Tag Archives: history

Be Part of the Smithsonian Crowdsource

Here’s a pretty cool volunteer opportunity with the Smithsonian:

The Smithsonian Institution has followed the crowdsourcing crowd, with the opening of an online transcription center allowing members of the public to help decipher thousands of digitized pages of Civil War diaries, botanical labels, correspondence and other documents that cannot be easily read by a computer.

Over the past year of beta testing a team of volunteers has transcribed more than 13,000 pages of documents, including personal correspondence of the so-called Monuments Men; the 1948 diary of Earl Shaffer, believed to be the first man to hike the entire Appalachian Trail; a 19th-century ballooning scrapbook; and a significant portion of the tiny labels in the National Museum of Natural History’s collection of nearly 45,000 bumblebee specimens.

Now the Smithsonian is hoping the broader public will help transcribe, among other highlighted projects, the field notebooks of the Virginia bird-watcher James W. Eike; the research notebooks of Joseph Henry, a physicist and the Smithsonian’s first secretary; and a collection of letters from American artists to be included in the coming book “The Art of Handwriting.”


This past Tuesday night was a busy one at the day job – we had our annual awards dinner and we rolled out a new name and logo for the organization.  The organization was founded in 1980 and as I prepared for my emcee duties I decided to do a little research so that I could do a little retrospective on what the world was like 31 years ago.  It was fun, especially since I was in 8th grade in 1980 and while I do remember things like seeing Jimmy Carter on the news, I was your average self-absorbed teen and really wasn't aware of what was going on in my parents' day-to-day lives as they made their way through life.  Here's a taste of what I found using various sites online — I'm not going to vouch for absolute perfection on the numbers, but they're all close enough to give you a sense of what was going on at the time:

  • Soviet Union was in Afghanistan
  • US boycotted the Moscow Olympics
  • Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall was top song
  • A bunch of people tuned into Dallas to see who shot JR Ewing and Bo and Luke Duke were driving around being chased by the dumbest sheriff ever born.
  • First fax machines were available in Japan
  • Average 30 year mortgage rate was 15.28%
  • Yearly rate of inflation was 13.58%
  • Median value of a house in NC was $36,000 ($101,000 in today’s dollars)
  • Average monthly gross rent in NC was $205 ($577 in today’s dollars)
  • Gallon of gas cost $1.19 ($3.35 in today’s dollars)
  • NC unemployment rate in March, 1980 was 5.2%

The first time I ever signed my name to a mortgage was in 1993 and I remember the loan officer telling me and my wife that we were really lucky to be able to get our sub-9% mortgage, and telling us what a wonderful thing PMI was so that we didn't have to put down more than 10% for our loan. I remember agreeing with him because I could remember my mom and stepfather talking about their wonderful 16% note just 14 years earlier (mainly because I was bored to death sitting at the closing for that purchase when I was a self-absorbed teenager).  I also remember sweating bullets as we were asked uncomfortable questions about payments that were a week late on store charge cards a couple of years earlier, and even about some late payments I'd had in college. You can imagine my shock when I started reading about no-look loans, and you can also probably imagine why I'm not particularly sympathetic to those who get their panties in a twist when mortgage rates bounce up a scootch to 4.7%.  It's all a matter of perspective.