Friday, July 30, 2010

Useful* Website Features

There's a 'last-updated' field on the data entry side of our e-book listings on the library website (that is, the part where I put in title and author info and the URL, not the part the eager would-be reader sees when looking for that perfect textbook about woody plant stems).

It fills in automatically with the current date, so I never really think about it, and the date that e-book information was most recently updated is not something that comes up all that often. But the other day I was thinking that sure, it could be handy if you just wanted to see, without checking the various Excel sheets and so forth, whether a title was part of this year's purchased package, or last year's.

Obviously, then, if a record was last updated sometime last year, we couldn't have just bought that title this year. Perfect!

Then I noticed that the field automatically resets to the current date as soon as you open the record in the edit view, even if you don't change anything. (And remember, you can't see this information in the non-editing view.)

So you can't actually see when it was last updated, even though the field is called "last updated," because the value instantly changes to (assuming I am looking at it today) July 30, 2010. And I know I didn't add every single book to the website today, but if I wanted to look at them all, that's what they'd say.

So when you get right down to it, all that field actually does is tell me what day it is. I'm not saying this couldn't be useful in certain situations where I didn't have any other means of finding that out. If, for example, I were not on a computer with both an internal calendar and an internet connection, and had lost both my paper calendar and my cell phone, and there was no one around to ask.

So remember, when designing websites, that a fun thing to include is information that would only be useful to a person who had no means of accessing a website.

I'm sure there's some webmaster back end way to just get a list of data in all the fields for all the titles, and thus to see when a record actually was last updated (or at least, last opened, since as I said the date changes even if you don't do anything to the record), but I really don't care enough to bother the web librarian about it.

I just think it's kind of funny to capture data that no one can see because it changes when you try to look at it. There's a philosophical point in there, I bet.

*Or, as it may happen, not very useful.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I have terminated a long-standing relationship with MasterCard because they irritated me.

Let that be a lesson to the rest of you.

I don't say I don't share some responsibility for the falling out. I never used that card, so I admit I became careless about poring over every piece of mail concerning it, and probably failed to read some small print somewhere along the way that would have warned me that things were going sour.

However, I don't much care to find myself being charged for "credit protection" on a card I only keep as backup, so you can hit the bricks, MasterCard.

My Visa is on notice.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Weirdo Spelling

I have recently become aware of a totally new standard by which we can sort humanity into worthy citizens vs. scum of the earth: how you spell that word that means "having a difficult choice to make."

I have always seen it as "dilemma," which your average dictionary prefers, but apparently there are a large number of otherwise well-educated people who spell this word with a silent n: "dilemna."

I had never heard of this before Paul Levy mentioned it at Running a Hospital, and frankly I don't think I hold with it, but based on this update, it's actually fairly common. As an intrepid investigator reports after Googling the variant spelling,

DILEMNA is known all over the English speaking world, from America to Australia, and no one has an idea where it originated.


But as I said, this will be a handy tool with which to make snap judgements about people: ask them to spell 'dilemma.'

I haven't yet decided exactly what judgments I'll be making, but rest assured there will be some.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

You Should Write Something

I see LISNews is having a Librarian Essay Contest. It calls for "an original essay about issues that impact librarianship," to be submitted sometime during the month of August.

You should totally submit a piece. Even if you're not a librarian.

I'm going to be busy sweating and streaming Netflix movies, or I'd do it myself, but I bet you can come up with something really excellent.

For example, you could write about Netflix and how that impacts librarianship (do Netflix subscribers with streaming-video capability make less use of the library?).

Another thing you could write about would be sweat (how can librarians maintain a cool and professional appearance when they're dripping wet and disheveled by the time they get to the office? Seriously, I'd be interested to know this).

That's just to take two ideas chosen completely at random. If you need more, let me know.


Monday, July 26, 2010

What's Awesome Today

Streaming Netflix videos directly to the TV through the PlayStation console.

Seriously, is there any reason to leave the house?

Well, there's work, I guess. The wages of which help to support the streaming video habit. So that's important.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Keeping Cool Movie Review: Dinner For Schmucks

We saw Dinner for Schmucks as this evening's free movie. It was less horrendous than I had expected.

There were a number of parts that made me laugh, and I only winced occasionally.

I would recommend it to anyone who finds intriguing the idea of a guy who's trying to impress his wealthy hedonist superiors by inviting to dinner a person who inspires more mocking laughter than the dinner guest of anyone else.

He finds a truly weird, bumbling and socially oblivious man who proceeds to wreck pretty much everything via various entertaining misapprehensions.

There's also our hero's girlfriend, who's curating a museum show for a hedonist artist. That makes for more more entertaining moments.

I didn't see any libraries or medical technology. Nevertheless, it was a fair way to keep cool for a couple of hours.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Future is Now

This is my high tech character sheet for our high tech online gaming group.

Our plan is to conference call over Skype and play Basic D&D with reference to online documents, so we have different levels of technological development in play.

I think the back-of-envelope character is a nice touch, though. In theory I could transfer that information to a digital document, but...enh.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Little Heavy Reading

This is an intriguing collaboration (via Running a Hospital):

Join the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on Wednesday, July 21, 2010, from 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM Eastern Time for “Author in the Room,” an interactive conference call aimed at closing the gap between knowledge – what is published in an article - and action – how much of this knowledge is put into practice to improve care. This interactive call will help readers consider the implications of the study results for improving their practice.

 It says space is limited, and this is obviously targeted for people who are actually directly involved in patient care rather than people out in the extended suburbs of health care like librarians, so I won't try to register and thus take up a space that someone who could better use the information might want.

It would be cool to get this sort of perspective on the biomedical literature, though. I can help people (mainly students) find stuff, so I have this abstract sense of how the broad information system works, but looking at how people actually use it, and how they might get more use out of it, is most interesting.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Dan Pink Returns!

Dan Pink, who gave the McGovern Lecture at MLA, returned to us for a webcast this afternoon.

I was listening while cataloging, so I did not take nearly the pages of notes on this hour as the last time I had a chance to hear him, but following are a few scratches.

This live web presentation was a very quick recap of the talk in DC (my voluminous notes here for a less-quick recap), focusing especially on the idea that the work that will be important in the future is less high-tech than high-touch--that the jobs we value will increasingly be the things that can't be automated, routinized or sent overseas.

He also spoke again about six important qualities he sees for this work: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning.

He suggested a number of exercises, including some covered in DC like the 6-word autobiography, and the design notebook (carry a notebook for a week and write down an instance of good design, and an instance of bad design, that you see as you go about your day).

There was also one he called "a day in the life" exercise, which you can do with members of a team in order to get to know each other better, and which involves having each member write down what they think are their teammates "ups, downs, challenges and rewards" from work, and then each person tells what these things actually are for him or her.

I especially liked an exercise using magazines, designed to extend ones 'symphony' skills. In this exercise, you, either with other members of a team or alone, gather a number of magazines (it often helps if they're nothing you would normally read, or know anything about) and, keeping in mind a certain problem or issue you're working on, read them and try to see what solutions they suggest.

Another exercise was to first clarify and write down your priorities, and then looking over your calendar to see how you actually spend your time, and how it matches up with those priorities. He said it's often quite telling to find how little time we often spend, in our daily lives, on what we consider to be our top priorities.

Another involved the classic "if you had ten million dollars, or if you only had ten years to live, which of the things you do now would you still do, and which would you do differently?"

In the discussion period at the end, T. Scott made the point that, with all the things we're trying to do, it's also important to think about what we may need to stop doing, and Dan Pink said that he is in favor of a "to don't" list for this purpose and that it can often be productive to intentionally meet, figure out what you need to stop doing, and write it down.

I'm struck by this idea of the "to don't list," which is something I've toyed with in the past but never thought about as a serious tool. More a sort of "ugh, trying that hideous food is on my to-don't list."

But it's a very good point: we can't do everything, and maybe sometimes when we're getting bogged down trying to keep up with too many things, it could really be useful to stop, consider some things that aren't really practicable/don't really serve our mission/aren't really necessary, and say straight out "this is something we specifically intend to not do."

I kind of like it.

I also tried to come up with a 6-word autobiography, which is actually pretty tough. Maybe "oddly near normal considering adventuresome childhood." But you really have to think: what is it you want to say about yourself?

Are you summing up your history? What you do?

Who are you, and since you're inevitably more than fits into six words, what part of who you are do you want to foreground?

Someone whose name I forget (apologies!) wondered in the discussion if coming up with a daily 6-word sentence might be helpful, which Dan Pink said he had not considered, but would be interested to hear how it turns out if anyone wants to try it.

I wonder how that would work. Six words to define what you hope to accomplish each day? What qualities in yourself you want to stress for that day? Interesting thought.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Keeping Down Appearances

I was interested in this Sociological Images post about clotheslines.

These are often considered tacky or low-class, like something that only poor people use that should be avoided by anyone with money, so a lot of neighborhoods with zoning regulations designed to ensure a certain standard of appearance have rules against them. This remains true even though they're very practical because they can save a lot of energy (as well as making clothes smell all nice and fresh).

People with money, of course, are not concerned with saving energy, and can afford to buy dryer fabrics to make their clothes smell fresh, so it's hard to get an argument going there.

We always had clotheslines when I was a kid, although I suppose that's not much of an argument against their being tacky and low-class, and I am strongly pro-clothesline, myself. I'd be tacking them up all over the place, if I had a yard that didn't belong to my apartment complex.

I would also be growing herbs and flowers in said yard. Mint and poppies everywhere, it would be!

What wasn't clotheslines, mint and poppies would be cobbles, so that I wouldn't have to worry about mowing and tending grass, for I am not strongly pro-lawn.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Project Update

I am pleased to report that my recent plan to become reacquainted with an old friend, the public library, is so far proceeding well.

I have successfully visited and borrowed books from the branch near work, including books requested from other branches and held for me, and see no reason I should not be supplied with reading material for life by drawing from the resources of the Boston Public Library system.

It's a beautiful thing.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Challenges: Overrated?

A nifty deal with Mary Ann Liebert means that we get extended back files on about 50 journal titles. Nice! Up to ten more years of online access! Love it!

Turns out that about half those journals have changed titles, sometimes multiple times (sometimes in mid-volume, sometimes back to the original title) in the time represented by the new coverage.

In the interests of accuracy, each variant of the title must of course have its own record, so basically we not only have more years of coverage, we have a bunch of additional journal titles for the collection!

It's kind of a pain to sort them all out, but it's nice for the stats.

I guess I should say, to be more accurate, that it's the kind of thing I actually sort of enjoy (tracing the course of titles, putting in 'continues' and 'continued by' notes, carefully detailing volume and issue numbers) but which is time consuming and therefore kind of a pain because it impedes my progress on the massive ebooks project.

A lot of things are like that. In theory, I enjoy the bits that are somewhat more challenging. Coming across a record with no Medical Subject Headings so I can find some for it, untangling the twisted web of mutated titles in a journal's history, that sort of thing.

In practice, it just takes up time, and that means more hours spent under the looming shadow of some project or other than you want to finish up so you can dive into the looming shadow of the next project.

Fortunately I'm good with looming shadow, because I burn easily in the sun.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I received word via an email list that the redesigned MedlinePlus is live today, offering its fine consumer health content with a spiffy new look.

It's abandoned its former purple color scheme in favor of crisp blue and green (English version) or blue and orange (Spanish version), with plenty of white space to give it a clean, open feel.

I was familiar with the old site (and I like purple), but I find the new one to be pretty user-friendly as well. There are tidy divisions between health conditions, drugs and supplements and 'videos and cool tools,' and a handy sorting of search results according to where the information comes from (news, encyclopedia, etc.).

A little box with a sort of tag cloud of popular searches is also a fun touch, and there are links for a mobile version, an option to get email updates, to subscribe via RSS, or to follow on Twitter (been there, done that).

There are also still touches of purple (yay!), notably in the big "more languages" button. Pointing to reliable consumer health info in various languages is one of the especially awesome things MedlinePlus does, so I approve of it being highlighted in this most excellent of colors.

Good stuff.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Attack of the Hideous Logo

OK, I often like Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day, but this SearchCredible she mentions is creeping me out.

I shan't copy the image, lest I violate any copyright, but go look at it, or else let this description suffice: there's a sort of cartoon superhero figure in a cape, posed as if flying toward the viewer, brandishing a magnifying glass (for detailed searches, I presume).

So far, so good, but the creepy thing is that it has this huge, elongated mouth that surrounds the search bar where you'll type your terms, leaving the white space of the search field to suggest featureless teeth. The mouth is way bigger than anything else on the figure, and I don't like it.

Also, the figure has googly round eyes in which the iris is completely ringed with white, as if in terror or agony (possibly from having its mouth stretched the width of its body).

I find the overall effect spooky and disagreeable.  Sorry, SearchCredible. You may have a perfectly good search engine there, but I'm barely moved to try it.

Although to be honest, I'm not even sure how awesome it is: apparently the idea is that you type your query (into this superhero's mouth), and then choose one of a number of credible resources in which to search for it.

And there are plenty of good sites listed, like JSTOR, the Library of Congress, PubMed,, etc., but if you know you want to search for something on the Library of Congress site, couldn't you just go there directly? Or use Google's 'Advanced Search' features to run a Google search on the LC site?

I suppose this site does offer a good list of suggestions for 'credible' places to search, and you can enter one query and then search it in multiple places without having to retype, so I guess that could be useful to people.

Also, I do like that it recognizes that some sites are better information resources than others, and makes an attempt to differentiate between credible sources and less credible sources--although some of us stern librarian types might question the inclusion of YouTube, Wikipedia and search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo as authoritative sources. I would consider these more ways to find information that may or may not be credible, than actual credible sources in their own right.

"I found it using Google!" is not, in itself, something that will guarantee that your information is any good.

So I don't personally foresee ever using SearchCredible for anything, but I could imagine it being useful to someone. If he or she isn't scared off by the giant mouth and staring eyes of the logo, that is.



Monday, July 12, 2010

Not Having Any Important Thoughts

You know how when you're really hot and sweaty and have 863 unread blog posts in your feed reader, you start to feel overwhelmed by the vast quantities of valuable information and insight waiting to be absorbed, and you go play a video game instead?

Maybe it's just me. I'm totally getting close to putting the heir to the empire on his rightful throne, though, so you know I'm doing good work. Seriously, one of these days.

Then I'll catch up on what's happening in the online world.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

What? Where? Who Am I?

I haven't been on the internet in a week. I have no idea what's going on. It's completely disorienting.

However, given there was a ferocious heat wave in Boston while I was gone, I can say that I was able to escape the horrible New England summer by fleeing to Texas.

At least for a little while. I'm back now, and it's humid and gross.

I missed you, Boston. Not that much, but I missed you.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ever More Reason to Hate Disney

Oh, copyright. Forever looking for news ways to complicate life.

I refer now to this piece on Staring at Empty Pages, about how music rights-holding organizations want to charge fees to venues where live music is played, just in case any of that music happens to be a cover of a song they own.

So if I own a small bar, and I like to sometimes have local musicians come in to play, I have to pay these performance rights organizations a fee, just to cover any songs that any of those musicians might play that are owned by those organizations (or the copyright owners they represent).

The author argues that this is not really fair--what if none of my live musicians ever does cover one of those copyrighted songs? What if they play strictly original compositions and ancient folk ballads?

The interesting argument raised here is, why should I (as merely the manager of a space where someone performs) be responsible for making sure that copyright isn't violated? Ideally, the musicians themselves would take care of copyright.

And if they don't, why is it my problem? Again, I just run this little bar. I have nothing to do with the music business. If you think someone is violating your copyright, talk to them!

It's a pretty nice deal for the rights organizations, though, basically making performance venues handle compliance for them (also, I wonder, do they get fees from those musicians who do pay copyright fees, in addition to fees from venues? Double-dipping is great if you can manage it).

As the post notes,

That’s prompted some small places to stop having music, and that’s a sad thing. And I wonder where it ends. Square dance callers, who use recorded music and often call dances in school gyms and church social halls, have long had to have BMI and ASCAP licenses. But will the halls now have to get licenses as well? If so, will they refuse to rent their facilities to events such as those, which use copyrighted music?

Good questions, indeed.


Friday, July 2, 2010

The Pursuit of Everything

I see on LISNews that "Finland became the world leader in Internet access by making broadband every Finnish citizen's legal right and ensuring that every citizen will have access to a 1Mbps broadband connection."



Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's Hard to Be Awesome

Ooh...not feelin' the love from Australia with these traffic safety ads playing on the hideous grossness of redheads (via Shakesville, which offers a nice summary of each of the two ads, in case you don't feel like playing them).

Tut tut, Australia. I mean, yeah, I understand that less red-fortunate folks may feel threatened by our awesomeness, but this is ultimately an ineffective way to deal with your feelings of inferiority.

Focus on things you do well! Or dye your hair!

Whatever, just get over the jealousy. It demeans us both.