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.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Continuing to Lend Other Peoples' Stuff

The Netflix-in-libraries story is continuing to move about on the web. An interesting little round up is on the scholarly kitchen, which has plenty of choice quotes.

Aunt B linked to it with her own choice quote: "I see the whole Google Editions made some of you think audacious enough violations of copyright are fine."

The short version is, there remains a good deal of doubt about the overall awesomeness of this practice from a legal standpoint, even though it's clearly pretty great if you just want to expand your collection access.

Believe me, I'm all about access!--but also, not getting sued.

I might have some more thoughts, except that I now have both allergies and a cold, and I'm so stuffed up I can barely breathe. Good times.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ugh. I Say Ugh.

We've probably all been hearing a lot about the resurgence of bedbugs lately. Hotels, apartment complexes...shudder.

Well, now they've also made an appearance in a library. LISNews has the horrible details.

Sigh. Parasites. Damn their wily evolving of resistance to our pesticides!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Failing to Learn From History

Every year, I get stuffy and develop a scratchy throat and think "I must be coming down with a cold."

And then the symptoms fail to progress in a cold-like fashion, and I realize I'm actually just allergic to something. The itchy eyes usually give it away.

My point it, it's been years now that I've had seasonal allergies, and still every fall when they kick in I assume I'm getting a cold. Must I therefore conclude that I am not a fast learner?

The thing is, there's a lot of time in between episodes, and also there have been many times in my life when stuffiness and a scratchy throat did herald a cold, so it's possible I'm just not a fast un-learner, since I need to edit a previously-learned response template rather than pick up a new lesson from scratch.

Nevertheless, you know what they say about not learning from history.

Yes: that you will continue to be plagued by allergies. Also, you should have some tea.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Random Thought of the Day

I appreciate a course in a medically focused program that uses books from outside the usual pile of medical textbooks. It's a bit of novelty, you know?

It does mean they don't come with call numbers or medical subject headings, so I get/have to do a little extra work before they get to the shelves. On a good day, that's a plus. On a hectic, already tired day, it's kind of a pain.

Still, that bit of novelty is worth something. Seeing a few books come through whose like we don't often see.

Well hello there, unexpected social science books! Welcome to the Medical Library!

We're easily entertained, back in Tech Services.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Just Do Stuff Already

I love the enthusiasm in this post on What About Our Daughters, about going back to school after ten years to pursue a passion. I especially like the reminder of why now is often a good time to do this kind of thing:

Maybe you INTEND to do something when conditions are perfect... Well that ain't ever gonna happen. You can't INTEND to live life. You are either living the life of your dreams or you're not. Period. In the same way, intentions are relatively worthless without action.

It's a good reminder that putting things off until some future time when you'll totally get them done because you'll have all this time and energy that you just don't right now...will often just mean you never actually do those things.

For me (as for many), this is a sharp reminder of how I'm totally always planning to someday write some fiction again, and then I just never actually get around to doing it.

Reminder National Novel Writing Month? Yeah, I did that. Then I closed the document and moved on to...basically no other writing projects.

So the advice is, if you have a dream of writing poetry or going back to school or something, maybe you should just do it now. Because now is probably not exactly the right time, but later probably never will be either.

There's no good time. There's just now. So if you want to do it, just do it.


Friday, September 17, 2010

The Eventual Result of Healthy Living

Everyone enjoys a good prediction about their own death, right?

Well, I guess a good prediction, as in, an actionable one, would tell you something specific about the time and manner of your death so that you could prepare (all you need to know: man-eating anteaters).

But this good-humored Death Clock runs a little calculation based on a few simple factors (date of birth, body mass index, sex, country of residence and whether or not you smoke) and predicts a date for you. I could hardly be expected to resist, could I?

Check it out:

My Death Clock Calculation

So now at least I know when the man-eating anteaters are going to get me. Since it's a Monday, I'll be able to take some comfort in the fact that at least I didn't have to make it through another week.

I assume it's based on average life expectancy tables for various countries, and it could be interesting to compare how long you might live in the U.S. to how long in Canada and so forth, but then again, you could look that stuff up elsewhere more easily.

The real hook here is that this pretends to be personalized. Seriously, make anything that gives a result based partly on personal information, and someone will think it's worth doing.

I blame Dangerous Intersection for thinking it was worth doing before I did.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

News From the Past!

In recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the RAF Benevolent Fund has put together an awesome website, the 1940 Chronicle:

The campaign revolves around the ‘1940 Chronicle’, an online newspaper which breaks daily news of Britain at war from the same day 70 years ago, as though the Battle of Britain is happening in real time.

It presents historical information in a blog format, with posts detailing events in the war as if they were happening now, posted 70 years to the day after they actually occurred. There are Twitter feeds as well, along with photos and news stories.

It's a fascinating way to present history.

Thanks to Karra Crow at ...Fly Over Me, Evil Angel... for pointing me in its direction.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Logic Loses Again

GruntDoc relates the story of a "Humbling Life Moment": narrowly avoiding a panic attack inside an MRI tunnel.

It's interesting to follow the process--GruntDoc has ordered MRIs, seen them, is familiar with them, is rationally completely comfortable with the idea, and yet can't avoid that instinctive "get me out of here right now" reaction to being stuck headfirst in a small, tight space.

Ugh. I'm feeling a little shivery myself just thinking about it. And I'm not even especially claustrophobic.

I've had an MRI, and it was totally fine (relaxing, even), but my head was outside the machine, and I'm sure it feels different if your head is in.

Anyway, I just thought this was a nice reminder of how sometimes being well educated and well prepared doesn't help when you run up against the fidgety parts of your own brain.

Plan ahead all you want, smarty-pants. Your secretive, untrustworthy brain does its own thing.

In a wily move to hinder the brain's tricks, GruntDoc reveals his plan for the next attempt: sedatives.

Your secretive, untrustworthy brain can only do so much if you drug it halfway to insensibility. It's a good plan, and I like the sound of it.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lending Other People's Stuff

iLibrarian points to a post on Tame the Web about an academic library where they're using a Netflix subscription to provide their students and faculty with access to videos.

My immediate question--one also asked by several commenters--was "is that legal?"

Apparently the library in question has never concealed its institutional identity and has not had any complaints from Netflix about the practice, and while the user agreement does not specifically cover library use, it hasn't been specifically forbidden.

So one of those gray areas, perhaps: it's legal until someone tells you to stop.

I don't know if my library administration would be into it, just in case, but there's no denying it would be a really handy resource for library use. Less so in the case of a medical library, until Netflix starts carrying the popular Video Atlas of Human Anatomy, but there are certainly health-related films that might be of interest in various courses, not to mention that sometimes people may enjoy watching some non-course-related materials to give their brains a break.

Just get a viewing room with a TV and a Netflix box of some sort, and let people watch whatever their educational or entertainment needs dictate! A huge video collection available on demand for a reasonable monthly fee, without the need to devote huge portions of the budget to it, or to worry about processing, storing and circulating a bunch of DVDs. I like it!

Maybe Netflix should think about offering institutional subscriptions. I suppose they'd have to work out the agreements with all the film companies too, though, so maybe it's not worth the hassle to them.

Copyright: my old archnemesis.


Monday, September 13, 2010

I Dub Thee Average McNormal

I like this post from Danah Boyd on Apophenia about the trials of picking just the right name for your newborn child. She notes "I clearly live in a tech-centric world so it shouldn’t be surprising that SEO and domain name availability are part of the conversation."

Domain names?! I don't know why I never thought about that, because I also live in a tech-centric world and it seems kind of obvious now, but it never occurred to me that one would want to check on whether one could get the domain name for something one was considering calling one's child.

And yet, of course you would, wouldn't you? You don't want someone buying it up and turning it into a porn site, after all.

There are also words of caution in the post, which points out that there are advantages to blending into the crowd. If you have a few of those youthful indiscretions that so many of us do (not me, of course), it might not be a bad thing if the archived news stories about them are buried behind ten pages of search results about the many other Muttonchops Wilkins out there.

Maybe your kids would prefer to keep a low profile! Consider that before bestowing upon them a remarkable and unique appellation the likes of which have never been seen on the Baby Name Wizard.

I can certainly see that point.

Fortunately my own youthful indiscretions do not exist, and if they had would have been covered up through judicious bribery, veiled threats and convenient accidental destruction of evidence (I believe exploding robots would theoretically be involved).

Otherwise, my not-terribly-common name would certainly doom me to a life of suspicious sidelong glances.  "Say are you that Muttonchops Wilkins? Hahahahahahaha! I have to go now."

The unusual name can certainly be a mixed blessing. I mean, if you want to go into public life in some way, it can be good since it differentiates you from others. And even if you don't, it at least means you don't have to do much sorting of results when you search on your own name.

On the other hand, you're always spelling and pronouncing it for people, and explaining where it came from and what it means. That doesn't really bother me personally, but I can see how it might get old.

In the end, it's probably one of those cases where there are advantages and disadvantages to both options, and each person--or set of people, if we're thinking of parents naming a child--must make the decision on their own, taking their best guess as to what will be most appropriate in the future.

Should you go with a nice, normal, average name (whatever that means where you are), or a creative, new and different name that will really stand out?

Tough job, when you think about it.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Pause for Cantankerousness

I am often in favor of technology. For example, I have in the past publicly stated that I would like to have the internet plugged directly into my brain (although possibly I stated it on some other blog).

Other times I fear technology, as in the case of killer robots.

In a third situation, there are certain technologies I merely regard as useless, finding them to provide no significant benefit to the average person. (By which I mean me. Believe me, I am very average in many ways. Two eyes, two ears, four limbs, etc., etc. A visiting alien would have a lot of trouble telling me apart from any of the other 6 billion human inhabitants of this planet.)

One such technology, and indeed one technology that I think should go die in a ditch, is 3D movies. I am over 3D movies, people who make movies. Let's move on, OK?

It was an entertaining novelty at first, but lately it's just everywhere and I grow weary of it.

Sure, if you made your movie on purpose to be 3D and to take full advantage of the 3D technology, it can make for an interesting visual element that, I suppose, adds a certain something to the overall film experience. It's not something that I really find to be necessary to the experience, or something that really enhances my understanding of the story or anything, but yes, film is a visual medium and adding another visual dimension is something to do. Fine.

But a lot of times, people who make movies, it seems as if you're just making a regular old movie, and then 3D-ifying it, and that really does not add anything in particular to the experience for me, and sometimes is just distracting, and sometimes, I swear, makes the overall film look worse.

To sum up, if your movie is not specifically designed to be a super-lush visual spectacle with every dimension carefully considered, I am not very interested in seeing it in 3D.

3D usually is not as seamless and enveloping as you say it is (yes, it does make my eyes tired), and I wear regular glasses so putting 3D glasses on top of them is annoying.

Finally, and in my opinion most damningly, there is almost no movie I've seen in 3D about which I would say "yeah, 3D really added something vital to that movie--I wouldn't have wanted to watch it in 2D."

The exception would be Avatar, the big 3D poster film, and that's only because it was in fact designed to be a super-lush visual spectacle, so that was the main reason I watched it in the first place. And even there, 3D wasn't something I felt strongly enough about that I would bother to watch it again.

Note as well that I am particularly uninterested in 3D televisions.

Also, people who make movies, you'd best stay off my lawn.


Friday, September 10, 2010

We Bear a Heavy Burden

Interesting news on Salon about Google Books, which apparently is riddled with interesting quirks, such as:

Sigmund Freud is listed as a co-author of a book on the Mosaic Web browser and Henry James is credited with writing "Madame Bovary." Even more puzzling are the many subject misclassifications: an edition of "Moby Dick" categorized under "Computers," and "Jane Eyre" as "Antiques and Collectibles" ("Madame Bovary" got that label, too).


Librarians will instantly nod when we learn that this is a metadata problem, where the information in the record representing the item is faulty. Oh, metadata, we meet again. Where did I leave that blog I did in that class? seems to have vanished (serves me right for leaving it unattended on the UA server), although a Bloglines preview has preserved some of my remarks. It just goes to show that the internet is a land of contrasts.

You can't assume that something you put online will just stay out there forever, because many times no one cares about it, servers fail or are cleared, and your not-so-deathless prose vanishes into a digital grave.

At the same time, you can't assume that something you put online won't just stay out there forever, because if anyone does care about it, whether to laud it, deride it, or use it as evidence in a lawsuit, it will be copied, stored in multiple locations (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe!), and become nearly impossible to eradicate.

One must be constantly prepared both for immortal infamy, and for unbroken obscurity.

Anyway, the larger point is, yes, that Google Books needs catalogers. Of course they do. Everyone needs catalogers! When will the world shower us with the adulation, money and chocolate we so richly and obviously deserve?

I got this from Aunt B. at Tiny Cat Pants, who linked it with the astute observation, "Well, Some Librarians Will Have Jobs in the Future."


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Woo(yawn)oo!! Sport! (Zzz)

I did not observe any confetti explosions, robots, or things falling into the water, last night, so I have to say I'm feeling pretty disappointed with baseball as a sport.

On the other hand, there was loud music, including the traditional Fenway rendition of Sweet Caroline, and the home team won, and we were out by 10:30. (Yawn.)

I was most impressed by the orderly and efficient manner in which hundreds of people were filtered through the subway station and onto the trains afterwards. It's crowded, all right, and there's a bit of a wait (big lines out the doorway of the station), but they keep things moving steadily.

I've never tried to take the train right after a game, and would generally avoid doing so if possible, but really, if you need to get home after baseball, it works and it beats driving.

Say what you want about it (and it's surely got its issues), but I love the MBTA. I tell people that I will take the train every day for the rest of my life before I drive in Boston on any kind of regular basis.

City traffic is just a mess.

Anyway, I'm still kind of tired from the late night, but it was all good wholesome sportive fun, even without explosive robots in pools. Next time.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wooo! Sport!

I'm supposed to go to a baseball game tomorrow.

This has little to do with health, technology, or libraries, but maybe I'll witness some horrifying injuries, recognize them based on similarities to a recent PubMed search and post about them on Twitter. Or something.

Not that I'm rooting for that, of course.

Not the way I always root for golf balls to go into the water, for no better reason than that I like to watch things splash, and am terribly bored by golf. In addition to splashes, other things that would pique my interest might be golf balls that occasionally exploded into showers of confetti, sprouted robot legs and ran away from the club, or released dramatic and ominous musical chords.

Look, I'm not that hard to please, OK? Just give me a sport with robots, explosions, loud musical noises and things falling into the water, and I'm good.

I don't know how well baseball is going to fit this picture, but if history is any guide there will at least be loud music, so we'll see.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cooling Temper

Bless you, Former Hurricane Earl. You weren't much by the time you got here, but they said you'd break that heat wave, and you did it.

The cool, refreshing, non-humid air that currently wafts delightfully around us is like the cool, refreshing, non-humid breath of some sort of lovely Autumnal Dragon.

My metaphor-generating prowess may not be much improved, but my temperament certainly is.


Friday, September 3, 2010

What Doesn't Kill Us, Makes Us Irritable

Hurricane Earl was supposed to break this heat wave for us, yet here I am, still sweltering away like a gently steaming pot of broccoli!

Or something.

When I get hot and irritable enough, my metaphor-generating prowess suffers.

The point is, it's raining, and it may even be cooling off outside, but here in my lair where there's no cross breeze, it's still...I don't know, maybe 88 degrees, and humid. Which may not sound that bad, but it really is, because I'm a sensitive soul who can't take the heat and therefore spends limited time in the kitchen (this is true--I go in there mainly to retrieve the peanut butter).

Yeah, I enjoyed my visits to Alabama (Roll Tide!), but I don't know if I could live in the south. With the heat and the sweatiness, it would be a nonstop irritability party for me. I suppose one gets used to it, or else learns to love air conditioning, but I cherish the idea that this will eventually pass.

And give way to bone-chilling cold and the opportunity to slip and break your ankle on the icy sidewalk, which is why some people do prefer to live in the south. Trade offs.

Here's another thing about the south, though: we should really stop using a Southern accent as comedy shorthand for 'dumb hick.' I love the Simpsons, but they do this all the time (well, pretty much every time they need a dumb hick, anyway). Everyone does.

Nobody with an accent gets off completely free, of course. If you talk funny, by whatever standard, you're fair game. Southern accent, Texas accent, Boston accent, New York accent, Minnesota accent, whatever. (I'm obviously relying on US regional accents for my examples here, but I expect it may be the same in other countries.)

Fortunately for me, Montana has kind of a neutral accent as far as the US is concerned, plus we moved around a lot, so I don't have a very distinctive speech pattern (as far as I know--not that anyone thinks they have an accent, it's everyone else who talks weird).

Thus I mostly escape the taunts of the other children on the schoolyard, except when I slip up and say 'pop' instead of 'soda'.

Shut up! That's what we call it!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Storms Ahead

Rumor has it that Hurricane Earl, currently heading in the general direction of 'along the East Coast' may sideswipe or even hit Massachusetts. There's a hurricane warning on for Westport and points east, including Cape Cod, with a tropical storm warning for points east up to Maine.

Not just Maine: Eastport, Maine. That's like the east-est port you can get in the United States! And I've been there. Because that's how much I (and my friend who took me there) rock. A lot.

Additional storm warnings address North Carolina Virgina, New York, south of Massachusetts, and New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, so I don't want to say we're the only ones who have reason to take notice.

Oh, National Weather Service, what would we do without your tireless updates?

My last hurricane, and indeed my only prior hurricane experience, was Dean in Jamaica in 2007. I waited out that one in the U.S. embassy in Kingston, holed up with the Peace Corps volunteers serving there. It was a memorable vacation.

Hiding out with the Peace Corps will probably not be an option should Earl come through the greater Boston area, but with any luck we at least won't be freezing cold (the Embassy was seriously air conditioned).


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Live and Teach

In the hot days of the late summer, the students arrive on campus, and library orientations are held.

That's been most of the drama in my life lately.

We're actually almost done, after I don't know how many in the past few weeks and three perfectly nice ones today, so in weeks to come we'll probably have time to get to other things.

Like cataloging, and ACRL statistics.

It's a neverending party!