The hidden lives of ordinary things

I’ve just found a new (to me) corner of the web, full of interesting things to read.

Object Lessons
Object Lessons is an essay and book series published by The Atlantic and Bloomsbury about the hidden lives of ordinary things, from sardines to silence, juniper berries to jumper cables.

Each Object Lessons project will start from a specific inspiration: an anthropological query, ecological matter, archeological discovery, historical event, literary passage, personal narrative, philosophical speculation, technological innovation—and from there develop original insights around and novel lessons about the object in question.

I love that domain name. Some of the essays I’ve bookmarked to catch up on later include:

How the 50-mm lens became ‘normal’
It’s often called the optic that best approximates human vision, but approximation is relative.

The case for locking up your smartphone
Lockers and sleeves for phones can feel like an infringement on personal rights, but they also might save people from their worst habits.

How the index card cataloged the world
Carl Linnaeus, the father of biological taxonomy, also had a hand in inventing this tool for categorizing anything.

And this poignant, tricky one, too.

Why it’s okay to throw your children’s art away
There’s a moment when a child first presents you with her art, holding it out with the last split second of attention she can muster after completing it. That moment contains a burst of pride on both your parts, and a frisson of mutual love. But in the end, your pride lasts longer than the child’s does. Eventually, and soon, it must move on to another venture. Theirs always does, but yours lingers, heartstrings tugged.

It’s the wish to prolong this moment artificially, I think, that motivates the urge to keep and curate your children’s art for posterity. You convince yourself there’s some future where your child will want to return to that moment of pride and love through the act of witnessing the thing she made so long ago.

Don’t fall for it. You’re only trying to make yourself feel better. You’ll never quite be able to tell which moment your children will remember, and it’s not as if you can regulate that memory on their behalf anyway. And besides, childhood is made from a thousand moments just like this. There’s no way to hold on to all of them.

Goats, DVDs and other formats

Here’s an interesting look at Netflix’s ARRM robot, or ‘Automated Rental Return Machine’, built to squeeze out as much profit margin as possible from its shrinking DVDs-by-post business. It’s an ingenious response to this latest shift in format.

Automating the end of movies on physical discs
The real shame will happen when movies stop coming out on DVDs and Blu-Rays altogether. That’s not because they were such a lovable way to package films (they have their pluses and minuses); it’s because with the loss of each media format, we also lose some titles forever.

Speaking of changes with storage and archive processes, I was looking back at this post from 2014, about how the printing of the new High Speed Two bill will require several thousand goats to create the necessary amount of vellum.

It turns out the following year, the Commons Select Committee agreed to a move away from vellum to high quality archive paper, a much cheaper option.

Report: The use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament
The Committee was convinced by the arguments put to it by the Chairman of Committees and has therefore agreed this short report recommending to the House of Commons that, in future, high quality archive paper should be used and not vellum to record Acts of Parliament.

But then in 2016 they changed their mind again, with the Cabinet Office deciding to “provide the money from its own budget for the thousand-year-old tradition to continue.”

Why is the UK still printing its laws on vellum?
After a reprieve, the UK is to continue printing and storing its laws on vellum, made from calf or goat-skin. But shouldn’t these traditions give way to digital storage, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

That’s such a tricky question, though. It’s tempting to think digital is always best with these matters, but I wonder. Storage formats come and go so quickly, just look at Netflix’s DVDs.

“In many circles there’s still a real discomfort around digital archiving, and a lack of belief that digital can survive into the future,” explains Jenny Mitcham, digital archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

The whole concept of digital storage is a relatively new innovation, and the path by which it could survive through the years is not clear.

(And has anyone compared vellum rot with link rot, I wonder?)

Trump’s version of a paperless office?

This shouldn’t surprise us, I suppose.

Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together
Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Makes me wonder if that Trump Kim document is worth the paper it’s written on.

Preservation problems

The New Age: Leaving Behind Everything, Or Nothing At All
As for his own digital legacy? Moser says, “Please throw it all in the Pacific Ocean with a big block of concrete around it. I mean, it probably won’t help because I’m sure that Google has it in a cave in Idaho somewhere,” he says. “There’s this incredible amount of you that exists and that isn’t protected, that you don’t really have any say-so over. Where before you could just burn letters and diaries, you can’t exactly wipe every hard drive and scrape the cloud clean. I think the only thing on our side is that probably by the time, if I’m granted a normal life span and die in 40 years, there will be so much of it that nobody would possibly ever want to bother,” he says.

Note to self: must sort through those old boxes in the loft, those old university zip disks and SyQuest cartridges might still be up there. Though of course I’ve nothing to play them on if I find them…

Gmail's beginnings and consequences

How Gmail happened: the inside story of its launch 10 years ago
But serious search practically begged for serious storage: It opened up the possibility of keeping all of your email, forever, rather than deleting it frantically to stay under your limit. That led to the eventual decision to give each user 1GB of space, a figure Google settled on after considering capacities that were generous but not preposterous, such as 100MB.

An interesting read about the cautious beginnings of what now seems like such a no brainer. But consider that passage above with this one from Barclay T Blair, information governance expert, in a post entitled “There is no harm in keeping tiny emails”. He had found an article that he thought…

“There is no harm in keeping tiny emails”
… nicely summed up the attitude I encounter from IT and others in our information governance engagements. Ask an attorney sometime if there really is “no harm in keeping tiny emails around in this age of ever-expanding storage space.” The drug dealers of the IG world have really done an incredible job convincing the addicts that the drug has no downside.

An unhealthy medical market

Why doctors still use pen and paper
This is a generic problem in society. We have lots of information, and we don’t always know what to do with it. Your doctor, your nurse, is not prepared to process the information they already have. It’s already overwhelming. And adding more in will just make it even more anxiety-provoking and overwhelming.

Hadn’t really thought about this point of view before. But surely this is the reason to move more online, not to stop from doing so?

Kent Police fined £100K after leaving confidential documents and tapes in disused police station

Kent Police fined £100K after leaving confidential documents and tapes in disused police station
Kent Police must pay a £100,000 fine after a potentially ‘enormous and damaging’ security blunder. It comes after confidential information, including copies of police interview tapes, were left in the basement of the former Gravesend police station.

NHS patient data made publicly available online – or is it?

“The shambles that is NHS England’s Care.data patient data sharing scheme suffered another blow this week as it is revealed that patient-level data was available publicly online.

“Ben Goldacre has tweeted that Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) — the psuedonymised data collected about patients when they visit hospital, which includes patient age, gender, ethnicity, diagnoses, operations, time waited etc — were made available publicly in an online tool created by a mapping company called Earthware.”

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-03/03/care-data-leaks

However, at the bottom of the article:

Updated 20:40 03/03/2014: Earthware UK has issued a statement saying the data it used was mock HES data, not real patient data.”

Earthware UK say in that statement that:

  • The map displayed mock data held by a third party who provided this data to Earthware via a web API
  • We do not hold nor have we ever held HES data on our servers
  • No patient identifiable data was ever displayed on the map

http://www.earthware.co.uk/default.aspx

So, something or nothing? Can’t tell.

More on care:data

The new wave of information governance tools

“Is records management being subsumed into information governance – or is it a separate discipline that will help to shape information governance but will retain its own distinct identity and purpose?”

http://thinkingrecords.co.uk/2014/02/18/the-new-wave-of-information-governance-tools-what-do-they-mean-for-records-management/

James Lappin brings us a great roundup of the current tools and concepts in the records management market. I was about to add that none of this is getting any simpler, but perhaps it’s that over-simplifying push towards the middle that confusing us all.

Hoarding data – are you buried alive?

"I had a long day at the office the other day. And it really had been a long day. I’d spent what felt like an eternity talking to a client about developing a business case for cleaning up their network shared drives and improving the way the use it. The whole notion just seemed so silly – not the improvement part mind you – the part where we have to bend over backwards to quantify the problems they were having with the network shared drive."

http://idm.net.au/article/009907-hoarding-data-are-you-buried-alive