibility we don’t have all the facts.
  • Work mementos are probably less likely to be passed on down family lines than other types of mementos.
  • Physical work mementos are less likely to be passed on down family lines than digital work mementos.
  • Artificial intelligence may result in many more digital mementos of all types being passed on reliably down the generations.

Clear Blue Calm Water

Unfortunately, the paper summarising the PAWDOC digital preservation work has not progressed in the last few months because the DPC has too much work on at the moment to deal with it. I’m hoping this might change in the early part of 2019.

In the meantime, I have just completed another important aspect of digital preservation work on the PAWDOC collection. I have long been concerned that the collection resides on a laptop running Windows 7 – an operating system for which Microsoft have said they will withdraw support in 2020.  At the same time, the battery in my existing laptop no longer functions so requiring that it be mains-connected at all times. So, about a week ago I acquired a Chillblast Leggera i7 Ultrabook with 8Mb of RAM and a 1Tb Samsung Solid State Drive (SSD). I listed a set of conversion activities and started working my way through attaching peripherals (keyboard, mouse, scanner) and loading software (Anti-virus, Scanning, Filemaker, MS Office, Cloud backup). All went well until nearly at the end when I hit the wall of connecting the external Dell 2405FP monitor which I bought in 2006, and which has worked fine ever since with at least three different laptops.

I had planned to use the laptop’s HDMI port and had acquired an HDMI to DVI adapter to enable an HDMI cable to be plugged into the Dell monitor’s DVI port. Unfortunately, the connection only worked for a few minutes. After that the monitor’s DVI interface went into Power Save Mode and, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it out of that mode. I then tried searching the net for a fix and discovered a huge number of entries about this problem for several different models of Dell monitors stretching back to 2005 – with no definitive fix emerging. I decided to try using the VGA port on the Dell monitor and duly purchased an Amazon next day delivery of an HDMI to VGA converter. Unfortunately, this simply had the similar effect of putting the monitor’s VGA interface into Power Save Mode.

However, a ray of hope did appear when I plugged the VGA lead back into my old laptop, and the Dell monitor immediately came out of Power Save Mode and the screen image was displayed. I was able to obtain the monitor menu while it was attached to the old laptop and returned the monitor back to factory settings – but this didn’t make any difference – everytime I attached the laptop’s HDMI port to either the monitor’s DVI or VGA interfaces they returned to Power Save Mode.

My last ditch effort to resolve the problem was to try using the laptop’s Mini Displayport (MD) port, and, in a state of some depression and resignation, yesterday I duly purchased an Amazon same day delivery of an MD to VGA adapter plug.  It cost £5.99, was ordered around 9am and was delivered around 8pm (really…). With the laptop switched off, I put the adapter into the laptop’s MD port and plugged in the monitor’s VGA cable. The buttons on the monitor went orange (signifying Power Save Mode) and I thought, ‘here we go again’ and switched on the laptop; and suddenly after a few seconds I saw a bright light out of the corner of my eye and, blow me down, there was the laptop screen on the monitor! I used it for a while and then, trepidatiously, tried closing the laptop lid and it kept on displaying on the monitor. Later, I shut the laptop down and subsequently fired it up again – but still no problem – up it came on the monitor. So it looks like this is now working OK. Phew.

This morning I reorganised my physical desktop and placed the new smaller laptop in a new position immediately next to my scanner so that the problem of making the scanner cable reach the laptop port was eliminated. With the conversion process complete and my desk back in some sort of order, I began to feel more in control of things and much more relaxed. I had sailed into clear blue calm water in the sheltered bay of an up to date operating system and a modern laptop.

The power of the shower

This morning I finished digitising the CSCW conference proceedings, including the creation of a bookmarked contents list for each one (rather a tedious process), and downloaded the PDFs to the Sidebooks app on my iPad. Although this was a largely mundane exercise, I was stimulated from time to time when I came across author and project names that I had become familiar with while I was working in the CSCW field in the early 1990s. Reflecting on this in the shower this morning, I remembered my conclusion a week or so ago that, for memorabilia, the journey was often better than the destination. Suddenly, in a deluge of shower illumination, I realised that it was the remembering that had been fulfilling; and that the act of remembering is an act of doing; and that ­any thoughts about memorabilia – even just pondering the fact that they are where you put them and can be accessed when you wish – are ‘doing’ acts. It is when items cease to stimulate any thought or interest that they become worthless. Conversely, while items of memorabilia still inspire some physical or thinking action, they still have some value for the individual.

I continued to think through the meaning of this insight and concluded that it has significant implications for why we keep things; and that it will necessitate the adjustment of parts of the OFC tutorial text (though I must add that I’m sure these ideas are not new – but I have the luxury of not having to trawl the huge literature to see what has been documented before: that is the job of academics who should be appropriately paid to do a very difficult, laborious and hugely important job). This experience has cemented my belief in the innovative power of the shower, and makes me wonder just how important ablutions have been to the development of modern civilisation over the centuries.

Proceeding with proceedings

The final stage in this sort out of work books/documents concerns the seven volumes of proceedings of conferences on Computer Supported Cooperative Work that appear in the picture below.

The first of these events was held in Austin, Texas, in 1986 and I was there to experience the excitement of a new field being born. It was a field which embraced the Cosmos project that I was participating in at the time, and a field in which I actively worked for the following five years. In 1989 I was to organise the first European CSCW conference, EC-CSCW89. Hence, I am particularly attached to the proceedings of both the 1986 and 1989 events, though the 1986 volume is in poor condition with the cover having come away, and the 1989 volume is spiral bound. So, I’ve decided to turn both volumes into hardback books and to incorporate some additional pages of related material in the process.

As for the remaining 5 volumes, although I attended all but one of the events they document, I am unlikely to want to look at them in the future so have decided to digitise them and include them in my electronic bookshelf collection so that at least the covers and spines will be visible for decor and I’ll have the comfort of knowing that the text is immediately accessible should I want to take a look at it.