The Alexandria Project Update

This is where I am at with that – it’s been “dark” because I’ve been applying for grants.

 

Haven’t got any yet. However, one grant VERY close. I got good feedback on why I didn’t get it, so I can have another run at that soon. Having never applied for a “Real Grant” before, I appreciated/needed the critique. I will re-apply for it very soon, as I believe it is a rolling grant.

I was inspired by Geert Lovink bringing the AP to Uganda where at a university there, it was orders of magnitude larger than the actual number of books in the library itself. I don’t have a particular affinity for Africa so I am looking at models closer to home… For example, Northern Canada (for geographical extremes) and even closer to home: the First Nations reservations (for economic extremes). Very simply these people have gotten fucked. Bad. Hard. And repeatedly. And they live nearby-ish.

There are reservations in Ontario that are barely third world in their poverty level. People die young there from diseases easily preventable or treatable elsewhere in Canada. One town, Pikangikum, illiteracy is high, it has the highest rate of teenage suicide IN THE WORLD, and there’s nothing to read any way. The schools are a mess and the libraries few and far between. European capitalists and their vectoral copyright regimes have not done these people much good, at all. The present governments, (Nationally, the Conservatives led by Harper; Provincially/Ontario, the “Liberals” led by Wynne) have done little or nothing to help them, and Harper’s gang of thugs have been actively disuseful. For example THOUSANDS of First Nations women have been disappeared in the past 20 years. Their bodies are found on occasion, murder victims. Harper refuses to engage this obvious genocide. At all. That’s the level of evil we’re talking. At the same time, the trade agreement designed to make the billionaire vectoral class even richerer than ever before, the TPP, is something Harper’s pushing for really hard here in Canada, and his draconian internal spying law, C51, which makes the Patriot Act look like the Magna Carta, passed with backing from the Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau. Since he backed C51, Trudeau’s standing in the election polls has plummeted. This illustrates the unity of the two main parties in things most opposed to the interests of the average Canadian AND the First Nations of Canada.

 

Anyway – I’ve begun researching the situation, and will be finding out the location and size of every Reservation and the location and size of its library system.

 

I’ve done this already with one: the library at Iqaluit in Nunavut. They have 60,000 items. Period. Obviously, something like the Alexandria Project would be a massive boon to the Iqaluit Library and the citizens of Nunavut. Iqaluit is one of many (it’s simply the most remote – it’s only 3000km from the North Pole) places like this. Shipping anything to Iqaluit is VERY expensive – the biggest problem, of course, is weight. A book weighs as much as a tablet, but a tablet can hold hundreds of books. A handful of books weighs as much as a laptop, and the laptop, with the Alexandria Project, holds tens of thousands of books.

 

There are other things afoot with the AP. One is its structure. Obviously a small, focussed one can exist on a USB stick and distributed easily. Clearly, a larger terabyte drive can also work, and hold huge quantities of documents. As I predicted in my dissertation, the capacity per dollar of a drive continues to plummet. I bought a 3 TB drive for CDN$140 a month ago. The problem, as I outlined in my dissertation, is one of usefulness. Having a zillion books is nice. No one can read that. And because these are files on a drive, there’s no “wandering the aisles of books” effect to “find” something. This goes to my point about the necessity of indexing.


AP|Linux
This winter when I was in Berlin, I consulted with Dmitry Kleiner and Baruch Gottlieb about this. They were clear: the way to go would be to build a “computer on a drive” using Linux OS, probably the portable “Mint” distribution. This is also along the lines of “lower hanging fruit”. The biggest problem is the difference in platforms – Mac, Windows, Linux. None of them are very fond or capable of talking to each other as each vector of interactivity is like a cold war domino effect argument. This is where the AP|Linux comes in handy – simply boot the computer (Mac or Windows) off the drive and work inside the Mint environment. AP|Linux would have the Alexandria Project Library (*indexed* using a Linux desktop indexer), as well as software like “Libre Office” or “Open Office” so one could do ones research directly in the AP|Linux drive itself.

 

The benefit of this is obvious – it’s transportable, platform independent, completely private, and has its own research facilities built into it. The downsides are also substantial. First, it assumes the user knows how to boot their computer off an external drive. Second, once so booted, the user would have to navigate a new computer UI (Linux Mint). That right there is a lot to ask of the average user, many of whom can’t even programme their own TV remote. This becomes especially problematic in other more distant locations where access to computers may not be as universal and computer literacy varies greatly and can be quite problematic. There is also a strategic threat on the horizon to this approach – Computers running Windows 10 will not boot off any other operating system than Windows. This would prevent an external boot drive like AP|Linux from working at all. Ostensibly this is being done for questions of “security”, however, it is also very clear that Microsoft is trying to find a way to kill Linux….

My grant applications were to develop and distribute AP|Linux drives. Since I didn’t get the grants in the first round, I’ve been thinking “other thoughts”.
The problem isn’t the collection of books – that’s simple enough and in this context, trivial. It could be a USB with 500 books or a terabyte drive with 50,000 books. Oddly, the collection itself isn’t that interesting. It’s what one can DO with it that makes it valuable. In this way books, as digital objects, can be seen as collections of information – how does one quickly access it. This was also discussed in the book – Indexing. So, this leaves:

 


AP|Win  and AP|Mac.

Since neither of these would have native OS operations on the drive itself, it’s very much the same issues we’ve faced with previously. Windows OS Indexing is hideous. It’s a categorical fail. There are fine third party indexers, and as I noted in my dissertation and book, Dropout is free and works well. Unfortunately, it only works on Windows. The MacOS indexer (called Spotlight) is a much better system native indexer than the Windows example, but it is not transportable. This creates a slower and more complex workflow for the user upfront, but a much simpler AP. The AP|Mac would simply be a collection of books. The user would then have to copy the AP to their computer and tell Spotlight to Index the AP directory.

 

The AP|Win would also be a collection of books like AP|Mac, but it would also have the Dropout Indexer. A “normal” windows drive would be formatted in NTFS. Apple computers are formatted in HFS+. Macs don’t like NTFS and Windows is no friend of HFS. However: the AP|Win is formatted in ExFAT. Prior to ExFAT was FAT32, a file system that both Mac and Windows could read. USB sticks are commonly formatted in ExFAT, so any computer can use them. By formatting the AP|Win drive in ExFAT, anyone using any computer operating system can have read/write access to the files in the AP. ExFAT allows Dropout to run off the drive when the drive is attached to a Windows environment. ExFAT also allows Apple’s Spotlight indexer to read into the files as well.

I got the news of the last grant refusal two weeks ago, and have since concluded that the AP|Linux system is too complex for most users to implement. Arguments of “Well, users should know (x)” are, in my opinion, arrogant bullshit. An AP|Mac system is too limited – without an indexer, Windows users would be stuck with a sluggish machine. However, the AP|Win formatted in ExFAT with Dropout has win written all over it, as Mac users can use Spotlight. It’s a fine indexer that can be narrowcast to specific directories, preventing the indexer from eating the operating system’s resources. Linux users could have access to the files at will, like the Mac Users and there are free indexers in Linux. And if the super Linux users don’t like them, they can write their own. Turnabout is fair play.

 

I will focus my production efforts around that particular configuration AP|Win in ExFAT.

 

In terms of file arrangement, I am experimenting with another system where matters of curation come to the fore. Around the time I wrote the book, I had come up with a number of categories of interest and these, as directories, are a sorting system. I started with 25 or 30 categories. I anticipate I will have closer to 80 by the time this experiment is done. These categories are, at present:

 

ANTHROPOLOGY

ARCHITECTURE and URBANISM

ART – PHOTOGRAPHY

Art History

Art Instruction

Art MUSEUMS, curation, catalogues

ARTS, Art History and AESTHETICS

AUTO & BIOGRAPHY, memoirs

COMPUTER SCIENCE, Machines, and AI

DANCE

DIGITAL and INTERNET THEORY

ECOLOGY, Climate, Permaculture and Collapse

ECONOMICS, Business, labour relations

EDUCATION

ENERGY

FEMINISM and WOMENS STUDIES

FILM & VIDEO-practice

FILM & VIDEO-theory

FILM, THEATRE AND VIDEO SCRIPTS

FIRST NATION-ABORIGINAL

FOOD and COOK BOOKS

GENDER, QUEER and SEX studies

GEOGRAPHY

GEOLOGY-non-petrol

HISTORY and human evolution

LANGUAGE THEORY, LINGUISTICS – SEMIOTICS

LANGUAGES

LIBRARY and Archive theory

LITERATURE – Fiction, and Poetry

LITERATURE – THEORY

LITERATURE-How To, Style Manuals

Media, Advertising, and Communication Theory

MEDICINE human biology, bioethics and health

MILITARY, torture, espionage, surveillance, crypto

MUSIC – sheet and education

MUSIC AND AUDIO – Theory and history

MUSIC AND AUDIO-engineering

PHILOSOPHY and Rhetoric

Political Theory (Anarchist)

POLITICAL THEORY and activism

POST-ANTI-COLONIAL, globalism, 3rd World studies

PRACTICALITIES

PSYCHOLOGY and Neuroscience

RACE RELATIONS

RELIGION, Theology, Mythology, Atheism and Occult

SCIENCE and Math – Instructional and Engineering

SCIENCE and Math – RESEARCH

SCIENCE and Math – Theory_Philosophy

 

I am open to suggestions for categories. I imagine some of these will break into other categories. Like any curatorial project, the categories reflect my own personal interests. If someone doesn’t like them, they are free to re-arrange them to their hearts content.

 

——————————————————

 

So, I will be re-writing the grant proposals this summer and then see where it goes from there. I will research a variety of reservations, talk to the people there and see how the AP can help them.

 

There are two other audiences for the AP – scholars doing research, students doing research, and informed citizens who like to read cool stuff. I think the AP|Win variant will suffice for now. There is another plan involved using Java, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish and outside the scope of this report.

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About misterwarwick

I am an Associate Professor of Media Theory, Sound Synthesis, Audio Production, and "Digital Things". I am very much involved with issues of Archives, Access To Knowledge, and the pathetic predicament collectively understood as "Civilisation". I am also a composer of electronic music and I have an online music program called "Something Completely Different". I also like to play with digital imaging. I live in Toronto. It's a nice place.
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