Procrastination Productivity

Why is it hard to write if you’re an academic? Or anyone, really. (I mean, look at all the languishing blogs with good intentions out there!) Rachel Toor writes in the The Chronicle about what she describes as “procrastination productivity”:

I tackle the things I think I can handle, do them, get a vague sense of accomplishment, and then go back to feeling crappy about what I’m not doing. I have a hunch I’m not alone in that. I have a hunch, based purely on anecdotal evidence, that I am not the only one in academe who suffers from procrastination productivity.

It’s not as if the things I’m accomplishing aren’t worthy and important. They’re fine. They’re good. But they’re not what I think I’m supposed to be doing. Likewise, some of my friends, when they have books due, become master gardeners. Or knit complicated sweaters. I have been the recipient of many extravagant meals because someone didn’t want to work on an article. There have been houses built in place of manuscript pages.

For example, I like my blog despite the dearth of posts. Despite trying the “postaweek” idea, I don’t get around to it much. The good part is that I have published an article and a review this year, and another article will be submitted by the weekend. So things are happening, but . . . there are always these things to do that amount to “vacuuming instead of cleaning the toilet.”

Click over to read the full article, “What Looks Like Productivity.”

Blogging Around

SAA 2011 Conference LogoLast week I attended the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting—colloquially known as SAA. (Oh, and I also presented a poster based on my research in digital video preservation and public television news archiving, which deals with the American Black Journal Collection at MATRIX.) It was interesting despite the conference being held at the Chicago Hyatt, which is currently under a boycott from workers unions and made attending the conference rather awkward for those of us who are trying to build professional contacts but also conscious of workers’ rights.

The exciting part is that I was asked by Rose L. Chou to contribute to a roundup of reflections by graduate student attendees at SAA. Thanks to Rose for inspiring me to reinvigorate the blog, at least briefly! You can read the retrospective on SAA 2011 at the Hack Library School blog. Enjoy!

Ethics, Access, Libraries, Wikileaks

Somebody just sent me a link to Bill Sleeman‘s take on libraries and Wikileaks (presented at University of Wisconsin in January). I thought it was quite good, and as usual I’m responding slowly (that is, late in the game). Sleeman raises a few good questions about Wikileaks, commends the Library of Congress for initially blocking access, and also suggests that the American Library Association (ALA) may have moved a bit too quickly in its resolution to broadly support Assange and Wikileaks last year. Among the points Sleeman raises are:

  • What were and are Assange’s and Wikileaks motivations?
  • Is it ethical to provide access to information spuriously gained? Is is event possible to authenticate the documents from the Wikileaks dump of last year?
  • What unitnended consequences might arise from the case? For example, it may trigger greater Federal oversight of libraries, or greater control of the Internet.

At the same time, Sleeman’s suggestion that the Wikileaks information is “stolen” is questionable. Certainly, the documents (and their resultant digital information objects) may be taken without permission, but nothing was really stolen. Or was it? As suggests, “Copying is not theft.”
I don’t have any answers, but Sleeman’s piece is worth a read, and it’s good to see not everyone blindly following the herd for ideological reasons alone.

Crazy Energy Wastage!

I’m not dogmatic about energy usage, but by and large it seems like a good idea to encourage efficient energy use and lower volume consumption in most cases. This is especially true during winter months. For example, if you want to heat a room, save money, and also save energy, it would be a good idea not to leave a window open during the winter months. Am I right? Does this sound like a crazy concept to you?

Well, if you were the facilities managers for the University of Michigan‘s Burton Memorial Tower, you might think this was a radical approach. Not many people have offices here, but there are enough that it should be a priority. After all, the University prides itself on being “green” (and blue), and the most recent sustainability report suggests that energy use is down! Nonetheless, the window in my office in the building is actually bolted in such a way that it is open an entire inch at the top! A temporary duct-tape fix has been tried for the past few years, but obviously this doesn’t work too well. It’s difficult to get one of those plastic barriers to attach because of the way that the blinds are attached to the window. The upshot of this situation is that when I came to the office today, there was literally a half-inch of snow on the inside of the window! When I stand near the window, I can feel the draft and also feel the little snowflakes blowing in! (See the photo above.) Now, this does not seem like energy efficiency to me. In fact, it seems like negligence. For unknown reasons, the University has decided not to replace the windows in the building for years despite faculty requests. I don’t expect a fix in the middle of this snowstorm we’re having, but I hope that attention is given to this problem in the near future! By a cursory glance at the energy usage statistics, screenshot at right, it is clear that steam use is up this year for every month. This suggests a possible action to me: adjust current windows correctly, and replace them as soon as it becomes feasible. (They still need to open during the summer for ventilation, but there should not be freely flowing indrafts in the middle of the season’s biggest blizzard yet!)

As you can see, the 2011 year-on-year use is up... and the windows are bolted open...

Instruments in Museums

A klezmer exhibit at the MIM.

The MIM klezmer exhibit.

A couple weeks ago now, NPR ran a short piece that featured the Musical Instrument Museum (the MIM). Ted Robbins quotes director Bill DeWalt noting that the museum is, ironically, “one of the most quiet museums you’ll ever be in.” The reason is that the sound samples illustrating the instruments are heard on headphones. This is the trend in musical museums, I believe, and it matches what I experienced five years ago at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague. Headphones and digital files are certainly one of the amazing technologies that offer a better experience to musical instrument museums!

Last year, when the MIM opened, however, Edward Rothstein was a bit more critical in his New York Times review. Comparing the museum to a “department store” because of its size and architecture, the criticism seemed to be that the collection is too large and lacks a focus in display:

Think of instruments, too, as a kind of raw material that you are confronted with as you walk through the expansive exhibit spaces of this $250 million museum. It is material that the institution celebrates, promotes and sometimes illuminates, and it makes the museum of immediate interest. But the possibilities, for now, are more compelling than the achievements.

Though I saw the museum before its exhibits were fully mounted (and obtained images, text and plans for what was missing), the impact of this institution is in its size, nerve and astonishing quality and character of parts of its collection. But it seems unfinished in ways that should be examined.

In any case, I want to go to the museum, and I encourage anybody in Phoenix to check it out! Have you been? What do you think?

The Musical Instrument Museum is at 4725 East Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix; (480) 478-6000;

Copyright, Education, Access and "Other" Media

In the CLIR report “Why Digitize?” (1999), Abby Smith suggests that digitization offered great potential for increasing the access to hard-to-find collections or fragile collections. There are, as she notes, some major problems:

The notion on the part of many young students that, if it is not on the Web or in an online catalog, then it must not exist, has the effect of orphaning the vast majority of information resources, especially those that are not in the public domain. This is not what the Framers had in mind when they wrote the copyright code into the Constitution, “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” This skewed representation of created works on the Web will continue for quite some time into the future, and the complications that surround moving image and recorded sound rights means, ironically, that these will be the least accessible resources on the most dynamic information source around.

This points to a fundamental tension that complicates the existence and use of audiovisual materials in many museum and archival collections: copyright and access. If the purpose of copyright was to promote innovation and progress, then copyright certainly isn’t doing its job anymore but serving the purposes of corporations and profit. There’s currently an important review of copyright going on, which will affect audiovisual materials in the U.S., particularly the access of copyrighted recordings held in research collections.

The Society for Ethnomusicology just released a position statement regarding copyright. You can learn more by reading the statement (click to link).

Fusion Instruments

I recently caught a profile of the duo Būke and Gāss on NPR. There are many wonderful new groups and recordings out there, but this one caught my ear because of the emphasis on handcrafted, fusion instruments that are the duo’s hallmark. Their name, in fact, is based on hybrid instrument names!

The toe-bourine

The toe-bourine. Photo by Abby Verbosky/NPR


  • Būke: a six-string ukulele with a baritone range
  • Gāss: a guitar that includes bass strings (and it’s also made from body parts of an old Volvo!)

Hence the group’s name. They also include other homegrown originals, such as the “toe-bourine” (at right). The style is also a bit eclectic, described on WNYC’s Soundcheck as “ornate distorto-twang.” They hail from Brooklyn and, to hazard a guess, fit into the urban hillbilly mode (or perhaps what Eric Cook calls home mode production).

More Info and Listening!
The full NPR profile from 27 December 2010 is available here, and it includes the sound file from the interview. Listen to and watch a video of the duo in the NPR Tiny Desk Concert here. You can listen to the full Soundcheck piece here, or check out the WNYC Culture blog’s review of the duo’s debut album Riposte.