March 24, 2007

Mighty purty typewriter

The Wisconsin Historical Society is celebrating the first mass produced typewriter. There's a wonderful five-minute read on their website. It also includes links to more information.

Highlights include:

  • Bigger, juicier photos. This beautiful antique makes my iPod look cold, lifeless and dead. And I lurrrve my iPod.

  • It wasn't the inventor who licensed the technology rights to Remington was his business partner. Seems the inventor was a little short on cash in the 1870s and sold away his rights. Ouch.

  • One of the first things Mark Twain ever typed, which includes the following: "...only practici?ng ti get the hang of the thing." I kid you not.

Read it here.

P.S. I am now dreaming of a Victorian steampunk computer. Someone's already transformed a 1924 Underwood No. 5 typewriter into a computer, so I figure it's possible.

Photo Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society

March 20, 2007

Digital preservation news

Did someone declare this digital preservation month? Because if they did, I sure didn't get the meemo.

Here's a roundup of the news from digital preservation land.

File Under "Oops"

So you accidentally wipe out the database. Oh, and the backup drive, too.

There was still hope, until the department discovered its third line of defense, backup tapes, were unreadable.
What did they do? Brought back the seasonal workers and re-scanned all 300 boxes of hard copies. To the tune of $200,000.

Is That Just Some Game? No, It's a Cultural Artifact. (Free registration required)

You know how every year the National Film Preservation Board publishes a list of films to be added to the National Film Registry? Well, now they're doing the same thing with video games. Cool, no? We can't save them all, but we might as well choose a few to preserve.

Mr. Lowood said that preserving video games presented certain challenges. For example the hardware that games are played on changes so frequently that there are already thousands that can only be played through computer programs called emulators, which, while readily available on the Internet, technically violate copyright laws.

A formula for blink free photos.

Anyone who's played photographer at family functions knows that, even if everyone stays perfectly still, there's always someone who blinks.

Here's an article explaining how many shots you need to take in order to (almost) guarantee you get one where no-one is blinking. Fortunately, someone has devised a formula:

The probability of one person not blinking 1 - xt. For two people it's (1 - xt).(1 - xt) and for a group of people it's (1 - xt)n, n being the number of people. This means (1 - xt)n is also the probability of a good photo. Therefore, the number of photos should be 1/(1 - xt)n.
Ahem. Right-o. Click here for the magic number.

Link via Photojojo.
(An unbelievably cool collection of photo projects)

March 14, 2007

Penny postcard views, organized by state - county - town

Today I got a link to a cool online collection of Penny Postcards from my brother Steve. Thanks, Steve-O!

Click on the state and then on the county to see old
penny postcards from that area.....pretty neat.
I love this beautiful image of the Wisconsin Historical Society building. If you've traveled to Madison to dip into our world-renowned genealogical research collections, you'll recognize the building right away. The library mall looks very different these days.

FYI, last summer, my baby brother became a dad. Here are two pics of my chubby yummy nephew Charles Orrie. Isn't he adorable? I mean, you know, objectively cute. Not just because I'm his auntie. Oh, and you should hear him giggle. Deelish!

Where exactly should I store my photographs?

The safest place to store your cherished mementos is an interior closet with some form of climate control.

What do I mean by climate control? Well, archival repositories have very specific parameters for temperature and humidity* but let’s be practical (it is, after all, what I'm known for).

When I say climate control I mean a space that:

  • is air conditioned in the summer
  • is heated in the winter
  • and doesn’t feel noticeably damp.
Basements, attics and garages are terrible choices for several reasons:

1. High humidity encourages mold and mildew and increases the rate of deterioration.

2. Fluctuating humidity causes paper (including photographic prints) to swell and shrink. Each cycle causes stress, and years of it will cause photos to crack because the emulsion layer and the binder layer do not expand and contract to the same degree as the paper backing.

3. High temperature levels speed up the rate of chemical reactions, and lots of deterioration is caused by chemical reactions. Here’s a sobering thought: The rate of decay doubles with each increase in temperature of 18 degrees. Doubles! span>Keep your treasures out of the attic, folks.

4. Insects and pests are more common in basements, attics and garages. No only can they eat your treasures, the bigger (furrier) critters might use it for bedding or leave behind very unpleasant surprises. Ick.

One more tip: Never store your treasures in direct sunlight. UV rays will bleach out the color and fade text and images. Fortunately, two dimensional items like photographs and paper ephemera are easy to copy these days. Create a new copy for display and keep the original in the dark. Or use Plexiglas with an anti UV coating in your frames.

*For those of you who really want to know the numbers, here are the recommendations for most photographs: Temperature of 68 F and relative humidity of 30-40%. Now you know.

March 13, 2007

Is it safe to scan curled negatives?

When I did my radio show last week, I got a call at the last moment and answered it off the air. The question was from someone who had inherited a large box of negatives. She had a really smart question and I couldn't answer off the top of my head:

If I force a curled negative flat so I can scan it, will I damage it?
Well, I know it's unsafe to try to unroll a curled paper print. (Very bad idea.) But I wasn't sure if that was also true for film. I asked my buddy David Benjamin for some guidance. He's a photo archivist at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

This is what David told me:
  • It's safe to scan.
  • It's also OK to store flat in envelopes for a short time with a weight on top. This sometimes relaxes film back to a flatter state.
  • He has personally unrolled film and seen no damage.
  • Re-washing is waaay too dangerous. Don't even think about it.
Thanks, David.

March 11, 2007

Free talk at the East Side History Club

Saving our Stories

Ideas, tips, and talk about preserving your stories and photographs.

  • Sarah White, First Person Productions, will discuss how we save the stories of our lives. Find the approach that suits you best - writing, guided reminiscing, scrapbooking, interviewing, and more.

  • Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, will share her secrets of photo storage, starting with "what to keep" and ending with "how to keep."

WHEN: Saturday March 24, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Atwood Community Center, 2425 Atwood Ave.

COST: Free.

The East Side History Club collects memories through conversations with East Siders, with the goal of producing articles, yearbooks, exhibits, and programs. They also offer East Side history resources to schools, neighborhood centers, libraries, seniors programs, writing and drama groups, and more. East Side History Club is a project of the Atwood Community Center.

To join the ESHC mailing list or suggest topics for future meetings, contact: Sarah White, 347-7329 or Pat Martin, 241-0895.

Does Microsoft's new format spell the end of JPEG?

Has it ever occurred to you that JPEG could disappear?

Seems impossible, I know. But digital preservation isn't only about the recording media. Let's suspend reality for a moment and pretend that DVDs really will last forever. You still need to have software that can convert 1's and 0's into a photo of a chubby smiling baby. And a compatible machine to run the software.

Here's a quote from a recent Computerworld article.

Microsoft Corp. will soon submit to an international standards organization a new photo format...

The format, HD Photo -- recently renamed from Windows Media Photo -- is taking aim at the JPEG format, a 15-year-old technology widely used in digital cameras and image applications.

Listen, I don't have any special psychic abilities. I can't predict the future. But I know what has happened in the past when Microsoft sets it's eye on something.

You do the math.

And then order prints of your favorite digital photos. The ones your future grand kids should have a chance to see.

[link via Slashdot]

March 08, 2007


I've created an acronym for something I find myself repeating over and over and over whenever I'm answering questions about how to keep your family treasures safe.

Seemed like a good idea at the time (SLAGIAT).

There are things you can do to a photograph today that won't look like they've caused any damage. But if you worked with historical records for even a short time, you'd see lots of seemingly innocent items that change dramatically over time. Have you ever seen a forty year old rubber band? Blech. And lots of times the items suffer some kind of damage, usually staining. Damage that could have been avoided so easily.

Examples of SLAGIAT:

  • encapsulation
  • tape
  • ink
  • bare hands (fingerprints)
  • rubber bands
  • chemical cleaners

We had a SLAGIAT question on the radio show.

Problem: Fire-damaged prints.

If they are so soot covered that you can't see what's in the photo, you've got (literally) nothing to lose. In that case, you might as well try an extreme measure like chemical cleaners. Once you clean it enough to get a visible image, make a high resolution scan. Print our copies at your favorite photo processor.

If the fire damage is just a little bit of darkening or an occasional smudge, I would recommend scanning the photos and restoring them digitally. Do not apply chemical solvents to the prints. Do not attempt to wipe them off.

Bottom line? There are times when drastic measures are necessary, but just make sure the cure isn't worse than the disease.

Pssst...there's something you should know. My views on chemical cleaners are considered overly cautious to the point of being extreme. Professionals photographers don't think twice about cleaning prints and film. Many scanning companies (especially in the publishing world) clean prints as a matter of routine. Archival supply companies sell the cleaners. But just because you can't see any damage today doesn't mean you haven't caused irreversible chemical damage.

Preservation is all about caution:

  • Don't do anything you can't undo.
  • Eliminate all known hazards.
  • Avoid likely hazards.

March 07, 2007

Radio Show

Thanks to everyone who tuned in to the show on Monday night, and a BIG THANKS to everyone who called or emailed questions. Thanks also to Beth for answering the phones and to Ken for being our engineer.

Lisa and I had a blast, and I'm pretty sure that came across. Lisa did such a superb job as my Ed McMahon that I might have to hire her. Ken took that photo of us immediately after the show in the lobby.

It's blurry, but that's not Ken's fault. I've always hated the automatic flash on my camera, so I leave it on manual. You lose a little focus, but you get warm fuzzy shots like the orange-y still life on the right. Those yummy Czech beers were souvenirs from our trip to The Wisconsin Dells last month. A huge chunk of the workforce up there is from Eastern Europe. I bought those beers at a gas station. A gas station! And I had to leave dozens of others behind. For those of you who appreciate fine beer, it's the gas station at the intersection of the strip and Hwy A.

Thispicture is extra blurry because I got it in my head at the last minute to take a shot of Lisa in her radioshow headphones. Of course the red light came on just as I was taking it. D'oh. I haven't listened to the recording yet, but I'm pretty sure we opened with a sort of "Wha? We're on the air...oh!"

Speaking the recording, here's where you'll find it:
Scroll down a bit till you find the Access Hour from March 5, 2007. WORT has made the show available for listening and/or downloading. You're welcome to keep a copy for yourself and pass it along as long as you don't sell it. This recording will remain online until May 1, 2007.

Links from the show.

Preservation Answer Machine

Photo Scribe

Archival Supply Companies. These are all reputable companies. Gaylord and Light Impressions are the only two who use easy-to-spot "PAT Passed" icons in their catalogs. Hollinger and Metal Edge aren't as slick, but their prices are good. Hollinger's paper catalog contains a lovely photo essay about the history of the company. They pretty much created modern records storage containers. Now you know.


Archival Suppliers in the UK:

I don't know if they perform the Photographic Activity Test or not -- you'll have to ask.

March 03, 2007

Online video search tool

Today I tried out a new video search tool called blinx. (Ugh. How much do you think they paid for that awful name, eh? Too much, no doubt.) It's not a video hosting site like youtube, it just points to videos posted on other sites. There's a nifty feature called The Wall which displays your next search results as row after row of thumbnail videos. Nice eye candy.

Here's what I found:

Beeetamax. I searched on "obsolete technology" and found an ITN news piece on the new dvd format wars, complete with archival footage of the last round of video format wars.

Billion dollar industry. Then I searched on "family history" and found a news piece from Fon du Lac, Wisconsin about researching and preserving family history, especially the stories: "People want to know more than the names of their relatives, they want to know about their lives." You'll meet a teenager who interviewed his grandparents and says "...the most rewarding thing is just being able to me that much closer to them."

They point to libraries and historical societies as sources for family history information, and mention a laundry list of helpful records, including: obituaries, local newspapers, city directories, yearbooks, historical photographs, census information. They even interview a librarian, yay!

I wish I knew how that story ended up on the news in the first place. I figured it had to be a Creative Memories consultant who pitched it, but there's no mention of that MLM biz. And none of the interviewees seem like they're the press-release-writing type. Maybe or Family Tree? Both of those products are mentioned. Are they owned by the same company by any chance?

What I really love is the conclusion: "Nothing is more valuable than speaking with those who can share their memories." To which I would add: Or writing down your own memories. It's rediculously easy. Check out Denis LeDoux's Photo Scribe for a simple and painless way to capture the stories behind your photos (even if you hate to write).

FYI, Dick Eastman questions whether genealogy is really as popular as stories like this one claim.