This book gives me a headache!

I’m not a book club sort of person.  When a title called “Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World” was brought to my attention at work, it was briefly described with questions like “Can everyone be a historian?  Can everyone be a curator?”  Got my attention.

Words mean things.  Can simply anyone do these things?  Not without proper training and experience.  Yet the book seemed to imply that “expertise” and “experience” are things of the past and anyone can call themselves anything and do anything, just like that.

Stand in a garage and call yourself a Porsche…it doesn’t make it so!

Trying to read the first part of the book, and seeing how the writers and contributors appeared to be wanton iconoclasts bent on randomly redefining well-established terms like “historian” and “curator” to suit their own fancies while implying that any 4th grader with a smart phone can become an instant “curator” was instantly aggravating.  A well-meaning high schooler can’t tell you how to conserve century-old textiles.  A wannabe 5th grader might “curate” his own bubble gum well enough but won’t have a clue how to triage flood-damaged parchment or determine proper lighting levels for a tintype photograph.  The woman down the street may fancy herself a “historian” but not have a clue about primary source materials or principles of effective interpretation.

“Curator?” “Historian?” “Expert?” BAH!

Three pages into the book and I actually had a headache.

More reading and I understood better what most of these folks were trying to say.  And much of it is very good: we have changing audiences, with changing expectations of museums (and come to think of it, changing expectations of everything).  We need new or adapted techniques for engaging these audiences.

Problem is, words mean things.  “Curator” or “historian” are professional positions with very specific skill sets that, I’m sorry, not simply anyone can do.  Same for a physician, or a dentist, or a chemist, or even a taxi driver.  (Trust me, I’m an excellent driver, but you don’t want me trying to shuttle you around NYC.)

Can most anyone be prevailed upon to share their stories, contribute their experiences to a research project that will fuel a museum display, tag/label/explain photos?  Absolutely, and in many ways keeping in touch with our history contributes to our being human.

I do not concur with iconoclasm for its own sake.

“Everyone can be a curator?”  Really? 

Where did I put the Advil?

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an unwelcome ungulate

November 6, 2011, around 8:40 AM.  Driving to work in the relatively new Scion.  In sight of the entrance to my place of work, and I have last minute preparations for a volunteer appreciation day, which I’m to emcee.  Bursting into my peripheral vision, entering stage left, and appearing full speed as out of nowhere down a driveway partly occluded by scrub brush is a rather large whitetail deer.  My appreciation for ABS is extensive and is that appreciation remains undimmed.  But while my car is so equipped, the deer was not. 

the scion, post-deer

Car: 0 Deer: 0

Skidding on the pavement and smashing into first the left front of the car, then folding in to smash the right front of the car, the non-ABS deer then continued as my ABS brought me to a safe stop.  Quick — check the rearview — all clear — check oncoming traffic — all clear — check the rearview — all clear…limp the car over to the side of the road.  Call the police, call the insurance company, call my wife.  And call the office so they know I’ll be a bit late. 

Poor deer not only had no ABS but also had no air bags, and no way she was going to live to tell the story.  A quick end would have been preferable, but not that fortunate.  (There’s now a story circulating some smalltown bar in northern New York about how a park ranger dispatched a mortally wounded deer with a tomahawk.  Nothing like hyperbole to make for interesting stories.)

I was fine, the car was a wreck, and the events continued as follows.

My volunteer appreciation day went very well. 

The garage sent my car to a Toyota/Scion dealership with full body shop about 15 minutes away.  Two days later, the body shop manager made comments like, “You know how I said the repairs would be X dollars?  Well, I think we can accomplish everything we need to for a bit less.  And, I think we can do the repairs with factory parts now,”  and a few days later,  “You know how I said it would be ready in three weeks? Well, I forgot that the technician working on it doesn’t usually leave until 8 or 9 PM, and we close at 5, and he usually does an 8 hour day on Saturdays, when we’re closed.  It should be ready by this coming Friday.  And you know how I said it would now be X dollars?  Well, I think we can have it done a little less than that”

Next, a call to the insurance company, since the final dollar amount was about $6.50 less than the repairs-minus-deductible check they sent, and my sense of justice was flashing a yellow light of guilt.  Explaining the situation to the agent, and how their check paid for everything, even without my deductible, she sounded a bit surprised by the call, and had “to check with someone else.” Three minutes later, the reply was, “Well, I think we can call it done, since everything has been repaired to your satisfaction and you’re back on the road.  Oh, and by the way, this conversation is being recorded, so you don’t need to worry about anything changing.”

Walked away without a scratch.  Had a great event for our volunteers.  Got the car back.  Great experience with the garage.  Great experience with the insurance company.

Anyone want a reference for a great Toyota/Scion dealership and a great insurance company?  I’ll gladly share.

Bendicamus Domine!

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A change of pace

It’s been about 5 years since buying a Chevy Malibu Maxx, a car masquerading as a station wagon.  Seemed to be a good idea at the time.  I wanted something not-too-big, but not-too-small, decent on fuel efficiency, not too high in mileage, but also able to carry a fair amount of gear.  This last point was also an important consideration, as my occasional tinsmithing demonstrations require transporting a fair bit of equipment –hand tools, bench stakes, tool box, portable table, work bench, etc. 

The car had its strengths, and its weaknesses.  When I told my mechanic I was getting the vehicle, he said “Hmmm, 3.5 liter engine.  Pretty reliable.  Haven’t worked on one of those cars before, so it’ll be a good learning experience for us both!”  When he got a look under the hood, however, his observation was less than delightful.  “We definitely weren’t impressed with what we saw.”  Fateful words, it would turn out.  On top of that, with a 3.5 liter V6 engine, while well able to get out of its own way, it ended up being a bit thirstier than I would have liked. 

Over the next few years, we found out the good quality of the normally reliable Chevy Malibu was not passed along to its wannabe-wagon kid brother.  Instead of a front axle it had two control arms.  These were made of aluminum –“can you say ‘bendable’, boys and girls?” The ball joints, in other cars designed as removable and replaceable items, were here attached to the control arms.  But ball joints wear out, and

replacing the entire control arm was needed.  Then, bad ball joints led to bent tie rods.  In combination, this meant replacing all this equipment on nearly an annual basis, to the tune of about $750.

After two such repairs under its serpentine belt, and a third pending, plus near ly 100K miles, it was time for a change of pace.  Fuel efficiency also cried out for relief, with gas at over $4 a gallon.

Time for improved cargo space, better fuel efficiency, much lower mileage, reliability and admittedly, a touch less power.  I’m now “Scion” over my land holdings. (Quick! Check the dictionary.)

the unnamed gray Scion

…still haven’t thought of a name for her…

…And, (looking at my draft story, now over a year old) after just over a year of owning it, I’m still happy with it.  Had a few adventures with it, including one unfortunate meeting with a less fortunate ungulate.  But that’s another story.

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Seeing with different eyes

   When I was around 10 years old, my dad’s parents sold their house –their first, which my grandfather had built.  In their new home they had, as long as I can remember, a lamp made of tools.  I used to think, “Uuff!  How awful!  That’s ugly.”

Over time, and many visits, I kept looking at the lamp, staring at it.  I eventually realized I was studying it, the tools on it, thinking about how they were once used.

Most of these were woodworking tools:  a block plane, drill bit, calipers, clamp, draw knife –these I understood.  I knew why they would have been meaningful to my grandfather; he was a carpenter, and a cabinetmaker by trade.  There was also a kerosene lantern, converted to electric with a small, flickering bulb.  In hindsight, it might have reminded him of his early childhood, and probably of his days with the Civilian Conservation Corps.

One tool stood out as strange: a wooden handle with a thin iron shaft and a tapered block of copper.

Only about 9 years ago did I really begin to understand, and to connect.  That’s the time I started to learn tinsmithing, historic sheet metal work.  The tool in question was a soldering copper, used by sheet metal workers to solder, or join, pieces of sheet metal together.

My grandfather died in 2007.  I’m fortunate to have a few of his woodworking pieces, some of his tools, and this lamp.  Once it was quite unattractive to me.  Now, the lamp is a poignant reminder to me, and in hindsight, it became for me a doorway to a continuing legacy.

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(Cyber)Space…my next frontier

So here I am, exploring a far-from-final frontier.  I’ve learned quite a bit about Web 1.0 from roughly 10 years of writing and managing several websites, and now, it’s time to start learning about Web 2.0.

OK, so I’m not completely new to Web 2.0. Like many other sentient earthlings, and heaven knows how many pets, escapee reptiles, and rubber chickens, I got started with Facebook. 

Time for some new learning.  Ahead warp factor 2 …engage!

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