Saturday, September 21, 2013

River of Dust

Recently at CHIP (Communicaid for Hearing Impaired Persons), there was a collection of old VHS tapes that the staff were considering throwing out, because they hadn't used the boxes in an age of DVDs,
and furthermore,  the material on them was from the 80's, and was woefully outdated by now.
However, I talked them out of excising the stuff too soon, and even offered to make some copies by transferring them to DVD, because, hey, you never know.  Somebody might want a particular clip from one of those tapes sometime in the future.  So far, the person who was supposed to go through the tapes hasn't had a chance to do so yet, but it brought up that unfortunate reality of objects of potential historical value - there's too much undocumented and unlabeled stuff out there to ever be categorized entirely.

It reminded me of the subject of Broken Records by Siobhan Roberts that was featured in Saturday Night, a weekly Canadian magazine.  In it, it lamented that our Canadian historical archives are becoming increasingly backlogged without proper maintenance or organization, and is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain as more stuff is included to their already-bursting collection.

The ironic thing is that while the main text version has remained intact online, there's no archived collection of Seth's contribution to the article.  What you see here are photocopies of the relevant missing pages that were taken while I was taking my course on library archives.  A copy of a copy, as it were.

Part of the problem with having an excess of information is that so much of it gets passed over for more recent stuff that's more identifiable to the public.  One of the faults against Google is that they favor more updated news and rumours while neglecting old websites that might have more informative and in-depth articles.  The loss of Geocites and Altavista pages that haven't been backed up via Internet Archive is incalculable.

Much of what is mentioned certainly has some historical value, but the number of people who'd be interested in such items would have no idea that such things exist in the first place.  One of the jobs of a library archivist is not just to accumulate items of worth, but also to slim down the amount of material into something that would be contained in the human mind.  This involves weeding the impressive backlog of old books that have either been neglected or too damaged to be worth keeping.

Certainly there's some valuable information buried within the large collection of boxes, but finding and categorizing the relevant items to parties who would find them useful is outpaced by the sheer amount of available resources versus available and reliable staff capable of sifting throughout the material and sorting them into proper categorizational locations.  And God forbid if you should come across an item that has cross-referential descriptions.  Do you risk putting it in one category where it'd have more in common with the subject, or lump it in its own individual classification where it'd be more likely to be neglected and ignored?  Cross-promotional mixing of similar and dissimilar ideas is one of the cornerstones of creative imagination, and not having archives available for viewing is considered another loss.

In view of the recent flooding disasters that ruined many valuable artifacts and historical records just before they were going to be scanned for posterity this can be seen as either a lost opportunity too late or getting rid of lead weight.  What's worse?  To lose history to natural disasters or to store away valuable items where they'll never be appreciated?

The items can vary from photos, documents, radio interviews, cult commercials and videos that are becoming increasingly corroded to the ravages of time, even with protective elements in place to guard off vermin and mold.  It's one of the cruel ironies of life that the more recent writings has less of a shelf life than scribes written down on papyrus scrolls or parchment.  The latter has survived legibility for years while the former is lucky to last a decade at most without backups.

And yet, updating the documents to compressed computer records just presents another dilemma - by the time all the relevant items had been transferred to the latest digital database, the archived components would be obsolete.  It's an ever-increasing race against Bohm's law that's the inverse of Zeno's paradox.  Every time we started moving our archives to another reliable location, there's an as-yet technical innovation that'll render all our efforts useless.  The closer we get to our goal, the further away it gets away from us.

This is further compounded by by the sheer amount of information available and how people attach sentimental value to some things, and not others.  We're more likely to lament old books read in our youth that's now largely unavailable, because we were confident that we could retain the contents in our heads indefinitely, or we'd simply outgrown the stuff and didn't need it anymore.  Trying to explain the appeal of these nostalgic items without visual aids is an exercise in futility unless somebody out there happens to have enough storage space to hold everything of value ever.

Some items I've once owned that I got rid of that I now have nostalgic pinings for include:

  • The early McDonaldLand Fun Times with their painted covers, rather than the later pamphlets that were less polished and more of a rush job.  It's always discouraging to see quality commercial products disintegrate before your eyes, and that's where I first learned my painful lesson about the decline of corporate merchandise.

  • My Sesame Street magazines.  I've kept my collection of Chickadee and Electric Company / Kid City and the occasional World and Owl magazines, even though I'm long past the required reading age, simply because I can still recall my innermost thoughts when going through these entertaining educational primers.  I have no memory of any of the inside articles, save for a few cutouts of the cut & paste pages, I have no idea what the contents of the magazine were like.  I even had the double-page spread of a Halloween special used for the exterior of a TV set costume.  Sadly, all shots of me in disguise are out of focus, and the page I used for the picture is lost.

  • A Dukes of Hazard 3D comic that was included in a cereal box.  A quick search gave the hint that they might've come from Shreddies, but without seeing the interior, I have no way of knowing if it's the same one I remember.  The interior had something to do with a beauty contest, and Boss Hogg stealing Daisy away so his less-than-pretty wife would stand a chance at winning.  Like the show, it was hardly anything that would be considered high art.  What I most remember is out-of-focus cars in red and blue zooming along every other page, and dialogue consisting of "They got Daisy!" and  "Come here, Daisy!", and a judge declaring "The winner!" to a crowd of spectators, while an old man and his wife looked miserable.  There was also a Dukes of Hazard Wallet, but since I never saw the show, I didn't attach much sentimental value to it.  Too bad - it probably would've fetched a pretty penny.
  • Not owned, but a lavishly illustrated children's library book titled "The Bath", where a boy cautioned not to play with the knobs ignores his mother's advice, and playful creatures as well as water pours out of the faucet.  It starts out fun at first with his rubber ducky, but eventually, the water takes on oceanic proportions and the once-friendly creatures start becoming more menacing, including one that somehow manages to light the seas on fire, and a robotic one splashing water HARD.  All the while, there was an ever-looming warning that his mother would be coming back to see this mess in a few minutes.  The nightmare only ended when his anthropomorphic duck got the idea to pull the bathtub.  It was awesomely terrifying, and I'm sorry I can't find any information on it.
  • Also neglected are the various 80's Transformers toys that I played with, with most of their custom boxes and styrofoam packing intact.  The main reason for getting rid of them was that they were becoming more of a chore to transform into their respective shapes.  (Sixshot in particular)  Also, Astrotrain had a wire that kept falling off one of its wings, and Bruticus chest plate kept falling off.  That, and freeing up room in my closet for my books.  Years later, I could swear that I saw one of my toys, Metroplex being up for display at a convention for a far higher price than I'd originally asked for.  But I'm not bitter.  I had my fun with them, and still have fond memories of playing with them.  Besides, I still have the mini-pamphlet advertising books included in every box.
  • I don't have too much significant attachment to other children's toys, but there's two I have fond memories of - one is the Fischer Price ringing apple, whose chime was strangely relaxing to my ears.  The other was a Tomy Tutor Play Computer which would slowly produce educational images similar to dial-up access to the internet.  The added benefit was that by pressing the space bar, you could have the pixelated effects become slightly animated on the screen.

The following aren't exactly material, but are a few video game oddities I've come across that I haven't seen mentioned or repeated anywhere:

  • There was an odd glitch in Super Mario Bros. 2 where I slammed a POW block at the same time I picked up a key.  The resulting earthquake somehow forced me to the top of the level, bypassing the ceiling of world 3-3.  This game-breaking glitch meant I had to restart since there was no timer and no enemies up there.
  • In Banjo-Tooie, you get a cutscene if you manage to rescue every Jinjo before facing the last boss.  However, if you take the hard route and skip over every Jinjo in the game, you'll get a different cutscene of King Jingaling all alone with no Jinjos around to celebrate.  Whenever I've replayed the game using the extra-speed cheat, I always get the celebratory video.  Having gotten used to the super-fast mode of Kazooie's running, I can't play it normally to see it again.  It's not even available on Youtube!
  • I managed to collect all the items in Majora's Mask in one day, save for a heart container that's only available if I beat the Goron Mountain boss.  I could get it by beating him, but then I'd miss the opening caption from Tatl when I re-enter a finished temple for the first time.  The 4th dungeon animation is quite interesting since it starts off from an extreme close-up, and then rotates around to Link's entrance.


  1. I do agree with you. You will never really know when you’re going to need VHS tapes. Classics like those will show us how fast the time has flown and really bring back all sorts of memories from back then, which I think is worth treasuring.
    Ruby Badcoe