The Soapy Smell of Memory

Last week I decided to try using old-fashioned bar soap. I remember the options on the shelves when I was a kid. Not so many now. I guess the world has largely left behind bar soap. In case you are wondering, I went with Dial. Spring Rain scent, I believe. A nicely shaped bar designed not to sit in its own puddle of water and dissolve on the edge of the tub. I like it well enough, but more striking was my wife’s response to it. The smell is apparently quite evocative for her. Long whiffs and wistful faraway looks.

It reminded me of a moment a number of years ago when we were in our current house and I, failing to find her preferred dishwashing detergent, picked up a bottle of the great green liquid, Palmolive. (Yes, the one in which that lady was always soaking her fingers back in the 70s.) The first whiff I got while washing dishes one day soon after took me straight back to standing by my paternal grandmother as she washed dishes and I got to dry. And I also remember how she would put a good long squirt of the stuff in the cast iron tub as it filled up so that I would have lots of bubbles.

Such scenes of patience and generosity open up a steady flow of other scenes: the number of checkers games she lost so that I might win, the constant supply of those single-serving cereal boxes in the one of four or five cabinets that her kitchen possessed, the particular trolley car glass that was always at my place at the table — that I had a particular place at the table (at the other end, opposite my grandfather).

Have You Beaten Your Child Lately?

This morning Lily walked up to me and said: “Daddy, don’t beat me.”

I paused, shocked by her request, and instinctively responded: “What?”

“Don’t beat me.”

“What do you mean ‘don’t beat you’? I’ve never beaten you.”

“Yes, you have.”

I was halfway through a longish lecture about how I had never beaten her, that I may have swatted her on the behind a few times in almost four years of life, but never had she really been spanked, let alone beaten in the sense of the word that most people use it. (I have to admit that I was a bit worried that her free use of the word might land us a call from some sort of social service agency.)

And then she said: “Don’t put your shoes and socks on before me.”

And I realized she had fine sense of the word.

The Expense of Field Research

This has been a great week. Two exceptional interviews with two exceptional individuals. On the way back from one of those interviews today, I got on I-10 in Crowley and realized I would probably be a little short for gas for the entire trip back to Lafayette.

So I popped off at Rayne to fill up. The signs announcing $4 a gallon didn’t really make an impression, but the $50 readout on the pump did. Whoa. Suddenly the fact that I am a field researcher became a clear expense. The difference between me and my fellow humanists is not only do they never need to leave their campus offices or their home studies but they don’t have to pump $50 worth of additional gas into their cars or trucks once, or sometimes twice, a week.

And, while I’m thinking about it, that doesn’t include money spent on batteries, hard drives, tapes, and other supplies let alone the money spent on equipment itself: camera, recorder, microphone. Why, why do this? Wouldn’t it be easier to work with existing data, with existing texts? Yes, yes it would. But I think it’s part of my job as a folklorist to add to the archeological record, to bring more people into history, to make data. If that means my job moves more slowly, so be it. But it really would be nice if somehow one got credit for such work. If Project Bamboo’s efforts could somehow lead to my colleagues occasionally recognizing that, it would have done at least this particular field researcher an immense favor.

D2A: Direct to Archive

It’s interesting how not only one’s discipline but also one’s practice within it so sharply shapes your view of methods and technologies both near and far. Reading the [Project Bamboo proposal][pbpro], for example, prompted a field researcher like me to respond that the library is not … [quotation here].

As I noted in [my 4/6 presentation][46] in Chicago, I don’t want to marginalize the library. I want to re-center it as a working repository to which many contribute as well as upon which many draw. All of this means that I see the library, or archive (I will use the two interchangeably), as a collaborator in my research process. One way it can do that is to help warranty the safety of my data. How can it do that?

By acting as my backup? That’s right. The archive needs data to exist, and field researchers need a safe place for their data. The great advantage of the digital age is that copying data is easy and inexpensive — all things considered. Just as importantly, in the digital age I can give the library my data and still have it for myself. In fact, by giving a copy away early and often I guarantee I will have it for myself.

This is something I am calling **Direct to Archive**, or **D2A** for short. One of the greatest chores in going through a collection of recordings, be they images or audio or video or even pages of field notes, is properly sorting, labeling, outlining, and indexing them. It is joyous when you discover something, but in between those moments of joy are long trawls through a variety of materials. (The trawling of course is what sets up the discovery: it’s only by flipping through photo after photo of an artifact that suddenly, to one’s conscious mind but not really suddenly, a pattern emerges.) One does it when you’re logging materials as you gather then, and then there’s the later effort to do something similar when you turn over a box of materials to an archive.

But why wait? Why not simply make the two motions the same? Coders call it DRY, short for “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” The application here is simple. A lot of field researchers are already using some for of digital asset management software (DAM for short). For me, it’s an application like [Adobe’s Lightroom][lr] which I use to organize my images. So right away a couple of important caveats here:

1. I don’t have any good DAM software for audio or for video. (There’s something for a future Project Bamboo team.)*
2. This software only organizes my digital images and the relatively small percentage of film images — slide and print — that I have had the time or wherewithal to digitize.

My current process when I get back from fieldwork is to take the memory cards out of my camera and/or my camera bag and put them in my card reader. I fire up Lightroom to import the images into my library — Lightroom’s own term. That library sits on an external hard drive, but I have the option, which I use, of simultaneously backing up images to another volume. In the image below, you should be able to make out that backing up to another volume, in this case called “StJerome”, can occur even as I am uploading images onto my main volume.

![Lightroom “import” window](http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/import-window.png) *[Click here to embiggen][big].

Why not make that other volume a hard drive sitting in an archive vault somewhere? My current DSL connection probably wouldn’t support it, but it will some day. (I could come close now if I was willing to pay AT&T an exorbitant amount of money every month, but I’m not.) Another alternative would be something like the Flickr export plug-in that someone has already made for Lightroom. Why not a similar plug-in for an archive. All my images in my library not only have all the usual EXIF information, which one day will have GPS already built-in, but I have gone through the trouble of adding a fair number of tags:

* Louisiana
* Boat
* Crawfish Boat
* Gerard Olinger

*All my images?* Yes. Why not? I have nothing to hide, nothing to lose, by making all my images available. Any system could easily make it possible for a researcher uploading his data to later manage it, setting terms and conditions for usage. One easily imagined term is that no materials would be available to the public for two years, three years, five years, or until a certain date. *Et cetera.* In the detail below, you can see that “Flickr” is one possible export. If I can export that easily to my Flickr account, surely I should be able to export to an archives. ([Here’s a complete view of the export window in Lightroom][lrex].)

![Lightroom export detail](http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/export-selection.png)

Such a system would have multiple advantages:

* A researcher would have a reliable back-up.
* Such a system backing one up would also encourage researchers to be more thorough-going in their logging — let’s admit that it helps to have an audience and that might take the edge off a task too easily put off for later.
* Archives would be in a collaborative relationship with researchers from the very beginning of a research project, making it possible not only for archivists and librarians to have a fuller understanding of the research process but also for researchers to have a better understanding of data management. Equally compelling is the opportunity both parties would have in potentially developing new ideas or seeing new things in extant materials. (The old saw about more hands make the work lighter applies here.)
* Finally, archives could guarantee their own development, nurturing collections even in their formation. (Please note that I’m not concerned about how this might bias data collection. I have faith in the process over the long term.)

[pbpro]: http://projectbamboo.org/
[lr]: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/
[46]: http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/5/20/4-6_Laudun.pdf
[lrex]: http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/export-screen.jpg
[big]: http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/import-window.jpg

The Simple Life

There is an oft-quoted statistic, usually drawn from the National Association of Home Builders* that makes the argument for the current price of homes — double what they once were — being a function of the current size of homes:

> The average American home grew from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 square feet in 2004. That’s almost a 2.5 fold increase. That’s a lot of space, and space filled with less people, it turns out:

> Yet the American household shrank by 18% between 1970 and 2003, from 3.14 people to 2.57, on average.

The latter statistic is more interesting to me. Even if family sizes have not shrunk, it’s clear that a good percentage of us are, quite literally, further apart. I don’t think either one of these statistics would have meant that much to me, except in my work as a folklorist I interview a lot of older people. And I tend to interview them in their homes. Most of them live in the same house in which they raised families, and I would be that on average those houses are no more than 1200 square feet and the smallest family I have ever come across is four. Now, sure, memory tends to leave out the unpleasant and focus on the pleasant, so the closeness of families that folks tend to recall is probably a function of the winnowing of time.

Still, I bring those stories and the sense of the spaces in which they took place back with me, to my own home. (And this is why I am glad to be blogging, because I don’t otherwise get a chance to write about these things, but here it is, something which is both personal and intellectual.) We bought our house in 2001, and at 1600 square feet, it was perfect for two professionals. There was room for each of us to have a study and for one of those studies to serve also as a guest bedroom. All the room in the world, and no need for too much of a yard, since both of us are indifferent gardeners, at best.

And then Lily came in 2004, and we began to talk about buying a bigger house, especially one with a bigger yard. And then came first Katrina and then Rita, the 2005 hurricanes. The price of houses in Lafayette immediately jumped 25% and in some cases, I would argue, they have leveled out at about 40% above what they were before the storms — which are not yet three years ago at the time of this writing. That’s great! Someone is saying. Think of the money you could make.

Alas, the money only applies if we are leaving this market, and we are not in a position to do so. So, there’s no real gain. We are “stuck” in a current house, it looks like, for the time being. But we’re beginning to realize that that is not such a bad thing. Yes, we are all tumbled together all the time. Lily’s toys constantly spill out of her bedroom and into the living room. I would call it the common room, but the study and kitchen are also common rooms — all three of us have desks in the study and there are only two tables, apart from those desks, at which people can work. One is in the living room and the other is in the kitchen.

Such a small house means we only have two trash cans to empty: one in the kitchen and one in our bathroom. If you’re anywhere else in the house and need to throw something away, you aren’t that far from one of those two.

Such a small house also means that someone else is always just a shout away. If you’re like me and forget to grab a washcloth before stepping into the shower, then all you have to do is shout for someone to bring you one. If you’re bored in your bedroom, as Lily sometimes is, all you have to do is call out: “Mom-may / Dad – day! Come play with me!” and you can at least depend upon the fact that your parents have to have heard you. (Whether they come or not depends on how many times you shout it out and they give up shouting back at you.)

Such a small house means that cleaning it is neither a chore nor something you hire someone else to do — though, at this moment, I must confess that we do not clean as often as we should and we in no way clean on a daily basis as many of the women I have interviewed insisted they did or do. Sure, we’d like a bigger yard still. It would be nice to have not only the shaded yard and house we have but also some sunny spots of lawn where Lily could really run and stretch her legs, I could plant vegtables, and Yung could plant flowers. It would also be nice, especially for Yung, if we had a bit more space in which to work. We both enjoy working at home, and I know that Yung prizes her own space. She is not as prone to spread as I am, and I know I crowd her. Perhaps all these things will come in time.

For now, I write in praise of being cramped, crowded. At some point, Lily is going to want more privacy than she gets now, but I hope that isn’t for a long time yet to come. For now, I think she likes the short dash mommy or daddy make to come to her when she has a bad dream. Her room is only ten feet from ours, her bed probably only something like twenty-five feet from ours. It’s not crowding; it’s always being hugged.

— \* There is [reason to suspect][rs] that the NABH statistics don’t include a lot of important data: apartments and the rise in manufactured-housing stocks being two things in particular.

[rs]: http://crookedtimber.org/2008/05/14/house-size-doubles/

Slidecasting

It sounds easy. *Slide – casting*. To slide is to let gravity do the work for you. To cast is to let momentum do the work: you flick your fishing pole with the right amount of force and the bit of weight at the end of the thin line does the rest of the work. Slidecasting itself is not so easy, as I learned this morning, trying to put the Project Bamboo 4/6 presentation on-line.

I should admit upfront that I own [Profcast][pc], but I have had some difficulties using it, and I wasn’t sure if it would allow me to edit the voiceover narration and/or add some background sound. I decided I would post everything in iMovie, because I still have the 06 version which allows for multiple soundtracks. (As an added bonus, I know how to use it: I have yet to “kin” iMovie 08.)

Well, if you’re going to do soundtracks, and you’re working at the consumer level, the place to start, on a Mac, is GarageBand. *Oh, cool, there’s a podcasting option which even allows you to drag in artwork. I outputted my slides from Keynote and made them available in GarageBand.* I quickly typed up a transcript of what I had said in May — I typed in TextMate while flipping through slides in Keynote — and read into my MBP’s screen. And now I know to use a proper microphone. The built-in microphone has too much hiss. I lined up all my slides at the appropriate places in the voiceover, dragged in some background music, and was ready to explort, er, “share,” my production. The resulting file is an MPEG-4 audio file. It’s 3.6MB and has tiny images that do in fact transition at the right time.

I am just not too sure how many people would know what to do with it. Even on my own computer, iTunes wanted to open it and play only the audio. Okay, so back to Plan A. Export audio out of GarageBand — make sure it’s an AIF file — and import it into iMovie. Now import images. Wait, iMovie does not like PNG files. Huh. Export out of Keynote using Quicktime.

Various trials and lots of errors there, including then opening the exported file in Quicktime to save it as an MP4 file because iMovie does not like MOV files. (What’s going on Apple? It’s your own container format. I believe the saying is: eat your own dog food.) So back to Plan A. Audio plus images. Export images as JPGs. Wait, iMovie keeps cropping them.

Finally, I figured out how to go into *Photo Settings* and turn off this obnoxious behavior. Once the images were in, I went through them and synced them with the audio by adjusting their length using *CMD + I*. I simply kept a running tally of the start and stop points of the clips as they went along on a piece of paper and worked from that: 0:00 0:14 0:40 1:50 2:04 … and so on. All that done, I dropped some music in — not because I think I’m that good but because the hissing of the microphone needed to be cloaked in some fashion and I am not so fond of the sound of my own voice that I wanted to record myself all over again. The short of it is: the slidecast is done, and it’s up. It’s [here][pbsc].

[pc]: http://www.profcast.com/
[pbsc]: http://johnlaudun.org/share/pb46-medium.mov

Ethnoastronomy

The _Journal of Folklore Research_ has posted a [review][] of George E. Lankford’s _Reachable Stars: Patterns in the Ethnoastronomy of Eastern North America_ (University of Alabama Press, 2007). Here’s the lead paragraph:

> For millennia, humans everywhere have created a diverse body of imaginative narratives and images to make sense of the night sky’s canopy of stars. In _Reachable Stars_, folklorist-anthropologist George Lankford explores the ways in which North Americans have attempted to find patterns and meaning in the mysterious lights in the sky, from myriad points of light in the Milky Way to the imaginary pictures we call constellations. Lankford’s ambitious and masterful study is marked by breadth, impressive research, and a purposeful, conversational writing style. A valuable contribution to folklore studies, as significant for its approach as for its content, this volume should also appeal to anthropologists, Native American scholars, historians of science, geomythologists, ethnologists, and scholars of archaeoastronomy. Lankford succeeds in writing for “any reader with an enthusiasm for the night sky and human ways of thinking about it” (19).

[review]: http://www.indiana.edu/~jofr/review.php?id=607