Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Dis-Organized Man

Organization is probably the longest four-letter word in my vocabulary. Though I am credited with being an organized person, it’s a fair bet that I’m the only one who understands how I organize things. I do far better when I’m required to follow someone else’s more orderly organization system.

If we’re talking organization for generating websites, thankfully, that’s not my department at Uncharted. For the text, photos, videos and other items we generate internally for the website, we have a FTP site where everything is rigidly organized first by content type (document, video, photo, et cetera) and then by author. By that, I mean each author can go into the “Documents” or “Video” folder and find a folder with their name on it, where we are to post our various files. The system is simple and, at this point, works wonderfully well. Anyone wanting to know who has finished photos, videos or stories ready for Uncharted can go to the FTP site and gaze away. The format we follow for naming is by subject matter. We don’t fiddle with underscores or running everything together. Frankly, I’m not sure we have an agreed-upon naming convention as, at this point, the number of files we’re dealing with is relatively small, numbering in the hundreds. We also don’t plan to use the FTP as an archive; once new files roll in, the older ones will roll out. The FTP is being used as a staging area between getting stories edited and photos toned to getting them posted on our website.

What happens to the website files once they’re into the magical server space, I have nooooo idea. Thankfully, that’s not my department.

Files at work are also organized according to someone else’s system. We organize on our server first by document type, then by document number. Since everyone in the company refers to document types and numbers, rather than titles, this system works so well that we have to hide our files on the server so no one outside the writing/editing department can get into the versions currently being revised, lest our revision control go askew.

I admit to a weakness here: If I can’t see it, it’s much more difficult for me to keep things organized. For instance, at work I have two filing systems – one an electronic Excel spreadsheet on which all of the writer/editors here frequently update the status of our documents. (Our documents themselves are stored on a companywide server; files are managed by our text processor, who is a highly organized individual). I also have a bulky filing cabinet in which I keep paper copies of what’s on the spreadsheet and the network, complete with sticky notes and other associated add-ons. If someone has a question on a document, it’s easier for me to open a drawer to look and refresh my memory than it is to open the spreadsheet, though I have a shortcut to it on the desktop.

For my personal files (journal entries, creative writing, photos, music, et cetera) I mix a healthy bit of organization with an anything goes attitude that, on many occasions, has left me to wondering if I were dropped on my head as an infant. Mine is the organizational system holding up the little “Help me!” sign when you walk into the study. Journal entries are filed by year, though inside that file they’re not in chronological order, since I name them with the date in this format, “29 August 2008.” That leads to many happy mix-ups. In the interest of keeping my hard drive clear, once and a while I will burn a CD of files – again, a hodge-podge of stuff – copy that CD, then clean the hard drive. I have a shoebox filled with CDs I promise I’ll eventually organize into an uncluttered, unblemished, easily indexed whole. It’s probably a sign it’s a good thing I’m not in charge of organization at Uncharted.

Conversely, I am in charge of organizing all of our family papers (passports, taxes, paid bills, et cetera). It’s all in the filing cabinets, perfectly organized where I can see it. Only once has my wife had to call me at work to find something, so the system I have there must be working to some extent. I blame ten years in newspapers for my desire to cling to analog records – I still have a huge box filled with my newspaper clippings I’ll scan one day into the computer. That, or use it for bedding in the hamster cages when my wife relents and lets the kids get hamsters.

My file name conventions are, well, conventional. Journal entries, as noted earlier, get the calendar date, day, month, year. Text documents are named by subject matter, as are videos. Photo naming is my wife’s department – she names them by subject matter, but also numbers them, like “Yellowstone 2008-001” so they’re kept in sequence as they were taken on our digital camera. (Side note: The proliferation of digital capture devices, particularly our camera, has increased the number of files we cling to. Whereas with a 35 mm film camera we might take 24, 36 pictures of a weekend camping trip, we now take in excess of 100. A few years ago, we traveled to Paris and took 14 rolls of photos, 24 pix per roll. If we’d had the digital camera then, we’d still be uploading pictures, I’m afraid. It all reminds me of a passage from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Imperial Earth, where he mentions one of his main characters has collected so many digital records organized just poorly enough that when he saves something, he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to retrieve it, yet he takes comfort in knowing it’s inside that computer somewhere and he may stumble across it far into the future. I also begin to understand why C. S. Lewis donated all of his books and papers to his college library before he died so they could organize it correctly so he could find things he wanted and why Jimmy Stewart’s response (“No one else wanted it”) to inquiries on why he donated his papers to BYU in Provo is so apt. Anyone who needs to pause to take a breath after that last sentence please do so now.)

So to sum up: I’m great at following an organizational plan, and will conform to any convention necessary in order to make it easier for people ten years down the road to find my work. My personal stuff, however, is another matter, probably best left up to some digital archaeologist hundreds of years in the future. His first question will likely be: Who was this person. His second will likely be: Why does he have so many digital recordings of classical Jew’s Harp music?

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