The academic, non-academic, and just plain random meanderings of Thomas P Kiehne.

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Reflections on the SAA 2006 Annual Conference - Part II

This entry is a continuation of my observations on this year's SAA annual conference. For more, see Part I.

Reflections on the SAA 2006 Annual Conference - Part I

Last week I breezed through Washington, DC to attend the SAA/NAGARA/CoSA Joint Conference. Last year at this time, I attended the SAA conference as a new, student member and, as it was my first ever professional conference, I spent most of the time trying to acclimate myself to the conference ebb and flow. This year I've committed to taking better notes, talking a bit more, and, of course, sharing my observations here.

What's in a Creation Date?

There is a certain perception that often accompanies digital objects and, more broadly, computer systems as a whole. This sort of perception manifests itself when, for example, we hear about how massively compressed digital MP3 files are considered to be "perfect" quality audio or in similar myths concerning the infallibility of all things digital. These perceptions are based on incomplete or inaccurate assumptions about how software, operating systems, or file systems function. My favorite way of stating this is that computers are only as smart as those who designed them – if to err is human, then the same goes for our electronic creations.

When making the transition from paper to digital records, these assumptions are likely to appear in unexpected places. While working on the Joyce collection, we ran headlong into one of these assumptions, made a note of it, then moved on. But I promised that I would look closer at the issue at a later time... so here I go.

PAT Project Lessons Learned, Part 2

I first heard about the Persistent Archives Testbed (PAT) Project at the SAA Annual Meeting in August 2005. The project merges the efforts of several large institutions -- NHPRC, NARA, SDSC, etc. -- in an effort to test data grid technology as a means of federated archival storage. In two of the more recent issues of Archival Outlook published by SAA, the a question has been posed to two different groups. The question is roughly: what skills are needed to work with electronic records; The two groups asked were archivists and IT professionals. In light of my recent musings, and the upcoming colloquium in Washington D.C., I took great interest in the most recent article.

Feeling Out Finding Aids

I've now spent five afternoons over the last five weeks volunteering my time at the local NARA branch. The bulk of my work has focused on developing user-friendly finding aids for patron use. For the benefit of my memory, here's a recap of some of the things I have done in creating these items.

Musings on a Systems View of Digital Archives

As an outsider trying to grasp the bounds of the archival field at the same time that it is entering a period of unprecedented change, I frequently find myself attracted to discussions about this change. Not only do such discussion clarify for me the boundaries of the field, but they give me insight into where I might be of help in the future. In two recent bulletins of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), society president, Richard Pearce-Moses, initiated one such discussion.

Chronicles of NARA

As it turns out, my relatively recent move has placed me within easy reach of our region's National Archives and Records Administration branch in Seattle. This branch serves government agencies and the public in Idaho, Oregon, Washington state, and to a lesser degree, Alaska. Curiosity got the best of me, and before long I discovered that they offer volunteer positions in a number of areas within the archives.

Audio Encoding Project: On Genre Description

First, a status update on the project. At this point, I have lost track of exactly how many discs I have encoded. This is probably because the ripping environment has been working virtually flawlessly since I finished troubleshooting, but, a rough estimate puts me at around 200-250 discs encoded. Now, to move on to an issue that has been in the back of my mind for a while: genre description.

Notes: The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore

I have been hearing the word "meme" for some time without really knowing what it means, so when I stumbled upon this book in a local bookstore (one of my favorite activities), I figured it was time to find out. Putting colloquial usage and some negative feedback received about the term into the back of my mind, I ventured forth into the text hoping to figure out for myself the value of the meme concept.

Audio Encoding Project: Software Status Update

Last we heard, I was having problems with the Winamp/FLAC combination for ripping CDs. As it turns out, I was not only unsuccessful in figuring out what the exact issues were, let alone resolving them, but it turns out that the ripping process was not being entirely transparent about non-obvious errors. I discovered upon listening to some of the encoded files that there were occasional errors in the form of digital audio glitches, and, in some cases, truncated (prematurely ending) files. The ripping process did not inform me that there were any problems outside of the major errors that I occasionally encountered (and which prompted me to investigate in the first place). Fortunately, these hidden errors were not too frequent.

Frustrated by these persistent problems with Winamp, I began to look for a better solution. Some Googling and freeware searches later, I discovered dbPowerAMP, a free ripper/converter whose makers claimed to have been frustrated about error-prone rippers in much the same way as I. dbPowerAMP meets all of the specifications that I enumerated at the outset of the project, so I decided to give it a try.