Designing and Assembling the Gallery

I started this journey off with the idea of having a numbered list of the trophies down the middle of a page surrounded by equivalently numbered thumbnails of one or more of the following for each trophy: Publication cover, First page, Place of creation/achievement, Associated people, Topic. However, I soon realised that not only was there insufficient space for lists and extra thumbnails, but that actually they were superfluous. All I needed was a single thumbnail to remind me of a particular achievement and a number to enable me to access the associated file.

I experimented with thumbnails of longest side 3, 2.5, and 2.3 cm; but ended up with 2.2 cm because of the limited space that I had. However, that size seems to be quite adequate, as does the 12 point font size that I used for the numbers latched onto each thumbnail. I think they’ll be plenty big enough to be able to discern when the Gallery is on the wall.

Choosing the thumbnails was sometimes easy, as in the case of a cover of a book or a photo of a swivelling workstation that I designed; but sometimes it was very difficult – especially for reports on esoteric subjects with first pages comprising entirely of small text, for example, the X500 Schema document. In those cases I resorted to overlaying some Text Headings in large bold font on the front pages; and, in three instances, I just put large coloured text in a box (for example, ‘Radii Lessons’). In some cases, it seemed appropriate to represent two or more items with a single thumbnail, and in these cases I placed all the related numbers around the edge of the thumbnail. All of these approaches seem to produce usable results.

The contents of the Gallery are in three parts – Publications (67 items), Reports (97 items), and Awards & Certificates (42 items). The Publications were self-selecting – if I’d had something published it was on my publications list. The choice of reports, however, was at my own discretion. At the time when I selected them from my archive of work documents, I’d been looking for significant pieces of work. However, about a year later I had produced a book of my IT experiences in which I had included supporting images, which must have given me different perspectives on some of the material. Consequently, when I came to assemble the reports section of the Trophy Gallery, I was surprised that some of my original selections either didn’t seem worthwhile including or that some things which I thought should have been included were missing. I guess it just goes to show that the things we choose to focus on and the stories we tell can vary hugely depending on our motivations and accumulated experiences at any one time.

Assembling the Awards & Certificates was a different experience again. For a start, they were all over the place – photos of trophies I’d thrown away, certificates in envelopes in drawers, items indexed in sets of mementos, and engraved glass tankards in kitchen cupboards. They were also different because many were very old from my childhood, and I’m sure several were just missing (for example the china lamb that I got in primary school for my Times Table, and that I think I must have sold off in my train trunk in my late twenties – a great shame). So, I made no attempt to create a definitive list – I just assembled the ones’ that I could lay my hands on quickly. Perhaps that was fortunate because even the subset I assembled seemed somehow very trivial, and I felt embarrassed to include some of the items. Is the bronze swimming personal survival certificate I got when I was 14 really a substantial achievement to be celebrated? Does the Certificate for coming second in the Intermediate Boys High Jump at the North East Derbyshire Inter-Schools Championships celebrate my athletic capabilities?

In fact, going through them made me realise that I’d never been the outstanding performer that I imagined I had been. Nevertheless, they do testify to the fact that I did DO things. The Trophy Gallery is primarily for me, and these are things I can be reminded of. They are all as relevant as each other because they are all true and have a slot in the jigsaw puzzle of my life.

Despite my misgivings about missing and trivial items, the overall assembly of Publication, Report, and Awards/Certificate thumbnails makes for a very crowded assortment of small images on two A3 pages. I suspect that, once the display is framed and on the wall, quantity is going to be more apparent than quality.

Feelings about Achievements

The Electronic Bookshelf and Electronic Story Board expeditions enabled me to eliminate most of the physical books that were no longer central to my interests. However, there is still one set that is taking up precious bookcase space in my study – the originals of my publications and reports. They are rarely accessed, but I do value them as physical testimonies to my achievements, and I’m not prepared to destroy them and be left with just their virtual equivalents. So, I’ve concluded that I would be happy to have them safely packed up and stored in a box in the loft, provided that I can install some physical reminder of them and that I am able to access their contents electronically.

My current thoughts about how I would do this entail listing the numbered items down the middle of a page and surrounding them with numbered thumbnails of any or all of the following elements which apply to each item:

  • Cover of the publication
  • First Page of the paper, article or report
  • Photo of the place it was created or delivered
  • Photo of any person(s) strongly associated with it
  • The Topic in abbreviated words and/or photos

This should enable the viewer to go from a surrounding thumbnail to the relevant item on the central list. A correspondingly numbered PDF will be provided to enable the viewer to look at the full contents on either the iPad or the Laptop.

While trying to think of an appropriate name for this journey, I came to realise that, in a way, these publications and reports are trophies of my work achievements. However, from that perspective, I realised that I have other physical items which represent other types of achievements – Cups and Tankards for my athletic successes; and Certificates for academic and other types of achievements. So, I decided to combine these other types of physical objects with my publications and reports in a single overall journey to explore the Electronic Trophy Gallery.

I already have complete lists of my Publications and Reports, and all the associated PDFs. So, my first task will be to come up with an equivalent list and associated PDFs of my cups, certificates etc.  Then it will be a matter of going through all the items to identify appropriate thumbnails. I currently envisage arranging all this material on a vertical page and mounting it in a 32x90cm frame which is currently unused in the loft and which will conveniently fit in one of the few available spaces in my study walls. Whether this approach will be viable, usable and useful has yet to be established.

New Boards Live

I finished compiling the physical story boards and associated self-contained PDFs on 24th December, and would have had them all printed out and up on the side of my bookcase before Xmas but for running out of printer ink (very poor stock control). Anyway, it arrived yesterday and I’ve now completed the job.

Regarding the cross-linking between Story Boards, this was straightforward for the in-Laptop version in which a simple link to the file of the relevant Story Board could be specified. However, in the iPad version it was necessary to include a copy of the target Story Board into the body of the relevant self-contained PDF.

I also encountered a few technology problems with the way the Sidebooks app handles PDF documents (inability to deal with sound elements, different sized documents, and links to multiple embedded photos), and these took time to understand and work around; and, in three cases required different versions of the Story Boards to be produced. In contrast, the in-Laptop solution was relatively trouble-free. This illustrates the problems of trying to produce a solution by integrating different systems.

While I was laminating the new Story Boards, I was struck again by how relatively permanent these Story Boards are. Their very physicality exudes factuality and veracity; even though I know how flimsy their fidelity is.

I will now live with these Story Board for several months, changing the Story on display from time to time, and perhaps inviting members of the family to experience them and comment. My personal overall assessment, and my thoughts on how this set of diverse Story Boards compare to the original all-book-related Story Boards, will appear here before the end of 2021.

Rethinking the Table Present

It’s been a tradition in our family to have table presents at the Christmas lunch, but this year we didn’t; it had all become a bit difficult and expensive, and, in this year of pandemic lockdowns, there were only three of us at the table. However, its quite a nice thing to do, so I got to thinking there might be an easier and cheaper way. Maybe the present could just contain a piece of paper describing something you think the person concerned might like but didn’t know about. For example, a holiday destination, or a hotel, or a book, or a hobby, or a restaurant, or a walking trail, or a type of pet, or a band, or a piece of clothing, or a voluntary job with a particular charity…. or almost anything really that you think the person might enjoy. Might also work for New Year meals as well.

Laptop Story Board Musings

Earlier this week, I completed the laptop version of ESB2: a PDF with thumbnails of all 35 items on the first page, each linked to its own story board fully populated with links to material elsewhere on the laptop.

Bear in mind that my following observations on this construction represent just a single point of view, and that of a builder rather than a viewer:

  • The main practical difference between the laptop version and the iPad version is that the size of a target file is immaterial in the laptop version, but impacts the overall size of the self-contained iPad PDF. For example, one link was to a 200+ page file of letters from a friend. For the iPad version I may only select a subset of the pages to include in the PDF. For the laptop version, I have defined the link to open on a particular page, but the rest of the file is available to browse through if the reader so desires.
  • In the laptop version only one single file can be linked to, whereas, in the self-contained PDF version, several different items (photos, for example) can be included at the destination of a link in the PDF either together on a single page or on multiple pages.
  • As I constructed the laptop version, I became aware that for both the laptop and the iPad versions, any story I create is only one of many possible stories that could be constructed for a particular Story Board. If another person had created it, or if I had created it a few years earlier or later, the Story Board would almost certainly be different. However, in as much as these Story Boards now physically exist, they will have a far more powerful influence in the future than those stories that didn’t get created, or than the stories that may be generated when people in the future recount their memories of these or related topics.
  • I find the main Index page both satisfying and flat. It is satisfying because I know that everything is accessible from that one single page; but it inspires no excitement because somehow there is no coherence among the 35 separate items represented on it. Somehow the 7 different types of material (pre-marriage mementos, post-marriage mementos, letters, loft items, music, photos, music and books) just produce a muddled interference with each other.
  • I set out to ensure that there were a few links between each of the 35 Story Boards; and have ended up with at least five such inter-relationships. However, I have no thoughts as to whether this is useful or not – I just feel instinctively that there would probably be many such relationships in a large collection of personal items, just as the many links between internet web sites enable almost endless web surfing. However, I am only able to explore this capability in the laptop version because the application within which the self-contained PDFs will be held on the iPad (SideBooks) does not enable links between PDFs.

I’m now proceeding with the final stage of this exercise – to construct the self-contained PDFs, and the associated physical story boards to hang on the side of my bookside.

Building observations

Yesterday I finished the last of the second set of 35 story boards. Its been a long and tedious job. Tedious not just because its quite hard work putting these things together, but also because it’s not an exciting new thing I’m exploring – it’s a second time around using the same old format to explore how it works out with different types of artefacts. Anyway, it’s done now, so it just remains to create the links to all the additional material on each of the 35 pages. However, while its fresh in my mind, I’ve listed below some of my observations as I constructed the story boards:

  • The general procedure I followed was: first import an image of the artefact in question, then copy and paste each of the pre-recorded thoughts, and then add in the supporting material. Having the pre-recorded material was very helpful, and made it easy to get a quick start on the board.
  • Sometimes I collapsed two or more thoughts together into a single piece of text; sometimes I adjusted the text; some of the thoughts I just left out; and sometimes I created new text. Such decisions were taken depending on what was most appropriate in order to tell the story. ie. the pre-recorded thoughts were simply the building blocks; the shape of the story was created when the elements were assembled together on the story board.
  • On a number of occasions, I used the net to acquire additional information and images to support the story being constructed.
  • On at least one occasion, I realised that the pre-recorded thoughts contained errors. For example, I recorded that the air conditioning was noisy on a particular foreign holiday; but realised in the course of creating the story board that it was, in fact, on another holiday that we had had that experience. It reminded me yet again, that humans often remember things incorrectly, and that one must always be aware of that possibility; and that, by setting down such erroneous rememberings in a physical artefact like a story board, incorrect information is given a degree of credence which may be hard to dislodge.
  • I found it was hard to come up with variety in the way I was presenting each story board: I got into habits of where I was placing things on the story board, what font sizes I was using, and my use of coloured text and text boxes. I think this was partly because it was a prolonged process and I just wanted to get on and finish it; to get arty about each story board would have just taken too long.
  • I became very aware that I was creating a particular version of the story in question – a version that was fashioned from the state of my mind at that point in time, and from the particular artefacts I was coming across and assembling to support the story. Each story that emerged was very much just one point of view out of the totality of views that were available from the all the possible memories and artefacts that could be brought to bear. However, that single point of view will gain a high degree of visibility, credibility and endurance by virtue of becoming a physical artefact (digital or printed) in its own right, to the probable detriment of all the other possible points of view.

Generic Category Prompts

The first ‘Record’ stage of the second ESB trial was completed earlier this week. Five examples from each of seven different collection were randomly selected:

  • Mementos from two separate collections, each with their own index
  • Letters scanned and held digitally on my laptop
  • Items stored in the Loft and recorded in the uGrok app
  • Music held on my laptop
  • Books scanned and held digitally on my laptop
  • Photos held digitally on my laptop

Random selection was achieved by using the free random number generator at Random.Org, and applying it to serial numbers in indexes, or to the numbers of folders and files in the laptop, depending on how each different collection was managed/stored.

Taking each collection in turn, in the order listed above, each item was considered and the thoughts generated were noted. The thoughts were then categorised, and a set of generic Category Prompts derived; these were then used to prompt thoughts in the next collection, and the process was repeated. As this exercise was completed across each collection, the list of generic Categories was built up. The final set of Category Prompts, expressed as a series of questions, is listed below:

Use the questions below to comment or speculate on the item

  1. What facts do you know, don’t know, or had forgotten about this item?
  2. What feelings does this item inspire in you?
  3. What does this item remind you off
  4. What opinions would you put forward about this item
  5. What action has the item prompted you to take with what results?
  6. Does this item inspire any thoughts about Collecting and Indexing?

The items selected, and their associated original thoughts, were then revisited using the above questions to identify any further thoughts; and all thoughts were then allocated to one or more of the six categories. Statistics associated with this whole process are shown in the following table.

The next stage of this work will use the Recorded Thoughts to Create a separate Story Board for each item.

[NB. While undertaking the above process, I started to think about how the creation of Story Boards could be automated. One possibility, which I shall ponder in the coming months, is to pose a question to users when they store collection files, for example, ‘What emotions and thoughts do you want to remember about this item?’. This could be augmented by the full set of Category Prompts if requested by the user.]

Getting a dry grip

During a wet round of golf last Wednesday, I was reminded again of the problems of slippery wet golf club grips. In a previous wet round, I’d tried putting the club handle up inside the front of my waterproof jacket: it kept the handle dry but was fiddly. Last Wednesday, however, I tried putting the handle underneath my arm on the outside of my waterproof jacket which I found much easier, and just as effective at keeping the rain off the grip. Now, if waterproof jacket manufacturers could put some towelling or other drying device on the underside of one of the arms, which would dry already wet handles, I think we might have a solution to the problem.

Plans for an expanded ESB trial

The first iteration of this Electronic Story Board (ESB) work indicated that the concept might work for other types of items than books. So, I am planning to undertake another trial using mementos, photos, letters, household files, music, and a few more books. My intention is to explore how to include these different types in ESBs, and to see how they might inter-relate.

I shall continue to use the physical apparatus from the first ESB trial (designed to hold and display A4 laminated sheets); and to create self-contained ESBs in A4 PDF files for use within SideBooks on my iPad. These ESBs have to be self-contained, with subsets of Supporting Information included behind the first page, as I am not able to create PDFs with links to other files within SideBooks.

However, it is possible to create PDFs with links to other files within my laptop. Therefore, in addition to the set of PDFs for SideBooks, I will create an extra set with links to files of other items, for use on the laptop. For example, instead of including the first few chapters of a book within a self-contained ESB PDF, I will just include a link to the file containing the whole of the book’s contents; or, instead of including a photo within the PDF, I’ll just include a link to the relevant jpg file. The result will be smaller ESB files and, where appropriate, all the contents of each piece of Supporting Information will be accessible. This will provide a much closer simulation of the ESB system that I envisage – albeit without the immediacy of being able to manipulate a large wall display in front of you, and/or of interacting with a portable iPad. The possibilities of interacting with the ESB using voice commands will also be explored by using the Amazon Echo device in my study to call up music.

The physical apparatus being used will limit the number of ESBs to about 35 – around 5 of each type. To select the items concerned, I intend to use a random number generator to choose the first two or three mementos, and then to use any items (of any of the types being investigated) that emerge in the process of recording Associated Information. I will continue to apply this approach for each type of item until enough instances of each type have been identified. The aim is to produce both a random selection of items, and at least a few inter-relationships between the items.

To establish the Associated Information for each item, an initial assessment will be made and written up in free text form. When all items of a particular type have been assessed, a set of Category Prompts for that type will be derived from the set of free texts, and then applied to each item of that type (this process can be short-circuited for the Book items since Category Prompts for Books have already been identified in the first ESB trial). The Category Prompts will always include an ‘other comments’ section to ensure that all the points in the free text can be captured within one or other of the responses to the Category Prompts.

Shortly after creating this new set of ESBs, I’ll post a summary of the experience and of my initial impressions, here in this blog. A more detailed evaluation will then be conducted after the ESBs have been in place on the side of my study bookcase for about 15 months.

Time for Structure Substitution

The TED talk I’ve just listened to by Yaël Eisenstat (Dear Facebook, this is how you’re breaking democracy, Aug2020), is important because it explains how Facebook’s business model is dependent on creating constant interest and emotion in its users. This ultimately leads to the system essentially promoting extremism. As I was listening, it occurred to me that it is Facebook’s structures (the extra functionality provided around a simple messaging system – such as adding a ‘like’ button) that dictates this result. A Social Media system with a different set of structures could avoid such harmful effects. Perhaps it’s time for competitors, or an Open Source operation, to create a messaging system with structures that promote a society with people who listen to each other and work together; and to draw users away from Facebook. In the meantime, the more people who listen to Ms. Eisenstat’s talk the better.