Monday, September 29, 2008

On Odd Names

As an odd-name-having person myself, I was naturally interested in this little discussion going on about whether strange names hurt one's job prospects (also see here, regarding Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale's baby, and here on a number of "celebrity baby names gone bad," and for a current-events take, consider the younger members of the Palin family).

I personally have not felt impeded by my name in terms of career advancement, but you never know. I guess I could be even more wildly famous and successful and possessed of adoring fans by now, if only I'd been able to pass as normal. Alas!

It's certainly true no one can ever spell or pronounce my name right away, and I have to explain it a lot, but I don't really care. 

And it does sometimes gets a little old having to explain it again, but it's also kind of nice to be the only person associated with it. After all, I'm unlikely to be confused with anyone else. When I Google my name, any reference I find is pretty much guaranteed to be me, which is, if nothing else, convenient for ego surfing.

We weird-name-people have that going for us. 

Of course, my own name is sort of marginally weird rather than really outrageously weird, and at least has the advantage of not being something that's a word for something else, like, I don't know, Starlight Happiness. Word names seem to get people looking askance a little more than if it's something that might conceivably be a family name, or come from some obscure ethnic heritage, or something.

Also, it's not really a 'normal' name with a different spelling, like Elizybethe or something, which also seems to be a pet peeve for some people. (Although it is a lot like a variation on Allen or Lynn/Lynne, so that's not entirely true.)

I'll admit I do hear names from time to time and wonder what those parents were thinking...but I would certainly hope I'd never assume anything about the person's character from it, or decline to hire them, if that were the context. 

I generally have to think, heck, it's not as if I'm one to talk about other peoples' bizarre names.

Finally, would I give my own kids, if I were to have them, creative, weird, unusual names? Well, I'm not ruling it out. Keep an eye out for the birth announcements of Starlyght Happinesse. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008


So the new My NCBI is up

It's a bit smoother looking, a little less utilitarian and grey and business-like, more pastel and polished.

It's got a new 'home' page that shows a summary of saved searches and collections, preferences, and the databases for which you've established filters. See this tiny screen cap for a view.

There's a new 'bibliographies' feature that lets you save citations for papers (where were you when I was in school?!) I'm going to have to play around with that one and see how it works.

There's also a new search feature in 'filters' that seems pretty handy. You can quickly pull up a specific library to add to your results tab list, rather than scanning down the whole list, for example. And there are links to the various libraries' websites right there, although I did notice that occasionally these link back to the PubMed front page instead.

You have to save a search now before you choose whether or not you want to get email updates, but this is a pretty minor detail.

Basically the new My NCBI looks good to me--some useful additions, and no loss of functionality that I've noticed so far. Users who were familiar with the old one should have no issues with the new, since everything is in the same general place it was.

We're definitely going to have to adjust the specific things we say to students, though, 'cause it does look different. Nevertheless, my geek love of NLM remains as strong as ever.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Better Get Tagging

iLibrarian notes that WorldCat, our favorite giant robot on the catalog playground, is now offering the ability to tag records

Users will need to have registered for a WorldCat account, and will have to be signed in to see their tags. You can also see the tags other people have assigned, allowing for browsing based on other users' terms. The announcement states that we should "Stay tuned as even more tagging functionality and display options are incorporated into the service over the coming months," so who knows what exciting things will one day be possible?

Interesting stuff.

To be honest, my tagging activity has really trailed off lately. I've been storing links in Google docs or my browser's 'Favorites' instead, old style, and don't even have a icon on my toolbar right now. I did it for a while, and it's not that I don't see the value of tagging, it's just a habit that hasn't really caught so far.

Still, you never know when it will turn out to be the exact right tool for some task, and I'll leap right back into it. Maybe into WorldCat!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I am wildly excited by the news that My NCBI, which allows us to do more handy dandy stuff in PubMed than we can shake sticks at, is going to be updated on Thursday.

I can hardly wait to see the new version! I hope it includes a way to collect points that can be redeemed for free abstracts or something. (Just trying to think outside the box here.)

Meanwhile, this fab tutorial I did in the spring will be immediately out of date (I think it's actually somewhat out of date already), so I'm posting it while it still has a fragment of relevance. Quick, everyone! Learn to use this version right away, while you still can! Then forget it.

I'm hoping it doesn't change too much, or that student I showed how to use it yesterday will come back on Friday, sign in, and think, "that librarian is such a liar! This doesn't work anything like she said it would!"

That's NCBI: always keeping us on our toes.

Random Movie Review: "Nights in Rodanthe"

I and my gracious spouse saw Nights in Rodanthe last night. I didn't especially want to see that movie, but I did kind of want to see a movie, and that one was free, so there you are. 

It turned out that there was also a free preview screening of Eagle Eye that night. We consoled ourselves afterwards with the thought that it's possible Eagle Eye was worse than Nights in Rodanthe. After all, Eagle Eye has Shia LaBeouf, for whom we have conceived an unyielding dislike. 

Nights in Rodanthe is probably just exactly somebody's type of movie, but not mine. It's about two wounded people who heal each other by challenging ingrained habits and falling in love. Smiling-through-the-tears kind of thing. Happiness! Sadness! Life! Finding out who you truly are!

It's full of overwrought dialogue and fierce emoting by Diane Lane, whom I quite like in some things, and Richard Gere. 

As I said, someone will probably love this movie. It's based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, who also wrote books that became the movies The Notebook and A Walk to Remember. I haven't seen those (and am not about to do so now), but if you liked them, you may like this one.

Briefly, Diane Lane, whose husband left her for another woman but now wants to come back because that didn't work out, is housesitting at her best friend's rustic inn in Rodanthe, NC. Richard Gere is the sole guest, visiting from Raleigh for some mysterious purpose. A hurricane is coming on.

They talk, they challenge each other, they bond, they put up storm shutters. But they're both so very hurt by life! Can they crawl out of their shells and blossom together like the free, beautiful people they were meant to be? Or will she take back her husband for the sake of her moody teenage daughter and sensitive, asthmatic son?

I found it heavy and predictable, with a shallow storyline and no very deep or interesting character development. We've seen all these people before: emotionally wounded artistic woman, callow cheating husband, spunky black best friend, withdrawn perfectionist doctor, sullen teenager, colorful rustic townsfolk, tragically deceased perfect wife, grieving angry family. Not that these can't be workable characters, but you have to do something interesting with them, right?

Because I am ever alert for ways to relate things to the purported subjects of this blog, I must note that it had little to no library application, but did provide the following medically-relevant bits of info:

  • Even routine surgery can be fatal
  • Doctors are human beings who need to give and receive a little love and understanding like the rest of us
  • Lard is bad for your arteries
  • Antibiotics and syringes are like gold in Ecuador


Monday, September 22, 2008


Talk about print-on-demand.

iLibrarian and Stephen's Lighthouse both alerted me to the fact that the library at the University of Michigan has installed a machine that will print out "perfect-bound, high-quality paperback" public domain books in just minutes and for about $10.

For those who don't like to read their public domain books on the computer, this is pretty cool. I personally have gotten so used to reading on the computer that I probably wouldn't actually hand over the $10, but I can definitely see it being pretty handy if you prefer paper.

Plus, it's just cool to think of being able to print yourself up a book, with real binding and everything. Much nicer than just printing out a pile of pages to mark up.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Now That's Technology

Improving on my idea of having cell phones beam nutrients into our bodies (also my recent momentary belief that life has a search bar), Emily Lloyd's Shelf Check presents the thought that we could have RSS feeds pumped straight into our veins.

Oh, baby. 

I've been a little lax about my feeds lately, usually only fully catching up with posts on weekends when I have a couple of hours to devote to reading. Having updates sent directly to my veins would save a lot of time. 

I'm assuming here that the veins in question would then transport the information to my brain, because otherwise I have this alarming image of gradually becoming imprinted all over with text as updates get trapped under the skin, without my ever actually reading them...but I'm pretty sure Emily Lloyd's futuristic technology will account for this. 

I'm trying to take a few minutes on a regular basis to keep up with the journals at work, and the library/health blogs I read could probably go into this same category of professional education, but then there are all the less relevant ones that I can't exactly not read if I see they've updated, can I?

Well, yes, I can. I have them separated into folders, and I can leave the non-work-related folders alone at work. Fine, shoot down my own argument why don't I.

Regardless, I'll be signing up for that RSS-to-vein technology when it comes out. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Leaving the Land Line

Health Populi has an interesting post about a study showing that increasing numbers of people are using only cell phones for all their telephonic communication needs. 

I know several members of my family don't have land lines, and I've been tempted to give it up myself, but have been deterred mostly by thoughts of "what if the power goes out and I want to call 911?" 

Which, given the overall odds of needing to call 911 exactly when the power goes out, is not really that solid an argument, especially with the costs of a phone plan, which the piece suggests average $40 a month. That adds up, especially in these iffy financial times. 

Anyhow, Health Populi mentions the health implications of this trend, which seem to hinge on the fact that people tend to have their cell phones with them almost all the time, and to have a cell for their own use, meaning that someone could potentially be reached with personal health tips and reminders.

"Take your multivitamin!" "Don't forget to refill that prescription!" "You know, you're overdue for an eye exam." 

People could also use the GPS features of cell phones to locate nearby hospitals, pharmacies or other health services, or get directions to that doctor's office. This is the kind of help I personally need, since I can pretty much be sure of taking any wrong turn there is to take if I'm trying to find my way somewhere. 

Once they're available, I'm sure you'll also be able to respond to some of those personal prompts right on the phone: "Don't forget to refill your prescription: text 'OK' to order now." "Overdue for eye exam: press 4 to call your last-used optometrist, or 5 for a list of providers near you." 

I'm not sure how it will take your multivitamin for you, but maybe eventually the phone will be able to beam nutrients directly into your body through your ear canal. I don't put anything past this technology.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Do Not Feed Bears

This is a health issue for humans, because bears are large wild animals that can be dangerous to your health, but also for bears.

4&20 Blackbirds explains how five bears in Montana had to be euthanized because they'd become too accustomed to humans. They'd apparently grown too accustomed to humans because a human was feeding them on a regular basis. That'll do it, all right.

Humans need to be wary of bears, and we need bears to be wary of us. When they aren't, it's easy for them to realize that we're small and soft and potentially edible, and then, in the name of protecting ourselves, we have to kill them.

This doesn't do anyone any good, except people who hate bears. And I'm not talking to them.

Do not feed bears.

The opportunity rarely arises in Massachusetts, and no doubt few of my adoring fans will ever have the need to refer back to this advice, but seriously, just leave wild animals alone.

Looking at bear feeding from the other side, Healthbolt has a post up about "How to avoid being dinner for a bear." Perhaps it's Bear Theme Day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Secret is Out

A conversation between myself and my spouse on the way to the grocery store:

Spouse: The purpose of life is to maximize the awesome. A good way to start is to take the feat Maximize Awesome.

Self: I took it twice, 'cause it stacks.

This finally explains why my life is so:
a) Awesome
b) Geeky

This has been your D20-bleeds-into-life update for the day.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Mother Was Right

--when she said not to worry about using antibacterial soap. Healthbolt backs her up, saying that most of the readily available varieties don't have enough germ-killin' power to sterilize your hands anyway. 

Plus, as my mom would say, you're just helping breed super-germs, because the strong ones will survive and come back to get you later. We've overdue for a pandemic, people! Don't encourage them! (Although those would probably be viruses. They're coming back to get us later too.)

But the point is, just use regular soap instead. I understand it's quite effective for most of your everyday situations, aside from surgery and caring for people with compromised immune systems, and it was good enough for your grandpappy, after all. I mean, unless your grandpappy used to clean everything obsessively with grain alcohol. Mine preferred Everclear.

Also, I can't be bothered to pay for fancy features like antibacteriality in my soap. I have an MP3 player to feed.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hazards of the Age

I think I may spend too much time on computers.

I was looking through some cabinet drawers for a spare set of earbuds I think I have somewhere, now that I have an iPod loaded with music. I was shuffling through the various wretched oddments, turning over this and that with no success, and I wanted to use the search bar.

It wasn't even a "wouldn't it be nice if there was a search bar for the real world:" I was actually reaching, in my head, to pull up a search field and enter "earbuds." As if there were no question such a thing was doable and reasonable.

It was a momentary fancy, of course. I immediately remembered that, oh yes, I'm not on the computer, and I kept digging through the cabinet by hand. I do realize the difference between the computer and the physical world.

For now.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's Weird

This is September 11th. And I posted that last light-hearted thing and then thought, "wait, should I have posted that on September 11th? As if everything were normal?"

But of course, everything is normal. This is normal. Whatever it is, it's normal now.

I wasn't even thinking about it while I wrote, I was just entertained by my enthusiasm for PubMed, and off I cheerily went. I thought about it on and off during the day, but I'm fortunate enough not to have lost anyone, so I don't have the sharp, personal reminder that so many people do. And there's work to be done in the office, and you have to carry on as if it were a normal day, and generally it is.

I remember in the time right after, I couldn't go a single day without thinking about it. Then, time passes. The immediacy fades, no matter how much it seems like it never will. I guess we're lucky that we can't remember things too vividly for too long. How would we stand it?

So, I don't know, should I have posted light-hearted database musings on September 11th? I guess so. You remember, but you have to live with your normal.


Elusive New PubMed Features

I think I saw the new resources on the results summary page that were announced on PubMed New and Noteworthy the other day!

Also Try and Recent Activity were visible on my results screen this afternoon (possibly More PubMed Articles as well, I'm not sure if they automatically come as a set and I wasn't paying close attention), and I absent-mindedly thought "huh, that's different," but since I was busy practicing a demo search, I didn't explore them in more detail. 

The excitement of being one of a "small percentage of users" who get to observe these additions first hand before a possible general rollout! [Blissful sigh.]

I should have taken a screenshot to remember them by. 

Maybe they'll be back tomorrow. Yes: another reason to go to work! I love this job.

From what I recall, the new features fit in nicely on the right side of the screen where there tends to be a lot of white space. I thought the 'recent activity' list was kind of interesting as a way to keep track of what you've been up to, and 'also try' was something I might have looked at if I'd really been seeking information and not just practicing to show other people how to seek information. 

As I say, I was distracted and didn't really pause to check anything out in detail. 

This has been your PubMed Geek Love report for the day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I finally got around to ordering that backup hard drive, so I can store my precious, precious data in duplicate in case anything else happens to my present drive. It arrived yesterday. 

Also yesterday I got a brand new MP3 player to fill with music, so you can see that it was a fabulous day in terms of technology wealth.

Sadly, I haven't had time to get to work on either of the fun and exciting projects that naturally await. Last night I had to go out and drink free whisky cocktails in celebration of the TV show Mad Men (tough work, but someone has to do it). 

And tonight I had to work late. 

Fewer cocktails were involved this time, which is causing me to rethink my judgement on this being the absolute best job in the world. Was I not promised cocktails? I should have held out for it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Let Us Once More Consider Facebook

I don't even spend that much time on Facebook (I swear! six or seven hours a day, tops!), but I do seem to frequently find other people talking about it and want to chip in.

This time, recommended a paper called "Facebook and the Social Dynamics of Privacy," and said paper proved very interesting. 

The author, James Grimmelmann, offers some good background information on social networking, and a solid discussion of the ways that interactions with other people and use of applications on Facebook can build up a fairly detailed picture of who you are.

Your name and location, who you know and their names and locations, any additional personal details you care to post, the kinds of relationships you have with the people you know (do you often 'poke' certain people, exchange 'gifts' with others, play games with others?), can all be seen through your profile and actions.

The kinds of things you think are interesting, and thus, in a sense, who you are, will also show up in the status messages you post, the kinds of games you choose to play, the gift-images and poke-messages you send, the 'Cause' pages you subscribe to and the institutions you declare yourself a fan of, and so on.

He talks about the fact that this picture of you is not entirely under your control as a Facebook user, since even if you keep your own privacy controls set to high, other people can leave their profiles open (or make them public at any time without consulting you), including any statements you've written on their 'wall,' pictures tagged as you on other peoples' pages, comments about you, etc.

I liked the discussion about peoples' motivations for giving away so much information on these sorts of sites. The article says that there's a natural interest in being able to control the way that other people see you: people want to look good to others, and being able to present yourself on a site with a personal profile of carefully chosen details and images is an appealingly straightforward way to do this.

It's plainly also true that social networking sites are good for, well, networking socially: keeping in touch with friends, making new connections, getting to know more about acquaintances. 

There's strong presentation of the idea that the value of social networking depends on people sharing information: you need buy-in, you need people to be on the site, using its tools and playing with its applications, or else there's no point. These sites are interesting and can be fun and useful, and that value depends on having a mass of users willing to put in the time and share the information.

But there are also real concerns about sharing too much information, making too much available about yourself or someone else. The article suggests that we tend to assume much more privacy than we really have: we think we're posting pictures and comments for our friends, and don't really keep in mind the fact that things posted on the internet can be rapidly disseminated much more widely. 

Similarly, we assume that something we send to another person will be received the way we meant it ("clearly, that comment about Betty was just between you and me!"), while in fact, without the clues of expression and tone that we get in face to face conversation, the person may take the message to be public, or neutral, and see nothing wrong with passing it on.

We've all heard stories about people who were refused jobs because their potential employers saw pictures of them mixing martinis for children or whatever, and a lot of the users of these sites are surely not much concerned with whether such-and-such personnel manager for a company they'll want to work for in ten years but haven't heard of yet is going to think their profiles are as amusing as they seem right now. 

This made me think about the idea that the web is 'small-town-izing' the world: that in a small town (and potentially in a highly web-enabled world) everyone knows everyone's embarrassing youthful (or otherwise) exploits, but you all just live with it and go about your business anyway. I mean, what else can you do? 

And, not to present questions without suggestions for answers, the article also presents some thoughts about policies and tools that probably won't help to protect privacy on social networking sites (anything that makes it harder to connect with other users, since that's what people are there to do), as well as some that might (education of users, as well as policies implemented by the sites).

There's a lot more in the article, but I've already rambled on long enough. In any case, I'm not really doing it justice, but do recommend it as an interesting look at an interesting piece of the web.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Guy Walks into a Library

He has the complete citation for an article he needs.

Since the journal is one the library subscribes to in electronic format, and the issue needed falls within the temporal span of our subscription, I am able to quickly locate the article and print him out a copy.

Yeah, there really wasn't a story there. Sorry if I got your expectations up with that subject line.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oh Me, Oh My

A colleague just alerted me to Google's soon-to-be-released web browser, Chrome. This should be interesting.

Apparently it will be available this very evening, and it will no doubt inspire a frenzy of downloading the like of which is rarely seen.

Meantime, you can enjoy this comic with the announcement from Google.