Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Level 10 Archivist

If you like video games and archives, you may find interesting this post, descriptively titled How Archivists Helped Video Game Designers Recreate the City's Dark Side for 'L.A. Noire'.

Yeah, I don't have to explain very much with a title like that. But basically, in case you got distracted for a moment, the short version of the story is that there's this video game called L.A. Noire, which is set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s and features magnificently detailed views of the city, which apparently were inspired and aided by archival photos stored in archives guarded by archivists.

Now I'm thinking fondly that someone might one day come to me as the stern and wizened archivist guarding some archival images they need to make a video game.

I would look grim and set fearsome challenges for them to meet, and while they toiled filling out request forms I would laugh and laugh with glee.

Hahahahahaha! is what I would say.

Then I would help them. Especially if it sounded like a game I might want to play.

Anyway, the point is, you never know when cool old documents are going to come in handy, or for what. Archives rule!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Extinct Disease Update

GruntDoc passes along the news that a disease has been eradicated.

It is, or was, a disease of cattle, called rinderpest, and I'd honestly never heard of it, but it was a widespread and contagious viral infection that could wipe out whole herds, which obviously has serious implications for people who rely on cattle or buffalo for milk, meat or labor.

Now it is no more. Impressive.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Further Medical Update

Ugh. I've been sneezing and blowing my nose all day. Good times.

I never had allergies when I was a kid, but they've certainly come on in these later years. Thanks, immune system, for reminding me of the inexorable physical decay that flesh is heir to.*

I probably need to get out and eat more dirt.

*Some would say that, grammatically, this should be written as "to which flesh is heir," but I'm not about to argue with Shakespeare. I would advise you not to either.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Important Ouch Update

Do you sometimes have that thing where it feels like your lung sort of sticks to itself, and it hurts kind of a lot when you breathe in, but you have to try to inhale really deeply anyway to unstick it?

I love that thing. By which I mean, I love when it goes away.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Yup. Aliens" Movie Review: Attack the Block

Tonight we had a free preview screening of Attack the Block. I did not know anything about this movie other than that the promotional materials (tag line: "Inner City Vs. Outer Space") suggested an alien invasion in, I don't know, the inner city, and that the title was kind of silly.

These days it's so easy to know so much about movies before you see them. It's actually kind of fun to go in with no particular expectations, and just sit there in the dark waiting to be entertained. Or bored silly. Or possibly disgusted. You never know!

In this case, we were entertained. I found out afterwards that this movie was produced by the same people who did  Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and that was not surprising at all. It had the same mix of horror and hilarity. In fact, I will coin the cumbersome portmanteau word 'horrorlarity' right now to describe this combination.

Dry British wit! Gore! Get 'em here!

I'm going to just flat out say that if you liked those two movies, you should definitely see this one.

I won't say too much about the story, since that would seem kind of odd after I threw in that little paean to going to movies without knowing all about them, but let's just say this:

Some kids are mugging a woman in a tough London neighborhood when aliens land in meteors. A motley cast of characters attempts to defend the Block (an apartment building) from Attack. Horrorlarity ensues.

It's all fun and games until someone gets reduced to a fountain of blood.

There are lots of classic horror movie jumps and suspense scenes and waiting anxiously for the dimly-seen monsters to appear. They mostly play coy in the threatening shadows, leaping from off-camera in, as I say, classic horror fashion,  and they work pretty well there. What we see of them is reasonably creepy, and I liked the effect of the glowing bits (which, as someone notes immediately, are not eyes).

Nothing wrong with the classics, after all. The story itself is a solid monster-fighting plot, and the characters and the dialogue make it new and interesting. There are a bunch of people with varying levels of friendliness and hostility toward one another, helping and hindering one another's efforts not to get killed.

To warm the medical librarian heart, there are some wounds, some grisly deaths, and one character who's a nurse. She doesn't visit a medical library during the course of the film, but presumably she's been in one at some point, right?

If you like humorous monster movies, you should check this out.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shuffling Through

Do you sometimes have those days where you have an event offsite first thing in the morning, and then it takes an hour to get to the office, and by the time you get there all you can manage to do is answer a few emails and call it a day (because, not having a smartphone, you were obviously not able to answer any emails while traveling)?

Some days my productivity is less immediately evident than others.

On the plus side, bagels at the Ebooks and ILL Symposium at Brandeis University!

The symposium was also interesting. Representatives from JSTOR, Springer, Project Muse, and Oxford University Press talked about their interlibrary loan policies for ebooks.

The short version: chapters are OK, whole books are not really because they don't have the technology in place to make them 'time out' and ensure that what's offered really is short term access equivalent to 'lending' rather than just giving the ebook to anyone who asks for it.

These technological issues were also discussed, though there seem to be far more questions than answers. Why can't we 'time out' books, maybe by providing access through limited-time links or file sharing? Why do ILL folks have to print out and scan chapters (or articles) instead of just being able to email directly?

Somebody needs to work on an e-resource ILL app!


Monday, May 23, 2011

Phone Calls

If you have looked on in envy at the clever phones of others while your own boring old phone does nothing but take calls and send texts, check out Krafty's post, "Smartphones on the Cheap."

She finds that Virgin Mobile (my own cell service provider since I've had a cell phone) offers smartphone plans for as low as $25 a month.

I currently pay around $10 a month, spending 25 cents per minute on very few minutes of calls, plus a $5 text messaging package, so this would still be a significant cost increase for me, but compared to many smartphone plans it's really not much.

Virgin Mobile works fine for me as long as I'm in or around a sizable urban area. I get no signal at all when I visit my mom in Taos, New Mexico, and it can be a bit patchy out in the farther suburbs or in smaller towns in Massachusetts, but I spend 99% of my time in the immediate surroundings of Boston, so it's been OK.

I just consider my visits to my mother "phone vacation time," and honestly, it's not necessarily a bad thing to take a break once in a while.

It's also true that I have sometimes looked on in envy at everyone else's clever phones. Maybe when my current phone needs replacing, I'll upgrade to a smarter model.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ebooks in Schools

More on ebooks: Nicholas Carr brings word that Florida just passed "a budget measure that bans printed textbooks from schools starting in the 2015-16 school year."

Interesting approach, Florida.

In fact, it doesn't mandate that existing print textbooks be destroyed in a huge bonfire, just requires "public schools to adopt digital-only textbooks by the 2015-16 school year, and spend at least 50 percent of their textbook budget on digital materials by that time."

The governor has not yet signed this into law, and there are some budget issues since schools are concerned about the cost of not only ebooks, but ebook readers. Even if the textbooks themselves don't cost any more, I imagine having to provide the hardware to make them available to all students could get expensive.

So, interesting approach. I'm sure we will watch attentively to see what happens.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Be Prepared

I keep saying that I am so over zombies, but they keep pulling me back in and trying to get at my brain. It's their thing that they do, I guess.

So the rest of the world is clearly not over the zombie menace, and I would therefore be remiss should I fail to mention the latest exciting update, which I saw on Twitter yesterday: the CDC's emergency preparedness guide for the zombie apocalypse.

There's a lot of helpful information there. Also exciting, a video contest for 'preparedness 101' for the zombie apocalypse. Make a 1-minute video to "show the world how you are preparing for any emergency (hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, zombies…)" and you could win the fame and fortune inherent in having your video posted on the CDC Public Health Matters blog.

You can also download useful graphics like the following to encourage others:

Get A Kit,    Make A Plan, Be Prepared. emergency.cdc.gov

I like how they say "any emergency," and I wonder how many people are going to skip all the ones we see more often and jump right to the zombies when they make their videos. I probably would.

If you need some inspiration, I suggest a quick viewing of the "NLM & You" video contest winners. These were shown at MLA, and they were a fun interlude before the plenary sessions. My favorite is the first runner up, "The Fastest Librarian in the West."

I lived in NM, so I have to cheer them on. Also, the line about the "mighty fine triangular pen" is awesome.

Now go make a video and prove you're prepared for the zombie apocalypse!

Hey...since they do say "any emergency," I guess I could substitute the horror of my choice. An ogre invasion, perhaps.

I do have to say, I kind of love the CDC right now.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Triumphant Return

I come back from Minneapolis in splendor, with my head stuffed with knowledge and my shoulders weighed down with swag.

I met some new people, attended some interesting programs, followed some Twitter feeds, experienced some wonders (Bearded Pigs! Lady Gaga song!), caught up with some awesome folks, and got lots of exercise hurrying back and forth on the skywalk between the Hilton and the Minneapolis Convention Center.

I can see my breath outside here. The weather was much nicer in Minneapolis.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Important Footwear Update

So I'm out of town at a conference, and I've been running all over the hotel and the Minneapolis Conference Center in my little slipperesque Zem Gear flats, and they've been serving me just fine.

My calves are a little sore because I'm walking on the ball of my foot over longer periods of time than usual, but I'm sure that won't last. They look only a little odd (no one has commented), and are so much more comfortable than my semi-dress shoes that I might otherwise be wearing.

I may never wear any other shoes again, I'm telling you.

Well, maybe in the summer when a sandal is nice. Or the winter when these are just too thin.

But in the meantime, if you miss me terribly and want to know all about the Medical Library Association conference (and are not already reading the blog), please see the multitudinous posts produced by me and my fellow bloggers. I have not mentioned my shoes there. That's a secret between me and the people who read this blog. Shh.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dancing With Security

Having been burned once, when I obediently went through the backscatter body scanner and then got patted down anyway for some unspecified reason, I've taken to just refusing the scan.

I mean, if I'm going to get the pat-down, I may as well not also get the extra radiation, right? (I once read this described as "no more radiation than a chest x-ray," which I think is not a very reassuring comparison since as far as I know it's not normally recommended that you get chest x-rays multiple times per year. The "as much radiation as two minutes in an airplane" comparison is much more soothing.)

Anyway, who doesn't like being touched by strangers in a stylized, formal context in public, to serve some larger theatrical purpose? I was thinking of taking up ballroom dancing, but air travel fills the bill without the need to be careful about stepping on people's feet.

In closing, thanks for the free WiFi, Logan. The MLA 2011 Adventure is about to begin!


Off I Go

Good people, I must leave you for another blog. The MLA '11 Official Blog calls me! It will most likely demand the majority of my blogular attention for the next several days.

Check it out for medical librarian meeting goodness--there are already some excellent posts.

In the meantime, if you are interested in e-textbooks, I direct you to Rough Type, which reports on a study showing that "Students find the devices cumbersome to use, ill-suited to their study routines, and generally underwhelming."

There's some interesting discussion of the ways we use books, some of which can be approximated electronically (margin notes, bookmarks), and some of which cannot (that sense you get of just where in a book the passage you're looking for is to be found...about halfway through, in the middle of the page on the right hand side).

Paper books. A technology whose time has not yet passed?


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Unhealthy Records

The Health Care Blog reports that rumors of Google Health's death may not have been greatly exaggerated. Based on investigations, they concludes that it "has been placed in a cryogenic state until the moribund consumer adoption of such tools comes to life."

Hm. I feel a wide range of complex emotions about this.

No, that's a lie, I only feel a narrow range of simple emotions.

Like: 'hm.' ('Hm' is totally an emotion.) A certain vague disappointment, perhaps. That's about it.

Because I did sign up for a Google Health account, and I even updated it a number of times, and I do like the idea of this sort of online health record, but...I haven't updated it recently (not in several months, I don't think), and it never really jumped up and made itself relevant in my life in any significant way, so saying that I'll actively miss it is kind of overstating things.

I am a bit curious what the Personal Genome Project is going to do, since they asked participants to fill out and link a Google Health record. I suppose they'll find some other way to manage this information.

A Matthew Douglass, commenting on the post, notes that Google Health is not HIPAA compliant, meaning the electronic medical records companies would not be interested in using it to update patients' info, and that "patients simply don’t know their own health information well enough to be able to regurgitate it into an online platform like this."

He argues, correctly it seems to me, that it's not that people don't care about this information, it's just that we don't know enough (and/or can't be bothered, at least speaking for myself) to update the records ourselves. For something like this to really be useful to a significant number of people, it will probably have to be automatically updated.

This all seems eerily familiar, and I just realized that's because I concluded pretty much the same thing the last time I saw The Health Care Blog wonder about the viability of Google Health, just about a year ago.

Clearly, I've been right all along. I knew it!


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Listen Up!

You must properly appreciate and enjoy the Library of Congress' new project, the National Jukebox. It has early sound recordings including music, songs, speeches, and "even early sound effects."

You can stream the recordings from the website, but not download them. The site was a little sluggish when I was there earlier, probably because a lot of other people were also visiting, so I can't personally testify to the sound quality, though I'm sure it's fine.

To be honest I probably won't spend tons of time listening to antique sound recordings, anymore than I spend lots of times watching the antique films the LC also provides for us, but I think it's wonderful that they're available.

Way to preserve history, Library of Congress! I love and salute you.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Hungry Movie Review: Forks Over Knives

I certainly had to see the free movie offered this evening, which had a blatant health connection since it's all about how diet can impact health.

Forks Over Knives is a documentary that makes an enthusiastic argument in favor of "a whole-foods plant-based diet"--basically vegan, although that specific word is only used a couple of times.

With the use of numerous entertainingly goofy animations, charts and graphs (my favorite may have been the one we whisperingly subtitled "Suddenly: Nazis!" although there was also a very nice one dramatizing the action of epithelial cells in the arteries), it suggests that consumption of animal products is responsible for pretty much all the most common physical ills of life in the developed world.

Strokes, heart attacks, and certain cancers, specifically, as well as diabetes.

It felt a bit heavy-handed in places, and the implication that going vegan will cure basically everything that ails you is probably going a bit far, but it cited a lot of studies, addressed a lot of aspects of diet, and presented several people who talked convincingly of their improved blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and other health indicators after adopting a whole-foods plant-based diet.

It didn't really lay out any recipes or explain in detail what eating plans the diet they were on involved, but it sounded like the basic whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, limited processed foods advice we all know, with the additional stipulation that it almost or entirely avoids animal products (both meat and dairy).

Thinking back, my main complaint is that at no point did it say "ask a librarian if you need to find more information on this topic."

'Cause really, how hard would that have been? This movie was crying out for a library tie-in!

Anyway, go eat your vegetables.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Updating Tests

This isn't something I personally am going to have to care very much about, but I'm sure the revision of the MCAT will be of considerable interest to many of the students we see.

Either through having recently taken it or, in the case of the pre-med graduate students, in a preparatory sense, it will likely be a vivid specter in their minds.

Apparently the new design is supposed to try to assess "personal and professional characteristics" as well as the ability to succeed in medical school. As this post in the New York Times' Well blog says,

The new exam would also test analytical and reasoning skills in areas like ethics, philosophy and cross-cultural studies, which could include questions about how someone living in a particular demographic situation, for example, might perceive and interact with others.

I'd say we'll have to buy a whole new set of test-prep books, but we mostly have test-prep books for the board exams. The students who need them must get MCAT books somewhere else.

Also, we buy new sets of our test-prep books all the time anyway. No one wants to prepare for the boards with a 15-year-old book.

Well...I can't speak for everyone, so it's possibly someone does want to, but I don't know why.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Write it Down, Everyone

In case you were worried about cursive writing, Slate has an article arguing that it will never die, so don't fret.

The piece basically says that people naturally want to write faster, so even if they aren't formally taught cursive, they make up their own versions of connected letters. The problem with this is that personally made up styles tend to be very difficult for other people to read. Therefore, we should just go ahead and keep teaching it so that we're all working from the same basic concept of what a cursive letter 'b' should look like and so on.

The piece also mentions bias against poor handwriting, which is unfair but probably real. If you see something that looks as if it were written by a 10-year-old, are you really going to give it same the respect you would if it were a nice, elegant script? Even if the words are actually the same?

My own handwriting has deteriorated over the years, and I honestly think I type as fast as I write these days, but there are still plenty of occasions when you do have to write things by hand (the article mentions essay questions in school). Having writing that other people can read is probably a good thing.

I still try to write legibly, using the general idea of the letters taught to me long ago by my mama. And my mama's friend who was around at the time.

One thing I don't do, though, is cursive capital letters. I gave up on those freakish things when I was about 15. I just put a printed capital letter and then take up with the cursive after that.

Also, I just like to say 'cursive.' Because it sounds like 'cursing.' And who doesn't like cursing?


Friday, May 6, 2011

Enh...I'd Have to Move For That...

I have just decided that hassle avoidance is one of the strongest forces in nature.

This is not doing stuff you should do, not because it's hard, really, or a challenge, or even particularly time-consuming, but just because, bah, it's a hassle.

This came to me this afternoon when I reflected that I used to work out of the Shared drive at work, saving all my documents to a folder on the server where they would be protected.

You must understand that my work computer is a laptop, and normally I sign into our resources via the awesome power of the WiFi. I used to get onto the server that way. Life was good.

Then they changed the system for security reasons, so you can't access the S: drive wirelessly anymore. So now I have to...sigh...pick up an ethernet cable and plug it in to the computer to get access to the server.

And good people, I simply cannot be bothered! So I just save all my important work documents onto the computer hard drive, with no backup, and if disaster were to strike and the computer were to fail or disappear, they would all be gone.

Because I can't muster up the energy to connect to the internet with a cable.

It's not even plugging in the cable that deters me, though, it's the fact that when the computer switches from a wireless connection to the cable connection, it loses touch with my work email, so I have to sign in again. And my password is really long.

I know, right? The pain! The indignity! The hassle! If there were any justice in this world, such an inconvenience would be prohibited by law.


Using myself as a representative human, I would say that this is one of the reasons people never live up to their potential.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Twitter Away, Industrious Workers

The Krafty Librarian makes an interesting point about how Twitter can sometimes actually enhance ones work, comparing it to a professional email listserv like the epic MEDLIB-L.

Hm. I do get MEDLIB-L, reading the messages with varying levels of attention depending on what else I have going on, and I think of it as a useful way to keep up with things of importance in the field.

I hadn't really thought of Twitter in the same way, but I can see the argument.

An explanation of why it can be helpful to post a professional question to Twitter:

More than just medical librarians are on Twitter. If my librarian friends don’t know the answer they can quickly RT and it goes out to another layer of people. Think of it as an information network onion. Your friends are one layer, their friends are another, and their friends friends are another.

I like the image of an information onion. It makes me smile. And then weep, because onions do that.

The comparison with a listserv would be more exact if I strictly followed other librarians, but I do follow a number of them, so it's totally business related!

So maybe I should remember to sign into Twitter more often, and for more than getting free actions on Echo Bazaar.

Although that is kind of the most important thing. My investigations into the murder at the University must not be delayed.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I'm a Simple Collection of Letters

danah boyd (also known as zephoria online) has a very interesting post on apophenia about identity, and ownership/protection thereof, on the internet.

She has gone by zephoria for years, but apparently recently had her Tumblr account with that name closed so that the name could be given to a company also called Zephoria.

She makes good points about domain name 'squatting,' or people who buy up names they don't have any particular connection to but think will be in demand, and then try to sell them to other people who have a real interest in them.

There's also the phenomenon of people buying site names related to people or things that they don't like (say, a political opponent, or a cause one despises, or an archnemesis) and then making a whole site trashing that person or idea.

Ha! When someone goes to myarchnemesis.com, they're going to get information on what I want to say about that person, not what that person wants to say about him- or herself!

The post talks about how social media sites have made online names even more important, since your blog-commenting ID or Twitter name really can be who you are online. It might obviously be of some concern if someone else uses the same name, even if there's no malicious intent. It dilutes the brand, after all.

And eroding your identity in spaces where no one may know your offline name, your face, or anything about you other than what you post, may be more of a problem than if there's another guy in the office named Bill. There are probably plenty of things in the physical world that distinguish you from the other Bill, but distinguishing between two people who use the same internet name could be a lot harder.

Still, what does that mean in terms of who 'should' get to use names? Is first-come-first-served the best way to handle it? Should companies get to take names away from individuals? (Tumblr gave the name back in this case.) Is it fair to set aside certain names for the use of the well-known corporations or people most likely to be associated with them?

I have no answers, but the questions are interesting.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Back, and Bewildered

So I've been gone, and the whole world started jumping around with news.

Like, half of Alabama was pulled to pieces by tornados, including Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama SLIS, provider of my library school education. Facebook is proving itself useful with a group dedicated to checking up on people, and it seems that everyone associated with SLIS is OK, but there was a lot of damage to homes. Hang in there, everyone.

Then, some people no one I know knows got married, and there was much rejoicing. I guess. Anyway, people on the news couldn't stop talking about it.

And then John Paul II was beatified. And there was possibly much rejoicing, I don't know, I'm not a Catholic, but anyway, people on the news did talk about it.

And then we heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and people on the news definitely did not stop talking about that.

I'm working on a conspiracy theory about it, since there are already all these people wondering about the details.

It's like this: bin Laden isn't really dead, obviously. They just faked his death, and it all has to do with the terrible secret he knows about President Obama's birth certificate.

My theory is, both bin Laden and Obama were actually born in Kenya (obviously, right?), probably in the same hospital. I think bin Laden delivered Obama (he was about 7 years old at the time, easily capable of both catching a baby and pretending to be in Hawaii) when the local doctors were called away to take care of some aliens in a crashed space ship. One of those aliens was Obama's father, on his way back to his home planet.

Hence, Obama owes bin Laden a major debt for not dropping him on the floor, and could never have him killed! Still, bin Laden had to be removed from the picture, so he's been spirited away to a mysterious island in the Bermuda Triangle ('burial at sea'? sure, whatever), like in the TV show The Prisoner, where he's currently hanging out with Elvis.

Who, I believe, also knows a terrible secret about Obama's birth certificate. If you'll recall, people used to report Elvis sightings all the time, long after his supposed 'death,' but not lately! It's because he was trying to reveal the truth, and had to be stopped.

He couldn't be killed due to his magical Elvis DNA, but he could be kept quiet by being trapped on an island, or, as we like to say, 'buried at sea.'

It all makes so much sense if you just put the pieces together! Spread the word! The internet has to know the truth!

Now I'm going to bed.

And really, my thoughts are much more with the people in the towns hit by tornados.