I Need a Shredder

It’s been just over a month since I started my digital migration.

I’m making slow but steady progress on getting rid of paper. I’ve been getting digital statements where possible for several years now; but the pre-digital years have been in file cabinets. I’ve gone through a couple feet of old financial data, and sorted it into trash and items to scan. I’m scanning them in, slowly, and getting rid of the originals.

Picture of Amaxon's Basic 12 Sheet cross-cut shredderI desperately need a shredder; I’ve had to stop tearing up and scissoring old statements etc. because it’s too hard on my hands. I’m looking at this Amazon Basics 12-sheet crosscut shredder because it will also shred CDs (as I destroy old backups) and easily handle the average scholarly article.

I’ve started reducing paper in terms of scholarly articles, and to a lesser extent, books.

Many of the journals most pertinent to my academic field aren’t included in the full text databases available through my local libraries. Medieval Celtic studies is a little obscure. Accessing, never mind obtaining, digital scholarly articles is difficult if you don’t have an academic affiliation with a research institution with JSTOR and Project MUSE accounts. As an individual, it’s prohibitively expensive, and often, not not even possible to buy articles, (and when it is, a single article is often $10.00 or more, none of which money goes to the scholar who wrote it).

That degree of inaccessibility means I’ll still need to keep hard copy versions of quite a few articles that I photocopied and that won’t scan well.

  • I already have an archive of .pdf scholarly articles and monographs that are indexed and listed in a spreadsheet. I’m checking printed and photocopied articles against that spreadsheet, and shredding those that I have as .pdf files.
  • I’m thinking about how to store the hardcopy articles. A filled file drawer is often difficult if not impossible for me to open and close, and doing it repeatedly is just not on. I thought about using comic book storage boxes, but they’re not quite tall enough for 8.5” x 11” paper. Still thinking about alternatives to file cabinets, including baskets with lids that will fit a standard bookshelf.
  • I’ve reduced the number of printed books I have by some hundreds. I’ve culled books I don’t need or no longer want. I’ve reduced it a bit more by replacing lots of fiction with ebooks, if they’re obtainable without DRM. I’ve lost too many expensive scholarly facsimiles, thanks to Adobe’s changing DRM, to have any faith in the longevity of DRM. I don’t mind DRM on a book I also have in printed form, but I’m no longer willing to buy DRM ebooks unless I have a printed copy too. There’s potentially a small catch to replacing scholarly books with digital versions that are Epub files in that citations are tricky, but I reckon I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it; I haven’t yet.

Converting the paper bills etc. to digital is serving as a test case for scholarly hard copy conversion. I really want the articles to be searchable, if possible, so that has me mulling over Evernote’s paid version. I’m also thinking about trying DEVONthink Personal. There’s also the possibility of relying on OS X’s Spotlight, too. I already use tags, which should help with Spotlight.

I used to use reference managers, particularly EndNote then Bookends. But after trying several, including open source reference managers, I’m not a fan. First, they don’t easily migrate. Second, I never could get the work-with-your-word-processor part to work well or predictably, either with MicrosoftWord or with Mellel. Lately, I’m using Pages for final formatting, anyway. So for now, the spreadsheet method suits me for managing bibliographic data. I like that it’s easily portable, and easily shared. No special software required.

Pinterest

I always check out new blogging and CMS platforms, so when I started hearing about Pinterest.com, I took a look, and then tried Pinterest. Pinterest describes itself as “Pinterest is an online pinboard. Organize and share things you love.”

Pinterest isn’t really directly comparable to any of the extant blogging or CMS systems; it’s most similar to Tumbler. Pinterest is image-driven. An image is scraped or uploaded, re-sized, and the original URL is retained as a link. There’s a field for a brief comment, and other people can comment on posted images or “pins.” Each Pinterest “board” is presented as an image collage; you can click-through via any individual image and see the associated comments, a larger view and the original link.

Each Pinterest account can have several boards. Boards can be associated with a number of pre-defined categories, as well as shared between several posters. You call also “follow” individual boards, or all of a Pinterest account’s pins and boards. The top page of the site features recent “pins” and comments.

The idea behind Pinterest is that you:

  • Find an image online (or a local image from your computer.
    You use a bookmarklet on your toolbar or you copy the URL and log onto your Pinterest account.
  • You pick one of your boards, or one that you have posting access to.
    You paste the URL into a field.
  • Pinerest asks scrapes the images and shows you reduced versions of the images on the page, and asks which image to use.
  • You select an image, and Pinterest grabs the image, reduces it if necessary, , and the URL, offers you a field for a comment and posts or “pins” the image to your board.
  • Other Pinterest members can re-pin your image, like it, or follow you or aparticular board.

Pinterest is not suited for building a presence online by itself; it is however an interesting ancillary to an established presence. It looks to me like Pinterest has more utility as a research tool and memory aid. Pinterest thus far (it’s still an invitation-only beta) is most enthusiastically being used by recipe collectors, and dedicated shoppers with specialized wish-lists. You’ll see people planning weddings or designing rooms, and using Pinterest to collect images and ideas. It’s an extremely useful research tool for writers. As I mentioned, there are a lot of people using it to track recipes, items to buy as a sort of visual wish list, but also people collecting images for buildings, locations, furnishings and clothing to use in writing, especially in terms of historic style and location. My friend and graphic designer Michael Rowley has a board featuring typography, off to the right.

I’ve created a few boards here. I’m using it for recipes, but also as a research tool for the garden and for a couple of scholarly articles I’m working on. I can see some potential issues with respect to image copyrights—I suspect that Pinterest is relying a bit forcefully on safe harbor clauses, and the fact that what users are doing with scraped images is pretty much what search engines do with scraped images. I notice that as of today, Pinterest allows rights-holders to opt out of having their content used.

The Academy Doesn’t Prepare Humanists for Publishing Professionally

When I was filling out all the paperwork for filing at UCLA, not even the library seemed terribly clued in to copyright. For instance, as part of the filing process, UCLA students are asked to grant permission to ProQuest to microfilm the dissertation. Page 26 of the UCLA Graduate Division Policies and Procedures for Thesis and Dissertation Preparation and Filing states:

Students are required to complete and sign the ProQuest Agreement form regardless of whether they do or do not copyright the dissertation. Signing the form does not affect control of the manuscript; it simply allows ProQuest to microfilm the manuscript for UCLA.

I did not waive my copyright; despite having the library return the form to me, with the instruction to waive my copyright, I refused. I also did not give ProQuest/UMI permission to sell my dissertation.

So imagine my surprise when in June of 2009 I received a letter from ProQuest that included the following:

We see that you didn’t order pre-publication with our previous discount, but you can still order at a special price. The standard hardbound edition, which is normally $74, is just $46 now, a 40% savings! And if you order multiple copies, you can save even more. Consider who else might want to have a quality-bound copy of your work: your advisor, your committee, the graduate school, mentors, or even colleagues or family.

Remember, I explicitly indicated that I did not want my dissertation offered for sale; the reason I didn’t want it offered for sale is that ProQuest/UMI charges too much, even for unbound copies. Graduate students, the people most likely to be purchasing dissertations for research, don’t really have spare cash.

I wrote ProQuest; I got back a form letter basically saying, yes, in fact, there were “two restrictions” on my dissertation and they would remove it from their catalog. As far as I know they have, and I’m gratified, but I also less than happy that UCLA provided ProQuest/UMI with my contact information; UCLA did not have my consent.

Despite the pressure, and sometimes, encouragement and mentoring to publish in scholarly journals during graduate school, humanists, including tenured and well-published faculty, seem astonishingly clueless about trade publishing or book-length publishing. I’ve sat on more than one hiring committee for English creative writing instructors whose c.v. includes vanity published books. I’ve even seen PublishAmerica as the publisher of record. That’s not really acceptable as an academic credential, any more than a self-published book should be acceptable as a qualifying publication for hiring, promotion, or tenure.

By the way; while I’m not OK with someone else profiting from selling my dissertation, I’m quite willing to give it away. If you want a bound copy, why not take a look at lulu.com?

Trials and Tribulations

I managed to avoid commenting on the first pseudonymous Chronicle of Higher Education article by “Ivan Tribble,” “Bloggers Need Not Apply. Tribble’s piece included a less than professional description of the academic review process, one that didn’t reflect well on either the author or the school. I thought Tribble was, well, profoundly clueless. I noted that a number of others who are wiser, smarter, and better writers than I am said what needed to be said, so decided not to comment. I was more than somewhat amused to notice that a week later the Chronicle published an article urging academic book authors to promote themselves and their books with a blog.

When Tribble published an even dafter follow-up to his first appearance, “They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?” I only knew that the piece had been published because of a reference in Quod She by Dr. Virago, and comments from a few other bloggers. I noted that Tribble’s complacency and pompousness had devolved to a snide whine.

In the initial post, as Dr. Virago points out, Tribble complains that the bloggers interviewed for a recent job essentially provided too much information about their personal lives. He isolates three specific examples, including one engaging in misrepresentation, one that essentially suffers from “TMI,” Too Much Information or personal revealation, and one blogger he identifies as “Professor Turbo Geek,” who has an obvious interest in digital technology. Regarding the “Turbo Geek,” Tribble writes:

It’s one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can’t afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.

I suppose I should be filled with umbrage; I certainly qualify as a Turbo Geek, albeit not a professor, but I’m more interested in Tribble’s scholarly cluelessness. Many schools are delighted to hire humanist scholars who know enough Perl to write text parsers, analysis tools, or concordances, scholars who routinely teach with technology, and know where to find a Yogh in Unicode and the best way to digitize a manuscript leaf under ultraviolet, and how to properly utilize online databases for bibliographic research.

The naivete of comments like this one, again from the first essay, made me realize I was dealing with someone truly clueless:

We’ve seen the hapless job seekers who destroy the good thing they’ve got going on paper by being so irritating in person that we can’t wait to put them back on a plane. Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know “the real them” — better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn’t want to know more.

As a job applicant interviewer and potential academic with “Turbo Geek” cred, I look at the situation differently. I’d have googled applicants before the interview, and any applicants the committee had reservations about would have been set aside in favor of more suitable prospects. That’s fairly common, and has been for at least five years. Frankly, when I apply for jobs, academic or geek, I’m doing a fair amount of googling myself regarding my prospective employer and colleagues. I check Nexus-Lexus, and various other proprietary data sources as well as the usual on and off-line bibliographic sources. I’m likely to talk to or e-mail people I know, in industry or the academy, to ask them about my prospective colleagues and employer. It’s not like background checks are new, after all. When I’m hiring, after the interview, I call the references and talk to them—often this is the point where you really learn about candidates, since much of the other data is carefully constructed by a candidate with specific rhetorical goals.

In his follow-up piece Tribble concludes:

As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don’t “get it.” That’s right, I don’t. Many in the tenured generation don’t, and they’ll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

It’s true, Tribble doesn’t “get it,” but he’s fortunately part of a rapidly shrinking minority. Yes, people do write stupid things in blogs, and some people write inappropriate or unprofessional posts—and some are fired for it. Intellectually engaged schools and companies have blogging policies, and that helps enormously. It’s been my experience that the people who are truly unprofessional online (and I’m not convinced Tribble’s initial three example bloggers are) are likely to be unprofessional off-line as well. These issues are hardly exclusive to the ‘net; they happen in traditional publications, and coffee shops and living rooms too. Some people even write editorials delineating inappropriate hiring practices.