Monday, April 26, 2010

Swamped in stuff

kw: collecting

I spent way too much time at a collecting hobby this evening, and almost didn't leave time to write.
Hi, my name is Polymath07 and I am a collector. I come from a family of collectors (at least on my mother's side). One brother is a certified hoarder, currently undergoing de-cluttering therapy. I think I could have become one also, except that I got saved by getting good with a computer.
Tonight I was collecting ancestors (via Not that I only use the computer for this hobby. I have a large crate full of documents, organized in eight sections by great-grandparent. I have just about run out of ancestors on each of the eight lines, but I am now collecting cousins, the descendants of each of the four couples. For each person the Ancestry web site makes it easy to gather census records and birth/marriage/death records that they happen to have, and of course I pay a subscription for access. But it is the only hobby that is currently costing me money!

As a child I collected butterflies and the great variety of winged grasshoppers found in the fields around our Utah home. Later when we moved to Ohio the butterflies took the ascendancy, and I began collecting fossils also, but rock collecting didn't take center stage until later. I really got into rockhounding after my mother showed me her old rock collection, stored in the attic in a set of wooden trays. I was in high school, but there weren't too many good places to find fossils or minerals in northern Ohio. It takes a dry country to offer up a plethora of rock collecting outcrops. So I satisfied my collecting itch with stamp and coin collecting.

Midway through college I moved to California. I joined a lapidary society there. Now things got cooking. I spent lots and lots of time in the Mojave and Palm deserts. After about two years, when I moved out of one rental house, I left behind two tons of agate, marble, jasper, onyx and other stuff I couldn't move with me (I only took a half ton of the best material).

But something funny happened in the 1970s: I became a computer professional. For two decades program writing, and collecting algorithms, was both a passion and paycheck (making computers obey humans is still how I earn my keep). I have a large file cabinet in my office at work, with one drawer just for algorithm notes. I have even more total material in many Mbytes of program files, well-commented of course. One more thing that has saved me from turning into a total hoarder is that I have strong curatorial instincts. I classify everything. I also document my computer work, something most programming enthusiasts just don't do.

When my parents got old and began getting rid of stuff, I wound up with the family stamp and coin collections. By the time I moved to the East Coast (about 15y ago), I'd shed the half ton of rocks; I have only a hundred pounds of petrified wood, and 50# of jasper and agate, plus a few dozen specimens of fossils, minerals, and a few favorite polished agate and jasper pieces, specimens that I keep on display in a cabinet.

I spent about eight years collating all the stamp and coin "accumulations" into collections. I have kept three stamp collections, from my two grandmothers and my mother, intact, separate from my own. But I have given most of my collecting time the past six or seven years almost strictly to digital collections. Computer files take up so little space, after all. So the "virtual" collections include:
  • About a thousand ancestors and 50 or so collateral relatives (cousins of all ilk).
  • 2 Gby of wallpaper image files, classified into more than 20 categories.
  • 5 Gby of my own photography, about 7,000 pix so far.
  • 12 Gby of downloaded music, all public domain because they are old folk music, western, country, mainly pre-WW2.
  • Everything I've ever written, some in Word files, some in WordPerfect, some in older formats.
  • Thousands of old programs in FORTRAN, Pascal, Basic, and Perl, plus various assembly languages.
  • 1,200 TTF font files, classified in some detail. I particularly favor font families that include Normal, Bold, Italic/Slant and Bold-Italic/Slant versions. I like using specialty fonts for drop caps in documents for official purposes. (Too bad Blogger doesn't support drop caps)
Note that in the last case, it would have been easy to gather 10,000-20,000 font files, though getting them all classified would have been quite a chore! I am more selective, and choose each one with a purpose in mind (yes, I can keep track of 1,200 purposes).

I also, because of close to forty years of computer use, am paranoid about backing up. I actually do it. First to a large external hard drive (which has files from all the computers I use), and then to DVD's in case the big drive goes kerflooey. I have also decided on an economical scheme for more secure backup: Buy a fresh 250 Gby drive each year or two and copy everything to it. Keep one or two of the older ones, and erase those older than that and give them away. They'll still work. This is cheaper than paying the Carbonite subscription for the 30 Gby or so I need to archive. Even at the rate I collect things, it'll take me a while to fill a 250 Gby drive. I don't collect video files, and don't intend to, or I'd go for a full Tbyte!

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