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.

Careering through time

A trawl through my CV to identify major pieces of work I’d produced prompted the discovery of some memorable material – and some I’d forgotten about.  The end result was 98 documents all neatly packaged as numbered PDFs and recorded in an index. However, while I expected them to be mostly reports I’d written, the documents turned out to be much more diverse than that. This was because some of my work assignments had been rather open-ended in subject matter and long term in timescale, so there was not necessarily one or more reports that could represent my efforts. Instead, I started looking for documents that would tell a story about my involvement and what had happened. Hence, of the 98 documents, only about half were substantive reports written entirely by myself or in conjunction with others. A further 20 were shorter documents written by myself. The remainder were short documents written with others (16); documents providing context for work I was involved in (17); summaries of what was going on or handover reports when I left an assignment (6); newsletters produced by myself (3); and, finally, two documents were hardcopies of special editions of HCI-related magazines which were on my bookshelf and which I was loath to part with.

It was hardly surprising that such a range of documents emerged since the memorable aspects of work involve more than just one’s own efforts, and usually includes what we do with others and what is going on about us. In fact, I had to be pretty selective in my choices since my work document collection includes most of the items that I received and produced; and the index to the collection makes it very easy and quick to list all the documents related to a particular topic or, in this case, assignment.

The process I went through for each element of my CV was to first search for any specific document I remembered and wanted to take a copy of. Then, to produce a list of all the index entries related to that assignment and to go through the list (sometimes including a hundred or more line items) and to note the reference number of any that I wanted to look at further. This was a very good test of my newly revamped filing system in which documents are no longer stored in a document management system but simply reside in Windows folders named with the appropriate reference number (see entry in Personal Document Management Journey).  It proved very easy and quick to find documents and to open them up  – which was a good job because, inevitably, I was having to look at several different documents before making a decision about which one to go for.

I had decided before the start of this process that I only wanted to keep electronic copies and that the only hardcopies I might keep would be the fourteen that were already on my book case. That is how it turned out, though I did throw out one of the fourteen – a rather thick spiral bound item which consisted largely of a user manual. None of these items are sturdy enough to stand up on their own – they are either folded papers, stapled papers, spiral bound documents, or magazines. So I acquired a large portfolio box from TK Max inscribed with ‘Around the World’ on the spine – a highly visible distinguishing feature. Four of the hardcopies were in a ring binder, and these too were placed in the portfolio box, together with a printout of the index,  so that all this material is now in one place and not flopping around on the shelves.

Regarding the electronic versions, in some cases they were stored in my files as PDFs, so little further work was required. However, many were stored as either multi-page TIF files or as MS Office Word or Powerpoint files. These were converted to PDFs using the eCopy PDF PRO application. For the larger documents I created linked content lists in the form of sets of bookmarks, numbered each file, and moved a copy of each file into a special folder setup to be the master of this set of material. However, my preferred way of viewing such material is within the Sidebooks application on the iPad. Files can be transferred to Sidebooks using Dropbox and this example of system integration works brilliantly. It only took a few seconds to copy all the files (362 Mb in total) and to place them into the Dropbox folder on my laptop. They showed up in the Sidebooks Dropbox area within a minute or two; and then each one was selected in turn and took just a few seconds – none more than 10 seconds – to download into Sidebooks where they can be displayed as either a text list of file names or as variously sized thumbnails as shown below.

The exercise is now complete. I don’t know how often I’ll be looking at the documents – probably not very much – maybe never; but, just knowing they are there is a reassuring feeling – not having them there might generate a little nagging wish. Furthermore, going through all this material and being reminded of what I have done has been a very fulfilling experience. As I keep being reminded, in the matter of memorabilia the journey is often better than the destination.

Reports and the satisfaction of achievement

Part of a shelf in my bookcase is taken up with hardcopies of a few reports and documents that I wrote or had a hand in writing. I’ve kept these because the hardcopies were available and I feel they are substantial pieces of work (they fall into the category of ‘Items that the owner has written, produced, assembled or made a significant contribution to’ as documented in the paper produced in the Digital Age Artefacts journey). However, these are just items that I came across in the course of doing digital preservation work on my work file collection; I have produced many other reports and documents over my working career, some of which I feel are just as substantial.

In thinking through what I want to do with this material, I’ve concluded that I don’t really want the hardcopy except in particularly special cases. However, I would like to have electronic versions of all the major reports I’ve produced in order to be able to look through them from time to time, to see how my ideas developed, and to enjoy the satisfaction of achievement. So, my plan is to use my CV to guide me through the various companies I’ve worked for and assignments I’ve undertaken, and to search my work files for reports I may have produced in each one. I’ll take an electronic copy of some of those that I find and give each one a serial number in the file title. The files will be recorded in an index in chronological order, and stored on my iPad. At the end of the process, any hardcopies that I’ve decided to keep will be placed into a box file on the bookshelf.

Organising Publications

Since retiring in 2012, I’ve been gradually sorting out my work documents and books (see the Personal Document Management, Electronic Bookshelf and Electronic Story Board journeys), and in the process have been finding things I’ve had published and putting them in a holding location on a shelf. I’m not an academic, so I have never had a career incentive to publish papers; I just got into the way of doing it when I had a job at the National Computing Centre in the early 80s which entailed seeking out best practice in Office Automation and feeding it back into UK industry via books, articles and talks. So, now, with at least 30 or 40 papers and books to my name, I’d decided to try to make sure I had a copy of each one.

My plan was to keep all the originals for my own sense of satisfaction (as already documented in the paper produced in the Digital Age Artefacts journey – they fall into the category of ‘Items that the owner has written, produced, assembled or made a significant contribution to’). This physical set of material would have an equivalent electronic version which would reside on my iPad for easy access and to enable me to possess copies if, at some time in the future, a lack of space or changed circumstances prevents me from having the physical versions on hand. The collection would be controlled by adding serial numbers (1, 2, 3 etc) to the publication list that I’d been maintaining since the 1990s, and using that as an index. This would enable each physical item to be labelled, and each electronic file to have the serial number included in its file title thereby ensuring that the iPad items would be displayed in chronological order.

Over the days that I was developing this approach, I also spent some time thinking about whether this material would be of any interest to my family after my decease. I concluded that probably only the books I had published would stand a chance of being retained. Large published tomes of conference proceedings which include 9 or 10 pages of a paper I had presented would almost certainly end up in a charity shop or auction lot. As to whether the family would want to retain the electronic collection downstream, it’s difficult to say. They would certainly find the electronic version easier to curate; but whether there would be the interest to do so is an unknown.

With my plans in place, I set about a process of taking each item on the index, finding the physical publication, obtaining an electronic version from my files or by scanning the original, and storing it as a PDF with its number, name and date in the file title. It turned out not to be so straightforward. For a kick off, several of the physical items that had been assembled on the bookshelf weren’t on the index and this wasn’t discovered until part way through the job. Consequently a certain amount of renumbering had to be done midstream. In retrospect, it would have been more sensible to start off by reconciling what was on the shelf against what was on the index. Other complications included:

  • for some of the entries in the index, there wasn’t an equivalent hardcopy on the shelf and I had to search out a version from my work files.
  • for some items, the original publication wasn’t immediately to hand so a search had to be conducted through the work files and, If it wasn’t found, a decision had to be made as to which version of the piece was to be used.
  • for several items the original was in a book, requiring a scan to be made of those pages by placing the open book on the scanner platter and pressing down to obtain a usable scan of each page. These scans had to be refined within a PDF editor to crop out black areas round the edges and to assemble the pages in the correct order within the final PDF. For two of the books I’d written, a spare copy was not available to cut up and put through the sheet feeder; so I had to deal with the whole of the two books in this way.

For a number of the papers, it was not clear whether or not they should be classified as publications and included in this set of material. For example, I excluded some reports I had produced for the UK Alvey Programme Cosmos project on the basis that they were very project specific and had to be requested from a published list. Other types that did make it through my somewhat arbitrary criteria were:

  1. conference papers for which I wasn’t able to determine if any proceedings had actually been published or if my paper had actually been included
  2. workshop papers presented at conferences but not included in any proceedings
  3. a paper and a book review published in the British Library’s experimental electronic Journal Blend system in the 1980s
  4. a spiral bound state of the art report for NCC’s Office Technology Circle
  5. papers rejected by journals
  6. papers completed but not submitted for publication
  7. an article which I wrote but which was presented in a promotional booklet not as an article by myself but as a case study about me
  8. a fully integrated online tutorial on HCI in 27 parts presented over the internal network of the company I worked for and accessible to its 90,000 employees worldwide
  9. a so-called White Paper describing what I meant by ‘Order From Chaos’ and published in an early version of this OFC website.

I suppose the overriding criteria was that the piece should contain novel material with general applicability, was produced as a complete and coherent whole, and was made openly available – whatever all those words mean! In fact, I guess I just included the pieces I wanted to….

One other point is worth noting: wherever possible I included a scan of the cover and contents of the publication that the paper appeared in, or of the event that the paper was produced for, at the end of the PDF. This was done because the book covers on the bookshelf, or the event details, provide some kind of identity for the papers. The contents were included to provide a clear indication of the context within which the papers were presented and their exact positions amidst all the others

Having been through all the material, I ended up with some 61 items in the index, 61 separate PDF files, 19 physical books, and a box file containing the other 42 papers in journals, spiral bound publications, and print outs – as shown in the photos below. The box file was essential to store those items which would otherwise just flop about on the bookshelf.

Work is different

Work in this context refers to one’s employment – the activities that people do to earn a living and sustain themselves. It seems to me that, for many people, work is fundamentally an individual activity; they have their own capabilities and skills, and they are employed as individuals – even though they may well perform their work as part of a group. Hence, when it comes to valuing and keeping work-related materials, attitudes and approaches may well be slightly different to mementos and other things which are acquired in life outside work and which are more likely to be known about, understood and valued by an individual’s family and close friends.  These are just broad assumptions and generalisations, however they are based on my observations in some of the journeys recorded in this blog – for example, memento management, organising family photos, electronic bookshelf and electronic story board.

These musings were prompted when I started to deal with my last remaining unsorted bookshelf containing:

  • Publications: books I have written, and books and journals which contain papers I have written
  • Reports: work documents I wrote or to which I contributed
  • Proceedings: seven sets of conference proceedings on a subject I was particularly involved in
  • Specials: books or journals of particular significance to me and/or which are first editions or first volumes.

I hesitated to create a new OFC topic to discuss how such items can be dealt with because I thought the material was too specific and that any conclusions would not have wide applicability. However, when I got stuck into the Publications, and remembered that I’d already been dealing with work-related items in other journeys, I thought that perhaps some more generally applicable conclusions might emerge. We’ll see.

From Nottingham to Manchester

Last month I heard back from the keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham, Mark Dorrington, who said that my collection may not be a good fit with their archives and that, in any case, they were not geared up to deal with such a large digital collection. However he did suggest trying the National Archive for the History of Computing at the University of Manchester and provided a link to its web page.

I have, in fact, already been round the houses with the University of Manchester Library; however, that was not specifically in relation to this particular archive, and it was before I had done any digital preservation work on the collection. So, today I tried making contact with someone specifically concerned with this particular archive and was told that the archivist for this and a number of other special collections is Dr. James Peters. I duly emailed him with the following opening para: ” Dr. Peters, I’m contacting you as the Archivist in charge of the National Archive for the History of Computing (NAHC). I have a collection of documents which reflect the development and application of computers over the last 40 years, and would be grateful for your advice as to whether the collection has any merit and where it could be placed.” I followed this with a description of the background to the collection and of its contents. I’m hoping that my rather indirect approach on this occasion might engender some discussion rather than the outright rejection which I’m becoming used to.

DPC Publication Plans

A few days ago I agreed a way forward with the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) regarding the publication of the paper describing the PAWDOC digital preservation work: I will create a post summarising the learnings from the work, and the DPC will attach an edited PDF version of the whole paper, as well as the updated templates, to the original Case Note describing how I derived the preservation process that I applied to the PAWDOC collection. I’m hoping this will all be achieved by the end of October.