The CPSR Compiler - August 2007
The CPSR Compiler - August 2007 - 1.3
COMPUTER PROFESSIONALS for SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Turning Thoughts to Actions
- Working in the CPSR Archives
- WANT TO HELP ORGANIZE CPSR'S ARCHIVES?
- IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS 08)
- CPSR "Who Voted" Nears Release
- Reminder: Board Election This Month
Paper archives are dangerous. For the past several weeks, I've been standing knee-deep in paper untouched by human hands for decades, sorting through decaying files and strange pamphlets, breathing so much dust that I cough all night afterwards. It's even worse for archivists and librarians who work with materials that are older than a century: they report that spores and mold on materials give them headaches, short-term memory loss, diminished lung capacity, and severe allergies.
Back in 1994, an archivist working with century-old materials in an antique schoolhouse wrote an e-mail to a conservation listserv that sounded so ominous it could practically have been the introduction to a Stephen King novel. “For several months I sorted through water-damaged ledgers and artifacts. Many were covered with a black soot-like dust,” she wrote. “After a few months, I noticed I was losing my balance, my short-term memory was failing, and I began dropping things.” Years later, after her lung capacity had dropped 36% percent and her memory was damaged permanently, a doctor finally diagnosed her. She'd been poisoned by mold on the archival materials she'd devoted her life to preserving.
A letter published in /Nature/ in 1978 points out that old books and papers actually develop infections, colloquially called “foxing,” that look like a “yellowish-brown patch” on the page. That patch, explain the letter-writers, is actually a lesion caused by fungus growing on the book “under unfavorable conditions.” Today, most libraries recommend
that conservationists working in archives with old materials and books wear HEPA masks.
My archival adventures this month don't involve foxing, or brain-damaging mold. I'm preserving an historical paper trail that's too recent to have gone toxic. In fact, I'm in the odd position of trying to organize the papers of CPSR, whose entire mission since 1980 has been to promote the ethical uses of technology, and to build a prosocial paperless future.
With all the dangers of paper archives, and all the love for computers at CPSR, why bother to preserve the organization's papers at all? Why not, as one member of CPSR asked me, just scan everything and create a digital version of CPSR history? There are many reasons why not, but all of them boil down to two things: scale and redundancy.
Over the past quarter century, CPSR has accumulated 65 crates of papers, and 9 tall, metal filing cabinets full of records. Some of the papers are cracking with age; some are old faxes or personal letters on onionskin paper; some are pamphlets or zines; some are poster-sized programs; others are little, folded stacks of handwritten notes. There are photographs, floppy disks, VHS tapes, and even a reel of film.
Even if we had all the resources of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit which is scanning books onto the Web at a rapid clip, the CPSR scanning project would take a lot of time and labor. More to the point, we aren't scanning regular papers and books. A librarian from UC Berkeley who did some volunteer work on the CPSR archives last weekend looked horrified when I suggested that we scan everything in. "Sure you could scan some of this stuff," he said. "But a lot of this needs special care." The point is that we have so many kinds of archival material that we'd need specialists who knew how to scan them properly without damaging the originals.
Plus, how would we store and label each item we'd scanned? Every single one would need to be put into a portable, open file format and labeled with data by hand to identify it. That's a project that could take months if done by a team of pros, and years if it's being done by volunteers. So part of creating a paper archive is simply a matter of pragmatism. It's easier to preserve history on paper.
This isn't to say we don't want to scan the parts of our archives that can be. It's simply that the process isn't as easy or as fast as we might like.
Even when parts of the CPSR archive have been scanned, though, we will still need a paper backup copy of our history. I love online archives as much as the next geek, but what happens when the servers blow out? When we stop having enough power to run data storage centers for progressive nonprofits?
Even if digital disasters don't strike, history is preserved through redundancy. The more copies we have of CPSR's history, in multiple formats, the more likely it is that generations to come will remember how a brave group of computer scientists in the 1980s spoke out against the Star Wars missile defense system so loudly that the world listened.
When it comes to preserving history, every digital archive should have a paper audit trail.
-- Annalee Newitz (adapted from her syndicated column Techsploitation)
We have a few more Archive meetups this month at CPSR's San Francisco
Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2-5 PM
Sunday, Aug. 26, 2-5 PM
Write to annalee (at) techsploitation.com to sign up for one of these dates.
We also need people to volunteer to shred several large bags of old donation statements with personal information on them. Does your company have an industrial shredder? Please consider stopping by the CPSR offices and taking a bag to shred. Contact annalee (at)techsploitation.com to sign up for shredding duty!
ISTAS 08 will be held June 26-28 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.
ISTAS is the annual symposium of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology <http://www.ieeessit.org>.
The themes for ISTAS 08 are: /Citizens, Groups, Communities and Information and Communication Technologies/.
Susan O'Donnell and William McIver, Jr.
National Research Council Canada
Institute for Information Technology
Further information: http://istas08.ca
Jeffrey Gerard is finishing his last week as a Google-sponsored Summer of Code student. The Who Voted application profiled in the last Compiler now works, but requires database optimization and importation of tens of millions more voting records before we do a public release in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, CPSR board member Fyodor has recorded a podcast with the Summer of Code team at Google. There he talks about CPSR, the Who Voted project, and also the students he is mentoring for his Nmap Security Scanner project. Listen to the podcast at http://googlesummerofcode.blogspot.com/ .
During August-September of 2007, CPSR will hold elections to fill a number of at-large seats on its Board of Directors. These will all be for three-year terms. All regularly elected positions take effect on September 30, 2007.
Candidate statements are online here:
We are also excited to report that we will be trying out the Punchscan <http://punchscan.org> secure voting system for this election.
Here's how Punchscan works: Each CPSR member will receive an email containing a link to a PDF ballot. These links are secured using SSL and each one is unique. Voters may also choose to receive a paper ballot by post. Votes may be cast using dynamic PDF files on your computer or printed and marked using an ink pen.
Ballots will be distributed via e-mail on August 27, 2007. Those requesting a physical ballot must make their request by August 25, 2007. Paper ballots will be mailed to the address of the requesting member that is on file at CPSR as of May 1. All requests for paper ballots should be sent to:
4335 Van Nuys Blvd.
Sherman Oaks CA 91403
or faxed to:
* About the CPSR Compiler:
The CPSR Compiler is a monthly notice with short updates on recent activities of our members and opportunities to engage in the development of the public voice through CPSR projects.
To report news for future issues, email a sentence or two (and URL if available) to cpsr (at) cpsr.org -- please begin your subject header with "FOR COMPILER: " for reliable recognition.
* About CPSR:
CPSR provides a discussion and project space where individuals can contribute to the public debate and design of our global digital future. Through CPSR's chapters and working groups, members focus on regional and civic issues developing the public voice. To ensure a democratic future in a time of intense globalization, the voice of the public must command a prominent position on the world stage. CPSR frames and channels the public voice.
When in doubt about how to get more out of your CPSR membership, refer to the Activists Handbook or email [ cpsr (at) cpsr (dot) org ] to get help in getting the most out of your membership.
To get involved in policy work through CPSR, consider joining one of CPSR's Working Groups or email [ cpsr (at) cpsr (dot) org ] about starting a new one.
CPSR-Activists is the main members forum of CPSR, where the board and members discuss current policy and organizational issues. Only subscribed members can post to this list.
(c) Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility 2007
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Last modified October 07, 2007 07:44 PM