Regarding Archiving

How Much Does Fidelity Matter?

Recorded on January 2nd, 2017

With each passing year, as we all hurtle towards our eventual deaths, I keep coming back to this idea that it may (may) be an unwise use of one’s time to obsess over the bit-perfection of their lossless digital music library, or the neat and tidy suspended-animation state of RAW files in a Lightroom library. It seems to be a problem of math, where almost all of the factors are weighted heavily in favor of just doing what’s “good enough” to enjoy what we have for as long as we’re alive.

These are the factors I mean:

  1. Time to spend on maintaining these libraries. Finite and scarce. We don’t know how much time any of us has left. Cataloging FLAC files and RAW photos and their associated non-destructive metadata files is only for the nerdiest, with the most discretionary time available.
  2. Time to enjoy viewing or listening to the libraries. Also limited. Is in a zero-sum relationship with, and directly lessened by, #2.
  3. Hard drive space. Cheap and plentiful. Possibly the one thing that tilts in favor of spending too much time and attention on curating our collections.
  4. Usefulness to future generations. Inestimably low. No one after me will want to take care of, duplicate, back up, and tend to my digital libraries of crap, much less listen to or view them.
  5. Aesthetic value. I can totally hear the benefits of FLAC files. I can sometimes see the difference between a RAW file and a high-quality JPG.
  6. Size of collections. Growing faster every year, especially with photos. As more photos and audio files get added to the piles, the worth of each of those files — well into the tens of thousands now — decreases proportionally.

The alternatives? Living with iTunes Match as a primary library source for digital music, and dumping copies of your photos in Apple iCloud and Google Photos, since that’s where you’re probably going to look at them anyway. The beauty of this method is that you have so many tons of crap to lug around that if some small fraction of it gets corrupted, oh well — you have 98% of the rest still fine. Not a great way to go through life, but neither is feeling overly attached to digital data, spending precious hours being ruled by your computer and the file systems that house this stuff. If I knew I were going to die in six months, how much would I care about all this shit?

But who am I kidding? It’s not like I’m going to burn down my Lightroom library and my FLAC folders. I may never view or hear some of those things again ever, but I just keep adding to the piles like a fool.

Spending Time With Your DEVONthink Data

Recorded on December 27th, 2016

On Episode 356 of Mac Power Users, Stuart Ingram shared a ton of tips and examples of how he uses DEVONthink. It was enough to make me want to shut down the dusty remains of my Evernote database and convert to DEVONthink all the way, at least for long-term storage of reference material. After some detailed conversation about what works for him, Ingram finished with a really smart thought, saying that (paraphrasing) yes, all of the processing and careful weeding of his DEVONthink databases take time, but one effect is that he gets to know his data better overall because of that time he spends it. The outboard brain actually helps his real brain remember more stuff on its own. Something like that. Good lesson.

How to Date Scanned Photos

Recorded on November 27th, 2016

Today, I sat down at our film scanner, determined to scan some negatives and save them in a sane manner. I did some searches and ran across this totally brilliant post about How to Date Photos When Even Your Family Can’t Remember Them!

Here’s the important part:

The basics of it are that you start off the filename of a photo with the date it was taken. If there is any part of the date you don’t know, you replace it with an “x”, keeping the length of the date consistent with all of the other images in your collection.

So, something taken in December of 1978 (but on an unknown day) would start with:

1978-12-xx

If you didn’t even know the month, it would be:

1978-xx-xx

And something in the great expanse of the 1970s would start with:

197x-xx-xx

If it was Christmas Day in the 1980s, but you weren’t sure of the year, then:

198x-12-25

It helps your photos line up with each other properly, and also helps remind you and others who encounter your work later that some piece of the data is unknown while the rest is known. I love this system!

How to organize and archive negatives?

Recorded on October 19th, 2016

I could read threads like this one all day:

How to organize and archive negatives? | APUG.ORG

After digging out some 20- to 25-year-old black-and-white and color prints the other night, I can’t believe how bright and sharp and rich they still look. It really brings home what they always say about digital photos being so fragile and ephemeral in comparison to analog. I still have tons of the negatives that go with those photos, and the archivist in me wants to methodically (but hurriedly) organize them in vinyl sleeves. I suspect it has something to do with the fear of death and losing the memories those photos bring back. Who would I be saving these photos for if not for me?

I have no great answers for that, but I still want to do it before any more entropy takes over.

I also want to save them because they are the original high-definition imaging format. The resolution in 35mm film is still a force of nature, and even now only the most expensive digital scanners can come close to capturing the detail and range of what is stored in those negatives.

Why to Host Your Own Stuff

Recorded on February 9th, 2016

books in Certaldo hostel

[old books in a reading room in a hostel in Certaldo, Italy, 2007]

Back in 2013 at An Event Apart in Washington, DC, I saw Jeremy Keith give a talk called “The Long Web”. I still sticks with me, because it made me think differently about how to put stuff on the web and why to do it in the first place. Here’s Jeremy’s page with the video and notes from a 2015 version.

He said of his then-recently redesigned website, The Session, in these transcribed lines from the video:

“And this is the site I wanted to look at, is how I approached that from the long-term view as in, it’s a site that’s been online for over a decade. It’s a site that will be online for hopefully much longer than a decade. And how I evaluated technologies and how I evaluated approaches to building a site for the long term, not just for the here and now.”

It is absolutely depressing that that is such a radical concept. The common practice in the web industry is to think in terms of the next year or two, and spin your wheels periodically rebuilding designs and CMSes. It’s like as if every few years, architects tore down the libraries they designed and started over. We should slow down, build things right in the first place, and stop knee-jerk installing the latest JavaScript frameworks constantly.

I love the idea of making things that you expect to survive for a decade, or decades.

Keith thought through things like the structure of the URLs on the site; not relying on external services to be running for the pages to render; and not being utterly dependent on JavaScript, but using it to enhance the page when it is available.

I remembered “The Long Web” when Dave Winer wrote Anywhere but Medium, where he implored people to consider other non-Medium destinations for their writing. Medium is beautiful, but because is it so wildly popular, gets good traffic, and is easy to post to, it’s where seemingly everything goes now. It’s like YouTube for blogging.

I know Medium does a service by giving writers a potentially bigger audience, but it all feels like the same person writing, only because it all looks the same. And it may not always be there anyway. Then what happens to all the great things you’ve read on it that didn’t get cross-posted anywhere else?

Facebook feels even more ephemeral, and while it’s here, you can’t get to all of it unless you’re a user, or the creator is a friend and has deemed you worthy of being in the audience.

Thinking about what Keith said in his talk, the much more robust, solid – though harder – alternative is to host your own blog, website, portfolio, or whatever on your own server. “Own server” is a loose term, because hardly anyone hosts websites from a physical server in their closet at home. We outsource that to others like Dreamhost, HostGator, Bluehost, etc. But the philosophy is the same. You have your own slice of a server somewhere, with a bunch of files and folders you control. You can run WordPress or similar on it, or any number of non-database-driven, static-HTML-generating CMSes. You can decide how bloated or skinny you want your code to be.

Also, for me, if a process feels too easy, it cheapens the resulting output. Naturally I’m going to go full-nerd and want to use Statamic PHP templates to render a bunch of Markdown-formatted text as HTML. (People are totally beating down the door to do that.) It’s more of a pain, yes. But if I keep this going for years, the initial investment in setting it up works out to peanuts. Mmmm. Peanuts.

I want the stuff I put here to be around for a long time. Sure, I’ll link to it on Twitter or Facebook in the short term, but it’s a lot easier for me to get invested in it if I know the actual pages will have a permanent home. I need to adjust some workflows to stop hosting some images on a public folder in Dropbox. (What a short-term-obsessed cheater. I thought it was such a good trick when I first learned it.) Everything needs to live on my server, even though “my server” is Dreamhost.

When you’re making something where you’re in control of the time horizon, take every opportunity to keep that horizon long.