Friday, April 30, 2010

Staying Out of the Process

LISNews passes on the word (from LJ) that Molly Raphael will be the next ALA president, and wonders:

Question for ALA members: Why does such a significant majority of members abstain from voting??

Apparently only about 20% of eligible ALA members voted, which is indeed pretty low. I can't answer the question as to why so many members don't vote, though. I did, and I don't even consider myself particularly involved with ALA (MLA is more my focus). I mean, voting was easy--you can do it online!

But if I were to hazard a guess as to the reason for the low turnout, I might say that a lot of people, like me, may not feel that intimately involved with ALA, so might not feel very invested in the election results.

Me, I didn't know much about either of the candidates, and they both seemed perfectly capable, so in a way I really needn't have voted because I didn't especially care who won...whoever's elected will probably do a fine job, so I'm cool either way. Why not let people who actually care do the voting and pick the leaders?

In a way, refraining from voting is just expressing trust in others, who may be more invested and know more about what's going on, to set the agenda. I know the 20% who vote will take care of us!* I don't need to think about it.

This works in all kinds of elections, too, not just ALA.

*Or, since I did in fact vote, you should know that you can trust me to take care of things. Oh yes, you can trust me! Don't mind the sinister cackling.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spur of the Moment

I enjoyed this post by Shelf Check's Emily Lloyd about the possibility of spontaneous library programs. Something that you have basic rules and equipment for in advance, but don't have any specific date or publicity for--then, when the moment strikes, you can break out an unexpected program!

For example:

My particular nerdy fantasy is for a whistling contest. It's busy; one of us announces over the loudspeaker, "Okay, it's obvious there are a lot of bodies in the library right now. But how many of you can WHISTLE? We're having a spontaneous whistling smackdown in the meeting room in five minutes. Who will be [Name of Town's] Next Top Whistler?" (In my fantasy, we also film willing contestants with a Flip and upload the videos to the library's YouTube channel).

I personally can't whistle at all, so I wouldn't be a participant in that one, but I could judge!

We don't have a loudspeaker at my library, plus I'm not sure how pleased the intently focused students would be if we started making noise in our not-very-soundproofed meeting room, but I'm intrigued by the general idea.

Honestly, spontaneity might not translate that well with the kind of programming we do ("Spontaneous PubMed class! Textbook read-off! Get to know Web of Science! Thesis formatting contest starts now!"), but maybe that just means we should do more exciting programs.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Trial by Not Trial

Well, my time on the Justice Squadron was uneventful. I didn't even get lost on the way to the courthouse.

Once there and gathered with the rest of my cell-phoneless team, we were addressed by a judge, watched a video about the Massachusetts jury system (potential jurors are required to serve no more than "one day, or one trial" every three years), and then sat reading magazines and otherwise amusing ourselves (one guy brought a laptop--I can only assume that since phones aren't allowed, there was also no wireless internet available) until the judge returned to announce that all the cases of the day had been resolved without recourse to trial, and we could go about our business.

So I went to work to be terribly perturbed by a car alarm that wouldn't stop going off. How I hate car alarms. Many's the time I've wished someone would break into a car to make one stop.

Anyway, that was my brush with the justice system. It was orderly and well-managed, even if I didn't get to serve on a jury and do my part to objectively discern the truth of some matter.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Joining the Justice Squadron

I have jury duty tomorrow. The instructions say to show up in "proper dress" and that no cell phones are allowed in the courthouse. I mean, the Municipal Fortress of Vengeance.

Gee, why don't they just paint a business suit on me and gag me at the door?

They suggested leaving cell phones in the car, but what about those of us who don't take cars to the courthouse? I have to leave my phone at home?! So no cell phone all day? That's inhumane!

Ha. It wasn't that long ago that I went out without a phone all the time.

It is kind of inconvenient now, though, since if I want to give people at work an update on when I'm going to be back in, I'll have to find a pay phone (and those are hard to find these days) or shout really loudly, or follow some other potential juror back to their car and beg to borrow their cell.

Oh well. I suppose moment-by-moment updates aren't crucial.

I'm totally awesome and phenomenal and stupendous, but things will probably stagger along without me for a day.

Now if I somehow wind up on a jury for a trial that lasts multiple days, I can't make any promises.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Learning to Count

Interesting post on iLibrarian about online education and what it suggests about our ideas of the educational system in general.

I was intrigued to learn that "Thomas Frey, an expert on online education, compares our growing reliance on the education system to the reliance of ancient Romans on their numeric system."

I'm always interested in how education resembles Roman numerals! The basic argument is that our current educational system, like the Romans' attractively retro but clumsy numeric system, worked OK for a while but is on the verge of being replaced by something more sophisticated and capable of more.

Check it out!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

It's Mainly About My Vitamin Needs

I totally want the strike at Shaw's Supermarkets to be settled. There's a store that's close and convenient to home, and I like to go there for my bread and vitamins. (There are just certain things you like to get in certain stores.)

I'm looking sadly at the dwindling loaf in my freezer (we don't go through bread fast enough to keep it out where it can mold), wondering what inferior breadage we'll have to fall back on when it's gone.



Thursday, April 22, 2010


Aunt B. at Tiny Cat Pants is musing on the idea that when you get that sudden chill down your spine, it's because someone walked over your grave.

Where did this phrase even come from? Is it a cool notion of a sharp, backwards tug of time that present me can feel something that will happen long after I am dead? Or is it more the idea that there is a patch of land already destined for me, that it and I are tied together even now, without me knowing it, its purpose already plotted–that it will hold my dead corpse–and when someone walks across it, I know it because of that tie?

I like this phrase too, and I always kind of imagined it to have the second meaning, that somewhere out there is a patch of ground that's going to be my grave, and when someone walks across it, it reverberates back to me...spooky.

Of course, I actually think I'd prefer to be cremated and scattered in the woods or something, but "someone walked over one of the miles of ground on which fragments of my strewn ashes will eventually lie" doesn't have the same ring, does it?

There's something about a grave.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Further Bulletins from Taxville

Well, the IRS is too darn fast. We just received a check for the refund we were apparently owed, even though I can't figure out why we should get it.

Also, the number they give you to call is just an automated system, so I can't ask any questions about it.

"Shut up and take the money!" the IRS is as good as saying.

So I'll tell you what I'm going to do: shut up and take the money.

I'm going to be mildly irritated if they want it back later with interest, on account of I never claimed to deserve it, but heck, these questions keep life interesting. (Maybe this is a new revenue-generating scheme. Unrequested interest-bearing loans! Seriously, the banks would be all over that if they could. Come to think of it, I guess that's kind of what they were onto with the "we'll encourage you to overdraw your account and charge you high fees for the convenience when you do" idea.)

Also, when I contemplate the odds on whether me or the IRS has better math skills on staff, I kind of have to think maybe they're just right.

But I was doing it online! The internet does math, right?



Monday, April 19, 2010

Health Spending

If you have flexible spending benefits from work that allow you to set aside pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket health care expenses, you may be interested to hear that recent health insurance reform measures will affect what you can buy with the money in your account next year.

The New York Times reports that,

Another attraction had been the extremely generous list of eligible expenses — including deductibles and co-pays, eyeglasses and dental work, over-the-counter cold medicine, sunscreen and vitamins. But under the new law, starting Jan. 1, flex-spend users will no longer be able to submit claims for over- the-counter medicines unless they have been specifically directed to use them by a doctor.

The program at my current job never actually let me use it for sunscreen or vitamins (to my consternation, since I buy piles of those things), but I have been known to go on year-end shopping sprees to load up on cough drops and adhesive bandages in an attempt to spend down the account on health-related stuff that would keep. Presumably those will no longer be covered in future.

I'll have to double-check the list of eligible expenses before I decide how much to set aside for next year.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bird Skulls

Rachel at Women's Health News has made an off-topic but awesomely librarian-geeky discovery: the U.S. Geological Survey has a North American Bird Phenology Program, through which people (including you!) can log in and contribute to a database of valuable bird-related information by transcribing information on bird migrations from handwritten cards collected in the late 19th through the mid 20th centuries.

Also amusing: I initially read that as "Bird Phrenology Program," and idly wondered what sort of notes people collect about the shapes of bird skulls. Hey, you never know.

Anyway, that seems like a cool project and a nice way to take advantage of volunteers (for the program) and for people to contribute to an interesting project (for the volunteers).


Saturday, April 17, 2010

News From Taxville

So we got a letter from the IRS, which is always something to be greeted with some trepidation. It turns out  it was a nice letter, because they said they've determined we're eligible for some credits we hadn't claimed, and now we get a refund instead of owing money.

Except, I don't really follow the math here, because even if we do get those credits, it doesn't fully account for the difference between the taxable income I calculated and the taxable income they mention in the letter (their number is smaller, hence the refund). So I think I'd better call them.

"Look, are you sure you don't want this money? 'Cause I'll take it, but I really think you should have it. Honestly, buy yourself an inch of highway or something. You know I depend on you to maintain the nation's infrastructure."

Because I love me a fat tax refund, and I'm not saying my math is so awesome that I couldn't have made a mistake (and thanks, by the way, for thinking of credits for me!), but I'd rather double-check before I start making plans for this money.

'Cause you know if it turns out the mistake is on their end, they're gonna want it back.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hmm...Movie Review: You Don't Know Jack

Oh, do I ever have a free movie with a health angle for you this evening!

Recently it was selling kidneys. Tonight, assisted suicide. The latest theme in my free movies: controversial medical ethics questions!

Now this movie, You Don't Know Jack, is a dramatization of the story of Jack Kevorkian, famous worldwide as Dr. Death back in the 1990s when he helped over 100 people end their lives.

It was a bit dark--and I don't mean the subject matter, I just mean the images. It was sort of pseudo-documentary style, so it all looked like something someone might have shot on a home video camera and shown on public access TV. I think this did add to the feeling of realism and humanity in the stories, but there were moments when I just thought "come on, I vaguely remember the '90s and they weren't that grim! There was color!"

That aside, it seemed like a fair retelling of Dr. Kevorkian's quest to make physician-assisted suicide legal and widely available (at least as far as I could tell, not having any particular insight into it).

It presents his work sympathetically, and doesn't give much time to arguments against assisted suicide, so don't expect a carefully evenhanded debate picture. It basically begins as he prepares to assist with a suicide for the first time, and continues through his final trial, in which he was convicted of second degree murder and sent to prison. As you may recall, he just got out in 2007.

Al Pacino does a very nice job as Dr. Kevorkian. As my spouse commented afterwards, after piles of scenery-chewing movies, "you forget that he can actually act."

It was an interesting movie, and raises plenty of those interesting and disturbing questions.

Do competent adults have the right to decide when their lives end? Do we, to return to the kidney-selling question, own our own bodies and get to decide what happens to them? Does your body, your life, belong to you?

Or is it just too dangerous to have physicians offering this 'out' to people? Will it put pressure on people who may not actually want to end their lives but are made to feel that they're a 'burden' to others?

As with the sale of kidneys, how likely are people to make this choice in constrained circumstances, because of financial fears, rather than because it's something they really want?

If this is a problem, is allowing assisted suicide just a hideous cop-out, distracting us from the fact that some people with intolerable health issues might not find life that bad if they only had the right care and support? Should we be worrying about providing this care and support, instead of arguing over whether or not people should be able to get help with killing themselves?

I can't wait to see what tough questions the next free movie covers.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Things I Saw on Twitter

Today, of course, the dramatic news from the Library of Congress feed that they're going to be archiving every single tweet ever posted. That's a heck of an archive.

Here I thought I'd have to write a book to get my work into the Library of Congress!

The news was also announced on Facebook and the LOC blog. The Library of Congress is on top of their social networking technology.

Also, yesterday I saw MedlinePlus promoting a piece on birthmarks, so I had to look up mine. It turns out it seems to be a version of the Mongolian blue spot, although since these "are almost always gone by adolescence," mine appears to be unusually persistent.

In case you don't feel like clicking the link, this is a "bluish to bluish-gray" mark often appearing at the base of the spine.

It's like I got a free one of those lower-back tattoos that were so popular, only instead of being a colorful symmetrical pattern, it's an amorphous purplish blob. But free!

Twitter: linking the world to important information.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Bear Many Names

Another thing about this blood drive is that I may have messed up my ID card forever.

The person doing my intake asked me to confirm the spelling of my name (possibly a new security measure to ensure that people don't go pretending to be other people in order to donate wicked gay blood or something), and I told her how my name was spelled.

With the apostrophe and everything. About a million years ago when I first got a Red Cross ID card, it was just Allyn, because the system didn't do apostrophes, I guess. Many don't.

Take the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. Can't do the apostrophe. My actual name is not actually on my legally valid government-issued ID! Nor is the actual name of anyone called, say, O'Houlihan. These are the burdens we, the Apostrophized, have learned to bear.

Anyway, she said she could change it, so she did, and then later I overheard from a distance her telling someone that I needed a new card because my name had a hyphen in it. I had just been partially drained of blood, and was preparing to worry about evil robot puppies, so I didn't have the energy to get up and go say anything. She might have meant apostrophe, and just said hyphen by mistake.

So I don't know what the new card will look like, or if it will match whatever is now in the Red Cross system, but if the new blood drive rules call for character-by-character validation of all names, and it turns out that there's not a match, I hope I don't get banned for life from donating because it looks like I'm trying to sneak dangerous blood in under cover of alias.

Also, I'm not sure how I feel about a hyphen. Does it spell something closer to, or farther away from, my actual name? It is an weird character, which is a plus since so am I, but does it also give the correct sense of my overwhelming awesomeness?

But another point of all this is that sometimes one goes along politely accepting inaccuracy because one assumes the system can't handle the truth, but then it turns out that it's possible to just put in an apostrophe. (Maybe.)

Anyway, perhaps this review of my many trials and tribulations will make it clear why I am so adamantly opposed to variant spellings of journal titles and author names. That's right: it's personal.

My being a cataloger is total coincidence.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Monster Updates

I had another successful blood drive appointment this evening.

I'm feeling all depleted of blood, but overflowing with civic spirit. I think this gives me latitude to kick some puppies. I like to try to live True Neutral, you know.

Oh, I'm kidding. I only kick evil robot puppies. They've just* become the latest monsters to haunt my nightmares. Way more horrifying than zombies. They lure you with their adorable faces, and then attack!

Evil robot puppies aside, I'm feelin' fine. Plus, I got cookies! And a coupon for a free sandwich from Qdoba! Blood drives: pure awesome.

*As in, seconds ago when I typed that sentence and the idea first entered my head and took over.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Future? Here

Stephen's Lighthouse highlighted this ages ago, but I only finally got around to looking at it.

It's a 1972 book called 2010: Living in the Future (Geoffrey Hoyle), which has been carefully photographed and placed online for our edification by Daniel Sinker, who also includes some interesting commentary.

Of special interest are the pages about the libraries of the future--I mean, the now.

It basically predicts that there will be no print books anymore, and that all library materials will be online, accessible either from within the library or offsite. The wording is a little different from how I just put it ("To select the book you wish to read, you dial the book’s number. The first page appears on your screen. You can turn the pages backward or forward by using buttons on the vision phone"), but I think the basic idea is pretty much there.

The 'vision phone,' mentioned elsewhere in the book as well, is totally a computer screen!

And while the e-only prediction isn't quite true (Cushing Academy aside), electronic resources are certainly huge in a lot of libraries, including the one where I work.

Nice work, Geoffrey Hoyle in 1972.

He also predicted free public transportation and electric cars that you could order in the morning and have delivered by afternoon.

I can't wait! Surely this will be available later this year.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Second Life Lives Again?

I haven't thought of Second Life in some time, but it's come across my feed reader again, as a means of letting midwifery students experience simulations of birth situations (via Rachel at Our Bodies Our Blog). So someone is still using it!

I always think "you know, that really does sound like something with a lot of potential," and then...I just never go there.

You know what it is, I bought a Mac, and a lot of the stuff you do in SL involves left/right clicking and it's just super annoying to figure it out on a one-button mouse, so I pretty much gave up.

Hence, due to this simple technology barrier, the extended (permanent?) suspended animation of my Second Life avatar.

If only there were some way to, say, attach a two-button mouse to a laptop, so that you could use the Mac, but also have the powers of left and right clicking!

Naw, it'll never happen. That's the kind of thing you can only get in fantastic virtual worlds!

OK, so it's not just a technology barrier, it's a user-being-too-lazy-to-cross-the-technology-barrier.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Trading Organs

Very interesting free lunchtime movie today: Iranian Kidney Bargain Sale.

It's a short documentary about kidney donation/sale in Iran, where selling a kidney is legal and managed by state agencies. It follows two people who are planning to donate their kidneys, and two who need transplants.

Donors are paid a set amount by the state, but are free to negotiate with the would-be recipient for additional payments once they've been matched by the agency. It's very disquieting to watch the bargaining, but also very sympathetic.

The people making the donations are desperate for money, and they're giving up a part of their body. Obviously they want to get as much money as they can for it.

And the people who need transplants are going to die without this, so they'll pay as much as they can, but they're not rich either. Obviously they're desperate to bargain the price down to where they can afford to stay alive (or keep their friends/family members alive: transplants for both the donors we meet are being supported by others).

How can you put a price on your daughter's life? You'd pay everything you could find to pay.

And why would you agree to undergo surgery and give up an organ to a stranger for money (and these people are perfectly clear that it wouldn't have occurred to them to do this if not for the money) if it didn't even pay off your debts?

There's something deeply disturbing about buying and selling organs. At the same time, it keeps people alive, gives people in bad financial situations a chance to get some money. Is it wrong?

The mere fact that we have to mention "bad financial situations" makes it clear that it's problematic: these people are hardly making unconstrained choices. On the other hand, neither is anyone who takes a sucky job because they don't have better options, and we tell people to suck it up and work sucky jobs if that's what it takes to get by, right?

Do people own their organs? If so, should they be allowed to dispose of them as they see fit?

And is it worse that the recipients can offer money above the amount established by the state?

That obviously makes it less equitable, since if a donor is lucky enough to be matched with a well-off recipient he or she can presumably make more than otherwise, and if a person who needs a transplant has enough money, they're presumably basically set (we don't see these circumstances, but I'm assuming it, based on the information given).

But if that encourages more people to donate...

You just want everything to work out for these people. Shiva and Said need kidneys. Mehrdad and Sohaila need money. They're all adults who understand what they're doing.

All well and good?

I don't know. Fascinating film, though.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Brain Trickery Revealed?

It's been some time since I found a chance to publicly fret about my conviction that my brain is trying to deceive me for some nefarious purpose that is as yet undetermined, but I hope to get more fuel for that theory this evening.

There's a magic show here at the school where I work, followed by a presentation on the neurobiology that allows us to perceive/be fooled by professional magic! Doesn't that sound awesome?

I can't wait to learn some of the underhanded tricks my brain is playing on me.

It's specifically for the neurobio folks at the med school, including a reception for students who just finished the CNS track, but they said it was open to all, so I'm there.

As far as I'm concerned, "open to all" + food = "hey you, with the fabulous red hair genes, you've got to get in on this!"


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Good News, Everyone!

MedlinePlus has friendly reassurance for those of us who are getting older: we really do have a chance of becoming wiser as well. A study confirms it!

A new study finds that seniors are better equipped than younger folks to solve social conflicts. Seniors could more easily see multiple points of view, were more interested in searching for compromise and were more willing to acknowledge that there might be things about a difficult situation that they didn't know.

Of course, this assumes that compromising and admitting you don't know things about a situation is a good thing, rather than a sign of weakness that shall be immediately crushed by my unyieldingly correct assessment of any circumstances that arise.

Social conflicts? I know I don't hold with 'em. So shut up and agree with me, and there won't be any.

And everyone's happy! Well, mostly me.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Roam, Genes, Roam!

Other reports on the ruling that human genes can't be patented, from Bad Science (which notes that "There are three reasons why gene patents like these are stupid: only the last one is funny") and Our Bodies Our Blog (Our Bodies, Ourselves was a plaintiff in the case, along with the ACLU).

Good info.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Today in Census News

Check out this entertaining map showing census participation rates across the country. You can check out the participation on a state, county or community level!

I can't seem to center on my actual town of residence at the moment, but surrounding towns are showing 60% participation and more. Rock on, us.

I found this in an interesting RaceWire article about the different participation levels in urban vs. suburban areas.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Genes Shall Roam Freely!

There's something a little creepy about the idea that someone could take out a patent on human genes (or any genes, really, but it's closer to home when they're human), so I was interested to see this ACLU update from Monday about a district court ruling saying that such patents are invalid.

I don't think anyone has ever expressed interest in acquiring legal ownership of any genes expressed by my personally, but if they do, they're doomed to sorrow and disappointment! So there.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Good Thing I Waited

As faithful listeners* will no doubt recall, I was staunchly determined not to sully the pure data of my census form with premature speculation, and have been anxiously awaiting this day so that I could accurately report who is living at this address on April 1, 2010.

And it's a good thing I held off, too, because if I had mailed it yesterday I would have said it was just me and my spouse, but overnight we adopted triplets, and that makes a big difference!

Also, I finally succeeded in my long personal quest to become a lich, which as faithful listeners** will no doubt recall is a type of undead monster, so I am technically no longer living here or anywhere else.

A simple situation becomes complex in a matter of hours: and yet I was supposed to just go ahead and ignore the strong possibility that exactly this would happen, and just send in the form early, recklessly disregarding how quickly information can get completely out of date in this fast-paced modern world?

Yeah--I think not.

I suppose I should say "April Fools!" after that, but honestly, I would have made exactly the same dumb joke if the census had asked about any other day, so it hardly seems worth it.

*To themselves reading my blog posts out loud for some reason.

**To themselves or others reading the D&D Monster Manual out loud for any number of very good reasons.