Friday, December 31, 2010

A Triumphant Return

I have returned from a lively trip to the distant lands of Salt Lake City. Now, to have a rousing New Year's Eve of wine and Futurama.

We party hard around here.

I resolve to continue viewing free movies whenever possible in 2011.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Treat Your Cookies Well

Stephen's Lighthouse points out this article suggesting "that when faced with eating a gingerbread man, 76% of consumers feel some degree of guilt."

Aww...poor gingerbread man. Come here and let me guiltily eat you!

The piece does not cite an article for the original research on which this claim is based, but does summarize several key findings, which purport to reveal some key thing about your personality based on the way you approach the devouring of that poor little gingerbread person.

Do you break off a piece? Bite off a piece? Which piece first?

For instance,

Snapping off a limb (leg): Indicates a tentative nature, a desire to be liked and an unwillingness to be confrontational. Extremely insecure, often puts the needs of others before themselves.

I personally like to go for the head, usually breaking it off, which this piece claims indicates that I am,

Forthright, somewhat aggressive with narcissistic tendencies. Little regard for the views of others. Generally unaware of the effect ones actions are having on others.

Now this may be true of me. I really wouldn't know, since I pay little attention to the way I am perceived by others...hey!

Actually, though, I'd argue with this interpretation, because here's why I go for the head: to put the little gingerbread fellow out of its misery.

If some giant gingerbread cookie is ever eating you, wouldn't you hope it bites your head off first, rather than pulling off limbs one by one while you wait helplessly for the end? I thought so.

Therefore, by going after the head first, I'm actually demonstrating kindliness and deep concern for the effect my actions are having on others.

Well, on the imaginary consciousness of a roughly humaniform pastry, anyway.

Human beings? Whatever. I'll walk all over any one of you if you get between me and the cookie platter, while remaining blithely unaware of the effect these actions have on you.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Other Peoples' Statistics

I was sympathetic to the news in this article, San Francisco Library Doesn’t Know How Many Books it Has.

Because you know, it's surprisingly hard to get a count for that. The story says that the San Francisco Public Library can provide a number for how many titles they hold, but not how many specific items, and I myself have wrestled with this little distinction.

We don't have nearly as many books as the SFPL where I work, and it's still hard to get a good number. I was especially sympathetic when I learned that SFPL is using Millennium, which is the system we use for our OPAC. Ah, Millennium.

Hearken to these quoted words from a library spokesperson, who reports that Millennium is a "clunky system that works great for circulation but it's hard to pull out metrics that are newsworthy."

Yeah, that sounds about right. Except I can't speak to its efficacy for circulation, since I don't work on that aspect of things myself. Clunky, though, I can attest.

Now I can count items, because our Millennium gives us a Bibliographic record (a description of a specific title, edition, etc.) and an Item record (saying that we have a specific individual copy of said title, edition, etc.).

So I can run a list to pull all of the Item records that have our library's code in them (to differentiate them from all the items that might be in other libraries within the university system), and get a number that way.

But sometimes you might want to include also the number of bound volumes of old journals that you have, and there's no item for that, and sometimes you might want to count, or not count, electronic versions of titles, and there's an item for that but it's not easy to separate them out, and sometimes we forget to include our library code in the correct format (I'm sorry, but it happens), and sometimes depending on the definition you might want to include or not include titles available in other parts of the library system, and it all gets very confusing.

So I'm not sure exactly what issues the SFPL faces in coming up with a specific number of items, but I am sympathetic.

Also, I bet it's a lot. Just go with that, SFPL. "A whole lot."

I saw this on a roundup at This Ain't Livin'.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'I'll Have the Sidekick' Movie Review: The Green Hornet

Last evening we were privileged to witness the unveiling of the most recent superhero film that I know about: The Green Hornet.

Now I don't know anything about the character of the Green Hornet as traditionally presented, so perhaps someday someone can advise me: was it part of his deal to be super annoying?

Because I found Britt Reid, as played by Seth Rogen, intermittently amusing but mostly extremely irritating. I will state right now that my favorite part of the movie was Britt Reid getting beaten up by Kato.

Kato, Britt Reid/the Green Hornet's nimble partner, is played by Jay Chou. Kato is a martial arts expert and does most of the duo's actual fighting. Also the design and building of their heavily armed and armored car. Also the generally being cool.

Britt Reid is actually kind of a doofus. He may or may not have a good heart (he kind of lost points in that regard when we learn that he fired everyone who worked in his father's vast mansion, for no apparent reason), but he can't fight, he claims credit for Kato's ass-kicking, and he acts like a jerk to Lenore Case, his secretary (played by Cameron Diaz).

Again, I have no idea if this doofus-ness was the Green Hornet's thing all along, or if that's just this movie's take on it.

Let's just accept that in this incarnation, Kato is much cooler than the Green Hornet.

Which brings me to the fact that the movie does a somewhat interesting thing where it plays a bit with the whole idea of who gets to be a superhero and who's a sidekick, in a masked-hero-inhabited world.

Kato, who was Reid's father's mechanic and coffee brewmaster, essentially works for Reid. He drives the car, and sort of follows along with Reid's plans. So he's in the official sidekick position.

But he's so much cooler that this seems a little unlikely, and the movie suggests that Britt Reid pretty much knows that logically he is not the hero in their dynamic. Still, he clings to the 'hero' title rather than just saying "OK, we'll be equal partners," because...he has the money, I guess.

Possibly also because he's a white dude. White dude with money = main character: you can't argue with that.

Anyway, I'm not sure if this movie intended to raise thought-provoking questions about the nature of heroics and the inability of moneyed white dudes to share superhero status with Chinese dudes who work on their cars, but let's give it credit for having a little bit of something going on there.

Even if it doesn't do a whole lot with it, beyond making it clear that both Britt Reid and Kato are aware that Kato is awesome and Britt Reid is a doofus, but they're both just playing along with Britt Reid's need to feel superior.

The story: legendary newspaper owner/editor dies, leaving lackadaisical underachieving son to take over news empire. Son wants coffee, implausibly strikes up semi-friendship with genius mechanic/coffee brewmaster/martial artist from Shanghai.

While son is committing vandalism in a cemetery, he and genius stumble into saving a couple from robbery and assault. Son hits on brilliant idea of fighting crime as a masked vigilante while pretending to be a criminal himself, so that he can get closer to criminals and...fight them from close. Also, if bad guys think he's also a bad guy, they won't try that stunt where they threaten some innocents to make the good guys surrender.


Anyway, this conveniently allows the Green Hornet to wreck up the city, run cop cars off the road, etc., as part of his clever cover, rather than just because superheroes are horribly dangerous to have around, which is usually the lesson one might take from the numerous demolished buildings and traffic pileups that fill these movies in the wake of the dramatic fights.

Christopher Waltz is kind of fun as LA's main crime lord, demonstrating a sort of understated, almost self-deprecating blood lust. Edward James Olmos is also here for some reason, as a trusted elder statesman of the newspaper.

And then there's Lenore Case, who's apparently very smart and could totally be a journalist herself, but, for reasons she states she doesn't want to talk about (and which the movie, respecting her privacy, never explains), is working as a temp until Britt Reid hires her to be his full time secretary.

Actually, this is probably just a symptom of the horrible state of newspapers and journalism these days. I'll imagine she lost her job as a hotshot investigative reporter due to brutal downsizing in the industry.

Also, don't we say administrative assistant these days? Who's actually a secretary anymore? Aside from the Secretary of Defense. But whatever.

Both Britt Reid and Kato develop powerful crushes on Lenore Case, leading to many opportunities for them (mostly Britt Reid) to act like asses.

And then there's a District Attorney. There's usually a District Attorney. (I think he was a DA, anyway. Somebody running for office on an "I reduced crime in Los Angeles" platform.)

And there's a big plot involving Truth and News and so forth, and lots of fighting and car crashes.

Nobody visits a library onscreen, although Lenore Case provides the results of detailed research that may have involved one at some point, and one scene does prominently feature giant rolls of paper. There's the health issue of severe allergy to bee venom, and there's a USB drive and some mentions of the internet to represent technology.

The movie has its amusing bits, I won't deny that, and if you like Seth Rogen a lot, you may find the Britt Reid character less grating than I did. Jay Chou is fun to watch, and you get the sense that some of the people in the supporting roles (some of the criminals, particularly) were having fun doing it.

There are also stretches that just felt kind of dull to me, though. I didn't care enough about the larger story to have much interest in how it worked out, and watching the destruction of an entire office building, while entertaining, only goes so far.

It had moments, but personally, if I were contemplating paying for this one, I would probably just wait for video.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

One Is Not Everyone

I like this post by Tami on What Tami Said, entitled Rant: Hate Twitter? Fine. Stop being so sanctimonious!

This is a nice reminder not to descend too far into "kids these days"-ism, which is sometimes a temptation in relation to all kinds of newfangled gadgets and technologies (here, obviously, specifically in reference to Twitter).

It's only natural to assume that if something isn't useful or interesting to me personally, it isn't interesting or useful at all, but it's also kind of silly.

Like it, don't like it, whatever works for you, but don't act as if not liking it is a sign of your superior intellectual and/or moral qualities.

I mean, unless it's automatic puppy-kicking software or something.

Although proclaiming your dislike as a sign of your superior intellectual and/or moral qualities is entertaining. Fair assessment is good, but does it give us the opportunity to make sweeping pronouncements about how thus-and-such is the worst glob of awful coding ever sneezed onto a computer screen?

Where would we be without the ability to set ourselves apart from the unwashed masses who like stupid stuff we don't care about?

Who, in some other instance, are probably the freshly-bathed masses who like cool stuff we do care about. It's all very confusing.

But anyway, I generally try my best not to overestimate the extent to which my own preferences provide evidence for how much something either rocks or sucks, and to recognize that even things that don't serve any good purpose in my life or work may be of value to someone else. I think I can safely say that this is a clear sign of my superior intellectual and/or moral qualities.

I'm obviously way cooler than those unwashed sanctimonious masses.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Bitter End?

I've been looking on sympathetically to the Twittered expressions of sorrow over the possible cessation of (formerly, which I learned to type smoothly through repeated practice, which made me kind of resent them for changing it since I could no longer make use of this astonishingly unuseful skill).

I used Delicious for a couple of projects at different times, and thought it was OK, but I never really got into it, so I won't personally be among the mourners if it does go gently out of that good net, but I will extend solemn condolences.

Good luck finding another way to manage your links. I suggest my sophisticated method: copy and paste into word processing documents.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Go Where They Know You

GruntDoc explains why you're better off going to the same Emergency Department every time if you need to make repeated visits.

He notes,

Every ED has seen a patient, probably today, with “they saw me at the ER across town, but they didn’t do anything and I’m still sick”. While it makes some sense not to return to a restaurant that gave you a meal that wasn’t to your tastes, medicine is quite different.

The basic explanation is, if you show up at a new hospital for a continuing complaint, they're going to have to look at you as a complete unknown and may run tests or try courses of treatment that are redundant or have already been done.

Because the whole 'sharing of health records' thing is apparently not really off the ground yet at many institutions.

Repeated ER visits have happily not been a part of my life thus far, but I have made note of this advice, just in case.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grimy Movie Review: True Grit

This evening we saw True Grit. It displayed no discernible connection to any kind of library, but there was plenty of health stuff going on, given the usual Cohen brothers penchant for offhandly jaw-dropping hideous violence (yet with a sort of upbeat cheeriness, and with such stolidly matter-of-fact characters that you can't help but kind of laugh!).

It's a Western, with a classic washed-out Western color pallet and lots of horses, plains, scrub, and guns. Lots and lots of guns.

I was interested to see how gunfire was repeatedly employed not only in the usual attempts to kill people, but also as a communication device. It makes sense; you use what you have, and a gunshot can be heard over a longer distance than a shout.

Anyway, the story briefly: a 14-year-old girl named Maddie (Hailee Steinfeld) hires a U.S. Marshal (Jeff Bridges) to track down the lowlife who killed her father and stole his horse and his two California gold pieces. A Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) is also on the trail of said lowlife.

So they all set out into the scrubby wilderness, and various humorous and/or horrible shenanigans ensue.

Everyone uses very stilted, formal language, with no contractions whatsoever (not a won't or don't or isn't to be heard), which makes for an interesting film style. I don't know if people actually talked like that back in the 1870s, but it sort of creates a certain mood and sets up a distance from the present time.

It could get kind of old, but the actors pretty much manage to make it work.

It was interesting. Not my favorite movie ever, but entertaining. Very Cohen, if you like their stuff.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Journals on PubMed

So I've been sitting here cataloging this afternoon, using the option that has replaced the just-retired Journals database on PubMed (an NLM catalog search limited to "Journals referenced in the NCBI databases"), works fine.

All the information I used to look up in the Journals database--ISSN, title abbreviation, sometimes notes on continuation and years of publication--is still here and looks basically the same. My work can continue unhindered by the need to learn a new layout or find a new source for this precious information.

OK, PubMed. I am suspicious of change, but you have proved my doubts unfounded. This time.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Sex on PubMed

I note that on PubMed Limits today they've changed the heading of the binary Male/Female check boxes from 'Gender' to 'Sex.' I just noticed it today, I mean--I'm not sure exactly when they did it.

Interesting. It always kind of bugged me that they called that very useful limit 'gender', since in many (though not all) health-related contexts, I see 'gender' used to describe social roles, and 'sex' used to describe biological distinctions. And in most cases, I think the thing that's going to be most likely to be in play for biomedical literature searches is the biological distinctions.

Say, if you're purely interested in whether a biological male is more likely to get kidney stones than a biological female, you don't especially need to care about the person's gender identity. Obviously it would apply to how you provide sensitive care and so forth, but does it affect the biological likelihood of kidney stones?

Well honestly, I have no idea, not being a doctor, but I suspect possibly not.

I'm one of those irritating people who, when someone asks a pregnant woman "do you know the gender?" always thinks pedantically,'probably not, although you can hazard a guess if you know the sex.'

I'd be even more popular than I am if I actually said that out loud, right? I'll have to try it sometime.

Now if PubMed were more into psychology, I would expect them to be all about gender. I should look at PsycINFO and see if they actually are.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spending Savings

I see it's just about time to use up the many, many Coke Rewards points I've accumulated for Napster songs over the past year. Those gift codes expire in January, after all.

I've been obsessively collecting Coke bottle caps...if only someone besides me wanted them, I could have my Christmas shopping done right now.

But no matter, I'm gonna stock up on mp3s.

This comes after my frantic stocking up on aspirin and OTC medical stuff, in anticipation of losing the ability to use flexible spending dollars for that come 2011.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Pass the Wine

T'is the season of large numbers of parties. I have been way too busy being sociable to think clever thoughts.

I do note, however, that it's Melville Dewey's birthday. I don't use Dewey Decimal Classification in my own work life, but I salute it anyhow.

Time to party.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Germs Check In...

I got to tour the not-yet-operational NEIDL facility (National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories--pronounced 'needle,' naturally) this afternoon.

I was certainly impressed by the extensive security measures in place. They have machines that scan your eyeball to make sure your iris matches the database! Like in the movies! It's high tech, baby.

Also, sensors that count how many people went through a door after one, authorized person opened it. So if I let you in and you're not supposed to be there, someone will be able to tell that it was me who let some unaccounted-for person into the lab.

Not that I will ever be authorized to let anyone into a lab in general, and certainly not in a highly secure facility. I signed up for the tour because I figured I'm pretty much never going to get into that building again. (Which is as it should be, since I have no useful purpose there unless people urgently need PubMed training in the middle of an experiment or something. Which one hopes they will not.)

And the 'space suits' for the level four pathogens--those must be a blast to work in. Several of us were greatly distracted by the thought of how long the suiting up and decontamination/unsuiting takes (the number 45 minutes was suggested), and the horror if you get all dressed and into your lab and then realize you have to go to the bathroom.

These are the issues that plague people at work, you know.

There's been ongoing discussion over whether or not it's a good idea to have a Biosafety Level 4 facility in the middle of a heavily populated area, but I have to say, they appear to be taking safety and security pretty seriously to assure that no one gets in who's not supposed to, and that nothing gets out that's not supposed to.

Would I personally want to move in next door to the NEIDL?

Heck yeah. Imagine how short my commute would be!


Monday, December 6, 2010

For Lowell! Movie Review: The Fighter

It will surprise possibly someone to learn that boxing is not foremost among my passions.

The Fighter is a moving about boxing. More generally, it is a sports movie, with the training and competition narratives common to the genre.

For the non-sports-inclined, it is also about family, and how family can support you, but sometimes also mess up your life, and how you need to find a balance with what's good for you, and what your family wants. It's based on a true story, so there's that.

It's also about Lowell, Massachusetts, which is generally considered to be one of the less-glamorous of the Boston suburbs, in 1993.

It's about Dickie Ekland, the Pride of Lowell as a welterweight fighter, who fought Sugar Ray Leonard at the high point of his career, and also got addicted to crack. He trains his brother, Micky Ward, who is also a fighter.

They have seven sisters, and their mother is Micky's manager, and things aren't going too great in his career as the movie opens. But of course he gets an opportunity, or there wouldn't be much of a story, and we get some dramatic familial tension, ups and downs of life and crack addiction, and some boxing.

I thought the movie did a nice job making all the people involved sympathetic and believable, with all their quirks and flaws (although it was kind of hard to differentiate the seven sisters, who often seemed to be presented as being one big scary mass).

It's filmed with a low-key, gritty look, mimicking television at times and in general looking more like something you might see around town (especially if you go to Lowell) than like glossy movie sets.

It was also fairly relaxed in pacing. You get a lot of time for character development and interaction between the people on the screen--it's not nonstop fighting or heart-wrenching drama (although there's some of each).

There are health issues aplenty, what with the crack addiction and the frequent facial damage of the boxing. I did not see any libraries, however. But there were posters of old fights at the gym, so that's semi-archival, right? I say yes.

Boxing has not become one of my passions following this movie, but the fight scenes were nicely done, and sufficiently exciting that I was thoroughly engaged. "Punch him!" I would have yelled helpfully at the screen, if I hadn't been in a crowded theater where that would be rude.

Also, "For Lowell!"


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crushing Health Issue of the Day

I just ate a grapefruit, and for some reason it provoked hiccups.


I hate the hiccups.

See the Mayo Clinic's explanation of this phenomenon...which doesn't really help me in my current situation.

Once The Simpsons is over, I'm going to play Assassin's Creed II: maybe climbing some walls in Venice will distract me.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wind? Pfah!

I choose to disbelieve in wind chill. Yeah, yeah, a breeze makes you feel cooler (or freezing colder) than if the air is still. That's why we use fans.

But I am not really interested in hearing "it's 40 degrees out but with a wind chill factor of 20, so tremble!!!"

Do we hear "it's 95 out, but with wind chill it only feels like 80, so feel good!!!" in the summer? No. And I don't want to.

The thing is, wind is variable. Maybe the wind chill is 15 out in the park but only 5 on the street in front of your office. Maybe it's 20 during gusts, but 0 during lulls.

I just don't think talking about wind chill says much that's particularly valuable. Sure, tell me if it's windy out, but don't expect me to get all worked up about some specific number.

Bah. That's what I say.

On a happier note, it turns out that scrubbing the spots vigorously with soap and soaking garments in cold water and Woolite for 24 hours will do a pretty good job of taking out a red wine stain. I can wear these clothes again!


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Career Advice

I have long preferred red wine. I like white perfectly well, nothing wrong with it, but red is more my thing.

The bold flavor, the vivid color, the fact that I have red hair, whatever. The point is, given a choice I will generally pick the red.

I have just revised my personal code to start choosing the white at any event where I'm wearing semi-professional clothing. This follows a dramatic spill this evening that has probably ruined a perfectly good top and pair of trousers. (One of those arm jostling things where splash goes everywhere...totally self-inflicted, so I can't even be filled with righteous rage at some clumsy oaf.)

If I'd been drinking white wine, it would all be good, but as it is? Total suck. I believe in life after stains for clothes, but where am I going to wear stained work clothes? Nowhere. They're as good as dead to me.

So an otherwise pleasant event will unfortunately be forever tainted as "that time when I splashed red wine all over myself and ruined a practically new pair of pants and a tried-and-true sweater."

Note to self: you are a clumsy oaf. Drink white wine.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Email Failure

A couple of weeks ago I boldly waded in and dealt with my email inbox, by gum! I pruned that bristling thicket down to a manageable couple of screens worth. Just the things I still needed to pay attention to in some way, you know.

Now, a short time later, it's a bristling thicket again. I can't seem to master the fine art of immediately moving messages to folders, so I leave them in my inbox to remind me that I need to pay attention to them, and then sooner or later they're several screens back and I don't see them anymore to remember that I need to either do something about them, or, if the statute of limitations has expired, delete them or move them to a folder.

The weird thing is that I'm not incredibly bad at email correspondence. I generally do pay attention to the messages I need to pay attention to. I guess I just never get around to dealing with them afterwards.

Anyway, it's been a relatively minor but very persistent hinderance to my attainment of perfect workplace efficiency.


Monday, November 29, 2010

What About UNDER the Counter Medication?

It is open enrollment time for benefits at my job, and I must decide how much to set aside for Health Care Reimbursement--that program where they take some money out of your paycheck pre-tax and give it back to you in reimbursement of authorized health-related expenses.

In past years such expenses have included things like prescriptions and office visit co-pays, but also over the counter medications like aspirin and so forth, so if you didn't use up everything you'd set aside over the course of the year, you could just go on a year-end shopping spree and stock up on painkillers and adhesive bandages. I owe almost the entire contents of my medicine cabinet to this fact.

But now, now they've changed the rules all of a sudden, and OTC expenses will no longer be eligible for reimbursement. I'm not totally happy about this.

It requires me to much more precisely calculate my expenses for the coming year, which is kind of tough to do, since you just never know when you're going to get hit by a car or develop a goiter or something that will involve medication and doctor visits. (And yeah, the car thing is covered by auto insurance, but what if it had been a hit-and-run?)

I think I'm just going to have to set aside much less money and assume that I'll wind up with expenses that I don't have anything set aside for, rather than set aside a larger amount and risk losing some of it at the end of the year.

Because I don't like losing money. No sir. I don't hold with it.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Noooooo! Not Staph!

If you're in the mood for a terrifying tale of Microorganisms That Are Not to Be Messed With, check out Dr. Isis' post, MSSA Might Not Be MRSA, But It Still Really Sucks.

It will make you shudder, and be grateful for both narcotics, and antibiotics.

I remember the dreaded 'staph infection,' which I never actually got (happily!), being the bogey-sickness of my childhood. There was a period, when I guess it was going around in the neighborhood or something, that my mom was concerned about any sort of lingering scratch.

I have to say, it's a pretty good candidate for the bogey-sickness of my adulthood as well.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Items of Note

If any of my legions of followers were students to whom I've talked about PubMed, which I highly doubt any are, I would tell them "read this post over here from Scicurious."

I would tell them this as a means to prove that it's not just geeky librarians who think PubMed is awesome. No, PubMed can actually help you get stuff done in your actual career! Someone with a science career says so!

I'm filled with a feeling of warm fuzzy validation.

In other PubMed news, the Krafty Librarian passed on this NLM Technical Bulletin update reporting that the NCBI Journals database, currently closely linked to PubMed, is to be retired. I greet this news with some trepidation, because I use the Journals database all the time, mainly to look up ISSNs and journal abbreviations while I'm a-catalogin'. We like to have those abbreviated titles in the catalog, you know, since people tend to have citations with that format, and it's easier to be able to just copy the citation as written than try to figure out what the full title is.

Although I use the Journals database to find out what the full title is sometimes, too. I'm gonna miss you, Journals database! Sniff.

This information will now reportedly be available in the NLM Catalog, which I do not use all the time, but apparently will in future.

I look forward to getting to know you, NLM Catalog. I totally won't be judging you with against an astronomically high standard set by a departed love or anything, either.

In completely non-PubMed news, I completed 50,004 words on my National Novel Writing Month project last night, so, yeah, I think we can all agree that as someone who's been proven capable of typing a specified number of words within a defined period of time, I'm pretty much the absolute zenith of awesome right now.

The story, such as it is, isn't quite finished yet, so I'm continuing to work on it and hope to wrap it up by the end of the month with a few thousand more words and some additional dramatic fighting, wordy dialogue, and possibly some gratuitous nudity and cursing, because I didn't get around to that last time.

I may also throw in a reference to PubMed, just to tie things in with the other news items of the day.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Treating Numbers

I'm going to have to check out this Evidence-Based Medicine-related site: the Number Needed to Treat, or NNT.

It has some good explanatory material about the statistics involved in calculating whether a treatment is likely to be beneficial or harmful, and quick summaries of various treatments, presented in the form of information on how many patients who use it are helped or harmed, using both percentages and numbers like "one in eight."

There's also a nifty, traffic-light-style code indicating whether the evidence suggest that an intervention is likely to be beneficial, neutral/unknown or harmful.

It seems to be limited by, well, a limited number of interventions covered at the moment, at least as judged by my unsuccessful searches for some of the example conditions we use in our searching-skills classes, but it looks like a cool resource for EBM concepts generally, and for those topics it does cover specifically.

My thanks to GruntDoc, who recommended it.


Monday, November 22, 2010

OMG Netflix Price Increase!

Today in media consumption:

The price of my Netflix subscription is going up by a dollar a month (for one DVD at a time plus unlimited streaming video from the watch-instantly selection).

I'm totally going to still pay it.

There's also a new alternative subscription that's a dollar cheaper, but includes no DVDs (still with unlimited streaming video).

We watch a ton of stuff on streaming video, and less and less on DVD, but I'll keep the DVD option since there are still things we can't get on the instant watch queue. It's interesting how the way we see movies and TV shows is changing so fast.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Speaking of Writing...

Here's a nifty post by Marie Brennan on the SF Novelists blog about writing fight scenes.

Fight scenes, like dramatic action scenes of other sorts, would be handy to be good at, since people tend to like books where things happen, and in a large number of your novels these days the things that happen tend to be dramatic and fight-y, so, yeah, a useful skill.

I'll get right on that.

Pow! Zap! Biff!

Pretty good, right?


Friday, November 19, 2010

Eagerly Awaited NaNoWriMo Update 2

So I've been neglecting all my blog reading and blog writing and personal correspondence, so I have no idea what's going on on the internet, but you'll be happy to know that I continue to churn out thousands of ill-considered words on a near-daily basis.

I am currently at 41,600, which, as those of you with a good head for numbers will observe, is getting pretty close to the 50,000 word goal. Since I have through November 30th, I'm feeling reasonably good about my chances of finishing this marathon, barring ill fortune or sudden, violent boredom with my story and characters.

Let it never be said that I cannot rapidly produce large quantities of questionable prose in response to some arbitrary challenge. I think someone may conceivably have said that once, and I am sure proving him or her wrong!

Take that, imaginary detractor.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Terrifying Vision of Things to Come

I was at the movies the other night, reading a regular old paper book, and the person sitting next to me asked "Have you considered a reader?"

He said this in the tone one might use to inquire "are you aware there's a treatment for that troublesome condition you have?"

Say, if I'd been wearing obvious wrist braces, and someone asked "have you considered carpal tunnel surgery?"

It's come to this already, has it?


Monday, November 15, 2010

What Are You Talking About?

Very interesting post by Danah Boyd at Apophenia, about how the current wave of official concern over bullying, while an important topic, is likely to be completely missing the teenagers it tries to reach because they just don't see what goes on in their lives as "bullying," even if, by the standards of the adults talking about this topic, it is.

It's an example of how much language actually does matter.

If I say "don't vorgel," and you don't know that what I mean by that is "put extraneous indicators in your MARC subfields," then you're probably going to keep right on vorgeling if you were doing it before.

Especially if you have your own definition of vorgel, which is "wait outside someone's office door and say 'boo!' when they come out."

Because then you think, well, there's no way I would ever vorgel--it's childish and not very amusing, and because I don't do it or know anyone who does it, this person's extensive "Don't Vorgel" media campaign is completely irrelevant to me!

Um...OK, so that creative example is a little goofy. I blame my frenzied NaNoWriMo writing, which is siphoning off all my slightly more well-developed ideas.

But the point is, if two groups are really not talking about the same thing, it's going to be pretty hard to get any kind of understanding about what needs to be done, or how to do it.

And for heaven's sake, people: don't vorgel.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Guilt. Guilt!

I share the sad and slightly guilty feelings of many about the disappearance of small bookstores driven out of business by chains and online sales. I mean, it's really too bad, isn't it?

But, as Aunt B describes in this post, in the old days when all we had was small bookstores, a lot of people had no access to bookstores at all. How can you really lament the fact that people living far away from bustling downtowns with thriving and well-stocked bookstores can now go online and order whatever they want?

And yet, how can you not lament the loss of those character-filled independent shops with book loving owners who talk to about the various titles and know their stock backwards and forwards?

If only everyone had access to said shops...but they don't. Of course, that doesn't let me off the hook. Living in a metropolitan area with plenty of access to independent bookstores, I should still feel guilty about buying from Amazon.

I love these lines, which pretty much sum it up: "It’s sad that Davis-Kidd is closing. But the reason why is a pretty spectacular life improvement for a lot of people."


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Late Night Ramblings

I would just like to say that parents are junkies, according to this article that theorizes that people choose, often repeatedly, to become parents (even though research suggests children don't actually make people happy) because children do make people happy, but in an intense, yet rare and unpredictable way that keeps a parent chasing that child-love high despite stress, ill health and personal expense.

I would also like to note that dialogue is a word-goal-having writer's best friend. I have said this before, but I really cannot stress it enough--just have some characters talk about stuff and the words will pour onto the page! And yeah, they may have boring and obnoxious conversations that, if you overheard them on the train, would make you want to punch yourself in the ear to avoid listening to them, but that is irrelevant when the goal is wordiness.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Novels and Values

As promised, I am writing away on this National Novel Writing Month novel (cleverly titled NaNovel in my documents folder).

I have officially passed the halfway mark (en route to the official goal of 50,000 words), so I'm a bit ahead of the game so far, although I am getting to a sort of 'well, that's fine, but I've just spent 50 pages covering peoples' car trips,' and 'so how do I fill up the rest of the pages?' stage.

But, as a colleague pointed out, it could become a post-apocalyptic wasteland novel at any time and on any page, so I shall not give up hope of something interesting happening.

Meanwhile, I was interested to hear via an email to the MEDLIB-L list that one can now download PubMed search results in comma-separated value format for handy sorting in Excel and such, via FLink. You can do a search in PubMed, then go to FLink, select PubMed under 'choose a database to start,' and select 'input from Entrez history' to get a list of recent searches which can then be saved in CSV format.

I have to confess I'm not totally sure I need this for anything, but I save a lot of stuff in CSV format from queries of our OPAC, so I'm sort of preliminarily pleased that the option exists.

Now I have to get back to work. This novel, unfortunately, is not going to write itself.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Grudgingly Positive Movie Review: Tangled

Some say that Disney is a bloated, soulless corporate monster bent on sticking its copyrighted, candy-colored, mouse-flavored tentacles into the brain of every child on earth, using every adult with any money as its pawn to do so.

For example, I just said that.

A free movie is a free movie, however, and I was pleased to see a screening of Tangled, Disney's take on the story of Rapunzel, this evening.

Here's what I will tell you: that movie is beautiful.

It's computer animation, with a nice balance of 'real' with cartoon, making for super-clear, color-saturated scenes that still have a soft edge. They didn't try too hard to make the characters look realistically human (which so often just turns out weird and alien), so you have very unrealistic, cartoon proportions (especially on the female characters) that convey the idea of people without sticking too close to what people really look like.

Although there were a few scenes where the huge, HUGE eyes of both Rapunzel and the witch did make them look kind of creepy. But the landscapes, wow. I want to play that video game.

They fancied up the story a bit, as they usually do, throwing in some magic and giving the witch more of an evil motivation, and of course really beefing up the role of the male lead, who in the story only turns up at the end, but here is the narrator and co-star.

This is the latest in their Princess (registered trademark copyright sparkling fairy wand) line, and Rapunzel is the daughter of a king and queen here, while the hero is a dashing scoundrel. This is a reverse from the original story, where Rapunzel's parents were just some people who lived next to someone else's garden, and the prince was, well, a prince.

There's also the usual animal sidekicks (here a chameleon and a horse that seems to think it's a dog), but they mercifully do not talk. They get pretty good use out of funny expressions instead.

Rapunzel is a spirited sort who does interesting stuff using her hair as a lasso/weapon/extra limb as well as for the classic tower-access purposes, so she's probably a semi-positive role model for girls as long as they don't internalize the message that their bodies should be thinner than their heads. (There's a scene where she's trying on a crown, and she could seriously have worn it as a belt just as easily as on her head.)

The hero is a nice enough guy--I mean, he's a thief who abandons his partners and takes off with the loot the first chance he gets, but hanging out with Rapunzel soon brings him around and he turns out to have a decent heart and does the right thing when he gets the chance.

So pixie-ish charms and true love make everyone awesome!--except the woman who raised you as a mother but is really a horrible person who never loved you but was only using you to cheat death. Never trust anyone who raised you as a mother: that's a wholesome message I think we can all get behind.

Anyway, all flip remarks aside, I pretty much enjoyed this movie, and as I say, it was gorgeous to look at.

In terms of relevance to the purported main topics of this blog, I would note that Rapunzel's boredom in the tower (where she has only three books) makes a strong argument for the value of libraries. Also, there's a scene in a library of some sort later on, where Rapunzel shows appreciation of books and maps. This will clearly encourage young people to read and love literature. Right?

As for health, apparently both men and horses can easily survive falls down 50-foot cliffs onto solid ground, so don't even worry about that, but a knife to the gut is still pretty fatal. So worry about that, if you must worry about something.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Work Notes

I have been doing a lot of copy cataloging lately, and I would like to make the following observation:

The t subfield in the 505 line is a pain in the butt.

505, as I need hardly explain, so widespread is our cultural understanding of MARC in this wonderful world, is for contents notes, like chapter titles and so forth. That's great, so I'm always happy to see a 505, but when a chapter title is prefaced with |t our OPAC picks up that chapter title when it runs a title search.

So if you want the book The Eight Labors of Hercules*, and you type it into our catalog search bar and specify that you want to search for titles, it will also bring back a bunch of books that may be about other things, but have chapters about the labors of Hercules.

Our current theory at the library where I work is that users shouldn't get anything but book and journal titles when they do title searches. We figure few enough people use that feature, since most of them use keyword searches, which will pick up chapter titles where relevant, so if they go to the trouble of actually saying they want to search for a title, we ought to try to make sure that's all they get back.

So I have to go through and delete every single subfield t when it shows up, and that slows me down.

Fortunately, it doesn't show up that often. And I'm sure it serves a valuable purpose in someone else's catalog. That's why I'm only expressing mild complaint, rather than calling for a worldwide ban on the use of t.

This concludes today's cranky cataloging observation.

*This is an abridged version of the Hercules legend, featuring just the more exciting of his 12 achievements, because you are a busy person.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Important Medical and Movie News

I saw this exciting news, passed on by GruntDoc from The Australian: "Scientists turn skin into blood in medical breakthrough; could help cancer treatment."

It's already been possible to make blood from skin cells, but the previous technique used embryonic stem cells, while this one takes a person's skin cells and makes blood that is a genetic match.

With the ability to create blood for transfusion from a person's own skin, the advance means someday patients needing blood for surgery or to treat anemia could bypass the blood bank and derive the necessary supply from themselves.

This is exciting news, obviously, for many useful health reasons (although the implication that I might not be able to score cookies at blood drives in the future is troubling).

But know what else is exciting about it? It's obviously fuel for a fantastic gory movie! In this movie, the technology will be corrupted and used for evil (sorry, hard-working scientists whose work is always being portrayed as corrupted and used for evil), and then there will be dramatic scenes of peoples' skin turning to blood right on their bodies and pouring all over the place. Think of the exposed musculature! Organs falling all over the place!

Please feel free to use this idea in your screenplay and give me full credit and large piles of money. I'd work on it myself, but I've got this novel.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meanwhile, In Other Nifty Challenges--

Here's an interesting project by s.e. smith at This Ain't Livin': The Year of Challenged Books.

The author notes,

I’m not going to limit myself to only reading challenged books, but I am going to try to read at least one challenged book every month, preferably a book I have not read before, and write about it.
As part of each writeup, I’ll also do some research into the challenges filed and talk about the controversial material in each book.

It sounds promising, and I'm eager to see what insights result.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Eagerly Awaited NaNoWriMo Update

You know you wanted it!

OK, so my feed reader is getting completely out of control with unread blog posts, and I still haven't gotten my average words-per-day back to 2,000 after that Tuesday night when I slacked off and went to a movie, but I'm plugging away.

I'll catch up this weekend. I'm currently experimenting with exciting ways to include words in a story, like having characters get into lengthy arguments about stupid things.

It's like real life! Also, it takes up a lot of words!

Please feel free to use this tip in your own novel.

Remember: this is a marathon. You don't have to finish up showered in glory, you just have to finish.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

No Rest for the Friendly

The MedlinePlus4You Twitter feed alerted me to this important news: socializing may make extroverts more susceptible to ill effects from sleep deprivation.

Introverts, on the other hand, are totally cool to socialize and stay up all night (or, even better, stay up all night socializing!), and everything will be fine. That part wasn't specifically in the study, but one should always feel free to extrapolate wildly. That's just good use of license for extremes of behavior.

OK, it was a small study, involving only 48 people, and who the heck knows if these results would hold up in further experiments, or exactly what significance they have even if so.

But in the meantime, extroverted people, you should get some rest.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Huh...Movie Review: Monsters

So I immediately proceed to slack on my stated goal of 2,000 words per day. Because, free movie!

We actually had a choice this evening: Monsters, or Megamind. We chose Monsters, and I'm not unhappy with the decision.

Here's the things about this movie: it has monsters, but it is not your standard monster movie. It is not filled with scream and explosions. It is more a meditative documentary style movie, that happens to be set in Mexico 6 years from now, after spores from space have settled in, making a "infected zone" between the U.S. and Mexico where strange tentacled creatures roam.

The infected zone is the target of frequent and extensive bombing from both sides.

We basically have two main characters who are trying to get from Mexico back to the U.S., trying to work around quarantines and bombing.

It was interesting. I'm glad I saw it. I mostly enjoyed it. It did feel a bit long, which it was not. It's actually only one and a half hours, but it's slow and sort of meditative.

So if you see it, settle in and go along for the ride.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the explosions.


Monday, November 1, 2010

To the Keyboard!

It is November! And all over the world, novels are forming, for it is National Novel Writing Month.

I am doing NaNoWriMo again this year, so please note that posting for the next month may be sporadic, rambling, nonsensical, self-involved (more so!) and infused with either wild enthusiasm or crushing despair depending on how things are going.

I've decided to aim for 2,000 words a day, which is a bit more than the 1,666.66667 per day that would demonstrate perfectly even and measured progress towards the 50,000-word goal.

I figure I will not always get to 2,000, but on the days when I do, I can be building up a little slack for the days when I don't. And then on the weekends, it will be all about making up any deficit. That, and wine.

I'm currently at 2,020--and it's time for a refreshing sleep.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ow. Headache.

We wisely and unfortunately did not buy tons of candy for Halloween this year (wise because we never get any Trick-or Treaters and now we're not left with tons of candy, unfortunate because we're not eating tons of candy right now).

And as anticipated, not a single child came to our door, which is actually too bad, because that lucky child could have been treated to something fun we scrounged up on the spot, like the ever-popular apple (everyone loves to get an apple at Halloween!), or maybe a handful of loose raisins.

"Here, kid. Take 'em and git."

Not that the kid would have been allowed to eat loose raisins even if they wanted to (which they almost certainly would not), because we could have poisoned them or something. If we had any poison lying around. Which you never can put past us. A lot of cleaning products have nasty ingredients.

The point is, no Trick-or-Treaters, but I'll keep my eye peeled (and my ears pricked) for monsters and ghosts as the night draws on.

Meantime, I've been watching TV on Hulu (because the regular TV was tuned to sporting events in which I have limited interest unless someone is getting eaten by monsters--and you'd think on Halloween there'd be a good chance of that, but no), and I have kind of a concentration headache from staring at the tiny screen.



Saturday, October 30, 2010

Yay! Also, Boo!

Faithful readers may have observed that I'm generally full of sunny good cheer when it comes to the idea of voting.

Go vote! It's a party in our system of government and every citizen who registered to vote is invited! Don't think of it as your civil duty: think of it as a civil privilege! Exercise the franchise! Yay!

It's enough to make you sick, how sunny and cheerful I am.

And then every time there's an election coming up, it gets to the point, right about now, where I really, really, cannot wait for the happy day to arrive, because I am totally sick of campaign ads.

Shut up and get off my television, campaign ads.

But go vote, everyone. Soon! Mercifully soon!


Friday, October 29, 2010

I Have Discovered Justice

As long as we're on the subject of stolen library books, I couldn't resist this piece on Pharyngula.

Don't worry, the purloined book in question was eventually paid for, so presumably the library was able to purchase another copy.

You can do that, if someone checks out the book before stealing it. I salute PZ Myers for that. It's an honest theft.

When someone just creeps off with a book and you have no idea who it was, it's hard to know where to send the bill.

I keep advocating for a lottery system in which we can just bill someone selected at random from the directory, but it hasn't caught on yet.

Ooh, either that, or we could bill everyone! Go for that "punish the whole group to make them enforce the rules on each other" thing! In college, they billed all the residents of the dormitory for any damage to the common rooms, right? It's perfectly fair and reasonable.

In college they split up the repair bill between the dorm residents, but I think we might as well charge every registered student the full amount. Then we could put any leftover funds towards exciting purchases like that ice cream sundae bar I've been wanting to put in.

Oh yeah, this is going to go over well at the next budget meeting.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Price Job Satisfaction?

I was at a workshop on access services today, and during a break I couldn't help but idly consider a career change to some male-dominated profession or industry.

It's not that I'm unhappy where I am. I like librarianship. I like women.

But sometime I would like to be in the short line for the restroom at a conference.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Watch Those Light Fingers

The library where I work serves four schools. The student body of one of those schools has achieved a minor notoriety for stealing textbooks. Their books just vanish. Very mysterious.

It's quite frustrating, because as a library the institution wishes to serve its users by having the books they want to use, but also wishes to not to keep purchasing the same book over and over when it keeps disappearing.

You're tempted to just say "fine, we're not buying you books anymore," but that's obviously hugely unfair to those students who didn't steal a library copy. Those students are certainly the vast majority, and we hate to tell them we don't have a title they need.

On the other hand, we can't just buy replacements indefinitely. Or we could, I suppose, but that would mean not buying various other books. Which, since those other books don't get stolen, might in fact not bother the students terribly. Maybe we should just buy a hundred copies of every title that gets put on Course Reserves, enough for every student to steal one or not, and call it a day in terms of book purchases.

But that's not the direction we've chosen to go in collection development so far.

So what's fairer: to buy no copies of popular texts and make everyone pay for their own, or to buy copies for a couple of people to slip away with and then make everyone else pay for their own once the first ones have disappeared?

Meh. It's not one of the more satisfying questions we consider.

Also, to be fair, I should really try a little study here, to make sure confirmation bias isn't causing us to think that this particular school is really 'losing' a disproportionate quantity of the books in its field (given its representation in the total user population), when the number might really be about the same as for other schools.

Let that be a warning to you, students of schools. Your school gets a reputation, and then gets blamed for everything, with everything being seen as evidence of guilt! Rumors, innuendo...all the libraries whispering about you behind your back...

I need hardly say that any individual student, or group of students in a classroom, is still A-OK with me. I'm not out there giving people dirty looks at the reference desk because Muttonchops Wilkins' Big Book of School-Specific Health Knowledge has turned up missing.

Not unless they look kind of shifty-eyed when I oh-so-casually turn the conversation that way. In that case I'd obviously find out where they lived and then break into their room using super-cool stealth lock picks when they weren't around and search for clues. And if some sort of international travel was involved, I'd be all over that. Creeping over borders with forged passports and such is all in a day's work.

That's how we roll in Tech Services. Dedicated. Also criminal, I suppose, if you want to get picky.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Work of the Day

Today I was editing OPAC records. It was awesome.

We got a large purchase of e-books, and had the records all loaded into the system at once (saves time! frees energy! cleans your office for you!), but because of the way we like to include the link to the online text, we do still have to go through and change that part in each individual record.

It's a good low-stress task, though. The kind of thing you can do while playing music--which reminds me I forgot to bring my iPod home to recharge. Sigh.

Tomorrow it will be the kind of thing you can do while humming to yourself.


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Making of Sausages and Sports

This New York Times article raises a question I had not previously considered: whether or not it's morally defensible to watch football, given recent information about the long-term brain damage caused by frequent head trauma.

Can we really feel good about watching people give themselves and each other brain damage every week? They're still not fighting to the death, so we've got that going for us, but nevertheless...

And we might find it hard to feel too badly for the superstars who make millions of dollars to take these kinds of risks--not that early dementia is a good deal, but at least they got something out of it.

But what about all those players who aren't superstars and don't make millions of dollars, but maybe have to quit while young due to injury? They get to risk severe physical injury and brain damage for our entertainment and don't even get piles of money out of it.

The piece makes an interesting comparison:

Watching football has become a bit like eating meat. We have more information about the carnage involved before it ends up on our plates. But we have a taste for it, so we do not want to think too hard about it.

Are our fond conceptions about the value of physical exercise and teamwork and sportsmanship no sounder a justification than our fond conceptions of happy green farms where cheerful cows and pigs and chickens lead rich, full lives before winding up on our plates?

Well, I'll leave you sports fans to wrestle with this heady philosophical problem. I've already sworn off watching football for personal reasons*, so I don't really have an angle here.

*Or one personal reason, which is that I personally find it boring.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Advertising Horror of the Day

I just saw a reprehensible TV commercial for the Dodge Charger.

First, the usual blah blah chatter about how awesome and manly this car is (during a football game, every single thing advertised will be bristling with aggressive manliness, which is eye-rollingly tiresome but too commonplace to stir me from my reading).

Then, the money quote:

"It's not just American craftsmanship. It's an American craft manship."


Seriously, Dodge? That's a really terrible pun. Also, it's stupid.

The commercial goes on to make much of the newly-invented term 'manship,' summoning, I suppose, both the concept of a seafaring vessel that is bold, masculine, square-jawed and rippling with taut muscles, and the use of '-ship' tacked onto a word to indicate a quality.

Like, you know, 'leadership,' refers to a quality of 'being a leader,' so 'manship' apparently refers to a quality of 'being a man.' A man with a bold and masculine seafaring vessel at his command. The master of his fate, and the captain of his soul!

The kind of man who's man enough to go buy a car, because it takes some real manliness to do that, as evidenced by the paucity of automotive vehicles on the roads these days.

Sometimes in the old days we might have used the word 'manhood,' but '-hood' doesn't have anything to do with 'craftsmanship,' so clearly a new word had to be made up.

I'm not at all opposed to making up words, but I am opposed to making up words specifically so you can make terrible puns with them.

Shut up and get off my television screen, Dodge. Your feeble wordcraftery disgusts me.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Health News of the Day

Latest exciting health news: our household's brush with tuberculosis!

Months and months of antibiotics await.

It's a little weird. I mean, who gets tuberculosis these days?

Such was my immediate reaction, but I need hardly state that this was a display of my vast and shameful ignorance.

Apparently, people get tuberculosis. For example, my gracious spouse.

I blame that movie we saw about John Keats dying of consumption. But more to the point, I suppose, I blame Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

In the absence of any productive response, I'm going to go play Assassin's Creed. Now there was a time period when people were familiar with consumption.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Feeling It

As someone who sees bright-eyed young future doctors all the time, I was interested in this post by PalMD about the moment when a person first actually feels like a 'doctor.'

You have all these years and years of education and study and training, and then somewhere in, a doctor!

I bet it's not the same as feeling like a 'physician' (or I guess a 'scholar' or something, if you get a PhD). That just doesn't have the same emotional zip.

I do wonder if it's also one of those things that you get to, and think "well, all right, I'm that"--but somehow you find it's not as enormous a thing as you anticipated back when you were starting out.

All the work that's gone into it kind of minimizes the thing itself by comparison. Not that you don't feel good about it, but it doesn't fill you with self-inspired awe or anything.

Or so I imagine, based on the magnificent achievements I myself have completed in my time. None of them was becoming a doctor, but I did once memorize half the periodic table.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yet Another Nifty Date

For those who enjoy entertainingly numbered dates, I cannot help but notice that today is 10-20-2010. Or 20-10-2010 if you use the European system.

Either way, it's pretty fantastic, right? We should all start baking celebratory numeral cakes, or whatever we're supposed to do to recognize entertaining dates.

A nice pie, maybe?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's Pure Chemistry

For everyone who's ever wondered why having salt poured on them is bad for slugs and snails, see this detailed explanation from a chemist, on Adventures in Ethics & Science. It is a fitting celebration of National Chemistry Week.

I confess I have never actually poured salt on a slug or snail, though I have accidentally stepped on them, which is also messy. I'm rather fond of snails in the abstract, slurming along in their handsome curled shells with their little waving feelers, but I'm sure they're much less charming if they're eating the lettuce in your garden.

Mice are pretty cute too, unless they're chewing up your bread and leaving little mouse droppings in your silverware drawer.

It's all a matter of whether or not something is competing with me for food.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Pointless Whine of the Day

I kind of hate store credit. I have to remember to shop there again to use it, you know?

I don't blame L.L. Bean, specifically. They sent me the boots I ordered, just the way I told them to. What else were they supposed to do? They couldn't have known the boots wouldn't fit, any more than I did.

Until I tried them on. And then had to send them back, and now I have this credit that I have to use, and I really don't shop at L.L. Bean generally, except hope springs eternal that someday I'll find a pair of boots that fit.


My life is filled with hardship, sorrow and cold, wet feet.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Now if Anyone Wanted to Advertise...

Stephen's Lighthouse has an interesting post on how Google is different from libraries. Well, OK, one of the numerous ways, since there are certainly many that one could discuss.

The particular way he's talking about here is that Google is ad-funded, so they are, essentially, working for advertisers, and whatever value they offer to other users is in the service of advertisers and therefore somewhat incidental.

Whereas libraries do not work for advertisers, and whatever value we offer users is based more on the hope of being valuable to users. Whether or not we always succeed in being valuable, or as valuable as we could be, or as valuable as Google is incidentally, can always be debated, but the intention is to serve the library user, not the advertiser.

It's an interesting way to think about focus.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Exciting Weekend Plans

Here's what's been on my to-do list:

Read Let the Right One In
Play some Bioshock
Watch some Doctor Who
Drink some wine

Things are proceeding very nicely according to plan so far.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sad Work

It's just a fact of libraries that books sometimes turn up missing. They get lost, they get stolen, they sprout legs and walk away.

Then you have to make sure the catalog doesn't keep saying you have things you don't. Delete records, remove duplicate items. I keep thinking "but we should have this!" We can't delete this record from the catalog!

Oh, right, but we don't have it, so we have to delete it if we don't want the catalog to be a liar. Sigh.

The 'workyear outline' my predecessor left me suggests doing this three times a year.

I just did it for the first time since I took this position last August. Oh well. Outlines are made to be scribbled around the edges of.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Use it Again

I saw this on NPR's Twitter account ages ago and meant to exclaim in glee over the fact that bacteria in reusable grocery bags is apparently not that big a concern. They can carry germs, just like anything that might get dirty, but at least one study suggests that it's not likely to be in large enough concentrations to make people sick.

I carry piles of reusable bags, ever since I started to feel overwhelmed by the plastic ones and decided to make it a personal goal to stop bringing them home (we use them in trash bins, but you can only go through so many).

I might be a little leery of carrying meat around in reusable bags, since meat juice is notoriously popular with your more discerning human-illness-causing bacteria, but since I conveniently don't eat meat, there's no worry there.

I suppose if you do eat meat, you could always just wipe the bags down with a touch of rubbing alcohol or the like. As far as I'm concerned, it would be well worth it to avoid being smothered by the accumulation of plastic bags.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fear Not Numbers

Apparently girls can do math. Now you tell me, after I've gone and gotten these numerically challenged degrees in English and library science.

I salute for highlighting this study--actually a review of 242 other studies. As we tell students in our EBM-related classes all the time, reviews are good! Saves you having to read all those 242 studies yourself.

Because we may be able to do math, but we have busy lives and are often short on time.

Now, girls in school, get some practice crunching numbers. If I were 12 right now, I would be all over that.

It will serve you well once the Association of Research Libraries comes asking for statistics on your collection, you know. And you may think it couldn't happen to you, but don't be so sure. The ARL has a long reach.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Legal Matters of the Day

A couple of things I should probably be paying attention to:


A court in France ruled in favor of a man who sued Google for defamation based on the search results returned for his name (via Staring at Empty Pages). So essentially Google is responsible for passing along what other people say about you in France, if it's not true.

This will probably be appealed, but will obviously have a big, fairly chilling effect on search engine business in general if it stands. If a company has to be aware of the nature of the results returned by a query and make sure none of them are defamatory before allowing them to appear...well, damn, how would you even do that?

Also, what about the people who specifically want the defamatory material? Customer satisfaction among that group goes way down if all they can get is whatever has been approved, and you know that's no good for business. Although it could allow lots of small black market search engines to pop up and thrive, which would be good for that business.

"All the results that aren't fit to print!"


There's a case about electronic reserve reading underway involving Georgia State University that could mean a lot to many in academic fields. Barbara Fister at Inside Higher Ed sums it up nicely, but basically, some journal publishers sued GSU, saying that putting articles on reserve through library e-reserves or course management systems is a violation of copyright.

Now a lot of universities do this (or so I've heard!), so the results of this case will be a pretty big deal.

Copyright is one of those areas that both fascinates and frustrates me, and I do work in an academic library (although we've made the copyright-fear-based decision to stay the heck out of electronic reserves until we know if it's legal), and I will hope to learn and understand more about this in future.

I heard about it this time from Dorothea on Book of Trogool.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Spreading Germs

I've started hearing about computer viruses spread by USB drives. It's no longer enough to be cautious about opening suspicious email attachments. Now you have to be cautious about plugging in suspicious drives.

And since you get free thumb drives all over these days (they're one of the cooler trinkets you pick up at conferences), there are dozens in the lost and found, and they're so useful!--but if one of them is poxed with some ghastly virus...well, it's no good, is it?

See this article from Slate with terrifying details.

You know this, like many a virus, could take a particular toll on public computers, such as those in libraries. I assume our IT people are reacting with appropriate prophylactic alarm.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Murder Mostly Justified

It is remotely possible that someone may remember that I once attended "one of those Murder Mystery Dinner Party things," and that I, or the character I had been portraying, turned out to be a killer (although I still hold that this was an understandable choice given the circumstances).

Well, we had another mystery today! And guess who turned out to be the murderer?

Yup, it was me.

In this case, I can't offer the excellent justification that the victim (my father) had previously had my mother and brother killed and tried to do the same for me, but I can say that he was indirectly responsible for my beloved husband's untimely demise, so there was certainly a grudge there.

In any case, based on my history with mystery events, people in pun-filled situations who've made a lot of other enemies should be particularly wary about crossing me.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Sometimes You Want the Numbers

A good point on FWD/Forward about how touch screens can be problematic for people who can't see them well.

If you want to pay with a debit card at the grocery store, but you can't see the numbers on the touch screen, what are you supposed to do? Tell someone your PIN so they can type it in for you, and then also potentially use it to take your money? Hmm.

I mean, I suppose in the grand scheme of things the likelihood of someone memorizing your PIN and then also happening to get hold of your card is small, but still, I certainly don't go around telling people mine. And if I did have to tell someone for some reason, I'd feel compelled to change it as soon as possible.

Which should not be considered a reasonable solution for people who can't see touch screens, since having to keep changing your PIN, and remembering a new one every time you go shopping, is few peoples' idea of convenient.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thorny Book-Counts Be Not Seen

Sometimes you get a song running through your head. Sometimes it's semi-random and annoying, while at other times it may serve to express some personal feeling.

Lately, while wrestling endlessly with library statistics, I have felt the need for something soothing to help stave off anxiety, weeping fits, and red-eyed rage, so I've been repetitively humming the lullaby from A Midsummer Night's Dream. I had to make up a tune, given that we can't know how Shakespeare imagined it sounding, but I don't let that slow me down.

Not when I'm counting duplicate titles in a list of 6,000 e-journals.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's All Numbers, Numbers!

Ugh. I'm working on those soul-crushingly hideous number questions, so dreadful that merely to contemplate them would make Santa Claus himself vomit with rage: ARL statistics.

Shudder. You know, those questions always seem so innocent and straightforward, and then you start trying to count things and you realize that apparently we have no means of accurately keeping track of anything!

How many journals do we currently receive?

Do we count all the stuff in those giant packages that we linked on the web site because, well, who knows when someone's going to need to consult Waterbirds for a waterbird-related health question, so we stick it on the e-journals page, but we haven't gotten around to putting it in the OPAC yet, because we don't know, but we can guess, and while our guess must perforce be a non-never date given the impossibility of absolutely ruling out the arising of some waterbird-related health issue, we still don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. I'm going to catalog them, eventually, but it's just not been at the top of my list.

So I ask you, do we consider these 'currently received'?

I have to warn you, I will be highly dissatisfied with any answer, because I am sick of this and all related questions.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reach a Little

One must acknowledge Banned Books Week (even if a little late), and I found this inspirational post on RH Reality Check noting that with book bannings "It's (Almost) Always About Sex."

Obviously it's not entirely always about sex (remember Huckleberry Finn), but there's no denying that seems to be the issue in a large percentage of cases.

This inspires me to want to come up with a new reason to get challenged. I want to write a book for children or young adults that will feature shockingly casual drug use, socially threatening witchcraft and extensive, detailed advice on effective ways to challenge authority and commit various types of white collar crime, and see if I can get challenged on those grounds.

Because honestly, sex panic? So overdone.

It's like zombies. A classic, sure, but there's got to be something more interesting to worry about. Maybe my challenged children's book will be about killer robots.


Monday, October 4, 2010

You Always Fail Someone

Unfortunately, the new awesome e-only journal model at the library where I work doesn't satisfy everyone.

One older doctor said today, in a wistful way, "I don't like the library as much as I used to."

Aw. That made me kind of sad.

I could only sympathize. I know, if you want to come in and browse through the journals of your field to see what's going on, it's just not the same on the computer.

Especially if you're not really that familiar or comfortable with the conventions of online journals. Which, let us remember, not everyone is, even in a high-tech profession.

How do you find the title you want? How do you get to a particular issue? How do you get the full text of an article you want? (Naturally, the journal he was looking at also picked that moment to have problems with providing full text.)

Sigh. It's the shelves, I told him. The online versions aren't as easy to use as the traditional print, but they take up a lot less space.

You can't do everything, and there's no way around that, but he seemed very nice and I felt kind of bad that we've sort of nudged his model of library user out of the picture. I mean, we'll help him, I did the best I could to direct him to the exciting possibilities of the e-journals, but if that's just not how he prefers to read, I don't know how much use he'll get out of it, and I'm afraid he may just find that the library isn't for him anymore.

I suppose you'll always fail to be what someone is looking for (often many people in many different ways!). You just have to do the best you can for people with the resources you do have, and recognize that that won't always be exactly what they want.


Sunday, October 3, 2010


I see on Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day that Google now offers a URL-shortening service:

I do use those services every once in a while, generally when I want to add a link to one of our Subject pages at work and it turns out to be something long and clunky. The URLs themselves show up on the page, rather than just appearing as the classic underlined blue text, and I think that's basically good--a way of making transparent, giving due credit, to the resource linked.

Here: click to get there, but if you care, it's!

So I see the value of displaying the URL, but if it's too a specific page it can be really long, and can loop around and look ugly on the page. In these cases, I've sometimes put in a shortened URL instead, just for aesthetics. I'm a little doubtful about the persistence of shortened URLs since if the service that creates the link fails, the link will presumably no longer work, but it's certainly also true that if an originating website is rearranged, or a document removed from a server, that link will also no longer work, so I don't think it's an unacceptable risk.

Sometimes links break, and that's part of the nature of information on the web.

I don't use shortened URLs often enough that I really have a favorite, or that I will get an opportunity to try Google's version anytime soon.

I think I started with, which is the first of these services that I heard of (and which has the advantage of letting you customize the short URL, so you can make it something you'll recognize--I especially like this given that I'm usually posting a link as a resource on a web page, and want to characterize it in some way), and may have also used, which seemed to be popular on Twitter.

I was, however, immediately curious about the .gl domain, which turns out to be Greenland. It's interesting to see how various sites and services make use of domains whose countries they have (as far as one can tell) no real connection to, but that suggest something about the service. Like, which plays on the connection of FM to radio, or the exciting potential of the .tv domain.

Greenland, the Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu might as well get something out of their domains.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stellar Armed Conflicts: Now With More Dimensions!

As I have already cantankerously expressed my low opinion of 3D movies, faithful readers will no doubt be unsurprised by my reaction to the news (which I got from Women's Eye on Media) that the various Star Wars films may soon be released in 3d versions.

Bah. That's my reaction.

My spouse's reaction is stronger: George Lucas must be stopped.

There has to be a way.

Someone file an injunction! Get some sort of conservatorship set up, through which we, as a nation (maybe a world! is Star Wars huge outside the U.S?), can take over as guardians of these historically important films and prevent further mucking about with the cherished childhood memories of so many!

George Lucas has proven himself an incompetent administrator of the legend, and must have his legal rights to make further production and promotion decisions terminated.

Ha. Obviously, I can't actually back that position. I may be in favor of loosening copyright and letting more old stuff into the public domain (in fact, I'm fairly sure that I am), but even I can't really argue that copyright should expire while the creator is still alive.

Whether or not we like what Lucas has done with the monster empire that is Star Wars, he made it up and can do as he likes with it. He may be a money-grubbing hack, but he has that right.

Honestly, if I had an idea I could milk for everything it was worth (and it was worth that much), I might be a money-grubbing hack too.

I wanted to sell out, but no one was buying! Why does everyone assume I have some kind of artistic integrity, just because I'm not a millionaire film/toy magnate?


Friday, October 1, 2010

Think Big Bad Thoughts

New evidence of human irrationality, reported on Bad Science: apparently, people tend to look less kindly on those who injure a few, than on those who injure many.

60 students were given a vignette to read about a case of fraud, where either 3 people or 30 people were defrauded by a financial advisor, but all the other information in the story was kept the same.
Participants were asked to evaluate the severity of the crime, and recommend a punishment: even though fewer people were affected, participants who read the story with only 3 victims rated the crime as more serious than those who read the exact same story, but with 30 victims.

Further research examined a number of actual cases in which similar crimes injured more or fewer people, and found that this phenomenon is not confined to the lab setting:

[The cases] were all from 2000 to 2009, they were all jury trials, and the researchers’ hypothesis was correct: people who harm larger numbers of people get significantly lower punitive damages than people who harm smaller number of people. Juries punish people less harshly when they harm more people.

The theory here is that it's easier for us to identify with a small number of people than a large number, so harm done to a few feels more real than harm done to many, and therefore more serious.

This actually makes perfect sense when I think about it. I can easily imagine three individual, harmed people, I could put a face to them if they were introduced to me, I can sympathize with them. But 30 people? That's way more people than I could carry on a conversation with at one time. I'm certainly acquainted with that many people, but I wouldn't really want to try interacting with them all at once, I'd lose track of them.

Anything that happens to 30 people is hard to really get a grip on.

I do wonder, if there's a point where empathy fails and gives way to impersonalization, there's also a point where impersonalization fails and gives way to horror at the scale of a crime.

Say, if hurting three people is bad, and hurting 30 people is less bad, is hurting 300 people bad again? Or less bad still because, hey, how much can I really feel bad for 300 strangers?

What about 3,000 people? Or 30,000?

And then, where does horror at the vast scale of a crime become despair at its implacable hugeness, and a disinclination to do anything because there's no way we could make a dent in that? Let's not even bother to try to punish this wrongdoer, what's the use?

I guess from the evidence presented so far, the lesson is if you're going to do wrong, do it big.

I will adjust the scale of my evil plans accordingly.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking From House to House

I love this post on Feminist SF that breaks up four approaches to communication and activism according to which Hogwarts House a person would be sorted into.

Reading provides many angles from which to view life. Let us salute Harry Potter.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Anything is Possible Again!

I would certainly be remiss in my duties as a medical librarian if I neglected to properly hail the appearance of the long-awaited* MeSH 2011.

Because we really get excited about this.

It's here! It's here! It's like a party in my computer and every current Medical Subject Heading is invited!

I would be in favor of some sort of official holiday. Or at least a big feast in the library. We could bake the traditional MeSH Tree pastries and drink the ceremonial Subheading wine.

*Since MeSH 2009! I never cared for MeSH 2010. It was too standoffish.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Unmaking the Grade

I don't grade many people, thankfully, because it's kind of stressful.

I was one of the instructors for a for-credit course for a graduate degree in medical science (kind of a pre-med master's), and you really just don't even want to get into grading.

Do I want to be responsible for someone not getting into medical school because they got a bad grade in a class on using information resources? I think not.

Yet at the same time, do I want to just shrug off someone's blatant failure to do the assignments? Not really.

In my case the course director tried to make it all very tidy and precise: do W, X and Y to accumulate Z number of points and you get an A, but unless everything is multiple choice, there's always room for interpretation.

Does this paragraph address this aspect of the assignment? Kind of? Enough to just say yes, or not that much, so we have to say no?

And then let's not even get into the irritating problem of how you recognize the ones who really do go all out to get everything done to the letter, when you're kind of designing the whole thing with the intention that anybody who bothers to expend a bare minimum of effort will get a good grade.

Make up extra-awesome-fantastico grades that cannot be symbolized by letters alone? Go back to kindergarten and add smiley faces and gold stars?

All this is to say that I really liked this post by ladysquires at the writingishard blog (its proper name contains a naughty word!--that I find I am weirdly squeamish about copying here, for some reason. Perhaps a future post will address my conflicted feelings about profanity!--on the internet!--to some amusing end).

The author thoughtfully considers the question of why students care so deeply about grades, concluding that in some ways, for some students, they really do matter as much as the students think or fear, even while in others they aren't that important (as anyone 10 years out of college who was kind of disappointed that potential employers weren't more impressed by that hard-won GPA could say).

There's discussion of the way that this is partly generational, since when fewer people went to college and there were more well-paying jobs that didn't require college degrees, grades may not have been as big a deal.

So, grades are practically meaningless, but also mean exactly as much as they're made to mean by the next school you're applying to, which could be pretty much everything.

Yeah, I'm glad I don't have to grade many people.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Medical Spoken Here

Alerted by a Twitter feed I occasionally look at, I checked out this nifty tutorial on medical words, produced by my favorite consumer health information site, MedlinePlus.

It approaches medical language like, well, a language, giving root words for various parts of the body, and breaking large words into beginning, middle and end to show how one long word (say, echocardiogram) is based on three smaller parts, so that if you know that echo involves sound waves, cardio means heart, and gram means a picture, you can figure out what the word means.

I'm pretty good with basic medical language just from reading stuff, but I did learn that 'myo' refers to muscle, leading me to think "Aha! Myocardial = heart muscle!"

The things you never bother to look up despite having the internet right to hand 10 hours a day. Or, I guess, the things you never bother to wonder about, that's the interesting part. I can read 'myocardial' 100 times, and not even think about the fact that I don't completely know what it means.

It has something to do with the heart. If someone comes to the reference desk interested in it, I can look for it. Need there be more?

Anyway, for someone who doesn't read a lot of medical terms while finding papers for medical students and so forth, I think this tutorial could be pretty helpful.

Nice one, MedlinePlus.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Getttin' Some Schoolin'

Although I was homeschooled, I have some love for the public school system. I therefore enjoyed this post from Jeff Fecke on Alas, A Blog, arguing that the public school system in the U.S. does not, in fact, completely suck.

I will leave with that thought, because I am busy coughing.

Coughing, coughing, coughing.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Wretched Failure

I am usually pretty much full of awesome, at least as far as you know, but I must recount a moment of wretched failure today.

Our interlibrary loan person came over to ask me about a book that she couldn't find on the shelf.

She noted that it was listed in the catalog with a Library of Congress call number, which is unusual because, being a medical library, we normally use medical call numbers. Because they are much cooler, obviously.

She pointed out that it should really have a medical call number, and I concurred, but, hey, the record in the catalog says it doesn't! Someone slipped up by not giving it one, but still, you're basically telling me the call number is wrong and asking if I know where the book is based on that, and why would I?

Missing books are a whole different issue from incorrect call numbers! I'll correct it if the book turns up, but what else can I do here? Why will you keep rambling on about the call number?

So she gave up and went away, and about 10 minutes later I realized that what she was trying to say was that it should have a medical call number, and so maybe it did (on the spine) but it just hadn't been corrected in the catalog record.

And what she really wanted to ask was, what's the classification for a book on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis? Because then she could go look in that range and see if it might be there, having been properly shelved according to a correct spine number, even though the record in the OPAC was wrong.


See, I could in fact easily look that up, and it's WE 550, and I went to the WE 550s and there the book was, properly labeled even though improperly recorded--but she'd already declined the ILL request.

So I personally lost the library an $11 ILL service fee. Sigh. Me! I will bring down this institution!

OK, not really.

But it just goes to show that communication is a constant challenge.

I knew the answer to the question I thought she was asking ("do you know where this missing book is?"), and I stuck on that, completely missing the question she was actually asking ("do you know what the classification should be for this book?")

Truly, a poor display of reference interview skills.

I partially blame my nice cold/allergies combo of the moment (yes, it turns out this year it's both!), which is really fuzzying up my brain. But that's no excuse for not listening better, and accordingly I hang my head in shame.