josh knowles presents
"Small Thoughts"

Permanent Collection of Personal Documents
February 16, 2002

The afternoon's calm enough to spend at Kinko's reorganizing my files on

Last year the hard-drive nearly filled up completely. After a few complaints through the admin-list, someone sent a notice of the twenty biggest resource-hogs on the system -- old "chasing" (me) turned up at the number one spot with about 400 megs in use. They've increased their capacity by now, but I've kept up nicely. Before reorganizing (read: removing duplicate files, ditching useless stuff, and downloading to my laptop personal non-web files), I would guess I had about 800MB on the server. Afterwards, probably 500MB. I use the space to house my websites, mp3s (pirated and non), to backup work, and several other people have access to the space, mainly to store their own audio files. Mp3s probably take up most of that space.

Between and my own laptop, I've got quite a collection of personal records. Strange to think that I'll be managing these files for the rest of my life -- from computer to computer, server to server, for the next (possibly) fifty or sixty years. Reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin makes me excited that I'll have all this information about my life to pass on to future generations of Knowles. This makes developing long-term information organization solutions seem especially critical: Physical documents are delicate; digital documents so much more so, when not handled appropriately.

My parents have a strongbox in our den closet. That's their solution. It's a metal, fire-proof briefcase (of sorts) that originals of their most important documents are stored in for maximum protection. They don't store personal documents, like old photographs or writing, though, just mortage paperwork and other financials, birth certificates, and such. My digital strongbox is almost entirely personal. Old school papers. Old journal writing. Old e-mails to friends. The collected papers of Josh Knowles.

I wonder how many other people collect all of their old files and organize them. Coté does, I'm sure. So do most of those like us who enjoy using their computers as their primary creative tool. A digital collection of files can be so nice and easy, I think: no dust, no roach crap, no bulk, no dogears. Digital doesn't degrade, when treated right. I wonder what sort of techniques they use to make sure everything stays in order...

One of my worries is that I'll compress some files and ten years, twenty years, forty years from now come to find that there is no good way to retrieve them. Or that Word 2030 will be unable to read Word 98 files. Much of my work is in plain text format and mp3 format, and I imagine those will stay around for a very long time. In general I try to stay away from software that saves my work in non-open formats, figuring I want control of my files, and that (in this case) simplicity is the best thing. I don't need extra Microsoft Word formatting garbage hanging around the text of my journal entries, for example.

So, I'd say this is a good argument for using open standards: Don't use open standards and you leave in the hands of someone else the power to render you incapable of opening files that contain your work. I don't trust software manufacturers any more than I have to, especially considering the shenannigans I hear about them pulling on a weekly basis (it seems), and I wouldn't trust them to maintain backwards-compatibility any further than they have to.