When Brazil’s Association of Archivists first invited me to speak at their congress, I offered to supplement my conference presentation with a half-day workshop dealing in some detail with our digital preservation software. Ideally I wanted people to bring in their laptops so that after demonstrating the operation of our software, I could help people to install and configure their own copies of the system to learn from. Aside from bringing their own computers, we decided that it would be useful if participants could be fluent in English because no translation would be available and I speak no Portuguese. A total of ten people pre-registered for my seminar and a handful more turned up on the day.
Anyway, the day started with another session of talks in the main auditorium with simultaneous translation. I sat at the front with my headset on and the netbook on my lap. I decided to make a quick check to see that all of my software components were in place for the afternoon’s workshop so I used one of the memory sticks full of our code that I’d brought along to give away and set about unzipping and trying out software. I quickly ran into a problem when I found that a couple of the bzip files on the memory stick wouldn’t unzip. These were files I had downloaded from our sourceforge site in Canberra less than a week ago. Perhaps I messed up the download? With free hotel wireless available from my auditorium seat I decided to use the local Brazilian sourceforge mirror to download the files again. It took a few minutes but it soon became evident that some of the bzips at sourceforge were broken. I emailed the team back home to take a look but knew I’d be on my own for a while due to the 13 hour time difference.
The morning’s presentations included one by another of the overseas guests, Professor Bruno Delmas from France. His talk was made doubly interesting to me because of what the translators told me immediately before it. Apparently, only one of the translators was fluent in French. So he would be creating a simultaneous translation from French into Portuguese and his colleague would listen to the Portuguese and render it into English in parallel. This ‘Chinese Whispers’ form of simultaneous translation resulted in an interesting set of words that sometimes almost made sense but I think I’ll need to seek an English copy of Professor Bruno’s paper in order to properly understand his musings on the dematerialisation of the document.
I left the morning session early and returned to my hotel room to assess all of the pieces of software I had brought along and to attempt to build the missing pieces from source. Most things were working and the only obviously broken pieces would not affect anyone at the workshop unless they were Linux or Mac users wanting to install only one software component. I figured correctly that the risk in that case was quite small. For the workshop, I changed from my suit to my National Archives of Australia Xena Digital Preservation shirt. A little bit of marketing can go a long way.
There was some initial confusion in the seminar room when the infrastructure people wanted to insist on me using their computer rather than mine to do all of my demonstrations, but we eventually sorted that out and I managed to get the netbook talking to their projector and plugged into power for the long haul. People trickled into the room and I was gratified to see that my audience would consist of nearly all of the invited speakers, some Brazil and Santos archives people and the event organisers. All of them understood English and most were able to converse in English.
For those who hadn’t seen my keynote and to reinforce the concepts for those who had, I started with a brief slide presentation explaining the NAA approach to digital preservation. This led naturally into a demonstration of Xena and a bit of an exploration of the various outputs created during a Xena process. Next up I detailed each of the steps of processing a digital records transfer into a digital archive and this led to a detailed demonstration of the Manifest Maker and a full run through of the DPR. With everyone on the same page in terms of the operation of the software I checked to see what operating systems we might be installing on. Everybody had brought along machines running one variant or another of MS Windows.
Johanna Smit from São Paulo University volunteered the use of her new EePC netbook for me to demonstrate the use of our all-in-one DPSP installer and I connected it to the projector. I displayed and explained the contents of the memory sticks that I’d given out and walked through a software installation while others followed along on their own machines. Annoyingly, some quirk of the Windows setup on Johanna’s netbook prevented the menu entries for our software from pointing to the new installation but this issue didn’t occur on any other machines. I overcame it with some manual intervention but it made an otherwise smooth demonstration just a little less smooth.
The session concluded with some excellent discussion of the limits of our capacity to process digital records and some speculation on what factors may influence our ability to scale up our operations in future. The participants seemed generally impressed with the polished look of our software and our documentation. The test now will be to see if anyone goes away to play some more and contacts us as a result.