Thursday, April 30, 2009

Enjoy Our Lovely Front Hall!

Caveat Lector asks an interesting question:

Why should we go through so much effort and agony to teach undergraduate students to use library-provided subscription databases when the vast majority of them will never again have access to those databases once they graduate?

I don't work with undergraduates, so my opinion has limited bearing on the question, but thinking of myself at that time---oh, yes, was I ever ignorant of and uninterested in databases!

I can't even remember if we had databases. I do remember looking up articles in some sort of index (and then going down to journal storage to locate the full text), so there must have been some.

I seem to recall they all looked exactly alike, on these grim orange-on-black screens at terminals that were also used for the catalogue, and nothing else. So either branding was not big, or my library indexed articles in the catalogue.

Or my unreliable brain is feeding me erroneous messages about the past, which is also entirely possible.

The point being, I had pretty much no clue about database search skills. I did OK in college, so maybe that was fine. It seems that the limited level of clue I had (see keyboard, type in keywords, probably) was sufficient to my information needs at the time, since I did graduate.

And it's not as if the librarians weren't there if I'd ever thought to ask for advice.

I think a related question would be, what's the alternative to teaching students? Just pointing at the library home page and telling them to call if they need you?

Could work. I mean, we know most of them will never take full advantage of the advanced features that way, but they probably won't if you haul them through library orientation and tell them about it, either, because they're distracted and don't really care and it's not useful information until they actually need it.

At which point, if they think of it, they can call you.

"We rented a giant mansion full of awesome magical information rooms, but most people just bumble around in the front hallway. Oh well. If they want directions to more stuff, they can always ask, plus, there's a lot of decent stuff in the front hallway."

The second part of the question, the fact that most people will not have this kind of database access once they graduate, also caught my eye.

I'm not sure how serious it is. I mean, whether or not something is valuable long-term is often irrelevant to whether or not it's valuable now, so what does the fact that they'll probably never use these databases again have to do with it?

I spent a lot of time working on formatting references in MLA style as an undergraduate, which I've pretty much never been called upon to do since (and which we now have software to handle, mumble mumble kids these days don't know how good they have it etc. etc.).

Heck, I spent plenty of time and effort just learning my way around campus, figuring out class and dining schedules, remembering peoples' phone numbers--that's stuff I'll definitely never use again!

That doesn't mean it wasn't energy usefully expended at the time, on my part and on the part of all the people who printed up schedules, posted notices, made study guides available, and so forth.

So if trying to teach students search skills means some of them do a little better in their courses, than I don't really care whether or not they ever use a database again after they graduate. If it helps them while they're in school, that seems like help enough.

But as far as the question of whether or not teaching database search skills does actually mean some students do better, or whether even if some do, enough do to make it worth the effort, I don't know.

Certainly the database designers are working hard to put enough stuff in the front hallway of the mansion that people can get something useful without knowing how to get to the other rooms.

Maybe they've done a good enough job that we (meaning, again, people who work with undergraduates, since that was the question) can leave it to them. (Graduate students must obviously be thoroughly indoctrinated with database search instructions: it's just sound policy.)

Yeah, that was a lot of rambling to get to that inconclusive conclusion, I know. Sorry. I thought I was going somewhere, but it turned out I was sidetracked by my 'giant mansion full of magical information rooms' metaphor.

Also, the memory of those square orange catalogue letters on those black screens in the library in college. It will haunt me now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not So Big Now, Eh Twitter?

Both Stephen's Lighthouse and Rough Type mention this Nielsen story about the fact that even though Twitter is growing by huge leaps and bounds as new people sign up every day, the site may not actually be retaining all those new sign-ups as regular users.

I recall similer stories about Second Life, back when it was the hot new thing: apparently it also had, among its vast armies of residents, millions of registered users who didn't log in regularly. (I sheepishly raise my hand here...I am presumably still a registered resident of SL, but can't be sure since I haven't signed in for months.)

Obviously there's nothing truly startling about the fact that a lot of people sign up for a trendy free service, and then don't wind up using it. (Heck, a lot of people reputedly sign up for expensive gym memberships every New Year's and then don't wind up using them.)

Signing up is how you try it out and see if you like it. If you don't like it, you let it drop, possibly without bothering to formally resign, since you never know, something might change and you might find it useful/fun/procrastenabling after all. Twitter is also pretty innocuous as a membership site: it doesn't really do anything if you don't use it.

If you had to pay for it every month, or if it constantly sent you reminders about itself, it might be more worth it to people to actually quit if they weren't using it, but as it is, why bother? There's no harm in setting up an account and then forgetting it.

No harm except THROWING OFF THE NUMBERS, that is. Horror!

This does probably mean that just because everyone in the world is apparently suddenly on Twitter, we shouldn't assume that all communication will be accomplished via this medium in the near future.

Here I was just about to take a vow of silence, too, but I suppose that had better wait until I can respond to questions at the reference desk with an imperous gesture toward my Twitter updates and not get politely removed from my job.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Favored by Timing

How great is this?

Not one week ago, I found that I could barely read the top line on the RMV vision test, and now just today I find that my employer has made available a new vision care benefit! I can get 40% off new glasses!

I am beloved of fate.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nifty Sperm Control Notions

Exciting new possibilities in the field of male contraceptives!

RH Reality Check has the details.

Briefly, two options involves blocking, rather than cutting (as in vasectomy), the vas deferens. Potentially a less troublesome surgical procedure, and more likely to be reversible.

This has been successfully tested in other primates, so things look promising for humans, although of course nothing is certain.

New types of spermicides are also in development, as well as means to prevent sperm from merging with eggs.

Clearly, there's interesting stuff going on.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

E-Cards for Health

CDC has health-related e-cards! Awesome.

They're promoting their handwashing cards due to the swine flu news at the moment, but they have many more categories as well.

I'm totally coming here for all my greeting card needs in the future. After all, salmonella recall notes easily translate to "Happy Birthday." And warnings against antibiotic overuse are perfect for Mother's Day!

Actually, in the case of my mother, this is kind of true.

My mother, and anyone else who has reason to expect a card from me at any point, should consider herself advised.

Research and Genes

So the Personal Genome Project has posted data from the first ten volunteers, and will soon be enrolling the next 100 (of an eventual 100,000).

The site reports that interest is high, but if you're intrigued, you too can register and receive recruitment information when available. At this time, participants must visit "a medical center in Boston" (possibly Boston Medical Center!--they don't say) at their own expense, so if you live in Nome, Alaska, or one of the numerous other places located far away from Boston, take that into account.

Me, I'm curious, and interested in the advancement of scientific learning, and what with my precious, precious red hair genes I am also thoroughly convinced of the value of my genetic code, so I'll be thinking about it.

I would also like to highlight Harvard's extremely thorough approach to informed consent, which involves actually passing a test to ensure that you understand something about genetic material, gene transmission, expression and regulation, genetics and society, and the project. It's hard core. They've got a study guide and everything!

I've taken part in a variety of research studies, and have always had to read the forms and been given a chance to ask questions, but I've never had to pass a test. The closest thing was once when someone asked if I could explain in my own words what the project was about. (I couldn't explain it now, it was years ago, but at the time I was all over it. You better believe my consent was informed.)

Anyhow, I think this is an interesting approach, and serves to really emphasize both the potential value of the research, and the importance of the choice participants make to be involved. Putting this level of personal information on the web for all to see is not something to do casually.

Or maybe it is, these days. Excuse me while I go Twitter an update about my genetic code.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sunshine, Lollipops and Broken Glass

Another fine day. Sky blue, sun shining, birds singing, flowers blooming, etc. I went out to pick up trash along the Charles River as part of the Charles River Conservancy's annual clean-up. Obvious.

It was a good day to be out. I would like to share the following observations:

  • If you smoke, please don't throw your cigarette butts on the ground. It may appear that they just vanish into the grass like magic or something, never to trouble the world again, but believe me, they do not.

  • You can get a decent leg workout hunkering down after a bit of trash, rising, and repeating. Yeah, cleaning up a magnificent natural landmark and public space is OK, but it's really all about my quads!

  • Further along those lines, if you spend some time crouching down picking up bits of broken glass in the sun, and then stand up suddenly, you can get a wicked head rush. It's all about my quads, and a cheap and fleeting high!

  • For some reason, I feel more kindly towards glass debris than towards plastic. Maybe it's that glass will eventually get all worn down and cool-looking, whereas plastic just becomes dingy. So if you must litter, I will be marginally more kindly disposed towards you strewing glass around. As long as I have shoes.

  • I have previously expressed my admiration for Caveat Lector. That admiration is greatly increased by the D&D reference in this post. Love it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Driving Around

It was super gorgeous out today. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the trees were budding, the flowers were blooming.

I celebrated with a trip to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Obvious, right?

My driver's license expired last week. Happily for those of us who like to accomplish things on the internet, you can renew online, but only every other time the license expires. I renewed online last time, so there was nothing for it but to go to the Registry in person.

Naturally the branch that was three blocks down the street from us closed a few months ago (and I could have sworn I had another year on this license, or I would have planned ahead and gone there), so I had to go to Revere, a few towns over.

Remember how a couple of days ago I mentioned that I can get lost anywhere? Yeah, well, I studied the map, and wrote myself careful directions, and I actually made it to the RMV all right.

But on the way back, somehow, even though all I had to do was retrace a fairly straightforward route I'd traveled an hour earlier, I took some wrong turn or other and wound up in Chelsea. Obvious, right?

Anyway, I am once more a legal driver. I've had a decent run of luck with ID photos in the past, but this time I have a really classically dreadful one, where I'm kind of pursing my lip and looking shiftily sideways, as if I'm not amused, but am faintly guilty about something.

Since this pretty much sums up my general mien most days, I can't deny that this is a good image to represent me for the next ten years (assuming I renew online next time it expires, in order to avoid getting lost in Chelsea again).

I may scan it and use it as my ID photo for this blog.

On a health-related note, I could barely read the top line in the eye test, so I guess I need a new prescription. At least sometime in the next ten years before I have to take that test again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Advertising Made Me Buy It!

Health Populi talks about a Harris Poll showing that US citizens blame advertising "for peoples' economic woes."

I should note that this blame is "compared to others in "The Media,"" not overall, so the poll is not actually saying the people think advertising is the main problem facing this country today. Which is good, because that would certainly be an oversimplification.

I have mixed feelings about advertising, to be sure. There are plenty of things I wouldn't know existed without it, and therefore would not buy, thus saving myself money.

On the other hand, there are things I may find out about via advertising that I actually like, want and find useful, but would never have had a chance to get if I never knew they existed. Which might still save me money at the moment, but at the cost of convenience, time, increased efficiency that might save me more money in the long run, etc.

You just can't relax with advertising, I think is the thing. It's always out to get you. It may give you some useful information, but that's not its primary purpose, so you have to be constantly suspicious, which is kind of wearing.

And the fact that I'm constantly suspicious of it may cause me to have less-than-kindly attitudes toward advertising in general, and therefore to be inclined to blame it for everything bad that happens to me.

You suck, advertising! If not for you, I never would have bought that new EZ-SuperMop and decided to clean my floor and then slipped and fallen and thrown my back out!

I'm just using myself as a theoretical example here, not relating an actual occurence or attitude. In real life, rather than blame advertising, I choose merely to steer clean of cleaning the floor. Safer for everyone in the long run.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bibliographies Question Answered at Last!

OK, here's something I learned about PubMed yesterday.

You know Bibliographies in MyNCBI? When they were first added, I was all intrigued and wishing they'd been there earlier, because I thought maybe they would manage references for you and let you arrange them for citations or something, like RefWorks or EndNote.

But they don't do that, they just store article citations, so I sort of lost interest. From time to time, however, I would wonder, "just what is the deal with Bibliographies? What are they for?"

Well, it seems that the correct way (or, not to be prescriptive in case someone else has another idea, "a useful way") to think of Bibliographies is as a variation on another MyNCBI feature, Collections.

It's not that Bibliographies does anything fancy with the citations, it's just a place to store them (the same as Collections), but it facilitates searching by author from within the utility in order to compile lists of works by a specific person.

Collections, on the other hand, is a more general feature offering a way to save items compiled from PubMed itself based on any old search you may do.

I might say that Bibliographies addresses the part of Cutter's objectives related to "by a given author" or "in which the title is known," while Collections handles results of subject searches. But I might be making that up.

In any case, it was reassuring to know that there was not some crucial, fascinating twist to the feature that I was missing out on. It is what it is, and it's all right there.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Useless Non-Reporting

OK, so I should totally be writing down some sort of thoughtful review of NLM's PubMed training, which is extensive and generally engaging, but I left my haphazard notes in the binder in the training room because I'm going back tomorrow.

Also, I have to go meet people and eat things.

So I have very little to say, except that it's chilly and rainy here. Perhaps later, or perhaps I will be distracted by something shiny--hey, a nickel!--and never get to it.

Two things only for now:
  • NLM people are very nice and very competent
  • I can get lost anywhere

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Party in PubMedLand!

Made it to Bethesda, knitting needles and all!

I happen to have connections in DC, so invariably when I come down to this neck of the woods, I have a fabulous time. I can never think why I don't come more often, except that it involves organizing a plane ride and all.

Anyway, here I am, mostly ready to learn fun facts about PubMed in the morning, and thoroughly enlivened by the DC nightlife.

My only that...I have...boneitis!

I mean, my only regret is that I have to get up tomorrow as if it were a workday, rather than sleeping in. It's not quite work, but I do have to pay attention.


Here's another thing about this neck of the woods: I'm all for the Metro, but I can't decide how I feel about its fare system. In Boston, it's a flat fare to get on, no matter where you're going: pay up front and you're done.

Here, the cost of the ride depends on how far you've traveled, and the cost isn't deducted from your fare card until you leave the system. Now, that makes sense, from a practical point of view, but it also means that if you haven't got the system memorized you wind up never quite knowing if you've put enough money on your fare card to let you out again once you've completed your ride.

I think Boston might be easier. But heck, either way, I just like to have public transportation, so I'm not really complaining.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Running With Needles

Here's the deal according to the TSA: one can definitely carry knitting needles onto a plane as a general rule, but the Security Officer in any given airport can refuse to allow them if he or she deems them a threat.

So it's allowed, unless it's not allowed.

I love this sort of clear-cut guidance.

I assume it means "it's allowed, unless you look sketchy to or annoy the people at Security." But then, doesn't that pretty much describe everything about air travel?

Enh, what the heck, I'm takin' 'em. I've got squares to complete for this wedding afghan, and no time to waste. If anyone asks, my needles are not threatening. I've never even poked myself painfully in the finger with one. And they're bamboo, not metal...they're practically pliable, really.

Also, I will ignore the title of this post, and will not start running while waving them about, which would almost certainly attract unwanted attention. Also, it's an obvious safety hazard. I could put an eye out!

So I'm packing to head down to Bethesda for one of NLM's PubMed, TOXNET and Other Databases trainings. It's gonna rock! I look forward to learning many interesting details about the fine databases provided by the NCBI.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Considering Bones

Our Bodies Our Blog has a post about the way osteoporosis has become a condition to be treated.

The post raises the question of whether, in women with various risk factors for osteoporosis, it makes sense to take protective drugs pretty much forever, even though these may have side effects and may or may not be that effective.

This issue is somewhat close to my heart (as close as my ribcage anyway--hahahahaha! I love a dumb anatomy joke). I had a bone density scan a few years ago, and, indeed, my bones are less dense than the average woman my age.

They call it osteopenia, which is not osteoporosis, but is--well, like I said, less dense than average for the age. I think that's all it means.

I felt suddenly fragile for a while after I found out, as if I should be afraid to lift boxes or something, but it doesn't actually mean anything right now, for me just sitting here with my slightly-less-dense skeleton.

But risk factors! Bristling with them!

I was a subject in a research study for a potential drug to reverse, prevent or otherwise treat bone loss (I can no longer recall the details, although I have the paperwork somewhere), and I had to wonder: if it turned out this drug was effective for me, would I then feel I ought to keep taking it, assuming it made it onto the market?

As it happens, I either wound up in the control group, or else the drug didn't work that well, because there was no change in my bone density after the year of the study period. I was sort of relieved, in a way.

I don't want to take expensive medication for an imperceptible condition, but if it were an option, and could stave off some potential problem, maybe I'd think I should.

Whether or not we tend to be overmedicated in U.S. society is a valid question, I think, but complicated.

Well, enough self-centered musing about my skeleton. For now.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Self-Aware Food

My kind of tasty.

Attractive, matter-of-fact, no pretensions, and made of ice cream.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reasonably Satisfied Movie Review: 'State of Play'

So we saw State of Play last night, and it was not about libraries or health, but did somewhat address issues of technology, since it was a loving tribute to the awesomeness of good old-fashioned reporters and print journalism.

Which, hey, I feel the love of these things, even while I also feel the creeping disinterest in newspapers that apparently everyone in the country feels. I feel bad they're all failing, but...I have enough to do reading blogs!

The movie kind of works with the fact that news is changing: the paper at which a main character works (the Washington Globe) has just been bought by a profit-hungry company called MediaCorp, while another main character works at the paper as a blogger and there's some back and forth about this.

Is blogging real journalism? Is the blogger a real reporter? Do some stories need to be read on newsprint? The movie is interested in these questions.

Anyway, I found it reasonably entertaining, with good performances by the actors involved. Helen Mirren is fantastic, and must be especially honored (love her), and Russell Crowe was rather charmingly stout and disheveled.

In addition to print journalism, the movie was about the risks of privately owned military forces. This issue is also a key point in this season of 24, so it must be a hot topic, and certainly one that has some pretty interesting aspects.

The story involves murder and cover-up and a vast corporate conspiracy on the part of Blackwater--I mean Starkwood--I mean PointCorp, which our intrepid reporters must work to uncover before time runs out.

I shall not lay out the details, lest points of interest be spoiled; it's fairly typical of such thriller plots (I didn't find myself especially surprised by anything that happened), but it's also fairly well done, and, as I said, includes good performances.

I enjoyed a lot of the acting, and there's good interplay with the reporters, the cops, the editor (Helen Mirren: can I just say again, awesome), the colorful characters they run into, etc.

If you enjoy political/journalism/action thrillers, you could do worse.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ah, Marketing

Interesting post on The Slow Cook about a marketing campaign (by companies that sell bottled water) to discourage people from drinking tap water.

Now in some places in the world it is certainly true that water from the tap (or tap-equivalent) is actually unfit for drinking from a health standpoint, so I'm not going to issue blanket condemnations of drinking bottled water. Although blanket condemnations are a lot of fun and I'm all for them in principle.

Still, being that here in the United States the tap water is fairly uniformly potable, I personally find it silly to pay good money for something you can get for a lot less good money by being on the local water system, for which our good tax dollars presumably pay anyway. I will therefore continue to drink the heck out of tap water as a matter of course. 

Especially since we keep hearing that bottled water generally comes from various city water systems anyway, just conveniently repackaged (convenient in the sense that one can carry it around easily, and, more to the point, charge a lot of money for it. I wish I'd thought of that.)

Every once in a while, in a restaurant, the option has been presented: "tap or bottled water?" I suppose this might be part of a subtle attempt to push the bottled stuff, since they can charge for that, but I'm too socially clueless to have ever felt the slightest hesitation in saying "tap is fine." 

Laugh in the face of peer pressure, everyone! 

flip flopping joy pointed out this story before me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

News Item Frenzy

So everyone in the world is on Amazon for apparently censoring titles in its sales rankings. This is clearly not cool. Information! Free! Etc.

There's some speculation that it might be an external hack as opposed to an internal policy. I use Amazon all the time, so I anxiously await further info and hope it doesn't turn out that I have to despise them. Search #amazonfail on Twitter for lots of info.
[Edited to add this NPR story, noted by LISNews]

Also, it's National Library Week. Shelf Check has more.

The New York Times' Well blog posts about a story of a dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacterium. What have we been saying about overuse of antibacterials? Cut it out!--that's what we've been saying. But no one listens to us.

Bad Science has posted a chapter that was left out of the author's recent book (on bad science) due to legal action at the time. Now available at no charge! It's about AIDS treatments, scientific and non-, and how they combine with politics, history, ideology and horrific HIV infection numbers in African countries.

Somber and worth reading. I must read the whole book one of these days.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Email-Inspired Musings

I got this friendly email message from the Windows Live Team thanking me for "using Hotmail for 10+ years!"

Wow. I guess it has been that long. I will now reflect briefly upon my history with the communicative medium of electronic mail. 

I first opened a Hotmail account as I was getting ready to leave college and the .edu address that was the only one I'd ever had. I spent a fair amount of time forwarding key messages to my new account so I could have them later. Ever with an eye on personal history, that was me.

Then I got my first post-college job, complete with a .com address, and of course there was no way I needed more than one email!--so I abandoned Hotmail for a while.

I later came around to the notion that having more than one email account was OK, particularly if one was personal and one a work account. The fact that the company owned the work account was not immediately important to me; I just wasn't thinking in those terms. If it had my name on it, it was mine, right?

When I decided that having a personal account as well made sense (there's no dramatic story there about how I got in trouble for sending personal messages from the company account or anything, I just gradually started to think more about the lines between the different parts of life), the Hotmail account I'd set up was still there, so of course I went back to it.

Unfortunately, it had been more than 6 months, or a year, or whatever the time limit was, since the last time I'd logged in, so all my carefully forwarded messages had been deleted. (Storage space was a bigger deal back in the day, you will recall, and they had these rules to keep things lean and tidy.)

Siiiigh. There went my extensive college correspondence, with all my youthful ramblings about classes and work plans and what family members were up to back home and so on. I still regret losing that. 

The lesson is, make backups. Or don't trust technology. Or log into your email accounts at least once every six months. Or that memory is fleeting. Or something.

But despite this crushing disappointment, I kept using the Hotmail account because it seemed to work OK and I already had the address set up. I was still interested in keeping the number of accounts I had to check low. 

Later I added another address for listservs and such, and a Gmail account when those were new and exciting, and I picked up a couple more .edu addresses, and changed jobs, so at the moment I have at least seven email accounts for various sections of my life that I check...sometimes, anyway. 

One of them remains this first Hotmail account, because habit. Also I have about a zillion saved messages in it, and everyone has the address in their address books already and it's so hard to send an update to get them to change it! 

Besides, Hotmail has served me well enough for the past 10+ years. We'll see if I'm still using this account after another 10+.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Science Fiction-Inspired Musing

A question for anyone in my legions of devoted followers who both watches Dollhouse and has read Altered Carbon and/or its sequels:

With the most recent episode's presentation of a sort of backup drive with "the unabridged [character's name]," aren't we inching towards sleeving in the Dollhouse world?

The show is putting more emphasis on a lingering 'self-ness' being inextricably tied to an original physical body, but really, there's theoretically no reason you couldn't imprint the 'unabridged whomever' into any body you wanted.

And while the Actives' working imprints, as far as we've seen, are composites of different skills and traits rather than transferring the full consciousness of a individual, The Hendrix in Altered Carbon was essentially a recreation of a personality based on historical records rather than stored memory.

Plus, it's easy to see that backup drive being re-formatted into a cortical stack. Could something like this be the mysterious Purpose behind the Dollhouses?

Just sayin.' 

From time to time, one unavoidably geeks out over the stories that enliven one's life. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Other D Departs

Dave Arneson, co-creator of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, is dead.

He follows his fellow designer Gary Gygax, who died just over a year ago.

I roll my dice in salute. 

Unexpected Ovid


BIOSIS suddenly looks like our other Ovid databases, all pastel and such. It always used to be orange and blocky-looking, with a sort of retro look that some might find charming.

But, it seems, no more.

All those tips we taught people a couple of weeks ago about how to use the old Biological Abstracts search features are instantly meaningless.

Well, that's life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Razor-Sharp Hands of Biological Clock Cut Both Ways

Our Bodies Our Blog links to a story in the New York Times about a study from the University of Queensland suggesting that children fathered by older men are at higher risk of various health conditions.

We've been hearing pretty much forever (at least, as long as I've been paying attention--and I'm super old!) that pregnancies of older women are at higher risk, but since men don't have to worry about actually building the child from this close to scratch with their own material components, it hasn't traditionally been as big a concern for them. It's just some DNA! What could go wrong?

Apparently, something.

I think there was also a theory that men keep on churning out brand new germ cells all the time, while women are born with all of theirs and so they inevitably age along with the woman, or something, and that therefore sub-optimal outcomes were less likely to be tied to the male parent. 

I may be making that up, and if I'm not, whoever came up with it may have been if it turns out that, indeed, there are increased odds of health issues for children of older men.

The article raises the question of whether, as we learn more about how male as well as female fertility declines with age, men might not also have to start thinking about that good old biological clock. 

I guess it's not really surprising. We're mortal: we get old and things start to break down, and eventually we die. Hopefully we get in some good years of cantankerousness first. That's my goal.

But the point is, it makes sense that things don't work as well in later years as we creak closer to death. (Did I mention I'm super old?) I, for one, welcome our male siblings on board the speeding train of reproductive decrepitude. The more the merrier!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Seriously, AP?

Dangerous Intersection (and a post to MEDLIB-L) alerted me to this possibly disturbing action by the Associated Press to limit use of their content.

According to the alarmed post at the middle link there (a post at WebPro News), the AP is trying to outlaw linking, and could be preparing to sue Google and other search engines for returning AP stories as search results. Which seems a little backwards--don't people click through and read news stories they retrieve as search results, thereby giving precious eyeball time to the content creator?

I'm not sure I see an outright threat to the very practice of linking in this story (hence my rampant linkage here), but I am not an expert, so it might easily be there.

A story from the New York Times (via WebProNews again) suggests that, in fact, one part of the concern is to make sure that search engines return the original AP work to searchers, rather than a version posted somewhere else. Which I can see being a concern, but telling search engines which results they have to put first is problematic.

There's also some copyright concern (oh, copyright!--we meet again!), as there's a question of whether or not posting snippets of works owned by other people/organizations is Fair Use. News aggregator sites have operated under the assumption that it is, but the AP, if it really wants to crack down on use of its content, may wind up challenging that.

I certainly can't feign surprise and horror that the AP wants to control its work and make some money. I too enjoy receiving credit for the works of my fabulous intellect, as well as money. 

Webverse-changing new crackdowns, though, that does make one wonder and doubt. Could this change the internet as we know it? For the worse, even? 

Time, I suppose, will tell. Time and copyright law. So we're doomed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Words So Matter

In case anyone doubted that words have awesome power (I know I didn't), here's an interesting article from Slate about what it means when terms make it into the dictionary.

The dictionary--in its myriad versions--is of course the official record on language and what concepts words express, so it matters when "same-sex marriage" gets into the books. 

What with the news from Iowa and Vermont legalizing marriages between people irrespective of sex, and from DC recognizing such marriages if they're valid in other states, it seems perfectly sensible to include it in the dictionary. We should have formal definitions for terms that are getting a lot of press, after all. 

At the same time, since the dictionary (which is certainly always an incomplete record of a language) does serve as the sort of official line on what's available to be legitimately dicussed, it can also be seen as a big deal. If something's in the dictionary, it exists, by George!

Language is fascinating. How would we know we existed if we didn't have words to think about ourselves? 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Easy Reader, That's My Name

Caveat Lector introduced me to an interesting web-gizmo called Readability. It's kind of cool.

You install this little button on your browser bookmarks bar. Then when you come upon a hard-to-read page, just click, and Readability renders everything in straightforward, black-on-white, nicely-sized, Times-New-Roman-ish-fonted glory. (I'm not great with fonts; it looks a lot like Times New Roman, but I'm not positive it actually is.)

It's kind of like what a feed reader does for blogs (besides the syndication thing): you lose all the individual design of the various pages, but depending on how dramatic and exciting that design is, it can be a lot easier to read. 

I'm reasonably tolerant of odd fonts, interesting colors, distracting graphics, etc., at least in small doses, but I have certainly come across my share of pages that irritated my eyeballs and were just plain difficult to read.

I do kind of miss seeing the interesting pictures and designs people put on their blogs. It expresses something about the writer that you don't get with the plain text. Sometimes I'll click through for some reason, and think "wow, I never pictured this blog this way!" 

Kind of the way I'm sometimes surprised to see a photo of someone I've heard on the radio. It's as if I don't get the whole experience of the blog without the chosen theme, background and color scheme.

On the other hand, sometimes when I click through, I think "wow, I couldn't read this straight-up on regular basis!" Light text on dark background, for instance, is tough for me to read over any significant period of time.

Is my blog bad? I tried to keep it simple--boring, even--but come to think of it the blue on blue may not be ideal.

Anyway, if you have a hard time reading busy pages, you might give Readability a try. You might lose some of the character, but if you're reading for information, it may not really matter. 

It's a trade-off I generally make with blogs too. The information comes through...personalized presentation is nice but secondary.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Websurf to Prosperity!

I saw this in a number of places, including the Boston Metro (local free paper), Stephen's Lighthouse, LISNews, and Wired

Because the news is that awesome. 

The linked pieces refer to a study from The University of Melbourne suggesting that moderate use of the internet for personal reasons during worktime is associated with increased productivity. Please note the responsible mention of the obvious qualification that this applies only to moderate internet use, so we can't use this as an excuse to read an online novel everyday or anything (drat!).

The theory is that taking occasional short breaks to browse the web allows people to then return to work tasks with refreshed concentration. Sounds good to me. It makes sense that taking a break and coming back to something after a few minutes would result in renewed energy for the task at hand.

Now you have to wonder if the same mental break benefits would apply for people in jobs where you can't simply move from one open browser window (with my Google docs spreadsheet) to another (with my Twitter feed) to take this break. The study is happy news for people working in offices with computers, but provides little comfort to those on assembly lines, I expect. 

Clearly, we must look into providing internet-capable cell phones to every worker as a way of boosting national productivity. 

Oh, come on, you can't say that's not the first thing you thought of too. 

It wasn't? Well, excuse me for being obsessed with internet on phones. 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Not That We Need It--

But Bad Science has more on the unreliability of brains. I'm surprised anyone ever gets anything done, what with the enormity of our misperceptions about things.

The piece makes the point that this is part of why it's useful to do research: because our initial understanding of things is so often flawed.

Here's to research, then.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Zoning Rules for Social Groups

The American Prospect has an interesting piece on "bad mommy" bloggers, who defiantly discuss their 'imperfect' mothering.

They talk about fondness for wine and disinclination to keep perfectly clean houses (hey, give me a couple of kids, I'd fit right in), failure to take perfect joy in their offspring, refusal to dress in mature mom ways, etc. 

It seems kind of like mothers being able to declare, "heck, this is who I am, and I also have kids, I'm not some artificial ideal of womanhood" and be supported and acknowledged by a community. Which is one of those things the internet is so good at. 

At the same time, the piece suggests, there's a limit to the individuality this community tolerates. You can be just so different, but not more.

I am not familiar with this section of the blogosphere, so I have no idea if this characterization is true, but it's an interesting idea, how even groups centered around defying one set of restrictive expectations can wind up with their own rules.

Just part of how people work socially, perhaps. Break away from one thing, attach to another.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lonely Magazines

I can't be entirely making up that American Libraries and Library Journal always seem to arrive on the same day--it seems so familiar. Here they both are, again! 

They are thus placed in competition with each other for my limited attention, meaning that almost invariably I don't read either one of them for weeks. 

It's a sorry state of affairs, I can tell you.

Here they both are, again, on top of a pile of their equally neglected fellows, some old bank statements, my Player's Handbook, letters of solicitation from worthy causes I have not quite decided to ignore, and who knows what all else.

I want to read them, in theory. At least skim them. I just can't actually seem to tear myself away from blogs and knitting to do it. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It Turns Out I Do Have Superpowers

Remember that sack of chocolate-coated gold coins I wanted

Well, here's the weird thing: it was waiting for me when I got home tonight. A clean, durable canvas sack with a dollar sign on it, filled with big solid double eagles enrobed in rich, creamy Belgian dark chocolate. 

Some with a decorative swirl of white chocolate, like they do with truffles. 

It's exciting, but also a little weird. Spooky, to be honest. I hadn't realized I actually had the power to command the universe, but there's really no other logical explanation.

I'm not sure how, or why, but I credit CADIE.