Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Expanding spaces

kw: technical trends, collecting, collections

What is the difference between an accumulation and a collection? Curation! There is a neat tool for visualizing the contents of a hard drive, which I find useful for file curation. It is called SequoiaView.

It images files as blocks that look like little pillows, and you can optionally show them with colors that give a hint to their contents. This shows the 2,900+ files in the My Documents folder and its 87 subfolders on the PC at my workplace. These are the files I consider my own. Many are copies from the larger store of files in my computer at home. I keep project files for my work on a shared drive (7.6 Gby, 6,300+ files). Firstly, to parse this image, the file types by color are:
  • Pink and Red - Image files (jpg, png, gif, bmp, etc.)
  • Dark Blue - Excel and Word
  • Green - Music, mostly mp3
  • Cyan - Program files (exe)
  • Purple - Zip files
  • Gray - All others; most here are ppt, pdf and a few wma videos
The pink mass on the left is my wallpaper collection (I run a picture gallery screen saver so I can see groups of these on a rotating basis). The mostly pink mass at lower right is the image collection for this blog. Above that are the miscellaneous files that are not in subfolders, including some rather large pdf files. Then up the middle: the cyan and gray area below is the Downloads folder, mostly setup and install files; the green at the top is mp3 music; the darker gray below that is other kinds of music files; and the lighter gray next below is a lot of pdf's about income taxes. The big purple block is a single zip file of install binaries for a product I need at work (which means it belongs elsewhere), and the slim area just to its left is all the smaller folders in My Documents. The total disk space taken is 2.29 Gby.

I've been gathering this stuff a long time. I first got a desktop computer in 1981, and a very few files date back that far, but most of those are at home. My current home machine has a 500 Gby disk, which is only a few percent full, and an external 120 Gby disk a few years older (from the prior system, now in a closet) that I use for archives. That's close to 1/3 full.

The beauty of looking at a visualization like this is that I can see where files are out of place. Then I just have to get up the gumption to reorganize. If only there were a similar tool for cleaning up the closets at home! Now that our son has effectively moved out, my wife and I are de-cluttering the less used rooms of the house (he has to do his own!), which tended to be the dumping ground for things we hadn't yet decided to discard, and storage for the larger collections. My physically largest collections are, in order by weight:
  • Books, about 2,000, filling shelves in one shelf-filled bedroom and the finished room in the basement.
  • Rocks, including petrified wood, minerals and fossils. Those not on display are in crates in the garage.
  • Family letters, concentrated in the early 1900s and the WW2 years. These are curated in acetate holders in binders in two crates.
  • Photo albums, perhaps 15 large binders, dated on their spines (I have about 8,000 digital photo files; these are just what I've printed. For older pix I have a large folder of negatives in sleeves).
  • Stamps, seven binders of mostly well-labeled stock sheets, plus two crates of duplicates and a small box of "material to check".
  • Coins, two rather heavy binders, one US, one Worldwide, all in labeled holders.
  • Genealogy, one crate of materials gathered by my mother and brother, then sent to me a few years ago. I keep all new records online. My "ancestor collection" numbers about 1,100.
Then there are smaller amounts of insects, pinned in a couple show boxes, and seashells, which are not curated at all except by date collected. At the moment our son and his cousins are all in their late teens and early-to-mid twenties. Over the next few years I expect some of them to settle down enough to have an appreciation for history, and if they develop an interest in any of the collections, I can pass them along. The rocks will be the hardest to get rid of. I'll probably have to give them to local rock and mineral hobbyists.

These days, the acquisition of "stuff" has little allure. Perhaps this is the normal course of life. I was once an avid collector of all kinds of things in addition to the above. Now I confine my collecting to digital things, although I still print the best of my photography and put the prints in the photo albums. This blog is a kind of collection, a collection of ideas that so far covers six years of my life. I wonder what will become of it a few decades down the road. The other collections need to be gradually divested, to those who will appreciate them. Time will tell.

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