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.

ESB Uses and Supporting Model

The investigation described in previous entries used Books as the type of collection to explore the concept of the electronic story board. It showed that the collected material on an ESB tends to expand the reader’s attention beyond the particular item concerned; and that the set of information that the reader brings to mind when thinking about the item concerned becomes an entity in its own right when assembled together on an ESB. It also showed that a reader often explores the item itself, and some of these additional facets, when looking at an ESB.

If this is the case for books, it seems likely that the same effect can be achieved for other types of items – Mementos, Photos, Letters, Files – perhaps even Music. Mementos would seem to be particularly amenable to this kind of treatment since they are likely to evoke even more and stronger memories and feelings than Books. However, it must be remembered that, in the investigation using Books just completed, a particular set of categories was identified to help the owner bring to mind the related information; and it may well be that different sets of categories may be required for other types of items.

If ESBs can be used for different types of collections, each with a different set of category prompts, it may be worthwhile creating a model of all the key components with standardised terminology. I propose the following:

  • Collection Type (books, mementos, photos, letters, files etc.)
  • Recorder (the person who is identifying the associated information)
  • Category Prompts (the set of categories used to prompt the Recorder to identify associated information)
  • Item (the particular item within a collection that is the main focus of a particular ESB)
  • Associated Information (the information generated by a Recorder to surround a particular Item)
  • Rig (a standard layout for the way Items and their Associated Information are arranged on a collection of ESBs)
  • Supporting Information (additional material related to Items and to Associated Information, which can be accessed by links from an ESB)
  • ESB (a numbered display of an item and its Associated Information, with links to their Supporting Information)
  • Reader (the person who looks at an ESB and who may also access its links – this may be a different individual from the Recorder)

The diagram below illustrates how these components might fit together.

ESB Evaluation Results

I’ve now been through all 34 ESBs and made notes of between 30 and 300 words on my interaction with each one. This entry analyses those notes and derives some implications for the design of ESBs. The analysis assessed each part of the notes text and identified specific actions or observations as an itemised list. After completing this exercise for all 34 books, the itemised lists were inspected and generic statements derived for each item. For example, specific item d) for Book No 17 was ‘Read press release of merger’, and from this the generic statement ‘Prompted me to look at the related facts in the iPad version’ was derived. The generic statements were gradually standardised as the analysis proceeded and during a subsequent refinement process. The standardised generic statements were then grouped into two main sets (ESB Composition, and Reader Behaviour) and placed into one of seven categories – Layout, Content, Impact, Information access/search prompted, Facts discovered/re-discovered, Thoughts generated, and Reflections about the book. The generic statements, and the number of books for which a particular statement occurred, are shown in the following table.

Observations relating to ESB composition

The observations relating to the design of the ESB fall into the following categories: Layout, Content, and Impact.

  • Layout: All the ESBs were assembled using a standard template in which the book’s spine was placed in the centre of the page with the front cover immediately underneath it. Related points were placed around these two elements with those more intimately related to the book being closest to them. However, some of the spines and covers were smaller than others, and this clearly made a difference. In one case the spine was not recognisable, and in another it was mistaken for the wrong book. Another observation recorded that a cover was particularly noticeable. A related observation noted that some text on one of the related facts on an ESB was too small to read.
  • Content: There were several remarks about the range of material on the ESBs such as ‘Lot in the ESB’, ‘very interesting ESB’, ‘ESB seems so complete’, and ‘the range of topics on this ESB is relatively narrow’. One observation pointed out that some information on the ESBs is more familiar than other information. In three instances the presence of photos was remarked upon in a positive way, for example ‘has photos of people I know’. A feature which was not explicitly remarked upon, but which was identified during the analysis process, was that there were four instances of two ESBs which were related in some way or other.
  • Impact: Some remarks made it clear that some ESB’s distracted attention from the book and appeared to be texts in their right. For example, ‘With the ESBs you no longer focus on the book (which is what you do with a physical bookshelf) but on all the other info around it’, and ‘ESBs have become entities in their own right and the books are fading into the background’.

Observations relating to Reader Behaviour with ESBs

The observations relating to reader interaction behaviour with ESBs fall into following categories: Information access and search, Facts discovered/re-discovered, Thoughts generated, and Reflections about the book.

  • Information Access and Search: Quite often, a particular element on the ESB seemed to catch the eye (8 specific instances were noted). For example, ‘Noted that Forbes in 2002 voted it one of 3 most important business books in the last 20 years’, and ‘Noted that though it is the 53rd edition it was still fetching £10 on eBay’. Following an initial look at the ESB, I typically sought additional information either by following the link to the book itself (15 instances noted), following the links to the related information (another 15 instances noted – not necessarily the same 15), and conducting a search on the net (four instances). It is striking that several of the cases in which additional information was sought, involved reading texts I had written (6 instances) or reading documents related to work I had done (8 instances).
  • Facts Discovered/Re-discovered: In the course of seeking out additional information, I noted 13 instances in which I rediscovered information I’d forgotten – nine items I’d forgotten since producing the ESBs, and 4 items I’d forgotten a long time previously. For example, ‘The ESB confirmed I visited the Media Lab twice and with whom’, and ‘Noted that at least one was written while I was at NCC’. Furthermore, there were eight instances in which I discovered new facts from within the material that the ESBs were linked to, or from the searches I conducted on the net, for example, ‘Last page of the book refers to collaboration between NCC and CIMTECH which I’m not sure I heard about’, and ‘Read Bell’s Wikipedia entry and found he was involved in the design of the Vax computer which DEC gave us for Hicom’.
  • Thoughts Generated: As one would expect, reading the ESBs and the linked material prompted a whole raft of thoughts. The majority of those noted were related to something I had observed, experienced, or done (17 instances). For example, ‘Reflected that NCC’s demise is a sad story – but not, of course for the commercial operation NCC Group’, and ‘reflected on how right the Future Shock predictions were’, and ‘Read the last page of the first chapter and thought that the Harry Potter books might have been a more pleasurable experience than the films – perhaps true for many books.’. In another case, the experiences generated a simmering emotion within me which were re-ignited on reading an ESB. Another set of thoughts were about people I was reminded of – six instances of these were noted.
  • Reflections about the Book: The notes made on the ESBs included several reflections on the books themselves. Many of these (9 instances) were compliments about the books, for example, ‘Hardcopy was a nice design and had lots of useful info – summed up technology and capabilities of the time’, and ‘Was reminded that this is a great read’. A further two instances recorded a desire to re-read the books concerned again. There were seven observations about my relationship with the books, for example, ‘Realised I hadn’t looked at the contents of this book for a long time’, and ‘Book didn’t live up to my expectations’, and ‘Don’t think I ever read this book but watched the film’. In two cases I reflected on the physical characteristics of the book, for example, ‘Glad I kept hardcopy since tabbed books are hard to represent in scans’. Finally, for one of the ESBs, I wondered what had happened to the topics covered in the book.

Implications for ESB design

The amount of material to include on an ESB is totally dependent on the analysis of the owner’s thoughts about the book. Some books will stimulate the owner more than others. Consequently, some ESBs will inevitably contain more information than others, and be more interesting to the owner than others. However, the most significant finding from the observations about ESB composition is that the ESBs become entities in their own right, and that attention is drawn away from the books around which they are structured. Consequently, the fact that some of the book spines and covers were too small to recognise and read, becomes even more significant. No matter how much material is available to include on the ESB, the book spine and cover must be easily readable.

Two other points regarding ESB content emerged from this investigation: photos of people were highlighted a few times, so it seems worthwhile including such items where possible; and it was noted that some ESBs were related to each other. This latter point could be simply dealt with in the physical versions of the ESBs by adding a note such as ‘See also ESB #’. However, with a large electronic display it may be more useful to link directly to the related background information rather than to another main ESB – this aspect has yet to be explored.

Other than these two points, the general design of the ESB’s with the book spine and cover in the centre and other material around it, seems to work well. Of course, with a large electronic display, the constraints of an A4 page would not apply, but the principle of book in the centre with material around it would still apply. However, if the display first presented a bookshelf display of all the spines, from which a book was selected, the ESB would not need the spine and could just display the folded-out dust jacket or the front and back covers – this aspect too has yet to be explored.

Reader behaviour observations indicated that the links to extracts from the books and to related material, were well used and useful. The fact that net searches were made for additional information, and that new facts were identified in some cases, indicates that a facility to enable a reader to add additional material to a fully electronic ESB might be useful. Readers might also use such a facility to record some of the many thoughts which the observations in this investigation make clear are occurring throughout the interaction with a particular ESB.

Finding Nuggets Now and Then

The second of our investigations into the memorability and impact of information nuggets focuses on work documents that I read decades ago. I used to draw lines next to text I thought significant, so our experiment has taken a random sample of nineteen such documents, removed the marks I drew back then, and had me re-read and re-mark them.

Identifying and preparing the documents was quite a demanding process in its own right. My collaborator, Peter Tolmie, sent me document reference numbers identified by using a random number generator to select items from the 17,000+ entries in my document index. I then used Windows Explorer to pick up the first file in each reference number folder (making sure that the descriptive part of the file name was not visible) and sent the files to Peter who assessed if they possessed any marks. It took us about 5 iterations of this process, working with around 200 Ref Nos in all, to obtain nineteen suitable documents. Peter then removed all marks from the digital documents by a combination of cropping and overlaying white boxes, and sent the finished files to me.

I marked up the documents over 14-15th August, using the same reading approach I believe I have always used since those days i.e. not a detailed line by line read but more of a rapid scan through to pick up the gist of the contents and to identify key text to which I pay more attention and from which nuggets are drawn. There were about 190 pages to get through across the nineteen documents, and I used my PDF application to mark up the nuggets in a tasteful shade of green.

I had vague recollections of some of the documents, and no recollection at all of others. However, I don’t feel this particularly affected my choice of nuggets. Nor do I think that the context in which I was re-reading the documents (i.e my current retired state as opposed to the work I was doing at the time when I originally encountered the documents) was influencing my nugget selection. I started to think that perhaps my selections would be the same as the selections made by anyone – almost as though each document possesses some elements which are inherently nuggets in their own right regardless of reader. However, I did come across a few exceptions to this: for example, I marked up one short para simply because it mentioned the name of someone I knew. Another document was very specific to the organisation I worked for and I suspect my choice of nuggets was influenced by my own particular perspectives on the topics being addressed. This observation has made me muse about the possibility that each document may possess more or less ‘inherent’ nuggets depending on its place in a spectrum of document types ranging from general purpose article to company specific work text.

The exercise has also got me thinking about the difference between summary text and nuggets. Sometimes a short para summarising some key points is worth highlighting simply because it’s a quick route into the document. However, it begs the question as to whether the points being made within the summarising para, are of any great value.

These are all questions which I’m anticipating we will address at some point downstream. However, the immediate priority is to analyse the results of the exercises we have conducted. For this latter marking up exercise, my new mark- ups will be compared against the original mark-ups to see if there is any similarity. We’ll be posting the results here sometime in the next 12 months.

A Story Board a Day Evaluation

Yesterday I started an evaluation of my Electronic Story Boards. Its been over a year and a half that I first put them together and since then I’ve looked at them occasionally; referred to them when I needed some specific information; and even forgotten that some information I knew I had was actually on one of them. However, I haven’t yet made a methodical assessment of how interesting, useful or effective they are. I’m going to try and do that by looking at a different story board every day starting with No 1 and working my way through to the final one – No 35.

No 1 is the Levinson book on Pragmatics, and it’s story board effectively summarises my involvement in the Cosmos project. After looking at it, two words immediately came to mind – Rich, and Personal. That one single page is rich in content – every element bringing back powerful memories; and Personal – because all the content is to do with me.

Later on yesterday, I took a look at the electronic version on the iPad. It was simple to find – all 35 story boards are represented as thumbnails on a single Sidebooks screen on the iPad. Selecting the Pragmatics Story Board brought up a full screen image that looked exactly like the laminated version I’d been looking at on the side of my bookcase. It was just as rich and personal, and it also enabled me to click the arrows and bring up further pages of related material. But, interestingly, those further pages didn’t add a great deal to the experience. The sense of wonder and powerful feelings that I felt, were generated by the material on the main story board: the additional material didn’t really augment them. However, I thought, those supporting pages would certainly be useful if you were specifically looking for detailed information.

That was my initial experience in this 35 day evaluation. I’ll make notes as I go, and summarise my conclusions in 5 or 6 weeks time.

New version 2.5 of the Maintenance Plan Template

A couple of days ago I completed an experiment to use the Maintenance Plan template to undertake initial Digital Preservation work on a collection instead of using the Scoping document. It proved to be very successful. The collection is relatively small with only 840 digital files of either jpg, pdf or MS Office format, so there were few complications and I was able to proceed through the Maintenance Plan process steps without any serious holdups. The whole exercise took just over a week with the majority of the time being taken up by the inventory check of the digital files and of about 300 associated physical artefacts. I used the structure of the Maintenance Plan to document what I was doing and to keep a handle on where I was up to.

As a result of this exercise I’ve now added the following guidance to the beginning of the Maintenance Plan template, and equivalent text to the beginning of the Scoping document template:

If this is the first time that Digital Preservation work has been done on a collection

EITHER use the Scoping template to get started (best for large, complex collections)

OR use this Maintenance Plan template to get started (can be effective for smaller, simpler collections – retitle it to ‘Initial Digital Preservation work on the @@@ collection’ and ignore sections Schedule, 3, 4 and 7)

This concludes the interim testing and revision of the Maintenance Plan template. It has resulted in some substantial changes to the latest version 2.5 of the document (an equivalent version 2.5 of the SCOPING Document Template has also been produced). The final and most substantial test of the Maintenance Plan template will take in September 2021 when the large and complex PAWDOC collection is due to undergo its first maintenance exercise.

More than a Maintenance Plan?

Yesterday I finished the maintenance work on my PAW-PERS collection and so now have a refined version of the Maintenance Plan template based on two real-world trials. However, before publishing it, I’m going to take the opportunity to see if it could be used to start every Preservation Planning project. I’m able to do this because I have one other collection which has, as yet, had no preservation work done on it. It is the memorabilia that my wife and I have accumulated since we were married, and it is called SP-PERS.

Each of the three collections that I have subjected to Digital Preservation (DP) measures so far, have been through the process of creating a Scoping document followed by the production and implementation of a DP Plan, and finally the creation of a DP Maintenance Plan specifying works a number of years hence. However, my recent implementation of Maintenance Plans has led me to believe they might provide a structured immediate starting point for any preservation planning project.  They do not preclude Scoping documents etc. – indeed they explicitly discuss the possible use of those other tools halfway through the process. So, the opportunity to try using the Maintenance Plan template as a way in to every DP project is too good to miss. I’m starting on it today.

First trial of the Maintenance Plan

Today I completed the first real trial of a Maintenance Plan using the Plan I created for my Photos collection in 2015. It was one of the first Plans I’d put together so is slightly different from the current template (version 2.0 dated 2018). However, both have the same broad structure so the exercise I’ve just completed does constitute a real test of the general approach.

Overall, it went well. In particular, having a step by step process to follow was very helpful; and I found it particularly useful to write down a summary of what I’d done in each step. This helped me to check that I’d dealt with all aspects, and gave me a mechanism to actively finish work on one step and to start on the next. I found this to be such an effective mechanism that I modified the current Maintenance Plan Template to include specific guidance to ‘create a document in which you will summarise the actions you take, and which will refer out to the detailed analysis documents’. It’s worth noting that I was able to include this document as another worksheet in the collection’s Index spreadsheet, along with the Maintenance Plan constructed in 2015 and the Maintenance Plan I have just constructed for 2025. Being able to have all these sub-documents together in one place makes life a whole lot easier.

The exercise also identified another significant shortcoming of the template – it includes no details about the collection’s contents and their location(s). Consequently, an additional ‘Contents & Location’ section has been included at the beginning of the template.

The Photos collection has certainly benefited from the exercise; and the experience has enabled me to make some useful modifications to the template. I intend to tackle the second test of the Maintenance Plan (for the PAW-PERS collection) in the next few weeks, and will then publish an updated version 2.5 of the Maintenance Plan template which will include all the refinements made in the course of these two trials.