Saturday, October 31, 2009

What We Need Are Some Standards

I see from Stephen's Lighthouse that the UN has formally approved a standard form for cell phone chargers.

I can immediately think of occasions where this would have been useful to me. I forgot my charger, and even though everyone around me had a cell phone, no one had the same model I did, and hence I could not simply borrow someone else's cord when my battery ran low.

I'm so accustomed to this situation that it didn't even really occur to me to complain about it (a startling event in itself, given my fondness for complaining), but on reflection it's pretty silly. Imagine if the outlets in houses were all different, so you could only plug in your phone in certain models of electrical systems. If you moved, you'd have to get a new phone. That would suck, huh?

Happily, we have standardized electrical outlets (within countries, at least; there may still be issues if you try to take your regional-standard plugs abroad), so you can at least count on one end of your charger fitting wherever you might be. We like this.

I for one applaud the march of uniformity in this matter. One day, maybe I can go on a trip and forget my cell charger, yet still be confident of being able to borrow one from someone else.

Perhaps laptop chargers will one day follow?

P.S. I spent more time debating the title of this post than actually writing it. Is it grammatically correct? Is "what we need" (singular, would take "is") or "standards" (plural, would take "are") the important thing here? The internet does not immediately offer an uncontested answer. Shocking!

I'm following this pronouncement on nominal relative clauses, which isn't even specifically about my question, but references it in passing and sounds really authoritative, but I could see the other side as well.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Peering at the Bookish Future

Spent an interesting few hours at a half-day conference on the Future of the Book at Boston University this afternoon.

James Tracy, the Headmaster at Cushing Academy (the school that made news recently because the library traded in most of the print collection for electronic books) spoke about that decision, explaining that the school hopes to explore options for the best ways to educate students for the world of the future.

The argument that keeping access to a relatively few, not especially rare print titles in a small school library is not inherently better than offering access to many thousands of electronic versions of texts is definitely interesting. If you're offering books, is there a special value to print that makes it worthwhile to have a library dedicated to that?

The next speaker was Richard Sarnoff, President of Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, who gave a publisher's perspective on electronic books, stressing that while they have a lot of potential, especially for academic texts that are frequently updated and that users may not feel a strong need to own permanently, they are and will continue to be a small part of total books sold for many years.

He believes that the audience for print books is so broad that it will be a long while before e-books get the kind of widespread use that digital music enjoys. I liked the point that books for small children, at least, are unlikely to go electronic in the near future, certainly until e-book readers are designed to handle being thoroughly drooled on.

I also liked the mention here of the way that e-books are designed to replicate the experience of reading print, rather than to take advantage of the chance to put in audio or video enhancements: while these may be useful in some contexts, there are many times, especially when reading imaginative works, where we don't want to be distracted from our engagement with the text. Despite the shorter attention spans that the internet might encourage, there's still value to long-form reading, and e-books can support that.

Finally, Ann Blair of Harvard spoke about note-taking in history and today. New means of taking, sorting and storing notes promise to add interesting elements to reading in the book's future, as access to scraps of parchment, and, later, paper, allowed for notes in earlier ages. She had some great images of notes from history, and a fascinating overview of how notes have been perceived over time.

I loved the idea that reference books are essentially a way of getting access to ready-made notes: summaries of the important information about various subjects. Rather than read all the background material and take notes on it, I can consult a reference book that breaks it down for me!

Overall, this was a very enjoyable short conference with some thought-provoking speakers. I am left fairly confident of at least one thing about the Future of the Book: one way or another, I'm going to be reading them.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Costume

I have decided what I want to be for Halloween, based on a remark from a conversation between a man and two small children.

I shall be Captain Awesome.

I'm not sure exactly what Captain Awesome wears (tights and a cape, probably?*), but with a name like that, you know it's going to be good.

*Either that, or it will turn out that Captain Awesome likes to go around disguised as a mild-mannered librarian. It's meta.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Latest Exciting News

PubMed is officially the new PubMed!

It's terribly exciting. Sadly, I got stood up today by the person I was supposed to meet for a discussion of how to make a smooth transition from Ovid to PubMed searching, so I didn't get to show it off.

It will be convenient not to have to keep telling people "now you probably want to click here, because even though this is what the site looks like right now, it's going to look like this sometime soon."

As I've been using the new design, I've quickly gotten used to it and I quite like it. It works well.

At this point I'm ready to say it: well done, NCBI!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vitamin Question of the Day

An important question on the Nutrition Data Blog: do you need to eat some fat to properly metabolize fat-soluble vitamins?

The answer given is no:

You generally have enough lipids on hand in the gut to handle any fat-soluble vitamins that come along, even if they are eaten with a low-fat or fat-free meal.

There goes my "I'd better eat six cookies with this multivitamin to make sure I absorb it properly" excuse.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Goes There?

Something probably close to many of us in this highly log-in-able world: a discussion of passwords.

We know we should use different, highly individualized passwords for every site, incorporating upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols to make them hard to guess...but we have so many things to log into, how can we remember that many passwords?

At my job before last, you had to change your password every few months, but you could reuse them, so I had two and I'd just switch back and forth. At my last job, you had to change every few months, and they couldn't repeat, so I wound up just adding one more character every time I had to change it.

It got pretty unwieldy after a while, so I decided to change jobs rather than try to remember the password. Let no one say passwords aren't important!

Personally, I rely far too much on my browser to remember passwords for me, in my Keychain. It's all good as long as I don't lose my hard drive (again), or find myself wanting to log in on another computer. And as long as not too many sites go the extra length for security by rendering the 'remember this password?' feature non-functional.

My current workplace does that. The browser remembers the password, all right, but the site refuses to accept automatically entered characters. It triggers a sternly chastising message.

It's for my own good, I know. And at least I can keep the same password forever, as long as I enter it by hand every time I log in.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here's Money: Entertain Me!

Grim rumor via Cinematical holds that Hulu, our favorite place to watch TV shows online for free, may begin charging for said TV-show-viewage in the future. Maybe as soon as next year.

If you read the linked story, it isn't clear that there would actually be fees for all content on the site, so maybe some shows/episodes would still be free while others would have a cost.

While the natural response to hearing you have to pay for something that used to be free is protests and screaming (fun, too!), I'm actually withholding judgement on this until details are available. Because depending on how much it cost, I might be quite willing to pay to watch a show online.

Say there's something that runs on a channel I don't get. We'll use the example of Battlestar Galactica. 

While it was on, BSG ran free on Hulu on a weeklong delay (each episode became available online a week after it aired, so if you watched only on Hulu you were always a week behind and had to carefully guard yourself against exposure to spoilers). It was a fair deal and I was happy to get it, but I have to say that if I could have paid a couple of bucks to watch each week's episode immediately, rather than wait a week to see it free, I probably would have done it.

Also, I know someone who watched the first seasons on DVD as the last season was starting, and then couldn't follow the last one with us, because only the most recent few episodes were available at any particular time, so you couldn't start from the beginning. She totally would have paid (if it weren't too much) to get caught up so we all could have discussed plot twists in glorious and geeky fashion.

I imagine (perhaps over-optimistically) that this new situation, if it encourages even greater participation in Hulu (which does not actually have every single show out there right now, ahem) might help with an issue that I personally am bitter about: the fact that you can't order cable channels a la carte. 

I really only want about four of them, but you can't get them that way, you have to pay a large amount of money for a large package of channels, most of which you don't care about (the Big Deal of television subscriptions). In my home, we basically decline to pay a lot of money for cable, so we get basically no channels. It's the choice we've made, and we live with it, but we still complain, because darn it, we can imagine a better world, and why aren't we living in that world right now?

If there were a way it worked out to be cheaper to pay per episode online than upgrade cable to include a certain channel for the sake of a single show, I could easily see spending a few bucks to watch a show on Hulu, rather than waiting for DVD (which is the other way we watch a lot of our television).

So, Hulu, and shows that aren't currently available on Hulu (pointedly glancing at Mad Men here), work with me, and I'm willing to work with you.

On the other hand, I won't lie to you, if I think it costs too much I'll just keep waiting for Netflix. I am a patient person, and canny with my entertainment dollars. And obviously, you couldn't charge for stuff that's already on video the same way you could for current shows. Stuff that's on video would have to stay pretty darn cheap. If you're competing with my ability to rent a DVD, you have to go some to make it a deal.

But certainly for new shows, if there's a price point that seems inexpensive enough to me that I'd just as soon pay it as wait for video, and that's still enough to make it worth the content owners' while to sell it to me, I don't see why we can't all live happily ever after.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Access Allowed

I saw this site called WAVE on flip flopping joy, and it looks like an interesting resource for those working on making web sites accessible.

I'm aware of this topic, of course, but I don't really work with web design, so I'm not well versed in the principles. I ran this blog through WAVE, naturally, and found that it triggered 16 'Alerts' marked with right yellow icons (though no frightening red 'Errors').

Not knowing much about web design I have to admit I'm not completely sure what to do about these alerts if I wanted to make old Wretched Oddments a completely accessible site. One of them warns that there's an empty list (WAVE or the software it evaluates for apparently does not pick up Twitter updates). Should I not have Twitter updates on the sidebar? Should I try to find another way to show them?

I've honestly got no clue. It's interesting to reflect upon, however. And I'm sure the answer is out there on the old web.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Reading Other Peoples' Mail

Maggie Mahar at Health Beat has the first of a promised series of letters from people in other countries sharing their personal impressions of their health care. This one is from Canada.

It's interesting to get a personal take on another system, to add to impressions we may have gained from other things we've read and heard. I like that Maggie Mahar interjects her own comments at some points to clarify numbers or other points, making this a nice mixture of anecdote and data.

The best of both worlds!

There's something inherently interesting to me about comparing other peoples' experiences to my own--that sort of "so that's how it works in Canada?" thing--and of course with the current debate over health care in the U.S. this is a good way to see some different approaches to the issue and think about which aspects of various systems might be nice to have, and which send us reeling out of the room clutching our stomachs in an attempt not to vomit uncontrollably.

In my case, it's the plans that force everyone to ingest high-powered emetics that do the latter. I can live without those.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not the Music!

This post on the Blog of Rights made me think--it tells how "a group of musicians, including REM, Pearl Jam and The Roots filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out whether their music was played at the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay."

I've heard of music being used to harass people, of course (probably I remember it first from when the U.S. was going after Manual Noriega in Panama, way back in 1989). This article by Suzanne Cusick has an overview of the history and use of music as torture, including that instance. It seems to be in many cases as much about volume as about the specific tunes/notes of the music, which makes sense. Any sound can become just painful noise if it's too loud, so even if you liked the music in question it would be hard to handle if you couldn't even think through the din.

And there were those jokes about playing such-and-such music, pretty much anything one finds annoying, as torture. "Elevator tunes, now that would make me surrender!"

I never really thought about how someone who makes music might think about this concept, though. Especially someone who made a piece that was actually used in this way.

Really, wouldn't it be incredibly strange to hear that your work was used to torture someone? And by 'strange,' I mean really disturbing and unpleasant, although of course that's my own take, and it's certainly possible that some people would be pleased at the notion that their work had been put to such a use.

Even if you're in general pro-music-torture, though, I would imagine it would have to be odd to hear that your own music was used that way. You might make music you know a lot of people won't enjoy--you might proudly make music only a worthy few will appreciate, and relish the thought of the incomprehension and distaste of those who just don't get it. Heck with 'em!

But even then, you probably don't make music with the idea that it will be intentionally used to cause distress to someone. So even if you're pretty OK with it in general, that must be weird.

And, too, this brings up other interesting questions that start to look like ideas about intellectual property rights. Even if I do hate the fact that you use my music to torment prisoners, does that mean I have any say in it? If you legally paid for a copy of my song (and if torturing people with music is also considered acceptable, which is a giant bit of the story that I haven't even looked at), isn't it totally fine for you to do whatever you want with it, as long as you're not making money off it without getting my permission/giving me a cut?

Is this fair use?

I guess I'm really not going anywhere specific with this, it was just an interesting train of thought for me. If it were my music, I would be really unhappy to hear that it had been used like this, so good luck to all the musicians with their lawsuit, and I hope they get some clarification. Whether or not they have any legal ability to control the use of their music this way, they certainly have every right to express an opinion on the matter.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

No Whining! Movie Review: Motherhood

We saw a free screening of Motherhood recently.

It was riddled with technology references, since the main character (Uma Thurman) blogs. It's modern! And cool! It speaks to me!

The movie takes us along with Uma Thurman's Eliza K. Welch in the course of a hectic day while she scrambles to accomplish a long to-do list in preparation for her daughter's birthday party.

Her children are actually incredibly well behaved, so I appreciated that the movie doesn't suggest that every single day of a parent's life will be marked by a screaming tantrum.

I didn't find the film especially significant, however. Eliza blogs her thoughts, which have varying degrees of profundity (just like on any blog), and also causes some trouble by mentioning a personal story about a friend whom she names. This seemed a bit unlikely to me (would anybody be that thoughtless?), but what do I know.

My own dear friend Muttonchops Wilkins once commented to me, while in the midst of a laughably complex plan to conceal the fact that he obtained his current high office through chicanery and lewd blackmail, that common blog etiquette dictates not writing about people by name if you're going to be telling personal tales. Oops.

It seemed to be trying to make some larger point about motherhood in general (my first clue was the title!), but I'm not sure it really got one across, to me anyway. I guess the message I saw was, motherhood is hard work, and sometimes frustrating, and it's tough to manage the changes in your own life and your children's lives and to negotiate the balance between who you are as you and who you are as a parent, but at the same time it's rewarding and wonderful. And taking the time to write or otherwise express yourself is important.

So blog! I guess.

And that's a fine and no doubt true message, if that's the message, but it's not really something we didn't already know. Life, hard, check.

Anyway, people who know (better than bon-bon-eating no-kids me) how tough it is to keep things going day to day in a busy life with children may find the movie reassuringly familiar, and it had some amusing bits. I felt in the end it didn't really amount to much, but it was a moderately entertaining "slice of someone's life" type film that people with little kids might relate to.

Libraries do not feature, but there are old books as well as blogs, and there was a limited health connection which restates the important message "careful what you let kids put in their mouths." (Not that you can completely control that.)


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Speaking of Money

Librarian in Black reviews the 2009 Library Journal Placements and Salaries survey. It doesn't look too good, she finds.

Average starting salary is down, part time jobs are up, job cuts abound.

Things could be worse, we don't see nationwide collapse of libraries, but we're all trying to cut every corner.

Good luck to all those hunting...I hear from many people that these are indeed tough times.

Edited to note that this year's survey, being based on information from 2008 graduates, is of special interest to me. My information is in there! I'm totally adding this to my Bibliography in My NCBI, since it's obviously all but dependent on me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Money Here, Please

Were you aware that this is National Save for Retirement Week?

Me neither, but I have it on good authority that it is true. TIAA-CREF tells me so.

So please take this opportunity to deposit some money in my TIAA-CREF account. You may be assured I will take good care of it, using it for only the finest bon-bons as I relax with Hedonismbot in my glamorous retirement castle.

Aw, who am I kidding? Hedonism isn't relaxing--it'll be non-stop action!

But don't worry, I'll find time to enjoy bon-bons.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Zombies: They Pull Me Back In

I keep saying that I'm so over zombies and have moved on to other terrors (isn't anyone but me concerned about the potential Giant Menace?), but I can hardly resist this University of Florida Disaster Preparedness Simulation Exercise addressing a zombie attack.

It is no longer actually available at the University of Florida site, but is presented by Library Preservation, where some insightful comments raise important questions about zombies in libraries. I found it via the estimable Future Feminist Librarian Activist.

I can see that my library needs to dedicate some serious thought to our disaster plan, which I don't believe says anything at all about either zombies or vampires, which, as the other popular monster of the moment, should not be overlooked. It couldn't hurt to focus a little attention on werewolves, either.

Also, of course, giants. They're not messing around, you know--they'll grind your bones to make their bread.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Follow Tips, Write Good

Stephen's Lighthouse points out this edifying post about 50 Writing Errors that Continue to Haunt Bloggers.

It is getting close to Halloween, so I figure some haunting is due. The list covers various commonly mistaken homonyms and the like (Conscience or Conscious, very different things), but doesn't say anything about zillion-word posts on verse structure, so I think I'm OK there.

I see that eminent/immanent/imminent, one of my favorite homonym confusers, did not make the list. I guess not enough people need to write about well-regarded inherent qualities that are about to happen.

I'm sure I've made my share of writing errors (there are certain words I just can't seem to remember how to spell), but I can't be bothered to go back and hunt them up.

I'm too busy reading other peoples' blogs! I just realized that I was so busy catching up on the 236 unread posts I had this evening, that I completely forgot to watch Dollhouse. It will be my fault if it's cancelled, right?

At least we have Hulu.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Track Your Awesomeness

Ooh...Bibliography in My NCBI becomes more useful!

This from PubMed New and Noteworthy advises that you can now add citations from "books, meetings, presentations, and patents" as well as journal articles.


Now if only I had a book, meeting, presentation or patent to my name. So when I say "becomes more useful," I mean "in theory, for someone."

It's still not much use to a non-published loser like me. Although I did amuse myself by creating a bibliography of people with my last name, who I can pretend are my various relatives. Naturally I take credit for everything my relatives have ever done, too, on account of I'm just so good at supporting and encouraging people to achieve.

Hey! You! Go achieve something!



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stuff That Satisfies

I had a student asking how to get articles from a couple of journals we don't subscribe to. It happens that both are held by a speciality hospital library downtown, but we have no established relationship with them since they're not members of the Boston Library Consortium.

So I called over to ask if he could visit anyway, and they said sure. There you go, student, you can save the interlibrary loan fees and meet some nice folk in another library!

I love when things work out.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Pressing Poetry Health Issue

I have a low Doggerel Threshold.

I recently received an invitation to a baby shower. Well and good. Accompanying it was a little card with this bit of verse (I find it also on various shower/party planning websites, but no specific author is credited):

To add a little extra glee
And help the parents-to-be,
Please bring a little extra
     From the heart.
An unwrapped pack of diapers,
     To give them a good start!

And I

Leaving aside the important question of whether diapers, while necessary, are likely to fill expectant parents with 'glee,' or really be a gift I'd consider 'from the heart,' it must be plainly evident that this is dreadful verse.

I know, it's very hard to actually write good verse. I'm not saying I could do better. (It's easy to criticize. Fun, too.)

But good people, please.

There's no way this scans. It is painful to the mind's ear to try to recite it. It has leaped over my low Doggerel Threshold and into my Verse Hatred Lobby.

See, you can't just throw rhymes at the end of lines and call it a day. Each line needs to have a basic rhythm. In simple verse like this, each line should basically have the same number of syllables, with the accent in the same places in each line.

Nursery rhymes are fantastic examples of this--and very appropriate for a baby shower, too! ("Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool? We need some quickly, baby's diaper's full!")

You don't necessarily have to get obsessed with the meter and the different types of foot (although I certainly recommend it because it's wildly interesting), but you have to be able to say it out loud without having to think about it.

That's my basic level of acceptability for short greeting card/invitation verse. If I have to consider where to put the accents, and whether it might work if I run some words together, it's just no good.

Take "To add a little extra glee/And help the parents-to-be." The first line has eight syllables, and the second has seven. Already not a good sign.

The accents in the lines are off too: the first works OK as iambic quadrameter* ("to add/a lit/tle ex/tra glee"), but the second doesn't because it gets all messed up on 'parents-to-be' ("and help/the pa/rents-to-be"?).

You can try the first as an anapestic line with a missing final syllable ("to add a/lit-tle ex/tra glee"), but that doesn't come out well in the next line either (and help the/par-ents-to/-be"). There's a basic problem, which is that the two lines do not have the same rhythm.

Your lines must have the same rhythm, unless you are doing it on purpose or writing free verse, which is most likely not the case here.

Let's see how this might work a little better:

To add a little extra glee
And help the happy 'rents-to-be

I'm not claiming this is now good verse (oh my no), but at least these lines scan: you can read them both with the same rhythm. Each syllable in the first line matches up with one in the second line.


To add a lit- tle ex- tra glee
And help the hap- py 'rents- to- be

And when the rhythm matches up like this, you really don't even have to worry about what kind of foot it is or where to stress the syllables, because it just comes out that way. (Unless I am badly miscalculating the way most people pronounce these words, which is possible.)

Now you will note that this version relies on another horrible feature of bad verse (in addition to the bad meter I have been raving about), which is the weird abbreviation of a word in order to make it fit the rhythm of the line.

In this case I think it's OK, because "'rents" is a kind of college-ism that might fit amusingly in the context of young people who are soon to be parents themselves but who not long ago were using this kind of language. If your parents-to-be are stolid, literal-minded folk in their late forties, perhaps not.

Anyway, can I continue ranting? Of course I can, it's my blog.

So the third line is actually OK as it is, because two rhyming lines, followed by an unrhymed third line, possibly with a different rhythm, is a very common verse structure.

We could say with no problem:

To add a little extra glee
And help the happy 'rents-to-be
Please bring a little extra from the heart

I'm making the third into one longer line instead of breaking it up--I think it might have only been that way because of the size of the piece of paper, and it flows better in one.

Now for the last line/s, which again present a serious scansion issue. As I said, two rhyming lines followed by [something] is a very common structure for verse, but I cannot emphasize enough that what follows must also have poetic rhythm. (Again, unless you're totally doing it on purpose for effect.)

"Please bring a little extra from the heart./An unwrapped pack of diapers, to give them a good start" does not scan.

"Please bring a little extra from the heart" is fine. In fact, it's the classic rhythm in English-language poetry, iambic pentameter.** But the fourth line is completely off; it has entirely too many syllables to match up with the third line.


please bring a  lit- tle ex- tra from the heart
an un- wrapped pack of dia- pers to give them
an un- wrapped pack of di- a- pers to give  

depending on how you pronounce "diapers."

Either "a good start" or "them a good start" are just trailing off there at the end, matching nothing in the preceding line. Orphan syllables! It breaks my heart.

You have to either race through the whole fourth line to try to cram it into the rhythm of the third, or just abandon the rhythm entirely, and then throw a lot of emphasis on "start" at the end, because hey, if you throw rhymes at the end of lines you can call it a day, right?

Wrong, consarn it, weren't you paying attention up at the top of this post? You cannot just throw words that rhyme with other words at the ends of lines that otherwise have no common rhythm and consider it verse!

What I would do here is basically scrap the entire last line as is and try to make something with a little more structure. Remember "Baa baa, black sheep"? It's a good example of two rhyming first lines followed by [something] that also has poetic rhythm.

Baa baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for my master, and one for my dame,
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.

That's the version I remember--slight word variations may be found--and in it we have a very simple, solid verse structure: two lines that rhyme (a couplet, we might say, if we wanted to throw around English Major terminology), followed by two more lines that also rhyme (with each other, but not with the first two).

The second couplet has a slightly different rhythm than the first--the lines are longer, for example--but it's still internally consistent (I demand this of my fictional worlds, and I demand it of my verse couplets). You may see this described as A, A, B, B structure.

The syllables in each line match up with the ones in the other, and it is very easily recited aloud in rhythm. Hence it being a nursery rhyme dating back hundreds of years.

The bit of baby shower doggerel I am here addressing seems to be trying for this A, A, B, B form, but misses badly on account of those orphan syllables at the end of the fourth line.

We could just compress the fourth line, adjusting a few words to make it fit:
A pack of diapers for a good clean start!

Or we could go for a more complex A, A, B, C, C, B structure.

Diapers every parent uses,
On those baby-soft cabooses,
So bring a pack to give them a good start!

Clearly the options are legion, as are my devoted followers. Again, I'm not saying this has become good verse (oh my no), but it's plainly possible to get the point across with lines that possess that all-important poetic rhythm.

You must have rhythm in your doggerel, my legions. Remember this, and you will go far in horrible yet neatly scannable verse.

*An iamb being a foot composed of two syllables, the second of which is stressed, as in the words 'delay,' or 'around;' quadrameter meaning there are four such feet in the line.

**An iamb continuing to be a foot composed of two syllables, the second of which is stressed, as in the words 'announce,' or 'behold;' pentameter meaning there are five such feet in the line.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Clever Road Tricks

How We Drive passes along news of a new type of speed bump (or, as it is called in New Mexico on all the signs warning you that one is ahead, speed hump*) currently in development!

This fine invention would be able to tell how fast you were driving, and if that was less than or equal to the speed limit, would sink into the road so you didn't have to slow way down and e-e-e-e-a-s-e over it so as not to knock your head on the roof of the car.

What a time to be alive...

*My sister and I once had a plan** to open a drive-through brothel, which was to be called the Speed Hump.

**By which I mean, we were decorating gingerbread houses. Holiday fun for the whole family!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Smile Big, Now

I enjoyed this series of posts on Slate about The American Way of Dentistry 2009: A look at the coming crisis.

The author notes that "Everybody knows about the crisis in American medical care. Nobody knows about the crisis in American dentistry," and gives some good detail around the issue.

For example, we're running short on dentists in the U.S., especially in poorer areas. There's also a section on dental insurance, which is largely disconnected from health insurance, meaning that many people just can't afford to have dental problems taken care of even if they have insurance for medical care.

I can speak to that, since I didn't have dental insurance for years. It was an option at my last job, but it cost enough that I decided to just bet I wouldn't need more done in a given year than the insurance would have come to. This worked out OK for me, because I was fortunate (and I floss diligently, let me put in a plug for flossing), but clearly it creates an incentive to put things off.

I'm not sure if they're nationwide, but at least around here, we sometimes see these TV ads encouraging people to get dental care, with the slogan "Oral health is overall health." (They have this clever bit where the word 'oral' morphs into the word 'overall.') Apparently this slogan is true.

It gives me a new fondness for the dental students who come through the library doing research and dropping off their finished theses. Good work, people! Go out there and care for teeth! Also, recruit more of you!

I will happily help you with your research questions, even though they tend to be brutally unsatisfying because you tend to be looking for very specific topics that it turns out no one has ever written anything about. I'm not sure why, I guess you're just lucky like that.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fuzzy Lines

I should really stop answering work emails from home. This should be my special relaxation with the blogs time!

Leave work at work, I always used to say.

But then I remembered that there was this email I never got around to answering before I left today that was just a tiny little question about whether we have a certain journal at the library, and before I know it I've looked and found that we do but not for the year the person needs, but hey, here are two other libraries nearby that do have that year, and also here's an interlibrary loan request form in case you can't get to either of them.

Then I logged out, because darn it, this has to stop somewhere!

Though I did have a phone message I never got around to answering...


Spread the Outrage

Cara at The Curvature has a post up called "All Denials of Coverage For Pre-Existing Conditions Deserve Equal Outrage."

It talks about how a lot of people find it weirdly wrong that, say, domestic violence or a prior cesarean section delivery can be considered 'pre-existing conditions' and therefore reasons to be denied health insurance.

Then it points out that there's something uneven in the way that only some pre-existing conditions get this attention and are seen as unfair, as if the whole idea of using pre-existing conditions to winnow out expensive customers weren't kind of weirdly wrong on its own from any sort of "let's do good for people" standpoint. Of course it's not about doing good for people, which I guess is part of the disconnect.

I mean, we should all have known better than to have ever gotten sick before if we wanted to be able to afford health insurance, right? What could be more equitable than that?

It's an interesting system we've got here, all right.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

These Sentences Are Mine!

Well, not the ones in the block quote there, those are just borrowed.

I haven't put too much attention toward copyright lately, being distracted by other things, like ARL and AAHSL statistics, but this post On Kirby, Marvel, Copyright and Moral Claims: Scattered Thoughts (from Stephen Frug at Attempts, via Alas! A Blog) reminded me of why it's a fascinating topic.

It starts with the fact that the descendants of Jack Kirby, a famous figure in comics, have expressed interest in ownership of the copyright to some of the superheroes he helped create while working for Marvel Comics, and sets out a lot of interesting thoughts about copyright in general.

I especially like this point:

The moral case for creators’ rights is both essential and irrelevant to the Kirby-copyright issue.

It’s irrelevant because neither party has a very good moral (as opposed to legal) claim. On one side we have Kirby’s biological heirs; on the other, the corporate descendants of the companies he worked for. Neither set of people had much to do with the effort or talent put into these characters; they are fighting for an inheritance, and like any fight for inheritance they are fighting for things they may have title to but don’t in any moral sense particularly deserve.

But it’s essential because it was only because of the (perceived) moral rights of creators that copyright was extended in the first place.

Copyright is of course about morality--protecting the right of a creator to control/benefit from use of the creation, because that's fair--but indeed, to what extent does this still apply once the creator is no longer in the picture?

Does it make moral sense--is it fair--that intellectual property should still be property once the intellect is gone?


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More Food Disturbances

As a follow-up to their recent article about hamburger, about which I expressed disturbance, the New York Times' Well has a list of ten foods frequently associated with illness.

Hamburger is in fact not on this list, which would be happy news for meat-eaters, except that this information comes from a group that tracks food poisoning cases associated with foods overseen by the Food and Drug Administration.

Meat is overseen by the Department of Agriculture, and presumably tracked on a different list.

Still, let's take a look at the top non-meat offenders.

A perhaps-surprising number one: Leafy Greens! We love them, especially as a vehicle for bleu cheese dressing, but they don't always love us back.

Coming in second, Eggs, followed by Tuna, Oysters and Potatoes.

Numbers six and seven are the most disturbing for me: Cheese and Ice Cream. Noooooooo! How could you turn on me like this, cheese and ice cream?! And by me, I mean 5,355 people who were sickened by you. That's just not right.

Tomatoes, Sprouts and Berries round out the top ten.

The moral is, we should probably be subsisting on sterilized flour and beans individually scrubbed with ammonia and lye. But if that sounds dull, eat other things, and try to make sure they're clean.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Things Near My Heart Today

First, my ribs. Always. (Ah, I amuse myself.)

Then, a bit too late for my most recent photo-posting, Librarian By Day (via iLibrarian) posts a nice set of instructions on how to credit a Creative Commons photo from Flickr.

HealthBolt stresses the need to use antibiotics properly. And even links to a nifty quiz from the CDC to test your antibiotics knowledge! (Although when I tried to take it, I got an 'error' message after I hit 'submit,' so I was unable to confirm that my antibiotic knowledge is staggeringly vast).

And as I was just thinking about stored records and what that means for our memory, here's a piece from Library Journal on that subject.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Well, That's Disturbing

Dangerous Intersection links to a New York Times story about E. coli and hamburger.

It has some good (though not appetizing) information about the food chain involved in getting beef from various slaughterhouses to various processing plants, usually in bits and pieces from many different animals.

The part about how shreds of fat are treated with ammonia to kill bacteria before being added to the mix struck me as especially appealing. Yum?

I'm not really one to be wildly grossed out about the details of how stuff gets to be food. Yeah, if you eat meat, there's blood involved. And other stuff that naturally follows from the biological processes of animals.

And meat or no, there are bugs (like in your wine). Dirt. Ants get into things. There are mice everywhere.

You do the best you can, but you can't get totally obsessed. If I drop my sandwich on the floor, I'll probably pick it up and eat it anyway. After all, it's most likely peanut butter, and I don't want to miss that.

On the other hand, there's at least a perceived difference between eating a possibly dusty floor sandwich, and enjoying delicious bits of fat washed with ammonia. Even though it may not actually be literally the same ammonia my mom used to get in the big gallon jugs and use to scrub the floor, which is my first association. Or maybe it is.

Industrial food is just hard to oversee. I can tell if my floor is too gross to eat off (well, not really, it could be crawling with E. coli and I couldn't see them, but I feel I can know where my floor has been, and what's been on my floor), but who can tell with factories and processing plants?

I'm sure they're generally cleaner than a lot of kitchens, but when they're not, the potential effects can go far and wide. Way farther and wider than anything that comes off my germ-riddled floor.

So yeah, I'm not advocating shrieking in horror and vowing to subsist only on sterilized flour and beans individually scrubbed with ammonia and lye, but it it seems like it can't hurt to know more about the way stuff gets to be food.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Write it Up

In case you decide to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year (plan ahead: November will be here before you know it!), this Mashable post, How To: Write a Novel Using the Web, may be of interest.

It lists a variety of useful online tools for organizing, researching, planning and even self-publishing your brilliant work.

It could happen for you!

Me, I'm not sure. I haven't opened the possibly brilliant thing I wrote last November since I finished it, and I never even claimed and posted my 'badge of completion,' so my follow-through is plainly lacking.

But you should do it. I'm rooting for you. So, I bet, is iLibrarian, who suggested this handy resource.