February 28, 2007

Caring for the ephemera in your collections

Does your family archive include ticket stubs, programs, licenses or calling cards? Whether they were forgotten in the pages of a book or carefully pasted into a scrapbook, these items are what we call ephemera.

The glossary by the Society of American Archivists defines ephemera as "materials, usually printed documents, created for a specific, limited purpose, and generally designed to be discarded after use."

Marty Weil runs ephemera.com. It's full of fascinating paper treasures and heavily illustrated with color scans. Very "visually appealing" as we used to say in the children's publishing biz. Basically, this guy is an ephemera guru. So you can imagine how excited I was when he invited me to offer storage and handling tips to his many readers. In hindsight, I might have been a little too excited, because I rambled on so much Marty had to publish it as a two-parter.

Part 1: Protecting Your Paper Collectibles

Part 2: Storing Your Ephemera


Sure, winter in Wisconsin is cold (sometimes really cold). And dark (sometimes way too dark). But it can also be delightful. Last weekend, we got about 20" of snow. Good packing snow, as we like to say. I dug around in our boxes of craft supplies for something that could pass for coal and discovered pom pons and pipe cleaners. My daughter Veronica (6) added a baby carrot and some twigs to create the darling sculpture you see above.

One look at that photo and my hatred for winter starts to dwindle.

February 23, 2007

This computer is never obsolete! Or, Seth Godin is right...all marketers are liars

I thought this was hilarious.

"This Computer Is Never Obsolete!" screams the sticker.

Apparently eMachines is offering some sort of free-upgrades-for-life to back up that claim?

Riiiight. Thought not.

Who writes this stuff, anyway?

This great photo taken by the Guru Guys.
Link found via digg.

February 22, 2007

Questions about my radio call-in show

I've received several questions about my upcoming radio call-in show, but first the basic info...

Date: Monday, March 5, 2007
Time: 7 - 8 PM Central Time (a.k.a. Chicago Time)
Web: www.wort-fm.org
Local: 256-2001
Toll-free: 866-899-WORT (9678)

Now for the questions...

  1. How exactly do I listen to the show? If you're lucky enough to live in Madison just tune in to 89.9 FM. If not, you'll need software on your computer that can play the live streaming audio. Personally, I prefer Realplayer. It's free. When the show is live, go to WORT's web page. In the header there are several menu choices.

    You want the Listen Live button, which is #1 in my handy visual aid, above.

  2. Will there be a recording available? Yes! Visit WORT's Audio Archive, #2 in the illustration above. Shows are usually uploaded within 24 hours after broadcast and remain available for eight weeks.

  3. How do I ask The Practical Archivist a question? You'll need to call in during the live broadcast. If you're in Madison, call 256-2001. Outside the area, you can call in using WORT's toll-free number: 1-866-899-WORT (9678).

  4. Can I send my questions via email? Sure! Hostess anxiety has left me terrified that no one will call in or that the equipment will die a horribly death at precisely 7:02 pm... so it would be a relief to show up with questions ready to go. sally (at) jacobsarchival (dot) com. Assuming everything goes as planned and we have some live calls, those will take take precedence for obvious reasons. If I can't get to your question on the air, I'll try to answer it here on this blog.

  5. I'm overseas and that's never a toll-free call. Can I call in using Skype? Sorry, no. But you're welcome to email me your question!

February 18, 2007

Radio, Radio

The Practical Archivist's (First Ever) Call-In Radio Show

I'll be hosting a one time only radio call-in program on our local community radio station WORT. Fabulous Rock Star Mama Lisa Hinzman has agreed to be my Ed McMahon. Suh-weet!

I'll share some simple tips on how to organize your photographs and conquer the clutter once and for all. But I'll also take calls from folks just like you to answer questions about protecting your one-of-a-kind family treasures from the ravages of time.

What kinds of questions? I specialize in photographs ("daguerreotypes to digital and everything in between"), but I can also answer questions about rare books, documents, and wedding gowns. And since I'm a librarian by trade, I promise to point you in the direction of someone who can answer your question if I'm stumped.

The Practical Archivist Radio Call-In Show
Monday, March 5th
7-8pm (Central time)
Toll Free: (866) 899-WORT (9678)

Not sure what time that is where you live?
Time Zone Converter (Choose "America/Chicago")

Listen to WORT's Live Web Stream:

Here are two weekly shows on WORT that you might enjoy:

1. Entertainment

Saturday 10am–noon
Classic jazz and swing from the 1920s to the 1950s—recordings by big bands, vocalists and small combos, with host John Kraniak. Playlists from previous shows.

2. Back to the Country

Wednesday 9am–noon

With themes such as politics, work, home or around the music of a particular person, host Bill Malone puts emphasis on “classic” and “alternative” country music - what you can’t hear on Top 40 radio.

Photo Credit: Rockpop Gallery. Digital print on canvas, hand embellished by artist Howie Green. Available for sale here.

February 17, 2007

Raise your Google IQ in two easy keystrokes

Don't you just hate it when you search for something online and get a gazillion nonsense hits that have nothing whatsoever to do with what you were looking for?

It doesn't have to be that way.

As I mentioned before, I'm a hopeless information geek. I went to grad school in Information Science fer cryin out loud. Plus, I've spent a significant chunk of my career getting paid to do research. Let's just say I know a lot about hunting down information using that series of tubes that make up the internets.

Raise Your Google IQ with Two Simple Keystrokes:

1. [shift key]
2. [ " key]

A single quotation mark at the beginning of a phrase will ensure you only get hits for pages that contain that exact phrase. Otherwise, you'll end up with hits for any pages that happen to have those words -- even if there's twenty paragraphs of text in between them.

More Signal, Less Noise.

Search on the words practical and archivist and you get 480,000 hits. Put a single quote at the beginning and there's only 611 to sift through.

Why don't people do this every time they search?

Partly because no one ever told them about phrase searching. And partly because search engines are designed to guess what it is you're looking for, and they place their best guesses toward the top. For a phrase that's uncommon (like "practical archivist") it's not even necessary. For example, this blog shows up in the #1 spot whether you use quotes or not.

The next time you're faced with gazillions of nonsense hits, let Google know exactly what you're looking for. Two keystrokes is all it takes.

February 14, 2007

Very early tech support

Ah, yes. New technologies can be baffling. This hilarious clip is from a Norwegian TV show, 2001. I love that a few English words can be heard such as "text" and "whatever."


February 12, 2007

Preserving Flowers with Borax

I am not a crafty gal, but lucky for me I have friends who are. Like bekee, who's taking a break from knitting this month, but has created beautiful treasures like this and this. She pointed me to this nifty way to preserve flowers using Borax. Full instructions here.

According to the manufacturer, this preservation method works best for flowers you cut from your own garden. Cut flowers purchased from florists might not work because of the preservative solutions they soak their flowers in to keep the merch fresh.


February 10, 2007

Hello, hal23

Sign of the times.

My laptop is set to scan for wifi signals automatically. There's a simple pulldown menu (yay mac!) that shows me the strength of the signal plus any other signals it's picking up that moment.

When I checked my airport connection this morning, I noticed two other wifi signals. By the time I got around to doing the screen capture you see up there, one of the signals had disappeared and another had shown up in its place.

Ever since I moved to Madison in 1986, people have been bragging about how we have the highest boookstore per person ratio in the country. According to a 2004 study we rank 4th. Not too shabby.

In any case, it's obvious that there are a lot of readers here in Madison. My neighborhood is a mix of single family homes and 3-flats. Add an affordable city-wide wifi network to the mix, and you get multiple wifi surfers within yards of each other.

I love this town.

February 09, 2007

Flash drives

I got an email from a new subscriber to my newsletter. He was asking me to update my (free-with-subscription) ebook on scanning family photos. He suggested I include the option of storing digital photos to flash drives.

Will I make that change? That depends on the answer to some important questions:

  • How long can we expect USB-powered flash drives to last?
  • How soon will they become obsolete?
  • How do these numbers compare to CDs? To hard drives?
Do I have an answer?

Nope. Not yet.

While I'm busy researching this question, you can check out this interesting thread on absolutewrite.com. It's a site designed for freelance writers, not archivists or IT experts. On the upside you get real-world stories -- but keep in mind that it's hard to tell who is a trusted authority and who is not.

February 08, 2007

Dear Expedia, You're Fired

I don't plan to do this kind of blog entry on a regular basis. But last week I got an email from Expedia.com with the following subject line:


Whoa! Look at ALL THOSE CAPS. They must have canceled one of my flights or something. Yikes! What am I going to do? I didn't see the email until late at night, so the next day I write down my Booking ID and call 1-800-Expedia. It would have been nice if they bothered to include the actual numbers instead of forcing me hunt and peck out “e-x-p-e-d-i-a” but, whatever. That’s a minor quibble.

A computer answers my call. Nothing new here. It asks me if my call is about an existing itinerary. I say yes, feeling uncomfortable and idiotic talking out loud to a computer when other (real) people can hear me. Then it asks me for my itinerary number. Not the Booking ID. The computer helpfully tells me that the number I need to say out loud begins with a “1” – so it’s obvious that "LULLPN" (the Booking ID) isn't what they want.

So I tell the computer I do not have my itinerary number. Yes, I have to actually say out loud: "I do not have my itinerary number." Que idiota! The disembodied male voice seems OK with that, and patches me through to another phone. Then a female computer voice comes on the line and informs me that they cannot take my call right now, I should hang up and try again later.

This was an *URGENT: PLEASE CALL* situation, remember?

Those were Expedia’s words, not mine. Sigh.

So I go back to the original email and try to find the itinerary number. Oh, look! There it is. Underneath the phrase “For Internal use only.” I write down the number with another sigh, wondering how much of my lunch break this is going to take up.

I pick up the phone and call again. This time at least I can hit re-dial so I don’t have to figure out each number based on its letter. I say my itinerary number out loud for the computer. Then I’m on hold for about 10 minutes.

Guess what the customer service rep requests right away? That's right. My itinerary number. I ask her if she needs it for confirmation or because she doesn’t actually have the number. (I’ve taken phone orders for a catalog company, so I have some familiarity with how the process works.) She doesn’t have it because she’s on a different computer system and can’t see any information I already provided.

While I’ve got you on the line, I said, can you forward a note to the email wing of customer service and ask them not to hide that important number at the bottom? Maybe a simple line like: “Please have your itinerary number ready when you call.” You know, nothing fancy. Well, no actually.

She’s really nice about it and agrees with me that it would be better, but she’s not set up to do that. Ohhhhh Kay. How about after we’re finished here, you forward me to someone who can make a note of my suggestion? Sorry. She can’t do that, either. How about a phone number other than 1-800-Expedia? Nope. Charm (that’s the name she gave me) was very nice about it, and even offered to write down a note for me -- but it was clear she had no idea who to send it to. Basically, that was a complete dead end. One lunch break wasted.

Oh, and the punchline?

Not a single departure or arrival time had changed on my itinerary. Just one of the flight numbers. Now, I’ll grant you that’s a crucial piece of information that I needed to have. But how difficult would it have been to simply send me an email saying: “All the times of your flights are exactly the same, but Delta changed one of the numbers. Here's the new number.”

Instead, they chose to inform me that "Delta Airlines has notified us of an update to your flight itinerary. You must contact Expedia as soon as possible to provide instructions of how you would like for us to proceed."

And since the only way I have to contact Expedia customer service is that single 800 number, I can’t even let them know. The return address for the original email is a very unhelpful: NO-REPLY@CUSTOMERCARE.EXPEDIA.COM>.

So now I’m taking advantage of this teeny tiny little soapbox to rant about my experience. Thanks for indulging me, and by all means let me know if you have a way to contact Expedia directly. On the upside, I've already learned about alternatives from coworkers who heard my sad tale. There's one called Kayak that seems promising.

February 02, 2007

Have you been protecting the wrong side of your CDs?

Most people protect the play side of their discs (the "bottom") and don't think about the label side at all.

Big mistake.

The protective layer of plastic is actually thinner on the label side than on the bottom. Click here for a handy-dandy cutaway drawing. One quick glance will explain what the heck I'm trying to say. It's OK, I'll wait...

See what I mean?

Just below the thin protective layer on top of your disc is the precious dye layer. The dye layer is where your data is stored. Scratch the top, and you've got a serious problem. If you puncture the data layer you will cause irreversible damage to your disc.

Practical Tips for CD Care

1. Make multiple copies. Digital copies are cheap! Take advantage of this fact and burn a second set of CDs. Ask a relative to store them away from your other copies. This will protect your data from catastrophic events such as fire, flood, etc. You can also store additional backup copies on a remote server. The more copies there are, the more likely any given image will survive.

2. Protect the top and bottom from scratches. That means storing CDs in jewel cases with a central hub. Avoid storing important CDs in a sleeve or envelope because every time you remove or return it, you risk scratches.

3. Never write on the top of a CD with a regular pen. This can also cause scratching. The safest way to label a CD is to write with a felt-tipped marker on the round space in the center of the disc. There's not a lot of room in this area, so I recommend you number your CDs and record that number on the CD itself. The paper insert in your CD case can include detailed descriptions of what's recorded there.

4. Never touch the surface of a CD. Gloves are a great idea, too. The oils on your fingers and hands contain salts and acids that are not good for CDs. If you absolutely can't stand to wear gloves, be sure your hands are clean and free of lotion. See the photo above for an example of proper handling. Edges only, OK?

5. Store your CDs away from light, heat, and dust. All of these factors can cause damage. A box with a lid is a great option.

6. Leave unused CDs shrink-wrapped until you are ready to record one. This is more important for the CDs you consider your digital archive, not as important if you're just burning a playlist to share with a friend.