Reflections on a visit to the Gallery

It’s been nearly a year and a half since the simulated Electronic Trophy Gallery was completed and hung on my study wall. Since then, I may have looked at it seven or eight times – certainly not a great deal more: I’ve had no special need to consult it. Perhaps, the main prompt to inspect it has been to establish if a particular item has been included – and I’m pretty sure that there was one occasion in which I determined that a deserving candidate wasn’t there. Herein lies one of the shortcomings of the simulation: to include an extra item would require substantial effort to redesign the PowerPoint images; and to reprint the dual A3 pages, match them up, and get them into the frame so that they look a relatively seamless poster. A truly electronic system would be considerably easier to add in new items – which is certainly something I need to be able to do. For example, I self-published a book earlier this year entitled ‘Meteor – A story about stamp collecting in the eye of the IT Hurricane’, and that certainly deserves a place in the Gallery.

Despite this difficulty, the simulated Electronic Trophy Gallery has substantial advantages. For example, when I decided to write this evaluation piece, I stood in front of the frame and picked out an image of a rugby cap labelled A19. I picked up my iPad, opened Sidebooks, found the section on ‘Paul’s Trophies & Certificates’ and selected A19. The cap appeared in full technicolour. Subsequent pages displayed it at different angles, followed by, to my surprise, some pages in The Mountaineer (the magazine of my school, Mt. St, Mary’s College) with descriptions of some of the games with my name mentioned twice, and the final page recording that Full Colours that year had been awarded to S.J.Bolger, P.A.Wilson, and A.Maggiore: that was what the cap was for. This was a most pleasing collection of goodies to find, particularly as it was so easy get at. Had I really forgotten those pages were there? Well, yes. There are over 200 items represented in the Trophy Gallery and I can’t remember every page that I assembled as I constructed the iPad version of the Gallery a year and a half ago.

I looked up some of the other items in the Gallery. Some had just the images (like the front, spine and award plate of the Black Beauty book I got as a class prize at school); whereas another contained the text of a conference paper I gave together with the preface by the conference chairman and the contents of the whole book of proceedings.

It is the immediacy of being able to open up items on the iPad, and the ability to find more information about an item so quickly, that is the most striking aspect of this installation. If I had to choose between the physical artefacts and this simulation, I would say that you’re asking the wrong question: It would be totally impractical to assemble all this material and their adjuncts in the physical space in my study. This simulation is the only way it would work unless you had a very large house, lots of money, and access to presentation specialists. A more appropriate question would be whether I would be prepared to destroy all the physical artefacts and make do with just the digital versions? The answer to that is ‘yes’ for some things and ‘no’ for others. Some things, such as the trophy I won for winning a pool competition in a hotel while I was on holiday, was destroyed long ago; however, the physical books, journals and magazines in which my writings appear, are all stored away in a bag in the loft – relatively inaccessible but still in existence.

Am I likely to look at the Gallery very much in the future? Well, no, I don’t think so. But that’s not really the point. Having it there is the important thing. Knowing it’s there, containing a complete set of the things I regard as trophies of my achievements, and being available for access whenever I so desire, is the value afforded by this installation.

The Gallery Debut

The Trophy Gallery that I’ve created consists of some 150 Thumbnails representing 67 Publications, 97 Reports and 42 Awards & Certificates. They were assembled in a single Powerpoint Slide of custom size 30 x 88 cm – the size of the frame that they were to be mounted in. To print it, I split the slide into two and printed each one out at different ends of a sheet of paper of width 30.2 cm (the maximum physical width my A3 printer would take) and length 86.2 cm (twice the paper length permitted by the printer software). It took a little trial and error but I eventually was able to adjust the position of the contents of each slide so they joined up satisfactorily. The print was then placed in the frame, and the frame fixed to a place on my study wall where it is easy to see the thumbnails and to read the relevant numbers.

The end result does look reasonably presentable and is certainly accessible. The accompanying numbered electronic files are all in the SideBooks app in my iPad as shown below.

I have now packed up the Publications and Reports taking space on my bookshelf. They are all in a case and stored away in the loft.

I have to say, I did feel a tinge of sadness as I took the volumes off the shelf and put them into the suitcase – after all they not only represent some of my achievements, they are also old friends that have been with me for many years, and that remind me of times past. I think I’m unlikely to see them again. The next time they see the light of day may well be when my nearest and dearest have to decide what to do with them. Of course, this isn’t anything particularly new – no doubt there have been millions of relatives in the past who have been presented with such a dilemma (it IS a dilemma because such material is massively uninteresting to the vast majority of the population). However, something has changed: the rock solid undisturbability of those volumes on the bookshelf has been breached by the IT hurricane, and their essence can be reproduced in other ways. Authors, Owners, and Recipients, all have other options, which may, in turn, give rise to other interests, motivations, and desires.

I must confess that I was too timid to take the ultimate step of banishing the books I’ve had published, to the loft. I retained those select nine volumes to still sit on my physical bookshelves and proclaim to myself and the world that I made a tiny contribution to the development of our race’s awareness and understanding of the universe and our place within it.

With the physical items stored away, I’m going to give myself about a year to see how I get on with my Electronic Trophy Gallery. I’ll be reporting my verdict here towards the end of the year.

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.