Wednesday, December 2, 2009

honestly free

Honestly free is completely free, available to those literally without a penny. "Free" (small print: with shipping and handling and/or sales tax) is a LIE; it is not free.

Honestly free doesn't require setting up an account (even a free one), logging in, or using a password.

Honestly free does not ask you to do anything special. There are no ads, no surveys, no competition, no need for luck, no roundabout routes to get to what you want. It is not "free if you buy ...." It is not "you can win ...." It does not have to be earned or won in any way.

Honestly free has no subscription fees, entrance fees, or parking fees.

Honestly free is not a trick to get people to want more. It is not a preview and certainly not a teaser. It provides enough to be truly useful or entertaining. It is not artificially cut short; it is not snatched away after a certain date or a certain number of uses.

Honestly free leaves you alone afterwards. It does not ask for your gratitude, opinion, or recommendation. It does not follow you with ads or requests of any kind.

Honestly free is completely anonymous. It doesn't ask for an i.d., or proof of age or residence. It doesn't ask for your zip code.

Ideally, in an honestly free situation, the most despised, totally penniless, physically repulsive, foreign person with political, religious, and sexual views which are anathema to the community will be treated the same as the most beloved home-town-golden-boy movie star.

Let me head off an obvious argument here: I'm talking about free to the individual using the object or service. Yes, these things are usually paid for by taxes or philanthropy. This type of pre-payment is inherently different from individual pre-payment for specific goods or services. You must pay taxes for the town library and park whether you use them or not. And people who have paid no taxes -- the homeless, visitors from other cities, even scofflaws who don't pay their taxes (till they get caught and put in jail) can use them, too.

The typical public library provides some honestly free services. Many (most?) have a free parking lot and are within walking distance of many of their patrons. A homeless person with completely empty pockets can come in, take a book or magazine or newspaper from the shelf, and sit there and read it, undisturbed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

the multi-taskable book

Recently, while engaged in a weeding project, I noticed that if there were several books on a topic, the big, thick one -- even if the thick one was the most respected title about the subject, or even a well-known classic -- would be scheduled for withdrawal because it had not circulated in the past couple of years.

"Lazy kids," I thought. "They see research as work and just want to get it done as soon as possible."

What was more surprising was how many big, gorgeous, picture books were going unread.

Then I realized that I -- a nerd who likes to study in depth -- would probably reach first for the slim YA volume divided into short chapters with lots of pictures. And how many of the coffee table books I'd glanced at, intending to get to them someday, but never had time to read.

What both scholarly books and coffee-table books (if one is to truly escape into their literary worlds) have in common is that they demand a long block of undivided attention. And long blocks of undivided attention are as rare as saber-toothed tigers these days.

Blame it on ever-faster-moving visual media shortening our attention spans, or economic and social changes that leave people with fewer and drastically shorter blocks of free time, but many people don't have as many opportunities as they used to for sitting at a desk or with a book on their lap for long enough to really get into it.

Some of the lure of watching tv or surfing the net is the colorful blinkenlights. But also there's the fact that people can have the tv going and be doing something else. Those cute cat pics or that online video or the chat with a friend are just a browser tab-click away from the e-mail or document you must write. In short, not only are the rivals of books shiny and exciting, but they allow for multitasking.

O.k. So what can be done to make books more multitasking-friendly? (For now we'll ignore the trend toward 500+ page books and interminable series; those are on the other end of the spectrum, read by people who do have large blocks of free time.)

We already have audiobooks. These allow for hands-free "reading," but the problem is that many people (myself included) find it difficult to maintain auditory attention. I miss parts, and then find it hard to go back and fill in the gaps.

We have e-texts. It's nice that they can be opened in another window or browser tab and therefore be switched back and forth to and from, but not all have quick and easy ways of bookmarking one's place (some do). And many of the free ones (i.e., public domain) are from a time when long periods of concentration were taken for granted (e.g., Sir Walter Scott's paragraph-long sentences).

What's needed is built-in redundancy, the kind of that can be seen from the corner of one's eye and register in the subconscious.

So -- I forsee literature that, like t.v. shows, a reader can look away from multiple times and still keep track of the story or information. Perhaps books will adapt the magazine article layout in which a key concept is repeated in large, bold type in the center of each page.

Chapters should be clearly titled for easy access, and divided into short and well-titled subchapters. -- Shorter chunks for shorter attention spans. (This has actually been going on for some time. Contrast 19th century works with 20th century ones, and you'll notice that fiction from the 1920s on tends toward breaks of about the length of movie scenes.)

Mutitasking-friendly texts would also provide all online reading (or listening) with quick and easy (and perhaps even hands-free) pausing and bookmarking tools.

The format of literature has changed in the past, and it may have to change again, but it doesn't have to disappear. The written word is a tough, adaptable species.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

bookworm heaven

Group of 25 Major Research Libraries Offers Full-Text Search to 4.6 Million Digitized Volumes
(Nov. 20, 2009 Chicago Tribune)

Hathi Trust is a scanned-book repository similar to Google Books, but in this case it's run by libraries.

With this site plus Project Gutenberg and Google Books, I have access to enough nerdly, obscure works to keep me happy to the end of my bookwormish life.

The interface is easy to use. The options for narrowing a search are far more numerous than those on the Gutenberg, and give more relevant and consistent results than Google. Books are displayed one page at a time, and, on a very slow connection, take a mildly annoying but not unacceptable time to load .

Unlike Google (sometimes, albeit only in annoying PDF format) and Gutenberg (always, in robust and convenient plain text and HTML), there doesn't seem to ever be any option to quickly download an entire book for offline reading. There is, however (with the inconvenience of setting up an account and logging in every time), a way to set up a "personal collection" on the site, and bookmark pages. Gutenberg is still the best site for collecting your own supply of portable books on a flash drive.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

the socialization of everything

The 19th through 20th centuries were marked by the rise in individual privacy and increases in solitary behavior.
  • Dating as couples became the norm among young people, in contrast with primarily socializing in groups.
  • It became less common for neighbors to be considered automatic friends, and in some neighborhoods, even to know each other.
  • Fewer people joined clubs and other social groups, as pointed out in Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam (2000). In fact, in some communities some such groups went from being respected and membership being considered socially necessary, to being considered "hokey." How many teenaged Scouts do you know? For that matter, how many kids do you know who went beyond Cub Scouts or Brownies?
  • Television went from a community experience shared with friends and neighbors, to a family experience, to individuals having their own sets in their bedrooms.
  • Groups of friends used to get together to listen to records. Beginning with the Walkman in the early 1980s, music became something often listened to through earphones on a personal device.
  • Games went from mostly being played by two or more people around a table to being played by one person in front of a computer. I remember when early video arcade games like Asteroids and Pac Man began to replace pinball machines in the student union. Looking back, I realize that it was more usual -- more "normal" -- to see a person playing those games alone than to see a lone pinball player without friends standing around watching while they waited for their turn. Solitaire had a reputation for being played by pathetically lonely people. Few admitted to playing it. There seems to be no such connotation or shame with computer solitaire.
  • The "populars" became a bit less universally worshipfully respected and the "nerds" a bit less despised. Respect for diversity and awareness of conditions such as Asperger's syndrome made people realize that not everyone is socially inclined; parents, teachers, and other caregivers became less likely to see shyness as a severely harmful character flaw or a sin. (Yes, people still laughed at the Trekkie in his parents' basement, but for the first time, there was sometimes some affection in that laugh.)
Recently, the tide seems to be turning.
  • Scientific research is placing more and more emphasis on the social aspects of the human experience. In The Ape that Spoke (1991), John McCrone presents a theory that human language began, not for practical hunting, gathering, tool-making, or survival reasons, but to keep track of social interactions and relationships and interact socially -- to gossip and schmooze.
  • In Gen Buy (2009), Kit Yarrow points out that the current generation of teens and young adults are more likely to socialize in groups (and especially shop in groups -- this is a business advice book), and to consult their peers before doing things (especially before buying things).
  • More and more computer games are made to be played against human opponents rather than the computer. The social component is even greater in online multiplayer games like Runescape and World of Warcraft.
  • Console video games have always been come with two or more controllers so that people could play together, but the games provided equally for a single-player experience. The games which seem to be growing most in popularity are ones like Rock Band and Wii Sports, which are primarily designed to be for multiple players.
  • Web authoring has become social with the rise of blogging and microblogging, which provides a place for reader comments, as do many national and local news sites. Many blog hosting sites make it possible to turn the commenting function off, but a blogger who does so will be seen as unfriendly.
  • Websites created solely for social interaction, such as Facebook and MySpace, are among the top sites on the internet.
  • There's an increasing tendency for any activity done in public to be done in pairs or larger groups. Now few people seem to even study alone. Until recently, many, if not most, of the people at public libraries (excepting, of course, children young enough to need a parent with them) came alone. They got their books and went home to read alone, or sat in the library reading or writing alone. There's a reason many libraries had solitary study carrels. Even when families or friends came together, the individuals in the group usually had their own agendas, their own books to look for. Recently the shift is toward groups coming in and doing everything together. Many of the requests we get at the reference desk are for someone else in the group -- "My sister needs help," "My friend's computer crashed," "My husband is looking for the westerns," "My cousin..." Chairs are moved from individual carrels and individual places at tables and clustered around computers. The chairs left at the tables are moved from their rows and grouped into configurations better suited to conversation and sharing books or a notebook computer.
Some reasons for the shift may be technological, e.g., social websites and cell phones make it convenient to keep in touch with many people. And some may be cultural; more working class people, who tend to be suspicious of private activity, now are using computers, and there are more people from non-western-European cultures who place a high value on doing things in family or friend groups. But there does seem to be a definite shift toward more social behavior, and with it a change in norms and values.

Monday, November 2, 2009

a bit of halloween fun

Mischief and mayhem -- a Renaissance lady, a witch, a wizard, a cyberpunk, a Star-bellied Sneetch, and the Cat in the Hat -- the little-known alter egos of some of the Tulsa City-County Library's usually mild-mannered staff.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

music -- peter arnstein on youtube

Peter Arnstein, a composer and pianist from Minneapolis-St. Paul, now has a clip on YouTube. In it, he's playing his "Brazilian Dance #5" -- a delightful, lighthearted piece. One of the things I like about his music is that there is an underlying sense of humor showing through in many of his works. (Also, the guy's just doggone good!)

I also really like his "Scottish Fantasy" and "Trio Jazzico Nostalgico," both of which are for piano, violin, and cello, and recorded by the Trio di Vita.

If any of you music-lovers out there are curious, there's more information on his website.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

cushing academy just doesn't get it

Cushing Academy, a prep school in Ashburnham, Massachussetts, is replacing the books in its library with computers. Completely. They're getting rid of a good library of 20,000 books, carefully collected over decades.

This is just one school library, one might argue. But the danger to society at large comes from making the unthinkable thinkable.

Libraries have always grown to include new forms of media. But before this they have generally kept the previous forms. The exception has been replacing items which could only be accessed by machines most people no longer owned with a form accessed by machines most people, by that time, do own. (E.g., records were replaced by cassette tapes which in turn were replaced by CDs.) When they got records, they didn't throw out the books. When they got books on tape, they didn't throw out the books. When they got videos, they didn't throw out the music or the books on tape -- or the books. They just kept adding media, enriching the overall information experience.

Books are usable anywhere they can be carried. They need no special technology. Even if the lights go out, a book is readable again as soon as the sun rises. And people like the paper format. Many people prefer the format. Some refuse to read anything of length any other way -- including many young people. In my library experience, most students with a reading assignment that's already checked out will change their choice (if possible) or go out and buy the book rather than read it at a computer, even if it's available for free from The Gutenberg Project.

I actually like to read books from a computer sometimes. (It's a playing-Star-Trek thing; it's fun because it feels futuristic.) But I also love my books and would never part with those dear friends. And I certainly would never presume to take the pleasure of holding a volume and turning the pages away from others.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

the big move: a cautionary tale

Cloud computing has its perils. One of those is analogous to renting vs. homeowning. In renting and in putting your documents on a cloud, someone else -- in the best case scenario, someone with more resources to to it well -- has the burden of responsibility of keeping your stuff safe.

But the landlord can choose to have the building torn down, leaving you to look for shelter. This is what is currently going on with GeoCities, the granddaddy of all web hosting services. As happens when an apartment is razed, neighbors scatter, destroying the community in which you once knew where to find people.

This could happen with any cloud service or application, including blogging, photo sharing (major brands Yahoo and AOL both recently stopped their free services), and yes, even online word processing. You could wake up one day to find that your documents are going to disappear. Or, if it's only the free service that's being stopped, that your stuff is being "held hostage" for money.

So, I have moved my former GeoCites sites.

Public Free Library, which includes links to free e-texts of books and documents, music, and a page of quotations is now at

Everallyn's Jefferson Pages, a Thomas Jefferson biographical site, is now at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

basic inherent drawback of blogging

(Or updating your social page status or tweeting.)

When there's nothing going on there's nothing to write about. (Duh, obvious.)

But when you're in the middle of a busy patch, in order to get something up, you tend to post in haste, often something poorly written (certainly not your best) and sometimes grouchy in content (because when you're over-busy you're annoyed at the world). Certainly not an in-depth discussion of whatever important project or event you're in the middle of; there's just not time to give that proper attention.

To make matters worse, because you're busy, you don't have time to put anything else up, so the lousy post hangs there for days, in prominent view at the top of the page.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

bridge between two worlds

The cyberpunk era has begun. Sorta. We're not yet at the stage of having chips in our skulls, conducting all our business and personal interactions as avatars in a virtual world. Nor do we always have electronic information floating in front of our eyes as a heads-up display (although the first step of augmented reality is available for the public in the Netherlands). We're in an early transition stage where some of the information and connections are in cyberspace, some in the physical world. We have no choice at this point but to live in both worlds, as anyone who knows who has been told that a certain job can only be applied for online, or who wants to read an old book that has not yet been scanned into electronic form.

Libraries bridge both worlds. One obvious way is by providing both computer access and access to physical information (i.e., books, etc.). It's easier for people to explore a new world when the risk is removed -- when it's free of charge and in a supportive atmosphere. The thing is, many people live mostly in one world or the other. They don't see enough of the other world to know what they're missing. A bibliography in the back of a book isn't going to be of much help to someone who always goes straight to Google, nor a search engine to someone who only looks on bookshelves.

Libraries also provide "cross-cultural" guidebooks, maps, travelers' tips, and personal guides (i.e., librarians). A library might (as many have done) put its card catalog online, with an option to place holds remotely, maybe with a "lite" version of the website easily viewed on a smartphone's small screen. There might be tweets or a blog or e-mail notices giving updates of new books. Many libraries teach people how to navigate cyberspace with classes or simply with patient, nonjudgmental help from a friendly librarian. Flyers of new and interesting websites might be printed and laid on the counter next to the bestsellers list. The most astute libraries realize that it's not just a matter of providing the best print resources to those who prefer print, nor just a matter of providing the best online resources to those who spend their days online. It's also necessary to help both groups cross the border.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


In spite of all the talk of physical bookstores being competed out of existence in the online age, there will, for the foreseeable future, be a need for a local physical location providing physical information and media.

If you really think about it, there are still all lot of people still alive who grew up in a world of books rather than of computers. Some people find computers intimidating. Remember, in their youth they had it pounded into their heads that computers could be touched (or even seen directly) ONLY by very smart, well-educated, adult, white males who had a job that allowed it. Some people like the portiblity of a book -- readable (during daylight hours) even when the power is out. And some just like the look and feel of books.

And there are times when a you don't want to order something and wait for it.

And then there's the serendipity effect of a place filled with the kind of random browsing not available by keyword searches or by the paths that software recommendations steer you in.

But stores are not about what all the people want; they're about what's most profitable and what a substantial subset of customers like (or are willing to put up with).

Enter the public library. They have books, newspapers, magazines, music CDs, movies. You can go in and browse and come away with whatever you're in the mood for right now -- not when it comes in the mail a week later. In many places, a library is within walking distance. In many others, it's a short drive.

And library materials are free.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

the always-on cyber-verse

Jacked into -- er-- turned on -- my web-enabled phone and pressed the e-mail button. Odd thing: I was already signed in, even tho' I distinctly remembered signing off on the computer. Ditto on the web browser of the phone. Looked for the "log out" link. Didn't see any. Maybe I just couldn't find it. There is a "log out" link on the mobile version of my social network, but it's tucked away in an odd spot at the bottom of the page. And it's easier just to stay logged in, anyway. All I need now is an avatar and a VR jack at the base of my skull.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

the cutting edge and the long tail

One of the great strengths of a library is that, unencumbered by the restrictions of retail, it can provide the "long tail." While it's true that a library's shelf space is finite, the fact that it doesn't need to sell, and sell quickly, to stay alive means that it can keep a wider variety of materials and can serve groups that the mainstream (not to mention the popular or the elite) ignores or shuns, or just deems unprofitable -- the shy, bookish types, the elderly, the poor, and people who are interested in "weird" topics or viewpoints.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

wikis (part 2)

Got the link to work in the TCCL wiki.

As for library uses of wikis, lists or discussions of books would be good, as would a community events page, to which anyone could add. It might be a good idea for entries to be monitored, mostly to keep some overzealous people from censoring those with opposing views. Or at the very least, have the log of changes up front and easy to get to, so that deletions don't truly disappear.

And check out Mary Poppins at your favorite library. It's a terrific piece of cinemagraphic art.

digital audiobooks

This is another technology that could be very useful for people who like to listen to the spoken word, but since I tend to process information best visually -- with the grand exception of music -- it doesn't hold much appeal for me.

I'm not much for listening to books. I get distracted too easily, and there's no way to take a quick glance at the previous page to catch what I've missed. Also, the system used at my library requires special software to be downloaded to one's own computer. Downloading of titles can't be done from the library. In short, too much monkey business for something I don't really want, anyway.

When the library first provided digital audiobooks a few years ago, the new titles seemed to be mostly business books. The books they had that interested me were mostly classics I could get from Project Gutenberg with much less fuss, and in a visual format. Now I see they even have Bunnicula. --

Sorta makes me want to read it. Think I'll walk my li'l luddite self over to the children's section, pick up the physical book with my physical hand, and check it out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


While I can see why some people would like them, podcasts turn out not to be such a great match with my personal tastes. I tend to listen to things mainly when traveling -- in the car or on long walks. Since I work in a library I can't listen to anything in the background on the job. And although I'm old enough to remember when people just sat and listened to records or the radio, my current lifestyle is to busy for that anymore. So the idea of sitting down in front of the computer to just listen for a half hour or an hour or even five minutes doesn't hold much appeal. Maybe if I had a web-enabled mobile device -- but I don't. I'd have to download the podcast on the computer, put it on the cheap iPod-like device I have, then plan to listen to it later. By that time, it will have become just another chore to be done.

Anyhow, I poked around The Podcast Directory. Another non-match with my interests -- once again, all sorts of subject headings, except "history." I found something called Geek Speak Radio that sounds interesting. I added it to my Bloglines feeds, but heaven knows when I'll actually have time to listen to it. I did add feeds for NPR's Talk of the Nation (which I listen to anyway, and which includes Science Friday) and Donna Hill's Stolen Moments.

Odd thing, for two out of the three, Bloglines gave an error message saying there was no RSS feed for the page. A minute later, both of them showed up on the list anyway.

online vids

Ah! The supreme time-waster! One can find boomer nostalgia like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, It's About Time, and Laugh-In. There are also quite a few clips from 1960s musical variety shows, which are generally missing from the rerun t.v. channels.

Those who are slightly younger can revisit their childhood with the original Hamster Dance and other groundbreaking viral internet videos.

And there are new delights, like the Animusic music videos, machinima (animation made from computer games) such as Red vs. Blue, and Avatar Meets Hamtaro.

To be truly entertaining and completely legal, though, one has to either be very talented, or have something unique (which probably cost one a lot of money to get) ...

... or be rich as a big corporation. Or as a queen -- yes, the British Royal Family has their own channel.

Library uses: could be used to promote programs. Imagine, a storytime trailer that goes viral worldwide ...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

cool 2.0 sites out there

One of the coolest is Galaxiki. It's described as "a fictional galaxy that anyone can edit." This is great for writers who like to make up worlds, especially those who like to make worlds, but don't really want to bother with plots and such nonsense.

I'm not going to sign up for it (right now) -- for the same reason I'm not (for now) going to get on Second Life -- for the same reason I'm not (probably ever) going to get on Twitter. It would turn into a major time drain, a black hole that would spaghettify my life and pull it past the event horizon into a universe far, far away.

I'll just mention it here, so I have the link handy in case I have a moment of weakness in the future -- y'know, those times when you're bored, and in your boredom feel like you've got all the time in the world, and so you commit to something that looks like fun but you later regret ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

wikis (part 1)

I'm not sure what to make of wikis, altho' the concept of using computers for collaborative writing or shared authorship has been around for a long time. I vaguely recollect futurists' predictions of all fiction becoming the "choose-your-own-ending variety," but except as a novelty, that doesn't hold much appeal for me. The power of the wiki, it seems, is as a tool for the types of documents that are already written by committee. Or would have been written by a committee if the committee found it easier to meet. Or maybe not -- maybe there are uses that someone mired in the past can't possibly imagine.

Tried the adding to the "sandbox" at Ambient Librarian, mainly because it resembles Wikipedia, but for some reason I couldn't get it to show a link. (Yes, I just poked around and didn't bother reading instructions).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

further acknowledgement

And while I'm handing out the gratitude, I should also thank Bookokie, without whom I would've had a much harder time getting this blog up at first (it's a slightly different interface from other blogs I've known), and whose youthful experience of things online I will undoubtedly continue to consult (i.e., run to her whimpering or screaming when stuff just won't work right).

library thing (part 2)

Gracias to Bibliochola for helping put the Library Thing widget on this page.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

library 2.0, post 1.0

Library 2.0 -- the use of collaborative online techniques as applied to libraries -- is a rather large subject, and I may well come back to it in later posts, so I'll mention a couple of ideas that hit me as useful.

But first, having read widely about Web 2.0, I'd like to make an observation about the tone of some articles about this and other new technological phenomena. Why do we (the grand "we," i.e., as a society) feel a need to diss the past? So often when some new way of doing whatever is introduced, the old way is implied to be, or even outright labeled, "bad" or "stupid." This is plain ol' not true. Blogs do not make static web pages obsolete; Twittering doesn't make blogs obsolete. Faster (the "improvement" is often speed) is not necessarily better -- sometimes it's useful, but sometimes it blurs a deeper contemplation of the subject. The move away from authoritative systems to information anarchy can give voice to neglected points of view, but it can also cause confusion. There's a place for both the old and new. Respect temporal diversity.

Tagging the catalog: If the library catalog is set up such that patrons can tag books in their own words, the books can be marked by words that are more intuitive than the standard subject terms. Furthermore, non-subject tags can be added that some patrons might find useful, such as "oversized, blue cover" or "happy ending" (yes, I realize that spoilers are controversial; managing them is a separate question). However, since this is a sort of catch-as-catch-can approach, it would also be useful to keep the "stuffy old" method of standard subject headings, either as an alternative or as core tags.

Social bookmarking: In addition to a book catalog, a library might want to keep a list of bookmarks or links, perhaps through a service like Delicious, to which patrons can add websites they want to share. To prevent abuse, the library may have to keep the option to delete sites or even to approve additions, and allow patrons to only add sites and tags but not delete or edit. Such a list would be useful in that it would contain local information and reflect the interests of the community.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

a short aside (part 2) (second go-round)

This time it didn't work -- wouldn't upload the text file. This time, what worked was to copy and paste the text into a blank Google Doc (at which point it was one long line running off the righthand side of the page), select the whole thing, then choose Format: Styles: Normal paragraph.

Go figure.


It may have just been the day I tried it, but I had a heckuva time trying to register my blog. The site kept giving error messages saying to try again later. I started in the morning and finally, after repeated attempts, succeeded that night. How did it go for any of you others out there who've tried it?


This is another one I'll have to live with awhile before I figure out its everyday impact for better or worse.

And, as with the blogs, I already have a system in place that works very well and is more colorful. On my hard drive I have several nested HTML pages of links on various topics. The arrangement is such that the links are easier to find (IMHO) than browser bookmarks.

So this feels sort of like re-doing the same work. However, having it online can be useful when I want to blow off time by surfing at work. (Just kidding!) On the other hand, it brings up another of those privacy issues. Like a list of books one reads, a list of websites one likes gives strangers clues to one's personality. But holding back on true favorite sites would make the list less useful to onesself. And making the list private would also limit it's usefulness; logging in every time would be a royal pain. So, o.k., here goes -- hey, world, I'm one mega nerd!

One minor complaint: sites that aren't shared by at least two people don't show up in a search. Yes, I know that's still a very low popularity threshhold, but one of the great strengths of the almost-infinite world of cyberspace is the "Long Tail." I don't want to know about some site that everybody else knows about. I want to find a site so esoteric that only one person has discovered it.

The main complaint is that tags are separated by spaces rather than commas, which means they must be only one single word. I want to be able to tag by phrases. This inability is especially limiting (or rather, not limiting enough) when the tag is a proper name.

a short aside (part 2)

Although a file copied and pasted from my Linux computer won't preserve its word-wrapping, nor accept word-wrapping added by the blog page, it turns out that if the file is saved as plain text (in the plain-vanilla text processor rather than Open Office) and then uploaded to Google Docs, it will work just fine.

-- Which means I can post from my itteh-bitteh cutie-pie sooper-kewl netbook. :)


I agree with Mr. Horse -- No, sir, I don't like it.

When I looked for topics I knew were on the websites I chose, sometimes it couldn't find them, and sometimes it gave me dozens of useless links first. There seems to be no way of telling it to search the websites in a certain order, so that one could search small, esoteric, narrowly-focused sites first, and then if there was no match have a broader backup, like, say Wikipedia.

And the interface is not only spare (and therefore boring), but it also reminds one of a certain discount chain.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

library thing

This gets to one of those changing cultural issues, namely, privacy. Within the memory of middle-aged adults, a person's reading habits were considered to be private information, shared with only a few close friends. After all, what one reads discloses who one is. (Although it's not necessarily a perfect match. For instance, some people regularly read books with which they heartily disagree -- precisely because they want to learn about (or laugh at) a different point of view.)

But upon consideration, this kind of self-disclosure comes more naturally than other kinds. After all, I'm a book-pusher both by inclination and by profession.

Library Thing is but one of several book-sharing applications out there. The main reason I haven't signed up for it before is that I already have enough trouble keeping my Facebook Visual Bookshelf and the "Books" part of "Interests" on MySpace up to date. So I decided to make this list something different. Instead of adding books as I read them, I'm listing some favorites. These books aren't necessarily ones I've read recently, nor are they necessarily books I own. For example, one is from the bookshelf of my second grade classroom.

In general, I greatly prefer Library Thing for its flexibility, ease of use, and robustness. I like the ability to edit all parts of the record, especially the ability to easily change the cover to match the book you're actually thinking of, and even upload a cover if need be. The one thing I don't like is the free version's paltry 200-book limit.

Just for fun, while we're on the topic of book lists, here are a couple of websites that list books owned by couple of more famous people:

Thomas Jefferson (1783)
Rudolph Valentino (1926)

a short aside

This is a test of an online word processor. There should be three paragraphs here, each separated by a blank line and word-wrapped to fit the screen. Yes, I'm aware that web-based apps are Thing 18, but while trying to upload the blog entry for Thing 11, I ran into a problem. I prefer to compose offline and copy and paste from a leisurely-written and proofread text onto a blog, webpage, or whatever. (Yeah, it's a digital immigrant thing; some of us even like to compose with quill and ink first.) However, from my Linux computer the blog template wouldn't word wrap, nor would it accept the word-wrapping from any file saved to emulate any format (plain text, rich text, or Open Office "MS Word").

Of course, Google Docs isn't offline, but it does have the advantage of saving just the text in a separate place. (In a probably unrelated problem, in the last entry I tried to put up, the blog site added a metatag that the blog site wouldn't accept. I don't want to have to re-write the entire post from scratch, just because the blog's website makes a programming error that may persist in any of the versions it saves.)

Why Google Docs instead of Zoho? -- I'll get to that when it's time to report on Thing 18.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

image generators

The Latin Motto program intrigued me, but strictly speaking, it's a word generator, not an "image" generator. Besides, it's too simplistic to translate the best Groucho quotes.

So I went with creating a St. Patrick's Day button.

In case you're curious and don't speak Gaelic, it means (or so I was told by a native Irish speaker) "and they all went off drinking." (And yes, I know there should be an accent mark over the "o.")

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

rss huntin'

Bloglines Search vs. garden-variety googling:

Only searches posts, but what if I only want to bother with blogs entirely devoted to a certain subject?
The "exclude my feeds" (meaning "I want something I haven't seen before") option could be useful.

It's probably the nature of blogs vs. web pages, but if you're looking for scholarly information, you'd do better with Google, to avoid getting a preponderance of boring, real-world, modern-day, personal junk. When I type in "monticello," I want the famous building, not what some stranger's kid is doing on some school sports team in Monticello, Illinois.

In a Google search for "monticello" and "blog" the first two hits were of a political blog named "Monticello," metaphorically evoking Jefferson's home, and the third was someone blogging about visiting Monticello, Jefferson's home.

A bloglines search for "monticello" yields, at the top, two references to state wrestling matches with some team from Monticello, Nevada and something about someone going to Lake Monticello (Arkansas?).


"Monticello" brought up a list of towns and lakes in various states. Tried browsing by category. There is no "history" category. That makes it useless to me right there. Maybe logging in would bring up a better search function, but I don't want to register for yet another thing, especially one that, as far as I can tell, I'd never use. And the inteface is plain and businessy -- boring!


Literally news feeds, but that's o.k., since it doesn't pretend to be anything else. It could be quite useful to many people. I probably won't use it much, since I already have links to more news sites than I can read. Still, I'll make myself a link to it, as it may be come in handy sometime. Kinda creepy, though, how it comes up with the city I live in, even though I'm not signed in nor have ever even registered.


Well set up for browsing (although it doesn't have a "history" category, either; I doubt that any general search site does {sigh}), and tends to present interesting links on the home page. (Bias admission -- this is a techno-nerd oriented site and I'm a techno-nerd.) One can waste quite a bit of time surfing here. This site also gives videos in its search results. Three of the four shown were definitely about the real place. (I didn't take the time to view them, since it takes forever to download video, but one of the pictures was a famous dome shot, another showed part of the terrace railing, and the other showed Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian who has just written a book about the Hemings family at Monticello.) The plain search didn't immediately bring up any good posts, but there is an advanced search which includes the option "Blogs about."

You can also search tag words and posts that link to a specified website. Using a tag brought up, on the first search page, a couple of pages about vineyards in the area.


Icerocket is a blog search engine not mentioned in the 23 Things list. Its home page is somewhat pop-culture oriented, and has less packed on it than Technorati's. Besides search tabs for Blogs, the Web, News, Images, etc. it has tabs for Twitter and MySpace.

A search for Monticello, brought up, on the first page, three references to the original Monticello. Searching for "monticello" and "virginia" brought up the best results of any of the blog searches -- seven good results, including the first four on the page. There is an option for an "Advanced" search, but it doesn't show up until you've done a plain search.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Now we're getting into something I'm unfamiliar with. O.k., I'll admit I'm deliberately unfamiliar with it.

I forsee the possibility of being overwhelmed. For years I've have a couple of discussion groups piped into my e-mail. Some days I only get a managable handful of posts, but some days I get fifty or more.

This kind of thing gives a false sense of urgency. And as soon as enough people are choosing to do it, it artificially creates a cultural imperative of urgency. For example, in the days when letters arrived once a day by mail, it was permissible to answer a letter a couple of days after it arrived, and not too bad to answer a casual one after a week or so. With e-mail, that kind of delay is largely considered rude. Indeed, some people expect you to check your e-mail several times a day and answer within hours, if not minutes. At what point is "check your blog feeds" going to become mandatory?

(Yes, I'm guilty of bringing this upon myself, to some extent. In addition to the aforementioned discussion group e-mail feeds, I have e-mail feeds from one blog site and from MySpace and Facebook, and even get notified on my phone when I get a Facebook message.)

There is a simpler, saner way.

I keep a list of blogs I follow linked to my browser home page. (My home page is an HTML page of links to files and websites that resides on my hard drive.) It's a text file, so it's easy to update (this means copying and pasting into the address bar instead of clicking, but this is only milliseconds less efficient). The important thing is that I'm in control, rather than the machine. I go to my list when I want to read something, rather than it nagging me that "Hey, there's something new here. Better look at it. Now." And I don't have to sign in to it.

Yeah, I can see how RSS might be useful to someone in some fast-tracked type of job who needs to keep up with a certain type of news or other information and can keep Bloglines constantly open in a small window. For that matter, a feed to the local news and weather might be useful on the reference desk.

To be truly useful (and truly annoying), it needs to beep every time something new comes in. Otherwise, its sort of like a to-do list. -- It's only useful if you remember to keep checking it.

This is one "thing" that I'll have to live with awhile before I can guess what its impact will be.

Monday, February 9, 2009

from picasa
My dad learned to fly in one of these. They were still in use as training planes in the 1930s and 40s.
The Penn Deutsch stuff above my stove. Yes, I went ahead and uploaded
some pics to Picasa, even though I've already got Photobucket with a couple of my web pages.

Thoughts on Picasa vs. Photobucket: It seems like Photobucket has more photo editing tools, but Picasa has the easier and quickest way to rotate photos, and furthermore, the thumbnails then show up correctly, whereas in Photobucket the thumbnails are still sideways even if the photo itself is corrected.

Thoughts on then "Where in the World?" game: No fun for people who like games of knowledge and intellectual prowess, with no element of chance. The first image that came up was an indoor one, a cuturally-generic shot of pancakes in a frying pan. -- No way to win by being smart instead of just lucky.

Thoughts on the video in the "23 Things" lesson: No, the "old" way isn't bad; it just has different advantages, not the least of which is that paper prints can be viewed without a machine. Nor is web-based storage necessarily safer. Those photos I have on Photobucket are there because I had to move them from Yahoo Photos when that service was suddenly discontinued. Recently I got a message from AOL that they were ending their picture service, too, although, fortunately, I didn't have any uploaded to them. These companies are fine for what they are, but keep in mind that they're like landlords who might decide to tear down or sell the house you're renting at any time.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

tech that wasn't, isn't, and probably won't be

"#7: Blog about technology." -- Uh, like this whole thing is about technology .... O.k. "... anything technology-related."

The Present? -- Nah, already doing enough of that.

The Past? -- Lots of cool stuff there. The Great Exhibition of 1851. The first fax
, demonstrated at the Great Exhibition. Color photography in WWI. Silent movies. The earliest t.v. broadcasts. Old cars. Old planes. Old typewriters. Ancient computers. Old, but not ancient computers. Computers my daughter thinks are ancient. Automata.

The Future? -- Ooo, yeah -- Nanotech. Quantum computing. Space elevators. Humans on Mars. Starships.

How about the technology of a futuristic past? Some of it was real. Some of it was imagined at the time, but never happened. Some of it is being imagined retroactively now.
It's called "steampunk."

(Now in handy book form. Check your local public library.)

of habits and contracts

Quite frankly, none of the learning "habits" present a problem. My problem is not any lack of confidence or ambition to learn, but rather, too much. I tend to bite off more than I can chew. Furthermore, I come to the topic as one who is self-taught coming into a formal class. I know what I've picked up informally, but am not necessarily aware of just what it is that I don't know. So, to make this project realistic, I will define my goal as:

1st: Discovering where the gaps in my knowledge lie, as defined by the outline of the 23 Things course.

2nd: Learning whatever facts and skills are needed to plug up those gaps.

Some may notice that this sounds a lot like a teacher pre-testing and then teaching to the needs of a particular student or group of students. You're right. I find myself much in the position of my former ESL students who had picked up some English on the street.

(I must admit to having a strong allegic reaction to self-contracts, and anything else that smacks of group therapy, counseling, business seminars (or anything pertaining in any way, shape, or form to the business culture), or the 1970s. Though the goal remains the same, I prefer to use the language of teaching, or the concept of self-improvement popular in the 18th through early 20th centuries. E.g., list-making is useful; signing my own name to myself as if I were two people just gives me a creepy feeling.)

"Toolbox" -- oh, good grief, enough with the cutesy labels already -- physical and pedagogical resources:
Computer access (check), the "23 Things" blog and its links (check), other web pages covering the topics (check), books and periodical articles (available for free from your public library!) covering the topics (check), knowledge-swapping with colleagues (check), knowledge-swapping with other nerdy types and young people (check), time (uh-oh ...).

Target date:
The end of this program -- and beyond. The set of skills necessary for interacting up to par in the new information age is, and will continue to be, constantly growing. As far as pace is concerned, I'll try for one or more topics a week, at the very least. Some of the 23 "things" are really subsets of one topic, so this progress may not be as slow as it would seem.

personal background relevant to this project

(Warning: The following is some of the aformentioned navel contemplation. Feel free to skip it.)

I'm a "digital immigrant," with tendencies toward going native. I have a strong interest in the history of technology, and how the technology of a given temporal culture (including the present one) interacts with its worldview.

On the minus side:

I'm "old." I grew up in a world where non-professional programmers (who had to be genius-level-brilliant and male) could never hope to touch a computer or even see one except in pictures. I didn't see my first computer until college, and even then access was strictly controlled.

I'm "old." And I was raised by parents who were older than average, and in addition, my mother was partly raised by her grandmother, so my primary, deepest-held values date to the early 20th century, and to some degree, the 19th.

Furthermore, many of the those are rural or working class values. In some ways, then, I'm not only one generation removed from the latest cultural change, but two or more.

I'm middle-aged and female and have a family and a job, which means I have responsibilities dictated by the needs of others. My meat-world life often constrains my online life, sometimes for months at a time, during which technological progress speeds ahead beyond my ability to keep up.

On the plus side:

My parents held, and instilled in me, progressive views, particularly regarding education. Lifelong learning is natural, and new cultural ideas are often fun.

One of my first college-student jobs was as a monitor in the PLATO lab at the University of Illinois, circa 1980. Here I was introduced to the concepts of the internet, computer-aided learning, hyperlinks, and floppy discs so big and genuinely floppy you had to support them with two hands. I took my first computer programming course in the age of mainframes, the first year after they stopped using punch cards in the university's programming courses.

I've been on the internet since the days of command-line Unix interface, telnet, bbs newsgroups, and Gopher.

I've been using PCs continuously since the days of CGA, and taught myself BASIC. I've been word-processing since Voxwriter 1.0.

Somewhere among my floppies I still have the original shareware version of Doom.

I taught myself HTML and have several web pages, the oldest of which is nine years old. (There were some earlier ones, but they're no longer extant.)

I've also designed and continue to maintain an author's professional web page.

I've been blogging since early 2007, and have pages on a couple of social networking sites.

(Note: This kind of self-revelation goes against my almost-Victorian upbringing. It smacks of vanity. But, as far as I can observe, it appears to be a normal, even expected part of the 2.0 world, so I'm trying it out. But I won't go as far as posting a picture of myself in a bikini. -- Fortunately, no one wants to see a fifty-year-old woman in a bikini.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

a word of explanation for the puzzled

Some blogs are public, not much different in nature from an opinion column in a newspaper or magazine. Some blogs are truly private. (This one is obviously not, since you are reading it without special permission.)

A recent book, Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky (2008), points out that, in a break from past patterns of communication, much of what is on "Web 2.0" -- blogs, pages on social networks, etc. -- is private communication (and some, I would add, is introspection) written for a target audience of one or a few, but published where all can see. There are imperfect precedents, for instance, a personal diary or a ship's log being published later, or an interview being broadcast to an audience. But for the most part, this phenomenon is new, and, being new, can be confusing.

So here is an explanation of this blog, and several others like it that are being created around this time:
It's an assignment (and will refer to other assignments) in a class,"23 Things," given by a library to its employees, exploring various aspects of Web 2.0. The target audience is other members of the class. However, because of the value held by librarians and teachers that information should be shared, anyone is welcome to read and learn. And in the spirit of the mixed-up mash of public and private that is one of the salient features of the new internet culture, it will also contain information that is of more general interest. (Warning: there may be, due to the topic, some navel-contemplation). It may even continue as a "real" blog after the class is over.

the big change

The earth is moving under our feet, shaken by bits and bytes delivered via wires and radio waves. Every once in awhile in history the very basis of a society -- the lifestyle of a majority of the people, the underlying values and assumptions -- changes rapidly, such that the world of one's childhood is completely gone by young adulthood rather than old age, and people in the prime of life, still active in the world at large, find that "the rules" have completely changed even during their own professional lifetime. We are in the midst of such a cultural change now.

see: Strangers in a Strange Time

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


This is the usual insipid first posting.
More to come -- more postings, that is, hopefully not more insipidity.