I should warn you- this post is FULL of gratuitous (in a good way!) links.
I really enjoy graphic art, and I’m always trying new things- my latest kick is leather working, but the one BEFORE this was computer generated art. Vector graphics are all over the advertising world and the computer world. One of the ways I got better with creating vector graphics was to jump right into the open source world, and sign up to help. Armed with the latest Inkscape and Gimp I set about learning the basics, then signing up to the Art Team and taking on a project. Experience is the best teacher, and wow- talk about jumping in the deep end with just a pair of floaties! But I learned, and I got my project done, and my icons for the Solang Photo Manager were part of the standard Fedora package, I wanna say Fedora 14 but I don’t remember.
Paleo is full of great Open Source software. Open Access journals are cutting a swath through science a mile wide. Open Hardware is becoming more and more useful to museums (and our budget woes). Need Dataloggers? Make.org has instructions how to build them. My husband and I tried and we did something way off, dang thing sampled every 5 min like it should, but I’m still at a loss to explain why the results were always approx. 60F off from each other! Alas, our PIC programmer and sensor guts lie unused in a corner… Don’t even get me started on how badly I want to start tinkering with 3D laser scanners ( They have a whole forum dedicated to helping you make one!)
My point is, we’re a curious species. We learn by doin’ stuff, and screwing up and fixing our screw ups. We learn by building, by altering and tinkering. Open Source projects drive a lot of this by encouraging swapping of ideas, Hackerspaces and Makers boost this up with freely available designs and instructions, and inexpensive components. We, in our own paleo community, have sites where we make our procedural and training manuals available (thanks, PaleoPortal! and many others). Examples of our emergency planning documents, accession procedures, and database schemas are floating around here and there.
This is all warming up to talking about Specify, a free and open source database for museums. I LOVE IT. Does it have it’s troubles? Yes, of course it does. Taking things as squishy and mutalbe as Stratigraphy and Taxonomy and jamming it into something as rigid as a database…well, yeah, it’s bound to have some troubles. DarwinCore, EMu, Spectrum Standards….it’s boggling.
I downloaded Specify onto my machine here at home. Because I can’t get enough- you’d think trying to standardize data all day at work would be enough- oh no, there is no such thing as enough. It was tricky to put on our home network. Specify really wants to be on a single computer, but it does not smack you with rude messages or resort to dirty tricks to time out processes like some other software does. Over the next few weeks I hope to be spending a lot of time with pretend data, altering forms and trying to break it. It’s going to be fun breaking apart my home-experiment version.