What Moved Me to Tears (In a Good Way) in 2019, Part 1 of 4

We are now at that time of year where my Google Alerts are stuffed with “Best of” lists. The best of basically anything you can think of, including tech, popular culture, and sports. This will continue unabated until Tuesday night at 11:59pm, I suspect.

We’re also at that time of the year where I start wondering: should I do a “best of” list? But then I feel stupid. Who am I to say what’s best? Besides, I didn’t see everything, I’m sure I didn’t. Why put my opinion out there when I didn’t get to evaluate everything? How arrogant. Etc.

I was pondering that a little this morning when I read a CBC article about Chris Harvey, a man in Canada who provides keyboard layouts and fonts for over 100 indigenous languages. He does this for free. He’s worked with indigenous groups all over the place to help preserve their languages. And as I was reading about all the work he did and the nice things the groups were saying about him, I noticed I was getting teary-eyed again.

I cry some when I do ResearchBuzz. There are sad things and things that make me feel furious and helpless. There are things that scare me. When you’re reading for hours and hours about human history and archives and loss and destruction and so on, there’s a lot of emotion there. I generally say to myself, “Here come the waterworks,” and then I blow my nose and get on with what I’m doing.

When I read articles like the one about Chris Harvey, though, the crying’s a little different. It’s mostly gratitude; partially for the work they’re doing and partially for the fact that they’re still doing it. They’re not trying to get famous. They’re not trying to set up a tech company and get rich. They’re trying to teach people, or maintain culture, or make things better, or just flat out help.

When you hear the word Internet you think of FACEBOOK and GOOGLE and TWITTER and GIANT COMPANIES and sometimes you think about ALMOST UNBELIEVABLE AMOUNTS OF MONEY and LIES and DESPAIR and CONFUSION. I think about that too, but I also think of people like Chris Harvey, the people who are helping make the Internet better, who show up every day to preserve or protect or inform. How much would we lose without these people?

I went through all my ResearchBuzz entries of 2019 and made a huge list of all the stories that moved me to gratitude for these people. Then I ruthlessly edited it and got it down to 92 entries, which are in roughly chronological order. For the next four days I’m going to be listing these articles, 23 at a time, and tell you about these people and teams and groups that make me so grateful. As we close out 2019, may I ask you to think about them too? I hope I find many many many more to tell you about in 2020.

    1. Bert Crowfoot. In the early 1980s, Bert Crowfoot worked for an Indigenous media organization. The organization went defunct in 1982, and Bert brought its entire archive for a dollar. Then he kept it for 36 years, before he teamed up with Mary Ingraham and the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sound Studies.There are about 2,000 reel-to-reel audio tapes and 1,000 reels of 16-mm film, in addition to lots of other vintage media formats, and now it will be preserved with some of it becoming available to the public.
      ( Weber, Bob. “Bought for a buck, now priceless: Alberta Indigenous media archive being digitized.” The Globe and Mail, January 6, 2019.)


  • Corey Chase. Corey Chase is an employee of the state of Vermont. He drove 6,000 miles in six weeks to prove that the maps of 4G LTE coverage and speeds provided by the FCC (which gets its data from service providers) are wrong. “The result of six weeks of driving and covering every corner of the state was 187,506 speed tests. And rather than finding that just 5 per cent of the state wasn’t covered by a 5Mbps signal, Vermont discovered that an incredible 72 per cent of its results showed that its citizens were received slower than 5Mbps speeds.”
    (McCarthy, Kieren. “Man drives 6,000 miles to prove Uncle Sam’s cellphone coverage maps are wrong – and, boy, did he manage it.” The Register, January 17, 2019.)



  • Casey Greer, Tommy Edison, James Rath, Sam Seavey, and YouTube’s blind creators community. Blind creators on YouTube not only work to make the Internet’s blind community more known, they also provide support and encouragement to visually-impaired people, and education and facts to non-visually-impaired people.
    (Ellis, Emma Grey. “Meet the Blind YouTubers Making the Internet More Accessible.” Wired, January 22, 2019.)



  • Brian Harris, Jackson Sutherland, Alexi Himarios, and Matthew Jacobs. These four people are students of the University of Virginia’s new Master of Science in Business Analytics program. They created a tool to help Navy personnel who might have been exposed to the toxin Agent Orange prove that they ships they served on were in Agent Orange exposure zones, which would make them eligible for government health benefits. Their work greatly simplifies a process that would otherwise involve finding and digging through military records.
    (Newman, Caroline. “After Court Case, UVA Students’ Tool Could Help Veterans Get Key Benefits.” UVAToday, January 30, 2019.)



  • Emma Yang. At only 14, Emma Yang developed a mobile app to assist Alzheimer’s patients. “The Timeless app, which Yang spent two years developing and refining, comes with several core features. It uses an artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition system, from Miami-based start-up Kairos, to help Alzheimer’s patients identify people in photos and remember who they are. It also allows photos to be grouped by individuals as well as provide a picture-based phone book, which enables a user to tap on photos to call or text a person.”
    (Soo, Zen, and Ly, Elaine. “How a 14-year-old Hongkonger built an app to help Alzheimer’s patients connect with their loved ones.” South China Morning Post, January 29, 2019.)





  • Mats Steen. Mats Steen had a condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), which cut his life short at the age of 25. It was only after he died that his parents discovered what a rich life he had had — only it was online, in the universe of World of Warcraft.
    (Schaubert, Vicky. “My disabled son’s amazing gaming life in the World of Warcraft.” BBC, February 7, 2019.)



  • Aidan and Liam McCarty. These brothers created a browser extension called ePluribus that lets users turn comments on social media into communications with their elected representatives. Users will be able to verify their identities to give their communications additional weight.
    (Wood, Colin. “Browser extension’s creators say it’ll boost civic engagement via social media.” StateScoop, February 26, 2019.)







  • Bryan Frankfurth. Bryan Frankfurth has been working to make Canada’s cultural resources more accessible. “…he has started Free the Pixels, an initiative to encourage Library and Archives to make Canada’s records of its collective history and culture to become more accessible for everyone, as part of the government’s commitment to open data and information.”
    (Monro, Andrew. “Maps and data freedom: How one man wants to put historic maps of Ottawa… on the map.” Apt613, March 5, 2019.)



  • Citizen Scientists. People all over the world — most of them with little scientific training — are contributing to the discovery of new species. “A 2012 study found new species of multicellular land and freshwater animals are being discovered at an ‘unprecedented rate’ in supposedly well-explored Europe. Crucially, it found ‘non-professional’ taxonomists were responsible for more than 60 percent of those new species descriptions from 1998 to 2007.”
    (Leber, Jessica. “Species Sleuths: Amateur Naturalists Spark a New Wave of Discovery.” Yale E360, March 12, 2019.)



  • Mary Rizzo. Mary Rizzo is an assistant professor of history and director of the Graduate Program in American Studies at Rutgers University. She came across some copies of “Chicory,” a poetry magazine from Baltimore City, and began a project to digitize them. This is an excellent example of endangered archives and history: “In Nov. 1966, the first issue of ‘Chicory,’ written by everyday residents of Baltimore City, was published. Publishing original poetry with little to no editing, the magazine grew as a space for young people of color in the poorest neighborhoods of the city to express themselves.”
    (Scheirer, Maya. “‘Chicory’ and the forgotten voices of Black Baltimore.” The Retriever, March 13, 2019.)



  • Kevin Kruse, Sarah Bond, Waitman Wade Beorn, and the other historians fighting for historical truth on social media. On Twitter, disinformation and misinformation can thrive. Some historians are fighting back by correcting, educating, and, when necessary, showing some of history’s receipts. “By dismantling bad history, brick by brick, historians online are modeling for readers the kind of critical interaction with sources we so desperately need.”
    (Beorn, Waitman Wade. “When bad actors twist history, historians take to Twitter. That’s a good thing.” Washington Post, March 19, 2019.)



  • Lenny Bogdonoff. You can’t get much more ephemeral than paint on a commercial building. Through a combination of Instagram scraping and machine learning, Lenny Bogdonoff is working on a “digital genealogy” of street art.
    (“Pioneer Interview: Lenny Bogdonoff.” Pioneer, March 20, 2019.)



  • Keith O’Faoláin. Keith O’Faoláin took data from Archaeological Survey of Ireland’s database of the National Monuments Service Sites and Monuments Record and created a Twitter and Instagram bot that tweets out images of ancient ring forts around Ireland. The data set he cleaned up and is using has over 29,000 images.
    (IrishCentral Staff. “Thousands of Ireland’s ring forts to be documented in new social media account.” Irish Central, April 2, 2019.)



  • Vida “Sister” Prince. Vida Prince spent over 40 years conducting oral history interviews of Missouri residents who had experienced the Holocaust. Her efforts have been preserved and now all 144 of her interviews are available online.
    (Simon, Benjamin. “She Interviewed 144 St. Louis Holocaust Survivors. Now Her Work Is Online.” Riverfront Times, April 1, 2019.)



  • Will Durham. Will Durham is the executive director of The Nevada Neon Project. He monitors for properties that will be destroyed, then works with sign companies to remove the neon signs for preservation. He has rescued about 100 signs. A digital archive for the signs and the typefaces is in development.
    (Hutchings, Holly. “What’s Happening To Northern Nevada’s Neon?” KUNR, April 3, 2019.)



  • Abu Koroma and the other archivists of Sierra Leone. After a tumutous history and a longrunning civil war, the archivists of Sierra Leone are struggling to save endangered archives related to slavery and international slave trade. Their work is enriching slavery records projects that are underway around the world.
    (Shenoy, Rupa. “Archivists race to digitize slavery records before the history is lost.” Public Radio International, April 4, 2019.)



  • Alexander Keefe. India’s Photo Division used to have a rich archive of photography showing the culture and history of the country. Then it vanished. Alexander Keefe had downloaded some of the content, and started an Instagram account to repost and share them, carefully including credit to the Photo Division and the original captions.
    (Mohta, Ekta. “Tracing The India That Existed Before Instagram!” Mid-Day, April 8, 2019.)



  • PublicLandsHateYou. This is an activist Instagram account that calls out people for their bad behavior on public lands. A certain amount of ire is aimed at influencers, but mostly it works to educate people on proper behavior on public lands (interacting with wildlife, camping responsibly, etc.)
    (Kane, Evan. “New Instagram Account That’s Shaming The Folks Who Treat Public Lands Like Crap.”  Fstoppers, April 17, 2019.)



  • Katie Cuyler. Katie Cuyler is a librarian at the University of Alberta. She’s been doing “guerrilla archiving” on the Web presence of the Government of Alberta, archiving and saving data to protect it against permanent removal by the Canadian government. (The Trump administration has scrubbed significant amounts of information from American government sites, especially on the topics of climate change and  LGBTQ content.)
    (Lawrynuik, Sarah. “Librarian rushes to archive Alberta’s climate change data before change in government.” The Narwhal, April 18, 2019.)




Here’s part 2.
Here’s part 3.
Here’s part 4.

Categories: News, Rants

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