Thursday, March 31, 2011


We just purchased a lot of online back files for various journal titles. I get these tidy lists of all the titles so I can update our website, catalog, DOCLINE holdings (for interlibrary loan) and WorldCat holdings.

They start out nice and orderly, and then within days I've broken them into various subsets. One list for titles that we hold in print. One list for titles that are only online. One for titles where the backfiles collection extends current holdings, and one for where they represent completely new titles (as will often happen if we get the full run of something that has changed titles one or more times over the years).

Lists for the different floors on which the print version is located.

Before I know it, my desktop is cluttered with versions, each of which may also contain several different sheets, and can I remember which of these documents has what in it? Sometimes.

Then I start to wonder, can I be quite sure that everything from that first list wound up on one of those other lists and was appropriately dealt with? Nah. Embrace the uncertainty, I say.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Inexplicable Urges

Sometimes out of nowhere I just have this strong desire to bake some cookies.

Usually if I wait, it passes.

It's too late in the day anyway. I'll have some peanut butter instead.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sitting on the Edge of Medical Education

One of the interesting things we get to do at my job lately is sit in on class sessions with the medical students in their Integrated Problems groups.

This is a course where the group gets a case involving a hypothetical patient with some set of symptoms, and they get a bit of information about the case and then think of things they might do to learn more, and do some research on that, and then get a bit more information, and so forth.

They have an Evidence Based Medicine component to go over, so we've been popping in as visiting librarians to be around in case students have questions about how to formulate a clinical question using PICO, or access full text articles from the library website, or whatever.

It's pretty interesting to see the different approaches that groups take. Recently we've been working with the first year students, so their medical vocabulary is not yet that far beyond mine and I can pretty much understand what they're talking about.

In the second year they're tossing acronyms around and bringing more accumulated knowledge to bear, and I tend to follow less of the discussion. Which is as it should be. They're the ones who are going to be doctors.

I can still find you some articles about whatever that thing is that you're talking about, though!

I do like having the chance to see different parts of the broader institutional environment that the library fits into. What interesting things are other people doing around here?

Many interesting things, it usually turns out.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Important News

PubMed New and Noteworthy informs us that there is now a CSV option under the 'send to' menu so you can save your results in comma-separated value form!

The better to make handy-dandy spreadsheets with! I may faint with enthusiasm.

In other news, Kate Harding made this nifty Wordle document with the top 50 novels 200 people told her she should read if she were going to read an English-language novel. It's a cool visual.

Many people seem to think highly of Middlemarch. Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, and Jane Eyre are also popular choices. People like the classics.

Word clouds are just kind of a fun idea, aren't they? You couldn't look around without stubbing your eye on one for a while, although I never think to do anything with them myself, but they often present information in an interesting way.

Certainly it's a lot more eye-catching than a simple list of the 50 titles.

That's it, my next report on something is going to include a word cloud.

"And these are all the journals we've added to the catalog in the past month."

Sadly, it turns out the effect is much less impressive when every piece of information in the cloud is the same size.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

It All Comes Down to PubMed

I like this post by Kimberley Manning on The Health Care Blog, about changes in medical education between the early 1990s when she was in med school, and today.

She looks at 10 items, from the amount of time spent in class, to how students dress, to the awesomeness of PubMed (oh yeah!).

Dr Manning graduated from medical school in 1996, which was both not all that long ago in global time, and a long time ago in educational resource time. It's interesting to hear about the differences between her experiences and what she sees as the experiences of students today.

The today students are of course the ones I see at the reference desk and in our library instruction classes. I'll go with one of her positive comments: "The future of medicine includes some really bright minds. Which if you ask me, is a GOOD thing."

Yes indeed.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Troubling Questions

Do I usually get allergies in March? Or is this a particularly bad year? Or am I just getting particularly susceptible to pollen in my advancing age?

These are the questions that nag at me, while I try not to rub my itchy eyes too hard.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Seconds Don't Really Count

Scicurious, on Neurotic Physiology, discusses an important paper looking at the validity of the "five-second rule." You know, the law of nature that says if you drop a food item on the floor it's still OK to eat as long as you pick it up within five seconds.

The study appears to have found that, sadly, it's not how fast you pick it up, it's how dirty the floor was to start with.

So if you drop something on a nice clean floor, you can leave it there for 20 minutes and then eat it at your leisure (this is what I like to do), but if that floor is all gross and crawling with bacteria, you could snatch it up instantly and it would still be covered with germs (this is like my floors).

Of course, as far as I'm concerned, it all comes down to how rare and delicious the food is.

Also, as Sci points out,

One thing to keep in mind here. Just because there’s bacteria on your food, doesn’t mean you will get sick. To be honest, there’s bacteria in MOST of your food, MOST of the time. On your hands, on your kitchen sink, on your fork. Our bodies are generally pretty good at fighting this stuff off. So just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you’ll get sick.

Wise words. This is why I go ahead and eat something after leaving it on my disgusting floor for 20 minutes. Well, not usually. Only if it's chocolate.

And I would also brush it off first, which magically makes it good and wholesome again.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Trials of the Age

I have recently discovered that my phone will send, but has apparently decided to no longer receive, text messages.

This is not an ideal situation, since I sometimes like to get responses to the messages I send, or perhaps be alerted to important news via incoming messages from friends and family. For example, people getting new jobs, or moving, or visiting interesting museums.

In other ways, the phone seems functional enough, but I send a lot more text messages than I make phone calls, so it's kind of dead to me if this problem cannot be solved. The internet informs me that others have had this problem with my phone company, so I suppose at least it's not a unique issue that has never before been seen.

The internet is unclear on whether it can be fixed, although it suggests resetting the phone, which will erase all previous saved information.

Including contacts. Siiiiigh. Copying and re-entering my contacts list. Just the rewarding project I was looking for.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Some takes on the latest in the Google Books Affair.

From Rough Type, Slate, and the ACLU.

Basically, we like books online, but we're leery of letting Google have sole control over them.

Another thing we're leery about--what the hell, they're cutting the Statistical Abstract of the United States? That's like the US classic vital statistics resource! We love it!

I want my tax dollars to be used to fund it!

You cannot turn around these days without some horrible news about something being defunded.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hush, I'm Eating

I was intrigued to be informed by my DASH to Health listserv email that loud noises diminish the ability to taste food.

The summary provided:

In the most recent study, 48 college students donned headphones playing either loud music, quiet music, or silence. Then they were given a selection of potato chips and cookies and told to chow down. Those listening to the louder noise rated both the salty snacks as not so salty and the cookies as not so sweet even though the snacks were the same for all groups.

Do note that this listserv provides information at the lay level, so full citation info is missing. I gather that this article (subscription only, I think) is the one intended, however:

Woods et al. 'Effect of background noise on food perception.' Food Quality and Preference 22(1), Jan 2011, pp 42-47.

From the abstract,

"We conclude that background sound unrelated to food diminishes gustatory food properties (saltiness, sweetness) which is suggestive of a cross-modal contrasting or attentional effect, whilst enhancing food crunchiness."

So you don't taste sweet or salty as well if there are loud noises while you're eating as you do in a quiet environment, but your crunchy food will seem even crunchier.

The full article is rich in detail about exactly how they performed the experiments, as well as some speculation on how noise affects taste perception, but I won't copy the whole thing here. Because that would be illegal.

I guess the takeaway advice is, go somewhere quiet to enjoy your savory pickles and delicious desserts, but if you have to eat something you hate, turn the music way up.

"Shh. This cake is really good."




Monday, March 21, 2011

User Testimony

This post by genomicrepairman warms my PubMed-loving heart.

It explains why you should sign up for a MyNCBI account and have new results for your searches automatically emailed to you so you can keep up with what's going on in a subject in which you have interest.

Of course you should do this!

MyNCBI rocks. It's what I keep telling people.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Seating Arrangements

When we first got the PlayStation, I decided that rather than sit in a soft comfy chair to play, I would just sit on the floor in front of the TV.

I had this vague idea that maybe that would keep my playing time to a reasonable amount. I'll only play as long as I can sit on the floor, after all.

It turns out I can sit on the floor for a looooooong time.

I tried to find out if sitting on the floor was either good or bad for you, but couldn't find a MeSH term for 'sitting.' Apparently this is not a hot topic in PubMed.

However, using 'sitting' as a keyword with the MeSH "Floors and Floorcoverings" I found an article (PMID: 19790110) titled "Squatting, sitting on the floor, or cycling: are life-long daily activities risk factors for clinical knee osteoarthritis? Stage III results of a community-based study."

The abstract offers the following helpful information: "Prolonged standing, sitting on the floor, and walking up/downhill were not risks for knee osteoarthritis."

There's also this article (PMID: 17393761), "Effect of traditional floor sitting on postural control after standing," although I don't understand exactly what it's saying those effects are, or whether they're positive or negative.

Something about 'center of pressure sway,' which seems to be increased by sitting seiza (legs folded under you). Maybe you sway more after standing because your feet have fallen asleep or, as the abstract says, lost 'voluntary toe flexion strength'?

Anyway, as far as we can tell, no increased risk of knee osteoarthritis. Based on the extremely limited information available.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fun Fact Indeed

I was intrigued to find, via Fannie's Room, that the Communications Decency Act means "Technically, it is illegal to be anonymously and intentionally annoying on internet."

You know, given the rampant hate-comments and threatening emails that better bloggers than I get every day, I somehow suspect that some people may be slightly breaking that law.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Interesting Patient-Info Tool

David Rothman has constructed a custom Google search for physicians to locate educational materials that can be easily sent to a printer and given to a patient.

It gave me a lot of results from MedlinePlus in my testing, as well as some other lay-level information that seems about right.

A cool thing he's done is put separate tabs for material relevant to pediatrics, to seniors, for Spanish-language and large print materials, and for low-literacy patients, although the whole thing kind of stopped working for me before I could notice if those grouped results effectively.

Possibly too many people were all piling on at once. Because it's just that cool.

So go check it out, and we'll see if it stays broken!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're Number One!--By Some Measures

I see this proud nation has achieved an important milestone:

The U.S. passed France as the world’s largest wine-consuming nation for the first time, lifted by its larger population and an interest in wine-and-cheese culture among young Americans.

That's not per capita, however, since the average French citizen still apparently drinks more wine than the average U.S. citizen, so we have room for improvement. Drink up, people!

I saw this on Feministe, where Jill is taking credit for the achievement. She's going to have to share it with me, that's all I'm going to say.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Retro Machinery

There's an interesting reflection on SF Novelists about how hard it used to be to rewrite your novels when you had to type the whole thing multiple times on an actual typewriter.

Word processing programs are certainly a gift to the writer who likes to rewrite.

I have no excuse for not re-doing my NaNoWriMo pieces. It would be a lot easier to do than if I had to retype everything, but not easy enough that I actually get around to it.

However, I can certainly speak to the fact that word processing makes working in an office a lot different. Imagine typing up all the documents I work with with every day on a typewriter. Memos, letters (multiple copies, of course), lists of tasks. Spreadsheets?

Yes, typing used to be a much more specialized skill.

Also, people used to be more tolerant of errors and imperfect corrections. I've seen documents in old files where typographical errors are crossed out and the word retyped, or simply corrected in pen, and they just left it that way, because obviously you don't want to retype an entire page to correct one error.

Nowadays, you expect to see pretty much perfect typing in any sort of official document, because it's easy to fix and reprint if you catch a mistake.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This is...Like It!

Now this is just the sort of thing I need, as an official MLA Section Blogger! It's the Dental Section's lovely wiki, which currently features a list of their MLA programming right on the front page.

It's like a personal invitation just for me, to go and report on their events.

Or, more truthfully, it's like a personal invitation for anyone at MLA, but I'd rather feel special.

Anyway, you can be assured that I will be taking my responsibilities seriously and making every effort to attend at least one or two of their events.

Whether I will actually make it remains to be seen. I retain a vivid memory of last year's failed attempt to locate the restaurant where their dinner was held. I walked around DC for an hour and half or something, and never did find it.

Never underestimate my ability to get horribly lost within six blocks of somewhere. I need GPS implanted in my skull*.

But I am undaunted, and I will try again!

*Some would suggest that a less extreme option would be to simply purchase a GPS device that I could carry around. However, I decline to pay for one unless it can go in my skull. I have my standards, and unless it brings me closer to my cherished dream of becoming a cyborg, it's not worth my hard-earned cash. Getting lost is cheap. Good exercise, too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

HON Info Validates My Existence

I see that the 2010 Health On the Net survey results are here.

If I recall correctly, I filled out that survey, so I'm especially interested. I see large numbers of people cite 'information quality' as the most important barrier to seeking health information on the Internet (page 11).

This number has not decreased since the 2005 survey, unlike the numbers for 'medical data privacy,' 'internet connection speed,' and, in fact, all the other barriers they asked about.

So it's good that barriers are dropping, but that whole information quality issue is an ongoing problem.

Clearly, this expresses an ongoing demand for librarians, given our awesome talents in the area of locating quality information.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mm, Delicious Food

Another in a series of things I've read that makes me think you should be eating bugs: this Slate article officially titled "Ant Eaters," but with the promotional headline "Insect banquet: you should probably start eating ants."

Yes, you. Go eat ants! Also worms, if you want.

Me, I'm sticking to peanut butter.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tips and Tricks for Politics

This Sociological Images post causes me to ponder the following important question:

Rabble-rousing among the supporters of an opposing party to split the vote: underhanded trick, or just clever politics?

I think we know the answer to that. Both.

Imagine that I support Political Candidate A. Opposing my candidate are two or more candidates of another party. Let us call them Candidate B and Candidate C, because I am creative like that.

Instead of (or perhaps in addition to) producing literature lauding my own preferred Candidate A, I also produce mailed materials attacking one or more of the candidates in the other party(ies) for not living up to the awe-inspiring moral standards of their supporters. 

Let's say I send out a mailer bashing Candidate B.

Now my own candidate may not live up to those awe-inspiring standards either, so I'm not really hoping to get people to vote for A instead of B, I'm just hoping that enough of them will vote for C instead of B that B and C wind up splitting the awe-inspiring standards voters, and there are enough morally reprehensible lowlives voting for Candidate A that he or she can win.

The Sociological Images post is entitled "Politically Expedient Sexism," and the author concludes,

I gotta say, I thought this was repugnant when I first saw it and assumed the group who put it out might actually believe this kind of crap. But to encourage people to vote based on sexist, homophobic values that you presumably don’t even agree with, simply as a political ploy? That is some nasty, nasty business.

I can see that point. It is kind of low.

There's something not truth-in-advertising-y about it that rubs me the wrong way. It feels like such a con, doesn't it? I would probably react negatively if I found out that a political ad was playing me that way.

If I just say "I think Candidate B is despicable, and you should vote for Candidate A," that's one thing, but if I tell you "I don't think Candidate B is despicable enough for you, and by implication I think Candidate C is a better choice," while secretly hoping to benefit Candidate A by diverting your vote from the more dangerous opponent, that's another.

Still, although it's low and nasty, I think it may also be kind of brilliant. A trick to remember once I go into politics.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Further Thoughts

Just as the jobs of midwife and undertaker for human beings can get messy, so too can the jobs of technical services. And just as weeding a garden often results in one becoming gray with dirt, so too does weeding a collection.

My computer keyboard is new sprinkled with bits of decayed library glue, and my hands are grimy and lined with toil. At least I didn't wear a white shirt today, as I often seem to do on days when it turns out I'm going to be heaving dusty volumes around.

It is the circle of life, after all. The gritty, sweaty, sneeze-inducing, paper-cut-filled, filthy, filthy circle of life.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Pause for Somber Contemplation

The Weeding Season has begun. Heavily laden carts make their way back into the Technical Services area, bearing their cargo of condemned books.

It's like harvest season for us back here, if you assume that what's harvested is "lots of work." Which is ever the case.

For the removal from the shelf is only the first step in this hallowed process. Now the titles must be removed from the catalog, and from our WorldCat holdings, and only then can the books finally be laid to rest in the recycling bins and go on to that sweet afterlife of whatever happens to recycled paper.

It really makes you think. About how long it's been since our collection was weeded, and therefore how very many books are no longer needed.

Also about the opposite of data entry, which I suppose would be data removal.

These things shall cease to exist for us. Nevermore darken my OPAC search results, outdated oral surgery textbook!

We put books into the catalog. We take them out of the catalog. We see them when they are shiny and brand new, with all their pages clean and their binding sound, and we see them when they are feeble, frail, and barely held together with disintegrating tape.

We are both midwife and undertaker to the books.

That's why Tech Services is awesome.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Our Children Raise Us

Terri on the Geek Feminism Blog pointed out this interesting paper suggesting that male CEOs who have daughters are more likely to support gender-equitable wage policies in their companies. At least in Denmark, where the study was done.

Go forth and father girls, you manly captains of industry!

Not only because girls are awesome, which they are, and I should know because I was one and grew up with several more, but because I want to make more money.

So I can buy more chocolate.

It's all part of the plan.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Important Disaster Planning Thoughts

Exciting news for probably many people (although not necessarily the same people who are reading this blog):
Today, DragonAge 2 is out!

Pre-ordered, it is on its way to my abode as I type!

I was moderately excited about sending a few stray volumes of one of our print journals down to NLM as a small token of our affection (take it! we wish it were more!), but...dragons! You have to get up pretty early in the morning to be more exciting than dragons.

Also, early in the morning is the last time you want to be excited by dragons. It's not that there's a good time for a dragon attack on the town, but first thing in the morning, before you're even awake yet? Everyone is sluggish, the knights haven't had a chance to get into their armor...

And you know without armor they don't stand a chance of even slowing the dragon down long enough for me to escape with my precious stray journal volumes, which as far as I'm concerned is the main purpose of knights. No, if the dragon must attack the town, I think better the afternoon.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Prepare For Another Word Onslaught, MLA!

Exciting news for possibly someone! Once again, I will be an official blogger at the Medical Library Association annual meeting in May.

This year, rather than just have everyone write about whatever events they happen to be attending (resulting in some events not being covered, and some being covered by multiple bloggers), they're going to have us assigned to cover specific things. This should ensure a good variety of event coverage, and limit the number of people, several of them me, describing the plenary sessions in mind-numbing detail.

I will be writing in the role of Section Correspondent this year, and let me tell you, it's gonna be swell.

I will be focusing especially on the Dental and Technical Services Sections, since I am the liaison to the dental school and the head of technical services where I work, giving these sections a special place in my heart.

Still, I have love to spare for all the sections, and if I see one of the others doing something cool, I'll be sure to make a note of it*. Particularly if none of the other Section Bloggers are in evidence.

I foresee lots of underhanded attempts to scoop one another. Who will break the big story of the Chiropractic Libraries Section's latest spinal shenanigans?

OK, actually I just foresee underhanded attempts by me to scoop everyone else. I don't know any of the others, so I can't in fairness paint them all with the same sordid brush I use for myself.

But there are 23 sections, and only six of us, so there will probably be plenty of news to go around.

*Invite me to your Section Event now! I will provide glowing testimonials in exchange for chocolate! While underhandedly scooping the other bloggers! (Some might consider this to be an abuse of the awesome power inherent in the Official Blogger role, but I prefer to think that it isn't.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Today I Consider Myself

I don't run across a lot of people who share my first name, but there are a few out there.

Someone told me of one in Canada, and there was one working in a grocery store in Portland, OR. Most recently, I was watching the documentary film of Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, and there's a Dr. Allyn Howlett who talks about cannabis.

I think in many cases if it's spelled 'Allyn' it's probably pronounced like the male name 'Allen' (or it could actually be that name), so I was especially excited to hear Dr. Howlett's name spoken, and to find that it's pronounced the way I say it.

That is, with an 'A' like in the name 'Amanda,' but followed by 'Lin' like in the name 'Lynn'. I once spoke to someone who said it would be pronounced very differently in Welsh, but I don't speak Welsh, so I can't explain the details.

Although I haven't seen anyone else who spells it the way I do, I personally favor the apostrophe. I like to explain that it's important because it breaks up the A from the Llyn, reducing the aforementioned risk of mixing it up with 'Allen'. Creative use of punctuation can do wonders.

I heartily recommend apostrophes for all your cool modern names.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Paying Up

I have sent in my federal taxes. Now to wait anxiously and see if the IRS accepts the e-filed return.

I was drinking some wine while I did the final data entry here, so I was more relaxed than if I'd merely been wired on caffeine or something. We'll see if I was as accurate.

I am fairly pleased by the MassDOR online filing system, which is not as clunky as the Free File Fillable Forms (even the name is clunky), but I'm waiting until I hear from the IRS before I complete the state return.

I should owe some money to the federal government, and get somewhat less back from the state. I'm not sure why it works out that way. Maybe because the state lets me deduct (a portion of) rent and commuting costs.

Anyway, time to eat some celebratory ice cream.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Eww of the Day

This NYT story about dust mites reminds me why I generally choose not to think about them.

  1. They're gross
  2. They're not dangerous unless you have a severe allergy

Since thinking about them makes me feel itchy, and there's no real reason to worry about them considering that as far as I know I'm not allergic, I conclude that the best policy is simply not to devote attention to the topic.


Dust mites are microscopic creatures, about 0.4 millimeters in length, that feast on flakes of human skin. Their feces contains a substance called DerP1, a very potent allergen. People who are allergic to dust mites may have asthmalike symptoms, eczema or chronic sinus problems.

Ick, right? And yet, though some people (although, in all honesty, no one I know does this) think that bedding needs to be regularly replaced to keep the mite population down:

People who have allergies to dust mites should indeed take measures to protect themselves. But everyone else can skip the expensive trips to Linens “R” Us.

Skip something expensive? In exchange for the minor effort of thinking about something else instead of succumbing to feelings of disgust at the thought of drifting off to sleep surrounded by colonies of tiny munching creatures? Done and done.

It's not like I was planning to use those skin flakes for anything. Really, I should be pleased they're being put to good use by something. It's all part of the circle of life!

The teeming, crawling, shedding, oozing, disgusting, disgusting circle of life.

Sweet dreams, everyone. Don't lets get started on the eyelash mites.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Taking Measures

If you still have one, or only reluctantly got rid of one, you may be interested in this post about "The Sort of Sad Death of the Mercury Thermometer."

It explains that while most of the ones you can buy for personal use these days don't contain mercury anymore, thermometers for scientific measurements have continued to use it.

I admit, I still have a mercury thermometer somewhere. I bought it while I was in college, and missed my chance, years ago now, to trade it in for a digital one at one of the pharmacies around here.

I could have upgraded to a nifty modern version, for free!

But I never got around to it. Besides, I was kind of suspicious of the digital versions. I recall them being newish at the time, and I wasn't sure they would work as well.

I also thought "what about when the battery wears out? I'll just have to buy a new one!" I don't know how long the batteries last on those things, but it's probably been 10 years by now, so it's certainly possible a battery would have worn out by this time.

While, as I said, I still have the mercury thermometer in the cabinet. Always thinking ahead, that's me.

I'm not saying this is a brilliant move on my part, though. As the article notes,

There's no secret reason NIST (and partners like the Environmental Protection Agency and United Nations) have pushed scientists away from mercury. It's a neurotoxin—exposure can cause tremors, partial blindness, deafness, memory loss, and many, many other problems—and, if mercury does spill, it's very hard to clean up.

So, yeah, it's not really something most people would necessarily want around their home. I keep it right next to my rat poison and lead-based paint.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Non-Dull, Non-Gray History

I 'starred' this for later revisiting a long time ago, when I saw it in a couple of places, but I never got around to mentioning it. This must be remedied!

If you haven't, you should really take a look at these color photos taken between 1939 and 1943.

They were in an exhibit at the Library of Congress, and are reposted in larger versions by the Denver Post. There are 70 pictures, mainly of people in small towns or rural settings all over the United States. People working, or at school, at a square dance, at the fair.

They're really pretty amazing to look at. It's a little weird, actually, how amazing it is to me to see the world in color in 1939. You wouldn't think it should be that big a deal.

Because obviously I know the world wasn't black and white at the time even though most of the pictures are. Things had color if you were there.

But years later, not being able to see what color things were, even knowing intellectually that there were all the same common shades we have today, I still sort of think of the whole world being gray in the past. I can't help it. I know it wasn't, but I see it that way, because those are the picture I've seen of it.

So it's really kind of wonderful to see it in color.

What strikes me most, in a way, is the clothing. Look--they had brightly colored patterns on their dresses! Look at that bright red cap!

I think the clothes get me because I can't fill in color for them normally. I mean, I know what colors people are, more or less. When I see skin tones in varying shades of gray, my brain can kind of fill in the varying shades of pink or tan or brown that the picture probably represents in real life.

Also, I know what colors fields and trees and sky are, so I can sort of fill that in too.

But clothing could really be any color, and there's not much of a standard for it, so I think in a way I'm more likely to just leave it gray in my mind.

I guess my default image of the past is fairly normally colored people in relatively normally colored (though kind of drab) landscapes, all dressed in shades of gray. Living in gray houses, with gray furniture.

Seeing fabrics in blue, and purple, and red, and with different-colored flowers, really breaks up that default image in a dramatic way.

It pulls the past a lot closer for me.

Black and white means a long time ago, over on the other side of a line that divides history from now.

Color means, hey, this is actually the exact same world I'm in right now, just not at the same time. People wearing clothes with color, in landscapes with bright color that's not drab at all.

Yeah, you should check out those pictures. As I said, I saw them mentioned in a couple of places, but the one I remember at the moment was Sociological Images, which also has some interesting commentary.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here's Your Answer!

You know how you can notice things without really noticing them?

I've had this kind of rough spot on my left index finger for a while now. Every so often I nibble absentmindedly at it, and I vaguely knew it had been that way for a while, but I didn't really think about it or notice that I'd noticed it.

Then, there I was pinning my shoe this afternoon, and I poked my finger with the pin, and in a flash it came upon me, the realization that I've done that before, and that that's exactly the location of that rough spot that I found I had been previously been aware of, yet thought nothing of, and therefore, that this is an ongoing issue and maybe I should use a thimble in future when I work with pins.

In one moment, I both became aware of my own previous knowledge of a tiny mystery, and solved it. The mind is an interesting thing.

And why was I pinning my shoe, you might ask?

Because the velcro is worn out, of course. I fasten my sneakers with safety pins, just like a normal person whose velcro is worn out. Right?

It's certainly easier than finding a new pair that fits.