Monday, December 26, 2011

Wrapping Up

As the year nears its close, I thought I'd get a head start on the posts one tends to see in bookish and library-related circles detailing the books that were read over the year. (My last year's note is here.)

I'm not going to list all the titles, because that would be a lot of copying and pasting, but I can say that so far I have read 106 books in the course of 2011. This is precisely twice as many as in 2010!

I can't really say why that is, since I haven't been working extra hard to double up on my reading, nor have I intentionally cut back on my consumption of other media such as blogs, magazines, newspapers and video games.

I think I have watched somewhat fewer movies recently than in the past, since I don't seem to be in the free screenings loop quite as often, and we switched to the streaming-only package from Netflix, meaning that we don't get regular DVDs in the mail that then sit around all brightly in their red wrappers waiting for us to play them. Still, most of my reading is done on the train during my commute, so I'm not sure how huge an impact that has.

Anyway, of these 106 books, 56 were fiction, and 50 were non-fiction, so I'm keeping things fairly balanced in that department.

Of the total, 38 were by male writers, 65 were by female writers, and three were collections featuring both male and female writers (all three with female editors).

I went on a pretty serious Brontë/Austen kick over the summer, catching up on some classics I hadn't gotten around to reading before, and that increases the count for both women and fiction. This is clearly reflected in the numbers when I break it down by fiction/nonfiction and male/female: 41 fiction books by women (or with a woman editor in two cases), compared to only 15 by men.

In nonfiction, 27 books were authored (or edited in one case) by women, and 23 by men, so apparently this year I prefer tall tales from women, but am willing to accept my facts more or less equally from writers of either gender.

I would like to thank my iPod Touch, on which I read a number of these as ebooks (tiny screen is a bit squint-inducing, but super convenient for travel), and of course my local public library, from which I checked out the majority of the remainder.

In conclusion...mmm...I dunno. I read a fair amount, I guess, and moderately broadly. I'm not sure there's anything of broad interest to be discovered here.

In conclusion, write better fiction, guys!

Ha, just kidding. It's not your fault you're not a Brontë or Jane Austen. Maybe 2012 will be all Mark Twain.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Oog. I ate too much pie.

Well, actually not quite enough pie, since the USDA recommends 8-12 servings of pie daily during the holiday season (the USDA on the street in my mind), but plenty of pie.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prepare Yourselves! MLA is Coming!

The Krafty Librarian advises us on a primary means of keeping up with MLA 2012: the already-functional official blog.

Check it out! Put it on your feed reader! It has a few posts so far, with deadlines and tips on visiting Seattle, and I'm sure additional useful information will be forthcoming.

Sadly, I am unlikely to make it to Seattle myself, since if all goes well I will have some sort of infant human to look after right about that time, but I encourage everyone who does go to have an exciting time for me. Be sure to request Lady Gaga at the Bearded Pigs concert.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Warm Fuzzy of the Day

I'm back, briefly! Working hard to catch up on the important things that have been going on in my absence.

I recommend this nice story on the Library of Congress Blog explaining how the LC stored the first draft of the 1918 Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence--obviously a document of some historical importance--until it could be safely returned.

Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, received it in 1991 and took it back to be archived in Prague.

Priceless historical material carefully saved and then returned to its logical home! It warms the heart.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mmm, Salad

Must pack, off to the Southwest tomorrow. Everyone behave in my absence. Don't have too much fun at the parties I can't attend.

Meanwhile, enjoy this post on Sociological Images about vintage ads for vegetable-flavored Jell-O and Jell-O salads full of exciting things like olives and celery. Yum.

It's interesting that these days we (speaking from my own experience and naturally assuming I speak for us all) associate Jell-O with dessert, so it's usually teamed up with fruit and whipped cream and stuff, not vegetables, while apparently it was totally a legitimate veggie side dish back in the day.

Or at least someone hoped that advertising would make it a legitimate veggie side dish.

My grandmother used to make a salad with lime Jell-O and shredded cabbage. I found it revolting as a child, and something about the pictured salads in these old ads, with bits of vegetable suspended in translucent molded blobs, similarly turns my stomach. Eww.

I've enjoyed a good wiggly dessert, but somehow a wiggly salad is just not cool.

But of course gelatin is derived from cow's hooves, making it more of a meat product, which means there's no real reason it shouldn't be linked to vegetables as well as, or instead of, fruit. As with so many things, it's all what you're used to.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sitting Home Every Night

I am not lucking out on the holiday parties this year. The big organization-wide work party is scheduled for the day I'm leaving for New Mexico, and the small office party is the day before I get back. Some friends are having one while I'm gone.

The apartment complex usually has one, but doesn't seem to have anything set up for this year. Although they'll probably do something at the last minute while I'm out of town. I'm beginning to think people are avoiding my festive company.

What do they say? "Lucky in love, unlucky with parties?"

They do now.

The thing is, with no rounds of parties to attend and remind me how busy things are, I'm not keeping good mental track of how much time has passed this month. It turns out quite a bit. I should have done much more shopping by now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Always Use Correct Terminology

MeSH updates for 2012 have been out for a while, so it's time to correct all the subject headings in our OPAC records. Yes! New terms!

We've heard rumors that there may be some way, in some system, to make this happen automatically, but we don't know what it is, in my library, so what this really means is that it's time for me to ask someone else to search for all the old, changed or deleted descriptors (like Indigotindisulfonate Sodium) one by one, and replace them with the shiny new descriptors (like Indigo Carmine).

Someone else will really enjoy that project.

While we're not sure about the existence of a way to have our OPAC talk to MeSH and update the 650 x2 fields automatically, we know there is actually a way to do a sort of 'find and replace' within the catalog that would at least correct multiple records at once, but to be honest we're kind of afraid of it.

What if we changed something in 50 records and then it was the wrong thing? And what if we couldn't just change it back? We could conceivably spend hours disentangling things. And we'd have to figure this out ourselves, because no one else knows how to do it either.

So it's kind of easier to have someone else do it the long way. Sometimes the thing that's technically more efficient is not actually the thing that makes the best use of available resources, that's what I tell myself.

Besides, we're getting a whole new ILS next year, so figuring out the cool tricks in Millennium at this late date isn't really going to help us in the long term. Therefore, heck with 'em.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm Out of Here. Pretty Soon.

This is going to be a busy travel month for me. I'm heading off to New Mexico on Thursday, then back the next week, then to Oregon for New Year's.

And since I'm not in the office for the intersession period when school's out, I just realized this means I only have 6 1/2 days of work left this year.

Niiiiiiiiice. I'm trying not to mentally sign out right now.

So long, suckers! Oops, that would be me failing in my attempt not to mentally sign out right now.

Sigh. OK...hi there, suckers! Let's do some work!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shuffling Information Along

Well, since Google Health is shutting down, and I might as well not have spent precious minutes entering all that information for nothing (not that I've ever really used it for anything), I've finally gotten around to taking advantage of their offer to transfer everything in my account into MicroSoft's HealthVault.

It was quick and easy to make the transfer, and HealthVault is free, so why the heck not, I guess. I still haven't seen much practical call for the personal online health record, but it seems like a good idea, so maybe one day it will catch on.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mmm, Unseasoned Frozen Vegetables...

My work offers access to this DASH Diet-based healthy life program online, and they're having a holiday challenge focused around not eating a entire ton of butter during this party-heavy season. (Half a ton, sure. We all need to enjoy life.)

I'm following along, largely because there's a slim chance of winning a prize by participating, but I haven't really been taking it that seriously...I didn't think.

But this week's 'assignment' is to get your recommended 5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables (that's 5 of each, otherwise known as quite a lot of fruit and vegetables), and I just microwaved a cup and a half of frozen green beans and ate them straight out of the bowl because I was short on veggies for the day. (Leftover pizza has vegetables on it, what's the problem?)

Apparently I find impersonal web-based challenges more motivating than I would have predicted.*

Also, a bowl of green beans is more filling than I anticipated. This recipe may be a keeper!

*Although perhaps I should have predicted it, given that I just wrote 50,000 completely uninspired words simply because darn it I am going to win NaNoWriMo.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Bad, Apparently

Uh-oh. Apparently one is not supposed to post a review of a movie until the day it's released? According to this Slate article about early reviews, this is common knowledge for recipients of free preview screenings.

I guess I missed that memo.

Or, more likely, it doesn't apply to random people posting on tiny blogs, just to professionals writing for actual publication.

My scattered notes on whether or not movies contain any reference to libraries are probably OK.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Vids These Days

The Krafty Librarian notes that NLM now has a YouTube channel. It features health information, contest-winning videos like "Fastest Librarian in the West," and information on events and exhibits.

I'm not especially well connected to the online video world, because I usually can't be bothered to stop reading long enough to watch something. I usually have blog posts and stuff I'm reading when I'm puttering around online, and if I click a video link, I'll have to stop!

It usually takes Felicia Day and The Guild to get me to play video.

But I know a lot of people are very fond of these moving pictures, so good on NLM for providing no-doubt-valuable information in this popular format.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wicked Games

I have finished Assassin's Creed: Revelations, and it was enjoyable--I cherished nearly every moment of climbing up on tall buildings, running along meticulously detailed streets and rooftops, and striking terror into the hearts of the wicked*--but it didn't really reveal everything I had wondered about.

My final reaction was along the lines of "that's all very well, glowing dude, but how does this explain why you made me [do something to] [someone] at the end of the last one?"

What about [someone], game? What about that? 

I know. Play another game, that's what. And I totally will.

But this is the question that haunts me, and don't think I'm going to forget about it. (Another question that haunts me is, why did they change Desmond's face? But whatever, I'll deal with that as a non-story issue.)

I especially cherished the moments of beating up minstrels. And the moments I added myself where the cry was "Knives! Knives for everyone!"

I'm in the middle of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, about violence and how it's declined from levels seen at previous points in history, and it does make me feel a little curious about how fun it is to pretend to beat up and assassinate people. My real life is pretty calm, so let's add some pretend violence!

I suppose this could be either the 'safety valve' theory (since there's always the strong chance that I would actually go out to beat up and assassinate people if I couldn't release my tensions by playing this game version instead), or, more likely, the theory that people can tell fiction from reality. A fictional story that resonates with a lot of people will often have some sort of conflict (many guides to storytelling say there has to be conflict), and that means that there will often be violence, which maybe is something we can enjoy in part because it's not something we would actually do.

Or that we have personal experience with, that might also help. I'd probably think it was less fun and more drudgery if I actually did have to climb towers and kill people for a living.

Siiigh...I do this all day and now you expect me to come home and pretend to do it in an old-timey setting? I want to play the Yardwork Simulator instead.

*And also into the hearts of all the random guards who crossed me. But look, if they don't want to die, they shouldn't try to keep me from running on rooftops and assassinating people. It's just common sense.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Minor Achievements

Hm. About the most I can muster up the energy to do this evening is look at this newly installed MS Office 2011 for Mac. Well. It's very ribbony.

I should also download RefWorks and Zotero to see how they work with this version, so I can leap into action to address any questions about them at the reference desk...but I think that might be more than I can manage at the moment, given my advanced state of yawningness.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Back to Work, I Guess

I see via Newspaper Rock that there's a new interpretation of the Mayan glyphs on which we're all basing our assumption that the world will end in 2012, and that it suggests that the glyphs do not actually make this prediction.

So...we're just supposed to plan to carry on after next year, then?

Darn it, I was kind of looking forward to joining together with my neighbors for an orgy of looting and burning in a vain attempt to add some warmth and material comfort to the bleak end of days. (I live in a very take-charge kind of neighborhood.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Dark Forces are REAL


Greta Christina has an interesting point about a comment by the Vatican's chief exorcist opposing the Harry Potter books because they "encourage children to believe in black magic and wizardry.”
Okay. Wait a minute. Let me get this straight.  
The Harry Potter stories encourage people to believe in black magic and wizardry.  
 And exorcists don’t.
Heh. 'Cause yeah, I guess if you believe in a valid need for exorcists in the world, you kind of have to believe in dark supernatural forces, and the distinction between 'black magic and wizardry,' and 'demons and evil spirits' (although I'm just guessing here that that's what exorcists might battle) gets a bit...fine.

I mean, yeah, there certainly is a distinction, and as a devotee of fantasy role playing games I am well aware of this and will happily discuss it at length at a nerd party sometime, but if you're going to go believing in one set of them, I'm not sure on what grounds you can rule out the other set.

And if you don't rule it out, then what does it matter if books encourage belief in something that's likely to be true?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mmm...Archival Newspapers...

LISNews reports that the British Library has millions of newspaper articles from historic papers published in the United Kingdom: the British Newspaper Archive. Yay archive!

A quick glance (and a commenter on that post) shows that the collection is not free to read, which limits it somewhat. You can run a search for free, but need to pay to read the articles that result from a search.

They give you a tiny sample of the text surrounding your search term, so you can kind of guess if a result is something you're interested in looking at more closely, but that surrounding text appears to be the result of a rather careless character recognition program, so it's not always completely clear what the original text said.

See this fine example:
90 Id taci JI .ouii ,i ase, rent11ai ols , iXg s ~lo llw- thie ioeaiirteA , tie4 tisli, aftile chtiinj7, Soit - uey niieim fo 35, kit 132 icesetwJogtmji
Direct quote! And either some very odd language, or an interesting font that the Optical Character Recognition software couldn't quite handle. Judging from the information on the site, if you pay for access you can view the scan of the original page, so with any luck, you would be able to work out what it actually said.

I personally am unlikely to have research needs that require access to a huge online huge archive of scanned British newspapers, but I think it's cool that it exists.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bah. Paperwork.

Actually not paperwork, it's online forms now. Is there a word for that? Online formwork? Screenwork?

Anyway, it's open renewal time for my health insurance, so I must contemplate my assorted options (high deductible with HSA? No deductible with FSA?).

I do appreciate that my options include not just employee only or family plan, but include variations: employee only, employee with spouse or partner, employee with child or children (two for the price of one really works!), or the whole family if you have that many people.

When there are only two of you, jumping from single coverage to a family plan may not make that much sense, so having an option to add a spouse (or child) for less than the cost of the full family plan is a nice gesture.

I don't remember this from last year, so it may be new. If so, I approve its addition to the lineup and think more health plans should offer it.

If not, I approve its continuation in the lineup and commend it on sneaking by me last year. Good stealth check, plan option!

Nevertheless, approving these choices or no, picking the right overall plan is a little nerve-wracking. We have three choices with varying levels of upfront cost and potential expenses covered, and it's kind of a gamble, isn't it?

How much medical care do I bet I'm going to need next year? Should I spend a little more to make sure more eventualities are covered, or go cheap and bet on not having many expenses?

I pretty much hate insurance with a bitter passion, but as a colleague pointed out, the only thing worse than insurance is not having insurance, so I know I should recognize my good fortune in having a job that provides it--and with so many options, too!

Duly recognized.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bah and Hooray

Bah, I say, because this is still a really poor novel full of people talking about things that might happen, but nothing actually happening.

But hooray, because according to the NaNoWriMo word counting software, I have completed 50,140 words, and that is done. I have ended the long, boring tale with the appropriate words "it could have been worse."

There's done well, and then there's just done, which sometimes is also OK.

Please note my official winner icon, and tremble with admiration.

Now to really put my full attention into Assassin's Creed. I haven't managed to complete more than maybe half of it so far, but that changes now!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Non-Awesome News, Honey

I've been only vaguely aware, but apparently there's some concern about honey these days. Sweet, sweet concern.

I mean, sweet honey. I think concern has kind of a chalky flavor.

Anyway, it seems some honey can be made from pollen that's contaminated with heavy metals and other non-tasty substances. Not so good. I like honey, and eat it on my bread and peanut butter all the time, so this counts as non-awesome news.

I appreciated this thorough roundup from Skepchick. In summary, you might want to buy local honey, because it's more likely to be from a clean source. Unless you live near a toxic waste dump, I guess. But I suppose in that case, honey is probably lower on your list of concerns.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Spooooooky Faces

Wired has devoted its December 2011 Play section to the uncanny valley. I can't link now (they seem to post issues with a delay, so check the site in January), but if you're interested in this concept, the issue is worth a look.

They have short bits on CGI characters, robot toys, porn stars, and more!

Also, the historical background on the term, and the information that while it was coined in 1970, it's really only become popular in the last few years. Has the world been getting uncannier lately?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Outdated Herbals

I know you're only supposed to keep your spices for a couple of years, because they lose flavor, but looking through my cupboard, I think that oregano is about 10 years old.

Meh. I used it anyway. It still seemed to have an herby scent to it.

And if the flavor's a little weak, just use more! There's no way that could go horribly wrong by resulting in mildly flavored greenish bits coating every piece of food. (I'm serious. There's no way. I don't have that much old oregano.)

Someday when I'm actually a cook or something, maybe I'll care that my spice rack is out of date. Since that will never happen, be prepared for vintage seasonings if you ever come over to eat.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Library! Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn

I saw My Week With Marilyn last night. It was all right. A bit slow and full of its protagonist, but nicely done. And it had Emma Watson, who's adorable.

Also, it had something too few movies have: a librarian!

In this case, the royal librarian at Windsor Castle, who shows Marilyn Monroe and our hero, Colin Clarke (third assistant director, a sweet, unspoiled young man whose kindness touches the heart of a troubled Marilyn) around the magnificently stocked library. What a job that must be.

This alone touches my troubled heart.

As for health, there was a lot of alcohol and pills, and some health consequences. For technological gadgets we have no more than 1950s telephones, which is acceptable given that the movie is set in 1956.

If you like a well-appointed historical drama with a touch of bittersweet love, and want to see Michelle Williams play Marilyn Monroe and Kenneth Branaugh play Laurence Olivier (reasonably well, I thought, though I am not enormously familiar with either portrayed actor's body of work or personal mannerisms), look no further.

Especially if you like a good royal library scene.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Blame the Software

I've discovered that Word 2010 on the PC counts differently than Word 2004 on the Mac.

When I word-count my terrible novel on my PC at work (on my lunch break, obviously!), it's almost 500 words more than when I word-count exactly the same document on my Mac at home (after working hours, obviously!).

I suspect it's largely to do with hyphens, since Word 2004 (at least for Mac) appears to count hyphenated terms as a single word, while Word 2010 (on a PC, at any rate) counts them individually.

I must have used a lot of hyphens. Somewhere around 500 of them, perhaps, just taking a wild guess here.

But that's only one reason this novel is so bad.

Some time ago I had put a hold on a book at the library called How NOT to Write a Novel, and it would perhaps have been helpful if it had gotten to me before today. Because I'm telling you, I'm pretty sure I did most of the things this book advises against.

Well, maybe not the frequent, confusing changes in POV. But all the stuff they say to just cut out because it's boring to read? That's pretty much all the stuff I have.

The problem is, I had no story idea I cared about. Right from the beginning, I was just throwing words around to fill pages, not to convey anything about any particular idea or character. And then I got bogged down, trying to keep going along the same general path, thinking sooner or later something interesting would have to happen...but no. I should have tried shaking things up or striking off in some radically different direction (I should have actually introduced the packs of wild dogs!), but I got attached to continuity.

Continuity of dullness.

So you gotta have a story. That's what I have learned from NaNoWriMo this year.

Oh, I'm going to get to 50,000 words and technically finish the marathon. I haven't clawed my way to 42,000 just to quit now. I'll have 50,000 words of almost utter boredom, and perhaps it will somehow be a learning experience  for next time.

The lesson will be "don't even start unless you care at least a little bit about something that is going to happen in that darn story."

Also, "something interesting does not have to happen. Sometimes it's just boring all the way down."

Anyway, back to the Word counting issue, my obvious concern now is, which method does NaNoWriMo use? Because I could be done about 500 words sooner if it's counting like Word 2010, and at this point, that sounds pretty good to me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Boy Howdy

My hair was quite short for a while, and lately it's been growing out. Not quite shoulder length, but it's getting there. So a couple of people lately have said "I didn't recognize you with long hair" or "did you used to have short hair?"

I am not used to being a person who used to have short hair.

I used to have looooooooooong hair. It's still short now! But these are students who never saw it when it was really long, so of course they just remember that it used to be even shorter.

You go and do something radically different, and it shakes everything up, until it becomes normal. That's my "yup" of the day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Flavor Text

I was staring at my 1942 encyclopedic dictionary this morning, for no real reason except it was in front of me while I was staring into space, and I remembered the most awesome bit of editorial opinion slipping into a factual piece ever.

Now you have to understand that this is a perfectly normal dictionary, 'encyclopedic' because it has a little section with brief biographies of famous people (including, because it was 1942, Adolf Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany) and a tiny atlas showing the borders of countries during World War II, and some lovely illustrated pages showing different kinds of birds, and fish, and reptiles, and mammals, in gorgeous color.

This last is really why I bought the book, years ago; the exact same picture pages had been in another book I remember looking at when I was a tiny kid, and seeing them brought back all these memories and I had to have it at once.

Anyway, a very normal dictionary, with normal dry factual entries such as one expects in a dictionary. Objective, unemotional statements and all that.

And then there's a section with brief entries on various animals, and the entry on the jackal concludes with this dry, factual line:

"Jackals travel in packs, and make the night hideous with their discordant yelps."

It would seem that someone working on that dictionary was not fond of jackals.

He or she had kind of a poetic turn of phrase, though. "Make the night hideous." That sounds serious.

I still consider this a prime example of slipping some personal opinion into dry facts. If I'm ever working on a dictionary, I will be seriously tempted to insert that bit of information about jackals. Hey, I still remember it even though I haven't opened that book in about 10 years. It must be true.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Weekend! A good time for video games and ice cream.

And backing slowly away from the hectic work stuff of the week, because it will still be there on Monday.

You can't worry about work stuff all the time. Sometimes you need to just climb some tall buildings and then leap off them into haystacks.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Keeping Busy

This week in work, I'm occupied with urgently locating and marking for discard a number of volumes of print journals in advance of a whole-floor renovation that was initially anticipated to be half the floor; working on a fascinating problem of location codes in catalog records in advance of the implementation of an entirely new catalog system; and determining how we 're going to process anatomical models for circulation in advance of people being able to check them out.

I also had a researcher come in to look at some material from the archive, and of course there are reference shifts to cover.

These are exciting times, and don't let anyone tell you different.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Borrowing Ebooks

We don't really have popular books at my library, so we've been spared all the worry about whether and how to lend ebooks or ebook readers., It's certainly a subject worth keeping an eye on, though, so I appreciated this post on giving a borrower's perspective on the new Amazon Kindle 'lending library.'

I especially like the description "a wolf in book's clothing," although it's more poetic than accurate since the piece unfortunately doesn't have a wolf leaping out of a Kindle to attack the reader's sheep (because that would be an exciting story!--although I'd feel bad about the sheep).

Summary: the borrower wasn't too psyched about the whole thing.

I think for now we'll probably just keep on staying out of that whole discussion where I work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yay! Boo!

My video game is here! This is not going to be good for my stupid novel, which I hate. Fortunately, I suppose, I have to share the game with my husband, so I won't be able to play it nonstop.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Monday Thoughts

Mother Jones, always looking out for our peace of mind, calls my attention to this helpful site:

Enter your city and the size of the blast you're concerned about (from 18 Kiloton Fatman to Dinosaur Ending Meteor), and the site will tell you whether or not you should expect to survive the coming nuclear apocalypse, assuming a bomb is dropped on the nearest large population center.

It turns out I'll probably survive a hit from most of the options on the list, unless I'm at work in Boston when the bomb drops, in which case I'm obviously toast.

If I'm home sick, though, I may live to join the panic-stricken mobs fleeing for the nearest wilderness. Probably fending off zombies and killer robots on the way.

Good times!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Food on the Edge

The thing I learned from Wired and the muppets recently is that you really want to put things near the edge of the revolving tray in the microwave, not in the middle.

As this piece on microwaving food evenly (scroll down a bit) explains, microwave ovens have hot spots because of the peaks and troughs of the microwaves they use to heat food. Rotating your food inside the machine increases the odds that different areas will be evenly exposed to heat, but if you put the dish in the center,
Since food here just spins on its axis, it’s not moving much, which means you could be burning a Chernobyl-sized hole through your pastrami sandwich. Instead, place your food along the turntable’s edge.
I always just put stuff in the middle because...I don't know why. It seemed more symmetrical, I guess. But from now on, things are going for the edge.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bad Idea! Let's Do It!

You can't always go around thinking it's a bad idea to do something, just because it's not a very good idea.

Also, procrastination is a wonderful way to come up with interesting ideas for things that you could be doing besides writing a novel.

For example, I decided I should probably cut my hair. With sewing scissors. Without getting the hair wet first. In the bedroom, over the carpeted floor. Without a towel over my shoulders or anything. 

Are you aware that hair clippings are really itchy when they get inside your clothes? Are you perhaps familiar with the term "hair shirt" in the context of a somewhat uncomfortable garment? Me too! 

Oh well.

I just wanted to trim the back a bit, it's not like a major style shift, so no biggie. It was starting to look a little mullet-y, because the back was getting quite a bit longer than the sides, and I decided the back should come off. Immediately. Just to about the same length as the sides, you know. Again, no biggie. 

I've never cut hair before, and don't have any hair-cutting scissors, but whatever. My hair is only really thick and slightly wavy, so it's not as if there's anything to throw off the cutting line of an inexperienced hand using sewing scissors and no mirror.

And you know what, it turned out OK. 

I mean, no one would think I went to a professional, but I don't think anyone's going to notice that I just horribly mangled my own head, either. I think it made a not-big-enough difference that anyone else will even notice, but got rid of the shaggy-looking tail that was starting to bug me.


So remember, just because it's not a good idea, doesn't mean you shouldn't do something. 

Actually it does mean that, but it doesn't mean you won't get lucky and have it turn out OK after all. 

Perhaps this is a good lesson for writing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

That's a Lot of Ones

It's 11-11-11. That seems momentous somehow. Babies born today are going to have an easy time filling out their date of birth on forms. I feel kind of bad for the ones who just barely missed it, though, and were born yesterday, or will be born tomorrow.

Sorry kids!

It's also Veterans Day, of course. Veterans everywhere, thank you for your service.

And now, I should get back to my writing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everything Seems So Tainted Now...

It's funny how quickly one project can make you start seeing other things in a new light.

For example, I'm chugging away on this novel writing project, trying to get to 50,000 words by November 30 (about 18,600 so far), and today while writing an email, I had to remind myself that more words was not necessarily crucial in that context.

Because when you're aiming for a word count, all your normal habits of trying to be concise and find just the one right word for something go right out the window. Maybe normally I would say "unlikely," which is nice and to the point, but for NaNoWriMo, "not very likely" is much better. Three times as good, in fact!

So I was basically looking for the long way to say something to someone in a business email, which is not normally the recommended approach. My work emails tend to be probably longer than strictly necessary or desirable anyway, because I always want to explain everything in great detail, the better to avoid having to send another email later.

Fend off follow-up questions by smothering the person with information the first time, that's what I say.

It may not always be perfect for work, but it's an advantage in unreadable-novel-writing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting the Most From Your Food

This NPR story is moderately interesting in itself, but I have to say that the thing that caught my attention was the miniature hamburgers.

The story reports on a study suggesting that cooked meat--in this case in the form of miniature hamburgers fed to mice--may be the most efficient source of energy, providing better results than raw meat, raw but pounded meat (to partially break it down and make it easier to digest), or raw, pounded or cooked sweet potato (though cooked sweet potato did provide more energy than raw sweet potato).

It seems it's just easier to digest things when they're cooked, meaning that we--or at least mice--can get at more of the potential energy therein.

I don't eat raw, pounded or cooked meat myself, so I guess I'd just better make sure I have a plentiful supply of less-efficient vegetables to make up the difference.

Keep this in mind, though: when you're working to fend off starvation after the zombies and/or killer robots attack, it may be important to remember that you'll get more energy from your food if you cook it. Every little bit helps in a post-apocalyptic wasteland!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reading Aloud: Not For Presentations!

I don't usually use slides for presentations, because we usually do 'hands-on' demos where we project the computer screen and have people follow along ("now if you just select this MeSH term...").

However, I'm weirdly interested in peoples' tips on how to do better slide presentations, or on how to avoid horrible errors when giving presentations with slides.

I'm supposed to be writing a novel right now, so just enjoy this list of things NEVER to do, from scicurious.

One of my favorites--by which I mean, one of the ones that annoys me personally the most--is the one where someone puts up a slide and then just tells you what's on it without providing any additional information.

At that point, it would be faster if you'd just give me the slides and I can read them myself, thanks. I read kind of fast anyway, so listening to someone read what's on a slide I finished reading myself two minutes ago is...argh.

This is why I'm not usually wild about online tutorials that feature slides and screencaps--a lot of times, I'd rather just read the information than have someone's voice explain it to me, because I read faster than most people talk, and if the voice is basically just reading a script over some illustrations, well, I can read it myself, thanks!

Obviously, if it's a video demonstrating how to actually do something, that's different. These can be great. I've reinstalled my hard drive and learned some knit stitches following YouTube videos! Love it!

And I'm sure some people learn better when a human voice says something than when they read it in print, so I'm not knocking tutorials for everyone. I just don't necessarily care for them myself.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Absent-Mindedness Sets In

Hmm. There was totally something I was going to post about, but I can't remember what.

Well, enjoy this piece on Science-Based Medicine explaining the problems with unregulated supplements by examining the purported evidence for one such product.

Be suspicious! Just because citations are listed, doesn't mean the references listed actually say what the ad implies they say.

Why, I could list 50 reputable sources for my claim that reading this blog will boost your intelligence...but I've got a busy schedule this evening.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Making Up Words

The Simpsons references lurk everywhere. Even when there's no actual reference to the show. It is a defining cultural touchstone of our age!

I was struck by this realization while reading my undergraduate alumni publication, Bates Magazine. There's a story in the latest issue about the remodeling of some buildings that, during my time there (ah, the good old days!) were dorms. One of them was my dorm. It was the best, because it was right in the middle of campus, convenient to the library, the dining hall, post office, and bookstore, and the buildings where I had classes.

But again, those days are gone. Anyway, the article notes that the buildings are now larger, "with additions that embiggen floor space by about a third in Hedge, and about a quarter in the Bill."

Now Wikipedia informs us that The Simpsons did not actually invent this word, which apparently was previously used at least once in 1884, but the show certainly popularized it.

You actually see it in many places these days, and I for one welcome our new animated language overlords.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's True, Peanuts Are Precious Now

I must confirm that yes, the price of our jar of peanut butter is up a dollar from the last time we bought it, as rumored by the sad news about the failure of peanut crops.

Happily, we can afford the extra dollar, so I'm going to keep chowing down on the glorious goo (chunky style, please). It'll cost us, though, and obviously if our budget were tighter, that would actually matter.

Even in the modern age when everything comes to the store shrink wrapped and in tidy containers, the ground and the weather and the various fortunes of the crops are still where it all starts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Not Gettin' It Done

I suppose I might as well be doing NaBloPoMo as well, right? Let's undertake every challenge that comes along, why not?

I am so not getting caught up on the novel right now, but...but...tomorrow! Possibly! If I can think of anything that could be happening.

Maybe a pack of wild dogs! That'd add drama.

You know, it's not ideas that are hard. It's ideas that aren't terrible that are hard.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Coming in With a Whimper

This is going to be a tough NaNoWriMo for me. Due to web development classes and free movies the past couple of nights, I didn't really get started on the first of the month, so now I'm lagging behind.

Which is tough since I really need to build up a good lead before the middle of the month, in anticipation of the release of Assassin's Creed: Revelations.

We're not traveling for Thanksgiving, so I have that long, long weekend to just lounge and write for hours, but writing will be competing with lounging and playing a video game for hours. (No, I cannot just wait until December to start playing. Bite your mental tongue for even thinking such a thing! I have multiple, competing top priorities, and they're just going to have to work it out somehow.)

Plus, alarmingly, I've still got very little in the way of actual ideas for this thing. In my prior two attempts I had a sort of general sense of what was going on to start with, and took it from there, and wound up with...not literature, but at least stories that progressed and had stuff happen based on other stuff that happened previously. You know, like in a story.

This year, I really don't have any idea what's going on, and I'm afraid I'm just going to wind up with a series of random incidents. For 50,000 words. Only 47,000 to go!

It's gonna be the best series of random incidents ever, though. If all else fails, I'll just have the main character play Assassin's Creed for 30 or 40 pages. Write what you know and all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Awesometasticness Movie Review: Harold and Kumar

You guys, this movie...whew. I know, you are so filled with jealousy right now that I've seen it and am lording it over you because you haven't.

You know it was bound to be the best movie ever!

It was actually pretty funny, if you like crude drug-, race-, sexuality-, violence and genitally-based humor. Which, you know, who doesn't?

With a touching message about the importance of friendship, and the importance of family! And lots of cheery holiday songs!

Basically, Kumar is still a heavy user of weed and apparent general slacker, while Harold has become a straitlaced finance type with a fancy house. (Bonus timely Wall Street protester scene.) Harold's father-in-law is really into Christmas and having a perfect Christmas tree, which provides crucial tension and plot points.

Having drifted apart, Harold and Kumar haven't seen each other in two years, but then a mysterious package brings them together, and, along with one weird new friend each and one friend's baby, they set off on a series of wacky adventures trying to get that perfect tree.

It's by no means highbrow, but it's an entertaining trifle. Again, if you like that kind of thing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Usefulness Applies

The Krafty Librarian points out that the winners of NLM's app contest have been announced. They help with gene lists, anatomy study, data visualization, searching the NLM collection, and searching biomedical literature.

I'll have to check them out! As soon as I get a smartphone.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Catalog, or Devour?

One of the things people tend to ask you when you're pregnant is whether you've had any unusual food cravings.

To which I say, not unusual, no. I mean, I pretty much always crave braaaaaaaaiiiiiiinnnss.

This is the photo that's going on all my forms of ID from now on.

Happy Halloween and stuff.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Peanut butter, which is roughly half my diet (I've eaten it no fewer than three times today, although that is slightly unusual), is going to be more expensive due to poor peanut crops. Noooooooo!!!!!

This was in Time near the beginning of the month, but I'm just now noticing it (courtesy of Why Evolution Is True). At this point it may be too late to stock up, since the piece says to expect higher prices "by the end of October"--which end, I notice, is now upon us.

Well, I guess I'll have to dedicate more money to the peanut butter fund. Not eating as much peanut butter? It doesn't bear thinking on.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Perfect Social Order (Shudder)

I recently tried to extend the idea of the uncanny valley to human development: now Nicholas Carr applies it to social order, saying that "Utopia is creepy."

Interesting. I suppose in the same way that a humanlike construct is appealingly like us until it is creepily too-close-but-too-far, a vision of some ideal society could also be appealingly pleasant until it becomes creepily too-far-from-known-reality.

This implies that there's a sort of knowable foundation for the behavior of human society in the same way that there's a sort of knowable foundation for individual human behavior and facial expressions; something that we can't really define, but recognize. And, of course, that we tend to recoil from close-but-imperfect copying of the function of a human society the way we recoil from close-but-imperfect copying of living facial expressions.

This is a little more abstract, since we can't actually look at any utopian societies and find them disturbing, while we can watch humanoid robot videos on YouTube, but I kind of like the idea.

Friday, October 28, 2011

So Much Science...[drool]

I see (via Ben Goldacre) that the Royal Society has made its online archives freely available, so anyone can read articles more than 70 years old.

This would be the same Royal Society that has been publishing scientific papers since it originated the peer-reviewed journal back in 1665. So yeah, lots of interesting stuff published in there between then and 70 years ago. Fascinating look at the history of scientific experimentation and the development of scientific thought, etc.

Royal Society titles are not specifically medically focused, so they're not terribly high on the must-read list among the users at my library, but obviously there are going to be articles that are relevant to health topics, and anyway, even if there was no connection at all, it's just cool that they're all out there.

Nice one, Royal Society.

I'm less excited by your frequent slight-yet-significant title changes over the years, but it's all good.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ah, Movies

Quick, what's the one upcoming movie you're most excited about seeing? Harold and Kumar's Very 3D Christmas, right? You can't wait to see that, and you're so excited because you have this secret plan where you're going to lord it over me that you've seen it and I haven't.

Well, I have passes for next week, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Imaginary-Lording-It-Person.

Also, you shouldn't smoke, it's bad for you.

Last night, along completely different lines, I saw Martha Marcy May Marlene. I wouldn't say I liked it, exactly, but it was interesting.

It had no particular library angle, but did present the important message that being in a cult is not really great for you from a mental health standpoint.

So keep that in mind as you make your choices in life.

Edited to add:
I couldn't rest until I corrected the title of your most-anticipated movie: it's actually A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.

Well, I could rest, since I went to bed and then didn't get around to making this change until the next afternoon. But I assure you my rest was fitful, and my thoughts were troubled, because inaccuracy weighs upon me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Move Along, Now

If you're contemplating NaNoWriMo this year, you may want to check out the blog SF Novelists, where James Alan Gardner has an occasional series underway called The Skill List Project.

See today's post on plot flow for helpful tips to keep your story moving.

It suggests, broadly, that every scene should either be a result of, or stand in contradiction to, a scene immediately previous. Either Scene A happens and causes Scene B, or Scene A happens and then Scene B threatens to throw a wrench in the gears of whatever A has suggested is going on.

There are obviously other things you can do for artistic effect, but that seems like a good, straightforward way to keep basic forward momentum going.

Good times!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scary Food

I share the horror of Dr. Isis regarding the strange culinary innovation represented by serving spaghetti in a taco shell.

I mean, no judgment: whatever works for you, and if you've tried this and love it, you go ahead and enjoy it in good health, but it sounds kind of gross to me.

Also, it's just a weird item from a taste/balance standpoint, since it's basically serving a starch inside a starch, right? I mean, a taco shell is a starch normally served around some protein and vegetables. And spaghetti is a starch normally served underneath some vegetables and perhaps protein.

But taco shell and spaghetti together? It's sort of like putting noodles between slices of bread to make a sandwich.

Of course, I did once have a mashed potato sandwich, which struck me kind of the same way as a bit of a starch overload, and it was OK. A little odd, but not inedible. There was a lot of melted cheese in it, and melted cheese, in my estimation, helps make pretty much anything more palatable.

I haven't rushed to have another one of those, though. You just want some different types of stuff in a meal, don't you?

Again, no judgment, other than that this is strange and wrong and possibly inspired by the devil. Which is cool if you're into that sort of thing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Things Come in Pieces

We just got in some human anatomy models that some of the students requested. Now we have to figure out how to catalog them and organize them so that people can check them out.

I'm more concerned about the second problem than the first.

For the first part, well, if I can't find the precise models we have in OCLC, no matter--someone will have cataloged something similar, and I'll copy it. There's no plagiarism in cataloging! Just adopting (and adapting) the good practices of others.

But these things come apart into all kinds of small pieces, and so thinking of checking them out is like imagining checking out jigsaw puzzles.

What do you do if they come back with pieces missing? You can't really have someone behind the desk checking every one, but if one person loses a crucial lobe of the brain, that model is going to be less useful to the next person. It's a resource that you can imagine becoming rapidly less valuable to everyone as it's checked out repeatedly.

We once refused someone's request to order a pack of flash cards because we thought that cards would just get lost, so you see we have trust issues. These students are lucky we ordered these models at all. They'll be even luckier if we actually let them use the models, and don't just put them on a shelf for decoration.

I guess this second part isn't really my problem, though. We have a circulation department that can worry about circulation. So lucky me, the harder of the two questions isn't one I have to answer! I love it when that happens.

Just give me the body parts and I'll get them in the catalog somehow.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy the Library

I see via Shakesville that the Occupy Wall Street Library (the existence of which is super cool) has a web site.

They're working on a catalog using LibraryThing, and are archiving documents produced by OWS activities for the future as well as accepting donated books and making books available.

Love it!

They obviously also have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, as well as a YouTube channel. This is the 21st century, after all.

I love the idea that a library is a fundamental enough idea that a group of people gathering for totally non-library-related purposes will spontaneously put one together.

Rock on, everyone.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Random Observation of the Day

You know that Bryan Adams song, "Summer of '69"? I'm not the only one who finds it melancholy and depressing, right?

It has this kind of upbeat rhythm, but basically says "my life has gone downhill since high school. Nothing since has compared to the satisfaction of playing with the band I had with some guys from school. It was great that standing on your mama's porch you told me that you'd wait forever, and that was sweet but silly because we were both so young and obviously neither of us will live forever, but nonetheless everything since that summer seems to have been a disappointment to me, because those were the best days of my life."

Sorry, dude. My sympathies on your sucky life.

This is why I don't do "bests." That's just what I need to make my existence more awesome: ranking the periods of my life so I can see how poorly my current situation stacks up next to my golden-hued memories of adolescence.

Because everything had an actual golden hue back then, when me and some guys from school had the philosopher's stone, so life was pretty great. It would be hard for today, surrounded by all these base metals that aren't worth lots of money, to measure up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Old But Fine

Today I liked this post by Autumn on The Beheld.

It's about a lot of things, as you might expect from a piece titled "Evolutionary Psychology, Aging, Beauty, and the Baby Dreams," but the part I particularly noticed is the reflection that people look different at different stages of life, and are attractive in different ways.

Writing of herself at 20, the author says,
There’s an attractiveness I had then that I’ll never have again. And there’s an attractiveness I have now that I definitely didn’t have then.
This reminded me of something I was thinking about a few years back, also about aging and attractiveness.

You know how, lots of times, when you look old photos of yourself, you're kind of astounded at how young you looked? And how many times have you thought, or heard someone else say, "I was so insecure back then and thought I was completely hideous, but looking back, I looked perfectly fine." Maybe "except for that unfortunate haircut/outfit."

And you sort of wish the knowledge and experience you've gained since then could somehow transfer back, so maybe Younger You would spend less time worrying about it. 'Cause even the haircut, that was the era, it wasn't totally your fault!

I had been sort of fretting over the inevitable signs of aging at this time--is that a gray hair?--and happened to have stumbled across a lot of those "I thought I looked awful but I wish I'd known how good I actually looked" comments here and there.

I tried to imagine myself being 10 or 15 years older than I was at the time, and I realized "when I look back at pictures from this time, I'm going to be amazed at how young I was, and how perfectly fine I looked, and I'm going to kind of shake my head at the idea that I spent time worrying about being completely hideous."

It was actually kind of cool. And it still works! Because I'm older, but 10 years from now, I'm still going to think I looked so young today, and I may even think "yeah, I looked pretty good."

And I'm going to think that, 10 years from now, whether I spend much time today worrying about looking hideous or not. Because in 10 years, I'm going to realize that, you know, I looked perfectly fine.

It's a different perspective, and kind of made me worry less about what I looked like. I mean, I brush my hair and bathe and try to dress semi-presentably, but I look like I look, and if I'm not pinched with illness or bug-eyed with coughing, I look perfectly fine. I do look older than I did 10 years ago, because I am older. That probably shouldn't surprise me.

If I got paid for looking good in some way, it would make sense to put effort into keeping that specific look, but that's not my job*, so why should I spend more than maintenance amounts of time on it?

Of course, that's kind of easy for me to say because I've never really done much with my appearance, but have enough attributes of conventionally attractive femininity that I don't usually rouse the ire of the "how dare you leave the house without first making yourself attractive to me" police, so I don't mean to sound smug or as if this is a life-changing revelation. Certainly I'm not saying anyone who thinks a lot about their appearance is doing something wrong.

But still, I think imagining yourself 10 years older is kind of an interesting way to re-think where you are. You hear this recommended for thinking about your career plans and stuff, so why not for just thinking about your attitude to yourself in general?

Because you're still you in 10 years, you just have enough additional experience and knowledge that you're not caught up in exactly what you're doing right now.

Is 10-Years-Older Me going to shudder and say "yikes, I was hideous! And oh no, is that a gray hair?" Naw. I'm going to look at pictures from this time and think how young I looked. And was. And that I looked perfectly fine.

It's usually easier to be sympathetic and think kindly towards your younger self, once you're older and realize how much you didn't know and hadn't done. Well, you're still young to somebody (oldest person in the world obviously excepted), and there's still a lot you don't know, so why not have a little of that sympathy for yourself now?

You look perfectly fine.

*Put in any jokes you want about the monstrous appearance of librarians.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Plague on Both Their Houses

Spent another several hours trying to make Apache work with PHP, reading dozens and dozens of anguished messages on the forums from poor souls with similar problems.

Finally uninstalled the whole combo to try again, and now I can't even make Apache work on its own.

This project is cursed!

On the plus side, I have so far required less medication to stay upright today than yesterday.

Monday, October 17, 2011


It really sucks to be sick and have a backache at the same time. I wanted to spend all day in bed, sleeping off the worst of the illness, but I couldn't get comfortable there because my back hurt too much, so I figured I might as well get up.

Also, I did need more Tylenol.

I know: whine, whine, whine.

In other news, I didn't accomplish anything productive because I was too busy whining. I was kind of disoriented--I walked several blocks the wrong way down the street when I got out of the pharmacy--so my concentration was probably doomed anyway.

I did read this interesting post on Butterflies and Wheels that mentions the ways in which the work of journalism is changing.

In a conversation I had with a journalist recently, we discussed what he deemed the two temptations of our post-print era. One is getting mixed up in what he called the“information jungle.” The other is sitting complacently in a “filter bubble.” He suggested that the task of good journalism in the coming years will be to serve as a curator for the public, exposing citizens to, without overfeeding them on, information and ideas that challenge or deepen their firmly held beliefs. All right, but what shall we call it? How about “out-of-the-jungle, beyond-the-bubble Black Swan journalism?”

This idea that journalism may be more about a kind of curation that simply reporting facts reminds me of the idea that librarianism of the future (or of the present, really) can also be seen as more about curation than collection.

If everything (or a significant portion of the 'everything' that most people are likely to look at) is fairly readily available, which parts of it do we want to highlight and recommend to our users?

Except for historical or highly specific collections, it might eventually be less about collecting physical items and keeping them in a single spot, and more about linking to items in various locations online. And paying for them, of course. How many times do librarians roll their eyes when someone says they found a journal article 'free' online and turns out they got access because the library pays for a subscription?

Maybe journalism is looking at a similar problem, in that people find all their news 'free' online and don't really think about how someone--perhaps a professional journalist who might enjoy getting paid--may have been involved in writing and submitting the initial report.

Maybe promoting journalism as more 'curation' will make it seem more worth paying for, to at least enough people to keep news sites going?

Or maybe I'm too disoriented (and recently shivering, but now sweating!--it's the ague, I tell you!*) to actually think about any ideas.

*Incidentally, MeSH doesn't have a term for ague, but maps it to Chills, previously indexed as Shivering, which is much less interesting than the dictionary definition of ague.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Classic Ailments

Although I don't have malaria, I would like to claim the term 'ague' for my condition, because it sounds old-fashioned and severe.

Technically it means you have alternating chills, fever, and sweating, not necessarily as a result of a malarial infection, so I certainly can claim it. The real problem with the definition is that I haven't been sweating that much in between the chills and fever, so I should probably be wrapping myself in blankets and hot water bottles.

I tend to get a touch of ague half the time when I'm coming down with a cold. Like over the course of this weekend.

Yay! Weekend! Bleah.

This is one reason I like a flu shot.

Plain old colds give me headaches, chills, fever and joint aches for a day or more. Do I need that for a week? Yeah, I think not.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not Feeling Fictional

November is coming up, and t'will be National Novel Writing Month once again, and I'm sitting around not having any inklings of ideas.

You can't start writing until November 1, so it's obviously OK not to have really fleshed anything out in mid-October, but in the past I at least had some loosely connected notions I'd been mulling over, and a kind of "here's where things will start" plan.

Now, I've really got nothing. Just not feelin' the inspiration. I'm feeling as if I may not get around to doing it this year, although I'll only be busier next year, so I kind of might as well go for it now.

I'm also concerned because the next Assassin's Creed comes out in November, and that will be very distracting. Veeeeeeeery distracting. Just thinking about it is distracting. Ah, to be climbing tall buildings right now!

Plus, there's all of this knitting to be done. It turns out I got way more yarn than I needed, but I wanted the free shipping that came with a $50 purchase!

Also, I'm a terrible judge of these things. It's like the time I needed to order an ethernet cable, and after considering the available lengths, decided 50 feet sounded about right.

Indeed. About right for when I need to take my computer out of the apartment and around the corner of the building. Which, you never know.

Be prepared by overestimating your need for everything, that's my motto.

This is why I really feel I should have about 8 or 10 novel ideas in mind if I'm going to tackle NaNoWriMo.

Eight or 10 ideas, 50 feet of cable, 20 balls of yarn, and a video game. That's preparation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I AM THE ALL-EXPERT! (Not really)

I know and appreciate that all librarians are assumed to know all things, but I think it's funny how apparently randomly people sometimes select my library (and presumably yours as well) as a resource for their particular question.

For example, I work at a small academic medical library associated with a specific school, in Massachusetts. I'm really not sure why someone with no apparent connection to the school picked us as the lucky recipient of a general question on "is there a [specific health-related thing] in Massachusetts?"

I mean, I can look it up, but we don't speak for Massachusetts where I work, nor are we really experts on state policy. Maybe you want to ask the State Library of Massachusetts or some other specifically-Massachusetts institution? Just a thought.

These very general questions also always make me wonder how much time I should spend on the answer, because I wonder "did he also send this same message to 20 other libraries in Massachusetts?"

And if we're all carefully answering the question, well, that is not economy of scale.

But if no one else answers the question because we all think it's generic and someone else will get it, the poor questioner may wind up with no response at all, and I don't want that.

I am a librarian! I want people to get their answers! I just want it to happen in the most efficient manner possible, and sometimes, that means I really shouldn't be the one giving the answer.

So I try to write a quick, general answer that suggests possible (possibly more appropriate) resources for similar future questions, and it always winds up taking longer than I expect, so I just hope for the sake of economies of scale that anyone else who received that particular question ignored it.

Let's not duplicate effort here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grrr of the Day

It's always comforting if people on the internet have had the same annoying problems you have with, say, installing software programs and making them talk to each other.

Ideally it's even helpful, if they can tell you what they did to fix it. But when you see a lot of comments like "I don't know what I did, but it works now"--I'm not sure that's either comforting or helpful.

It at least implies that the problem can be fixed, which is good. On the other hand, it suggests that the solution remains a mystery, which means I could be fiddling around with the problem for 20 hours before I unwittingly stumble across the answer, or might potentially never stumble across it at all, and that's bad.


Stupid internet. Be more helpful!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Persistence, Persistence

I just could not seem to get a handle on my latest afghan square. I would misread the pattern (repeatedly, in different but equally wrong ways), or it would be too wide, or too narrow.

I tore the whole thing out no fewer than 5 times, and was seriously contemplating just moving on to something else. Yet I persevered, and it turns out the 6th time was in fact the charm. So that's done.

In unrelated news, I just completed 700 charge cycles on this laptop battery. Party!

I have no idea if that's a significant milestone for a battery, but it's a nice round number, so I'm going to stand by the call for a party.

I got the computer in January of 2007, so that actually doesn't even seem like that many cycles. It's only, what, about 12 charges per month? Three a week?

I suppose that sounds about right. It seems like I'm on the computer all the time and must need to charge it a lot more than that, but I guess most of the time when I'm on a computer it's at work, which obviously doesn't wear down this battery.

Anyway, the battery condition is still listed as 'good,' so perhaps I'll get another several hundred cycles out of it. I used to faithfully do the whole calibration process every couple of months, as advised in the manual, but I confess I've fallen out of that habit. Still, I am generally careful about disconnecting it once it's fully charged.

Basically, I'll do the best I can to maintain this machine without expending any additional thought or effort on the project.

It's literally the least I can do.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Keep It Coming...

I will say about Elsevier that they know how to bribe a librarian.

I mean, win a librarian's heart. Because the way to a librarian's heart is with a good bribe.

In celebration of National Medical Librarians Month, they've sent out postcards with codes you can redeem for either chocolate or coffee. I picked chocolate, but the results show coffee currently in the lead with 58% of the vote.

I imagine coffee gets some votes for its legendary ability to make coherent thought possible first thing in the morning. Me, I drink green tea, so coffee has little hold over me.

Chocolate, on the other hand...

Bribery aside, I should note that having entered about a million of them into the catalog, I do quite like Elsevier's ScienceDirect interface to e-journals.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sad Feet

Sometimes you don't realize how much momentum you've got built up until you run into something.

To cite an example from my own busy life, yesterday I stubbed my toes on the sturdy wooden base of a coat tree. Wait, no, I didn't just stub my toes, I really smashed them into that thing.

The nail on one toe was a bloody mess, and that toe is now all purple bruises and soreness. I don't think it's broken, and I suppose it doesn't really matter since you can't do much for a broken toe, but it's not happy. It seems unfair that toes, given that we walk on them all the time and might wish them to be tough enough to endure all kinds of insults, are so darn sensitive.

The pain of a stubbed toe is so severe. Surely a nice hoof would be more practical, for beings that walk around on their feet a lot. But even when I was a kid and went barefoot all the time, until the soles of my feet were tough as leather, stubbing my toes still hurt. Kind of a lot.

I should also note that this coat tree has been in the same place in the apartment for the entirety of the 10+ years we've lived here (right in the doorway, where you'd expect!*), so you really wouldn't think I should be bumping into it anyway, but sometimes you roll a one on your Walk check.

Anyway, here I was just puttering around the house, getting ready for bed, and there was still enough vigor in my stride to do damage by walking into a coat tree. Imagine if I'd actually been going somewhere.

Striding briskly along on my way to the train, perhaps. If I walked into a coat tree while going full speed ahead, I'd probably knock myself over. As I said, sometimes you don't realize how much energy you have invested in going a certain direction, until something suddenly arrests that motion.

And the moral is, if you're moving right along and everything's going fine, just watch where you're going. I guess that's not a very profound moral, but there's nothing else written on my injured toe.

Well, I'm off to see if I can walk into any walls while brushing my teeth tonight.

*Just kidding. It's out of the way, against the wall. Easy to avoid...or so you'd think.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pilot Light Lit: Check

Add another skill to my list: relighting a pilot light!

I confess I was a bit anxious about striking a match in the kitchen this evening, given the smell of gas, but nothing exploded and the little flames caught most satisfyingly.

I like a gas stove, although it's occasionally a little nerve-wracking, because I like to be able to tell by looking at it whether or not the burner is on, and whether it's on low or high. Electric can be deceptive, since it can be quite hot without glowing red, or it might not be hot at all.

I suppose electric is more like the wood-burning stoves of my youth, which also offer few clues as to whether they're on 'high' or 'low' heat, and you can always splash a few drops of water on either of them and see how rapidly it boils away, but again, I like gas.

Look! The flame is high! That water will boil soon!

Or look! The flame is low! That rice will simmer quietly for 45 minutes!

As you can tell, cooking is very exciting in my house. That's why I don't do it often: it's exhausting.

Anyway, if your stove isn't lighting and your kitchen smells like gas, your pilot light is probably out, so based on my newly gained experience I say you should lift up the top of the stove and look for a little flame midway between the burners on each side.

If there isn't one, light a match and touch it to the little raised section between the burners, and a flame should catch most satisfyingly.

Or the kitchen could explode. I guess you never know with gas. But from my vague knowledge, there's probably not enough gas to explode as long as the smell isn't so powerful that you can't stand to stay in the building. If you can't stand to stay in the building, probably call someone instead.

Also, I am not a natural gas expert, nor do I play one on TV, so possibly it's safer just to ignore everything I say.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Uneasy Thoughts

The white-text-on-dark-background of this Tumblr is kind of hard to read, but We Are the 99 Percent is...OK, hard to read in pretty much every way. Some pretty grim stories about how tough things are right now.

My spouse and I both have stable jobs and earn decent salaries. We have health insurance, and savings accounts. We're doing fine by any objective measure. Great, even. No complaints.

I feel very fortunate, and also insecure, because realistically it would be pretty easy to lose what we have. Someone gets seriously ill, loses a job, can't find another job, family can only support you so happens all the time.

I dunno, I'm not out occupying Wall Street right now, or even Boston, but it's hard to say there's not something to be upset about here.

I got to the Tumblr via Alas, A Blog.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

World Domination Cannot Be Far Behind

I'm taking a web development class, and it promises to be good, clean fun.

I'm already plotting how to use my forthcoming knowledge to make millions (of page views).

I suspect pictures of kittens will be involved. Or naked people. That seems to be what the internet likes.

Does someone have a naked kitten site already?

I hope not, because hairless cats are creepy looking. They can't help it, I know, and I don't hold it against them, but it's true.

I bet chimpanzees think the same about us.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vegetable Know-How

I've heard that the heat in some hot peppers is mainly in the seeds, rather than the flesh. I believe it.

Because I sliced up a little poblano pepper and tossed it in a salad and ate it with perfect calm.

And I scooped up the seeds, and that sort of pale inside bit that holds the seeds, and tossed them out, and my hands were burning for hours.

Good thing I didn't absentmindedly rub my eyes. These are the adventures one gets into, when one purchases the Box 'o Veggies at the farmer's market.

Another adventure is squash seeds. I love to roast and devour them, so it saddens me to think that people scoop them out and throw them away. People should be sending them to me instead!

Because know what would make my day? Receiving a gallon jar of squash guts in the mail.

All right, maybe not, but only because they would probably spoil.

Having someone knock on my door, and when I opened it they wordlessly presented me with a gallon jar of fresh squash guts, gave a curt, knowing nod, and hurried away? That would make my day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Learnin' Stuff

I was at the 40th anniversary party/slash 9th edition book launch for Our Bodies, Ourselves, yesterday. There were a lot of amazing women from all over the world who spoke about their work in women's health as global partners of OBOS.

I was knitting an afghan square, not taking notes, and the event was streamed and will be archived, so I won't say much even though there were many cool moments I could highlight.

One thing that did strike me, and then made me wonder at how striking it was, was Miho Ogino, who edited the Japanese edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves (published in 1988 and now out of print, she said, but not before inspiring many other women's health books), mentioning that, unlike in many countries, there was no religious backlash to the book's content in Japan.

She said this was because Japanese society is not strongly religious, and did mention that there was some cultural resistance, as of course there may be anywhere.

"Imagine no religious backlash!" I thought.

And then I thought how unfortunate it is that the default assumption is that religious figures would naturally object to frank information about women's health and sexuality. Can't have people knowing stuff about stuff.

Speaking of frankness, another recurring theme was how tough it is in some languages and societies to even find words for some of these topics. There might literally not be a word for something, or the one commonly used might be inherently associated with shame or secrecy--obviously not what you're going for when you're trying to present facts about health.

Anyway, a very interesting day.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Just Trying to Help

Farhad Manjoo has an interesting series of articles on Slate, explaining that even non-killer robots may disrupt our puny human lives, since they're getting better and better at doing our jobs.

We're used to seeing robots assembling automobiles and so forth, which for those of us who didn't once have jobs on automobile assembly lines may seem like a distant threat, but it turns out that robots (a term which, for purposes of this series, seems to include software programs) are also showing potential in other fields, like certain medical specialities, law and journalism.

As a librarian, I've been reportedly teetering on the verge of being replaced by the internet for as long as I've been working, so I certainly feel the potential pain of physicians, pharmacists, lawyers and journalists. Computers do make it different.

For the moment, there are all sorts of things that still call for human interaction, but once robots become charming and personable, as well as tireless and efficient? It's all over.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banning It Just Makes Me Want It More

I think I'm missing Banned Books Week. Sorry! My bad. Go read some banned books, everyone!

I was not organized enough to get any out of the library ahead of time, and I don't actually think I own any of the better known much-banned books, but I'm totally reading them on the street in my mind right now.


In my experience, you don't run into many of those book challenges in a medical library, so it's not right at the forefront of our minds.

We did have a copy of Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (a faculty donation from years ago) go missing, and I wondered if someone might not have made off with it because they felt it wasn't appropriately science-based, but it could just as easily have been mis-shelved, or maybe someone made off with it because they thought it was awesome.

In any case, there was no formal complaint about it, so I can't cite its disappearance as evidence for anything.

But yeah, that's my harrowing tale. I hope you can all manage to get to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's What I'd Do

Random thing I love today:

The citizens in L.A. Noire who, when you commandeer their vehicles with a brusque "Police emergency! Out of the car!" say "not on your life, buster!" even as they're obediently climbing out of the car.

So I'd say the main lesson of this game so far is that it's important to strongly express your dissatisfaction with a situation you find unfair, even if you don't feel it worth taking any real action over.

Complaining without doing anything! Truly a classic.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Carrot Lies Unmasked!

The Scientopia Guest Blogge now has an ophthalmologist explaining that the reason we've all heard that carrots are good for your eyesight is because the Royal Air Force deliberately lied about it during World War II.

Shocking! However, as all's fair in love and war, it was justified at the time. The alternative would have been to admit the truth about newly developed radar technology, which (rather than good eyesight due to prodigious carrot-eating) was helping RAF pilots hit enemy targets at night.

Instead, we got an elaborate fiction about carrots being good for your vision, which still echoes today.

At least now we know the truth. Thanks, cherylmurphy!

Of course, when I go to explain the truth to someone else later I'll probably have forgotten most of the details, and I'll wind up passing on an even weirder fiction, something about how carrots enhance radar detection at high altitudes, and then that will echo through the generations. This is why it's so hard to counter misinformation on the internet.

Monday, September 26, 2011


An advantage of being busy is that things that happen on a periodic basis and that you look forward to seem to happen more frequently.

For example, an issue of Knights of the Dinner Table magazine arrived today, and it seems like we just got one. Nice!

I hadn't even had time to get around to rereading the last issue a couple of times, and then sighing with boredom because there was nothing new, and tapping my fingers impatiently, and all that stuff I would do if I had a lot of time on my hands to spend waiting for issues of my gaming magazine to arrive.

Instead, they just pop up every so often. Approximately once a month, I suppose. Still, a pleasant surprise every time.

Of course, things that happen on a periodic basis that you don't particularly look forward to may also seem to happen more frequently. Rent is coming due? No fair, we just paid that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Disturbing Health Issue of the Day

You know, I've been successfully chewing and swallowing food for many years in the course of ingesting the nutrients needed to fuel the ongoing processes that sustain life. One would think I would have achieved a certain skill level.

Yet today, as I was eating lunch, I carelessly bit right into the side of my tongue while chewing. There's a painful chomp mark on it right now.

I have failed at eating. Nice work, me.

Well, sometimes you roll a one.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Ugh. It's entirely too warm and stuffy for this time of year.

I'm swooning alternately under the weight of my hot computer, and of my knitting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Novelty! Again

I've never dyed my hair, but reading this Slate piece about the repeated surging and fading of pink as a popular hair color, suddenly I'm tempted.

The common wisdom is (or at least it was when I was young) that redheads shouldn't wear pink, but I think that's supposed to be because it clashes with the shade of the hair. Surely if you just turn the hair itself pink, there's no concern.

Redheads tend to be pale and pinkish of skin tone anyway, so pinkness of hair should go very nicely. As long as it doesn't all blur together. Flesh-colored hair, on a pinkish-fleshed person, isn't an especially pretty mental picture. A sort of interesting one, I guess.

But the right shade of pink...that could really liven things up at work. Finally cement my reputation as someone on the cutting edge of style.

In which case I'd better not do it, that would just be disorienting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Down in the Valley

I was talking to an ultrasound technician the other day--after the huge piles of cold hard cash, the talking to lots of interesting people is why I got into librarianship--and she said something I liked.

She said that they can do this 3D-style imaging of fetuses in the womb now, and that of course expectant parents always want to see them, but that she always recommends they not look at the 18-week images (although they always do anyway) because they're creepy-looking.

She said they're actually less creepy at 13 weeks, when the fetus looks less human, because at that stage it's sort of cute in an alien-blob sort of way, while at 18 weeks they're more human-looking, but also more weird.

"The uncanny valley!" I thought immediately.

For those not familiar, the uncanny valley is a theory that suggests that we find things more appealing the more human they look--right up until they reach a certain point, when we find them disturbing instead.

At that point, there in this uncanny valley, they're close enough to human that we sort of mistake them for human at a glance, but far enough away that we realize they aren't, and that makes us find them weird and wrong and super creepy.

You mostly see it used in reference to humanoid robots, and to characters in video games and CG animated movies, but I kind of like the idea that people also traverse the uncanny valley in the flesh on the way to being born.

As a not-very-developed embryo, with a vague general resemblance to a human, you might observe a sort of big-headed, spindly-limbed, weird charm. But as the fetus develops, acquiring more of the familiar characteristics of humanity, but still not having them all, it becomes faintly creepy-looking.

Also, of course, the resolution of the 3D images, compared to the classic, slightly fuzzy black and white ones, helps push the fetus into the uncanny valley by letting you see enough detail to notice how like/unlike a familiar human it looks.

It's all about the computer graphics, as usual.

At least that's my rough theory based on what the ultrasound tech said. I haven't seen a lot of 3D ultrasound images myself, and the ones I found online all look pretty equally creepy to me (here are some), so it could be a theory without basis in fact.

Nevertheless, I like it, so I'm going to assume, based on my extremely limited understanding of embryology and fetal development, that's it's totally plausible. As long as I never learn anything else about the subject, my theory should be untouchable.

Yup. That's how science works, people.

By which I mean, that's the opposite of how science works. Let my bad example be a terrifying warning to you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ancient Humor

So Don't Ask Don't Tell is now gone, and the profound thought I had is:

Will we still be able to laugh at the scene in The Simpsons when Homer's trying to join the military, and there's a question on the form that's been crossed out, but he of course reads through the ink and says cheerfully "But I'm not a homosexual!" and the recruiter has his hands over his ears and is singing "Lalala, I am not listening!"

Or will it no longer make sense, and we'll just yawn and look away?

Hahahaha! Yes, still funny. I sometimes quote that singsong "lalala, I am not listening!" line when I'm trying not to hear something.

I think the absurdity of it, as a historical artifact, will continue to entertain.

And that's a relief. I need to have some constants in my life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pick a Level

There's an interesting post on Sociological Images about how, as the middle class shrinks, your clever companies (Procter & Gamble is the main example cited) may start to focus their advertising on bargain brands and luxury brands, with not much in between.

They've got a clip from a financial show and everything.

It makes sense as a business strategy, I guess. If there's hardly any middle class, there's no point trying to sell it much.

Well, I know which side of the vast wealth chasm I'm ending up on.

On a librarian's cushy salary? Straight to the luxury market, baby! Gold-plated caviar every day! That's the only reason I got into this line of work.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ding Dong!

Slate has an article up asking "Who Killed 3-D?"

It speculates on the possible guilt of:
  1. Greedy theaters charging higher premiums for 3D tickets than customers are willing to pay;
  2. Greedy film studios doing a lousy job of turning regular films into 3D films and hence weakening the value of the novel technology;
  3. Smart customers realizing the novel technology isn't really all that awesome and deciding not to pay for it;
  4. Lousy filmmakers making bad movies and weakening the value of the novel technology because there's nothing worth seeing in it.

My response: I'm just glad it's dead!

Well, it's actually not completely dead, but revenues for 3D movies are apparently declining dramatically compared to the 2D versions of the same movies. That is, more people are going to see the regular versions of something than are choosing to pay extra for 3D.

I know I'm not paying extra. 3D is welcome to die for all I care.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

No, Wikipedia is Not the Devil

Where I work, when we teach students about the various types of resources that are useful for academic research, we like to mention Wikipedia. We like to bring it up because everyone uses it, which is fine as long as you don't just stop there.

This post on SF Novelists, although discussing a different sort of research from what most medical students will be undertaking, nicely sums up what's good and not as good about Wikipedia for research, with a nice breakdown of the main types of problems you tend to see with articles there (roughly, arguments over subjects on which people have strong and divergent opinions; sloppy and/or incomplete articles where someone just tossed something on the page so there'd be a page there; and outright vandalism, where people add incorrect and/or irrelevant information to an article on purpose for the heck of it).

It also discusses the ways Wikipedia is useful (broad range of articles, easy to hop from one topic to another, and even the incorrect information can sometimes lead you to useful additional resources).

I may just refer students to this piece in future, and save myself 10 minutes of talking. While they're reading it, I can be reading internet comics. Everyone wins!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brain Wallpaper

My yarn arrived at last, so I can set to knitting!

Knitting keeps my hands full, and means I can't be reading or mousing around the internet all the time, so I expect I'll have to catch up on all kinds of questionable movies, just to have something going in the background.

I can only be alone with my thoughts and my knitting for so long before being overwhelmed by all those questions about whether or not I put the right subject headings on that thesis, or managed a truly comprehensive search in that database, not to mention the dreadful tremors occasioned by reflection on all the stuff that has to go up into the archives lest my office become impassable...well, it gets pretty grim.

That's when random movies you've never heard of, or had heard of but never contemplated going to see, can suddenly seem like a brilliant idea.

Almost as brilliant as folding your socks down to cover up holes in the heel!

Oh no, I'm not letting that one die.