Sunday, September 15, 2013

Old Tech, New Tech and Just Plain Buggy Tech

Because my Dad is sick with a cold, we didn't spend the whole afternoon together. I took him to Quizno's for a meatball sub (which he didn't even almost finish) and then to Robert's Barber Lounge for his monthly pampering - a deluxe shave and trim, complete with hot towels and scalp massage and attention to nose and ear hairs, followed by fingernail trimming. When he got back, they were serving rainbow sherbet in the dining hall, which made for a nice surprise.

After dropping my Dad off, I was able to put in a belated appearance at a wedding reception, bring John some lunch, and take the dogs to St. Michael's for a late afternoon session of playing in the park and working in the office. St. Michael and All Angels is having its 60th Anniversary this year, and we've chosen our patron saint day, Michaelmas, for the celebration, transferred to the last weekend in September. I'm right in the thick of the preparations, updating the church website, coordinating the efforts of others on publicity, editing the 60th Anniversary issue of The Messenger, and posting about the anniversary to social media sites.

One part of the preparations that I consider of particular importance (is that enough "p" words for ya?) is research into the church's history. If we're going to celebrate 60 years, it's good to know and talk about what happened in those years. So parishioners Jo Leeming (of the St. Michael and All Angels Vestry), Ila Abernathy (of the parish's Guatemala Project) and I procured a key to the church's archives, which are stored in the Womble Library. We oohed and ahhed over our discoveries there, pulled out several of the more important notebooks and envelopes, and brought them to my office at church. This afternoon was the first chance I've had since then to take a look.

I only got through half a notebook, but it was mostly really important stuff. There were pictures from the church's construction, dated September, 1953. Two of them were dated September 14, 1953, exactly 60 years before the day I scanned them on my office computer:

This is the interior of the church, with a man looking up at the eastern wall. The walls had not yet been plastered, and the floor had not yet been laid. But the place was already rather beautiful.

This appears to be a view from the main entrance, looking north 90 feet to where the sanctuary would be. The white cross seen here was an opening in the original north wall, into which the stained glass cross would be added. The northern end of the church has since been expanded twice, once in 1964 to add the transept (the size sections in front) and apse (a place for the high altar), and again in 1998 to add the organ chamber behind the sanctuary. The glass cross is now in the western wall, near where the choir sits.

There were more photos from later in the month, but it's clear that the building wasn't finished by Michaelmas, 1953. The dedication and first service was held Sunday, November 29th, 1953. There was a newspaper photo of that, along with a few color snapshots. Another small batch of photos showed the church as of the day after Christmas, 1953.

"God gave me a church with guts!"

I also found an expansion feasibility study from 1959, apparently printed on ditto master or mimeograph. If you're under 40 years old, you probably don't know what those reproduction technologies were like, but I used to struggle with them in my high school days. Even in 1981, when the church printed a little black and white newsletter thingy titled "God Gave Me a Parish With Guts!", the pictures in it were dark and dot matrix-y. The newest thing I saw was a printout of an email from 1999, in which the original rector, Father John Clinton Fowler, wrote about acquiring a used pipe organ for the church, late in his tenure. It only cost $200 plus installation, but appears to have lasted only a few years before it fell apart. The replacement organ, dating from 1959 and originally built for a Cincinnati church, cost many orders of magnitude more than that to buy and install, but it's one of the best organs in this part of the country, so there.

But there you go. Even in 1999, for an important historical document, the way to preserve the data was to print it out. I started retyping the thing as I was scanning the photos, because it's not long enough to fuss with OCR for, even if I had a decent OCR program.

Still, much as I want to laugh at the old snapshots and dittos and other outdated technology found in the church archive, limited as they are in quality and shareability, I'm grateful that people took the trouble to make those physical records and preserve them. Many things from the past aren't around any more at all - or, if they are, they aren't online where I personally can get at them! I've looked at old photos and even silent black and white footage of Stalag Luft 1 where my dad was a prisoner, and at old photos of World War II squadrons and bomb groups; but I've yet to find one (outside of my Dad's small personal collection) that has my Dad in it. Large numbers of Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s and 1970s were wiped by the BBC, along with Apollo 11 footage and other important stuff. The technology of the items in the church archive is outdated, and nobody gets to see it because it consists of fragile bits of paper, locked up in a cabinet so it won't disappear or get destroyed. But the point is that it hasn't been lost or destroyed. It is therefore now available to me, to digitize and share with the world, or at least the parish.

St. Michael and All Angels Church as of December 26, 1953. 
This innocent photo killed my index page tonight.

And it's not as though current technology is so much more reliable than what they had in 1953 or 1959 or 1981. I already told you about my recent malware problems, and I can't get my new Family Tree Maker program to run for than a few seconds before crashing. More to the point, I tried to add a few of the images I found today to the church website, which is hosted on Godaddy. No matter how carefully I typed or copy-pasted the image's URL, no matter how many times I edited files to make them shorter, uploaded them again and gave them less problematic file names, my edited web page refused to display them. I had to let the church blog host the photos. At one point I added one measly photo to the church's main web page and saved it, only for the whole page to have been randomly ruined by my SeaMonkey Composer program. It's not the first time this has happened, either. Tonight, all the < and > marks were replaced with the HTML markup that makes them not be HTML tags any more. Last time, which was only a week or so ago, all the image URLs suddenly pointed to my hard drive instead of the web site, even though they were all previously in there with the full web addresses. Both times, I had to grab a Google cache version of the page, clean it up and repost it. I should know better, and always keep a backup before I edit a page.

 The back of the church, December 1953.

It's going to be worth it, though, right? If I can just get all the best of this old stuff scanned, uploaded and displayed, on web pages and pdfs that are consistently readable and glitch-free, then, THEN, we'll have the best of old and new.


1 comment:

barrettmanor said...

Hi Karen,

That looks like quite a project you've undertaken. It also looks like it will be way cool when finished. I hope you get through it with a minimum of computer issues.