Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Down to the Wire

The above picture was shot about 5:35 Pacific time, just outside the front door of the archives, which closed at 5:30 PM. One of the things that will often happen at the end of the day or the trip is that you're either running behind or trying to fit one last folder in. Happened today, I came across CA-38 San Francisco's damage report for the Naval Battle near Guadalcanal and started scanning it in.

As I mentioned before, I try and decrease the cycle time of each scan, and one of the impediments is that whenever I first start the scanner software to scan into Photoshop, it has to take 30 seconds or so to calibrate the scanner. Solution: decrease the number of times you first start that software. So I typically will scan 10-20 images and then dump out and save them.

How does this digression tie into "down to the wire? Well, some other researcher or volunteer was moving a chair around the research room this afternoon and hooked my scanner's power cord with the leg, yanking it right out. The scanning software dropped, and Photoshop crashed... I had about nine images and was halfway through the next one, and had to restart photoshop and start back from scratch. That ate up enough time that I wasn't going to comfortably finish San Francisco's report, which was the last one in the box, and I really wanted to be done with that box!

So I just kept scanning, and eventually wound up with about 25 images, the last one scanned in a minute or so before closing. I then walked out the door and saved each one. Here's a preview of what I was scanning at the end of the day:

Plate II, "Outboard Profile Showing Hits"

That brings us to the next topic, Improvising.

The above image is of a sheet of paper that measures some 40 by 13 inches. You are not going to find many scanners that can handle that. So, what we do is scan it in sections and digitally stitch them back together in photoshop. I've done this before with the plates from Structural Repairs in Forward Areas During World War II and have learned a couple of things:

  • Keep the sheets flat; if they ripple at all it may cause lines to be slightly different in location from one section to another

  • Make sure that the sheet is oriented exactly the same on each section; having to experiment with rotating 300dpi by a fraction of a degree is a tedious PITA, especially if you didn't keep the paper flat and line up one area only to find that another is misaligned.

  • So, how does one align a sheet of paper that is taller then the scanner's plate? We improvise!

    I used the top edge of the scanner to line up the top border,a nd made sure that each section was firmly pressed against it so that they all lined up the same. I then Placed a manila folder down over the sheet to keep it flat while I carefully lowered the cover, and voila, perfect scans on the top edge.

    The bottom edge was a little more difficult though, as the scanner has a dead area where there is clear plate, but no scanning happens. So I needed something rectangular to offset the paper on the bottom edge and yet keep it the same. Can you guess what I used?

    The item at the bottom of the screen is the key card for my hotel room. ;)

    By the way, the slightly darker tone on the top is another reason I used the manila folder; my current scanner has a black plastic cover, which is good for some things, bad for others. I like the richer color tones I get with a white backing, so I used a bright white folder as a backing. Since the top is going to be cropped out anyway I wasn't as concerned with covering the whole back.

    Side Projects

    When you scan in color, or when your scanner wants to calibrate itself every frickin' time you start up another round, you are frequently left with spare time. You can play solitaire... lord knows I've about beat it to death, but in a case like this where I don't have a lot of time on-site, it's a good opportunity to do some other projects. I tend to take notes on the records as I'm scanning, or flip ahead a bit and identify the next set of documents I might be interested in. Today I started into the finding aids, large binders that list, to a certain extent, what the archives holds. I also started OCRing an 88-page report on Franklin's battle damage in WWII. Happy to say I got 4 pages in, but this will probably be one I peck at for a little while.

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