Being raised by a bibliophibian
from a family of teachers and a recording engineer/radio DJ, books and music were ubiquitous in my household. I became an adult around the time that the Internet was hitting its stride as an endless repository of digital media, but I've still got an emotional attachment to physical media and the "save everything" instincts of a would-be librarian.
When we bought a house early last year I recognized that bookshelf-appropriate wall space was at a premium. I also had a jumble of cheap Target bookshelves I'd carted through seven moves. "Great," I said, "Now that I don't have to move for a couple decades I can invest in nice, solid bookshelves to cover this long living room wall." We made a couple forays into furniture shopping over the next 18 months but discovered that most bookshelves seem to prioritize "look nice with a few objects" over "conveniently hold hundreds of pounds of books."
About a month ago we lucked out and found two tall and stout oak book cases with plenty of shelving. Bonus: they were only about $100 each! So I spent several hours packing the books from the crapy shelves back into their boxes and onto the sun porch and moved the shelves with redeeming qualities into the guest bedroom. The next weekend I got to experience the great joy of unpacking a bunch of boxes of books, like a present I'd wrapped for myself full of great books that I'll surely get around to reading in this
house. I also got to play the fun game of inventing a classification system while simultaneously satisfying shelf width constraints and adjusting for height. So in this library "Dusty hardcover fiction," "Fiction compilations and tall novels," and "Mass-market paperback novels" are separate categories on separate parts of the wall.
I then unpacked a dozen or so boxes of National Geographic Magazine, my favorite periodical. Those get to live in the guest room, along with art books and a few others that are good random-access reading. This
in turn meant that the garage had enough space to set up shelving units and a full-height freezer, for a different sort of archival material.
The one remaining shelving issue was games. Two cheap Target bookcases had almost every cubic inch used up by board, card, and tile game boxes. Two weeks ago I managed to score again at the used furniture store and found an open-backed bookshelf that doesn't block the power outlet and fits precisely between the stately oak bookshelves and the mass market paperback shelf (which itself has lived on, despite being a rickety cheap Target shelf, because it's short enough to stay out of the way of the thermostat on the wall). This shelf makes the game day browsing experience much better, and nicely rounds out the library media setup.
Meanwhile, my digital media life was in need of some shelf care of its own.
When I got back from Iceland I noticed that my external hard drive, on which I store 1.3 terabytes of music (plus photo and document backups), was showing signs of failure. Fortunately I had (1) a hard drive of twice the size which I bought earlier this year when backing up a bunch of data that was about to be deleted from the web and (2) an old hard drive of half the size containing 1.1 or so terabytes of music. I was able to copy all the pre-2013 music to the new hard drive to cover most of the gap. I then used find
, and rsync
Unix utilities to identify all the tracks I added in to iTunes the last six years. This managed to save perhaps two thirds of the music. Fortunately for my emotional attachment to media data, I haven't spent much effort downloading mp3s in the last decade; they mostly came from CDs I bought recently or that my family owns, so I can recover most of the music library by re-ripping, though it means I need to develop a shelving plan for the boxes of CDs in the garage :-/
On the other hand, in the last six years I've downloaded thousands of podcast episodes. And given my instincts for media preservation I don't delete podcasts after listening, and I feel oddly awkward knowing they're missing. So I whipped up a couple ruby
programs to parse my iTunes library XML and the podcast RSS feeds, download the mp3s, and save them to the right filename. This was particularly complicated for a few podcasts that only provide a month or two of episodes in their RSS feed, so I crawled a few websites to get historic episodes. This felt a little obsessive, but I'm about eleven months behind on podcasts and not listening to regulars seemed like it would be disappointing.
A couple weeks after finishing resurrecting my pile of podcasts I got a surprise system error on my Mac. It's sort of the Apple version of the famous Blue Screen of Death: stylishly designed with a semi-transparent gray color scheme and rounded corners. I've seen this three or four times in the last two decades of using MacOS X, and two of those were in the last couple weeks. Worried that my system had a hardware issue or major configuration problem I hit the "Upgrade to macOS Catalina" button late that night.
After the new OS version installed the next day I immediately regretted the decision. In my tired and minor panic I hadn't thought to read the full "What's new in Catalina" story before upgrading. The two big changes are that 32-bit apps are no longer supported (I have a few installed, but don't recall using them for years) and iTunes was replaced by separate Music, Podcasts, and (audio) Books apps, following the UIs of those apps on iOS. The Music app looks okay, but I panicked when I realized that the Podcast app has almost none of the iTunes features I'd come to depend on. It imported my old podcast subscriptions, but only showed the episodes currently present in the RSS feeds, not my decade worth of saved episodes. Crap, that's going to disrupt my 11-month-behind listening sequence
I said. More importantly, the new Podcast app doesn't have any real episode organizing tools. I listen to podcasts on an iPod Shuffle, which has two excellent features for listening to podcasts while riding a bicycle: it clips to the outside of my clothing and it can be fully controlled with a single gloved hand without looking at it. I load the iPod Shuffle by building a playlist of episodes I want to listen to (in chronological order, skipping lots of reruns and uninteresting TED talks) and adding the next chunk from that podcast once a week when I charge the iPod. The Podcast app no longer knows anything about connected devices, but the Finder window for an iPod Shuffle will let you pick podcasts or specific episodes to sync. Unfortunately, that sync interface doesn't show any date or play count information, and scrolling through 1,000 episodes of a daily series is not worth my frustration.
Since this iPod Shuffle setup has become a remarkably crucial part of my informational life in the last decade I decided that I needed to downgrade from Catalina to Mojave, the previous macOS version. (I tried just copying iTunes from a non-upgraded computer, but leave it to Apple to prevent a perfectly good application from working when you upgrade the OS.) Internet documentation intimated that downgrading the OS would erase all data on the drive, so I spent another week with find
to identify and back up all the important files on my internal drive. But hey, I hadn't yet backed up my photos after the previous external drive crashed with its backup set. Last Friday my iPod Shuffle ran out of batteries and on Saturday I had completed all the backups I'd identified, so I downloaded and reinstalled Mojave. After the reinstall I noticed my drive's free space was suspiciously low, so I poked around and discovered that, in fact, all my old files were still around in /Previous Content/
, so the restoration process was quick with moves instead of copies. By carefully copying folders from my Library
directory I was delighted to find that Chrome launched with all my old open tabs (another piece of my digital hoarder profile) and my Google Drive database didn't think anything was different about my local folder, averting a large download from the cloud. And, blessedly, my iTunes is back, with the same information-dense list view I've come to love since I first downloaded it in 2001.phew
that's enough archivist labor for the year. I'll put off thinking about what I'll do if Apple stops providing security patches for Mojave before my iPod Shuffle stops working. It's more than ten years old, having outlived every mobile computing device I've possessed. It's one tough cookie.
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