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.