Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tripping on Tropes

I've decided I don't write enough about exciting topics like feminism and childbirth and religion.

So here's this video from Feminist Frequency on 'Tropes vs. Women: #5 The Mystical Pregnancy.' It's about how science fiction and fantasy shows have this thing that they do, where female characters will have mysterious and/or horrifying pregnancies involving aliens and genetic experiments and demonic possession and what not. Often, whatever it is is conveniently resolved within the course of a single show.

Basically, pregnancy is dramatic and makes for an exciting storyline, but having the characters actually raise a child would put a crimp in the show's style, so they have weird, quickly resolved pregnancies instead.

Near the end, the video mentions the case of the Virgin Mary as an early example of a mystical pregnancy.

The Unnecesarean, which addresses unnecessary cesarean section deliveries as well as representations of birth in popular culture, posted this video, and a couple of people commented to object that Mary's case was not a 'mystical pregnancy' trope because "Mary had a choice" and "Mary was chosen/asked."

Now if you want to argue that Mary's wasn't a mystical pregnancy in accordance with the trope because it doesn't match up with the usual quick resolution without lingering consequences for the female character, I'd be nodding thoughtfully along with you.

But I don't know if arguing that's it's fundamentally different on the 'consent' basis is going to help much.

I agree that if Mary was asked and did freely consent to bear Jesus, that makes it different from the trope, which almost invariably features things happening to women without their willing participation or, usually, even their knowledge, but I'm not sure we can really argue this based on the available text.

The King James just says that the angel showed up and says "behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS."

She asks how that can be since "I know not a man" and the angel says "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

So she's not exactly being asked if this is cool with her, she's just informed that it's going to happen. There is no suggestion that it's a choice on her part, or that she has been given any option to refuse.

She is told about it in advance, which is different from the examples in the video in that she at least understands what's happening, but advance warning does not necessarily equal a request for consent.

She of course famously says "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word," which certainly expresses agreement/consent to what she's been told is going to happen, but one could argue that when God tells you to do something, consent is meaningless.

God, who has ultimate power over everything, says it's going to happen!--what are you going to do, adjust reality?

To take it way far away from the starting point, imagine your boss says "from now on, we're going to be filling out all our timesheets electronically instead of on paper as we have been." You can complain about it, or you can do it with a good will and even think it's a great idea, but since you were informed that it was going to happen rather than consulted about it, you couldn't exactly be said to have a choice in the matter.

Also, since your boss is God, you can't even quit your job because there's nowhere else in the universe to work.

Seriously, we're talking about Mary's GOD. Your GOD says something is going to happen to you. Talk about a power differential.

Arguably, a human being can no more consent to the actions of an all-powerful god than a newborn infant can consent to the actions of its parents. Or a bunch of fruit flies consent to the actions of a scientist in a lab.

Consent means little unless a refusal without fear of punishment is possible. And it would seem likely that you cannot refuse your God, who is sending angels to tell you things and promising to make you pregnant against everything you know about human reproduction, and who has a long history of smiting people who don't do as he says, and expect that everything's going to be totally cool.

This fact is all over in religious thought, in the idea that we must humbly submit ourselves to God's will. Submission is key, and it is not consent.

It is not important that humans consent to God's will, it is important that they submit to it.

In old-school terms, we should submit because something terrible will happen to us if we don't (hence, I suppose, the term "a god-fearing person" as a positive descriptor: if you're properly afraid of God, you will also be a law-abiding and socially upstanding sort).

In many modern interpretations, we should submit not because we're terrified, but because God knows better than we do and only wants what's best for us. Here, it starts to make more sense to think of consenting. Now that God's not actively smiting people right and left for disobeying his commandments, it's possible to conceive of just declining to obey his will.

"No thanks, I think I'd rather not bear the Son of God. I was actually looking forward to bearing children with my human spouse. I particularly hope for some daughters."

Of course, this is a flawed presentation because we're often told that horrible things will still happen to us if we don't obey, just later on, in hell. Again, consent is meaningless if refusal without fear of retribution is impossible.

Therefore, however annoying it may seem to a Christian to have the Annunciation lumped in with modern fiction tropes, I don't think it's unfair to make the connection.

I would be more inclined to argue that it doesn't entirely fit because Mary's not a recurring character in an ongoing story who has a pregnancy happen to her and then moves on; she's more like a supporting character in another character's story who has a pregnancy happen to her and then spends the rest of her recorded history being renowned for it.

The mystical pregnancy is Mary's story, it's not just an episode in her TV show. Without it, she would be of no interest.

Nevertheless, as I said, I think it's a fair point for discussion. I obviously got some food for thought out of it myself.

Mmm...thought food.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

More on Armor

There's a hashtag on Twitter right now for #WomenFightersInReasonableArmor. People are posting depictions of, well, women fighters, in reasonable armor (i.e., armor that might be supposed to have some protective properties if you wore it into battle).

And I say...well...OK, I guess. I suppose that's one way to approach the question.

I continue to hold that the lightly armored male fighter is another sound choice, however. Who's with me? We can make this work!


Friday, July 29, 2011

Suspicious Happenings

I was puzzled and dismayed today to find that my iPod had somehow lost my Traveling Wilburys albums. I sync it from my computer, which remains properly Wilburied, and I've always just put my entire music collection on the iPod without picking and choosing certain songs or albums.

What's that all about, iPod?

Don't tell me you don't have the memory for it, because I know you have more memory than Multivac, and anyway, if you had run out of memory at some point why would you have picked the Traveling Wilburys to lose?

I remain baffled. But at least the albums are still on my computer. I'll re-synch the iPod when I get around to it, and presumably this will fix the problem. Nevertheless, weird, right?


Thursday, July 28, 2011


Good news, everyone!

Not only do I have a luxurious quantity and variety of fresh vegetables at my disposal (although no handfuls of raw beets...this time), but the library has also acquired a number of online backfiles for some dental journals.

I made a snarky comment when I found that eight out of 21 titles were all title changes to one journal, because snarking about serial title changes is what catalogers do, but in fact this is good news. Our holdings for dental journals aren't as extensive as for the biomedical subjects (though this is partly because there just aren't as many dental journals out there), so we always like to extend our coverage.

And this archival purchase pushed our electronic holdings for several titles back even beyond our existing print coverage. So we have more articles online, which the students like, and more articles total, which everyone can enjoy.

Let us now dance the merry dance of vegetables and journals.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

VegFest Awaits!

Everyone! I'm terribly excited for tomorrow, when I'm going to pick up a box of assorted vegetables.

There's a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) option on campus, and they have this thing where you can order on a week-by-week basis. Want a box of vegetables this week? Order it! Going away, or haven't finished last week's box of vegetables? Skip it!

It's a little late in the summer growing season*, so I've missed some good stuff--like raspberries, alas--but that just means I have a lot of lost veggie-eating time to make up. I'm going to try it. The desire not to waste them will certainly compel me to eat more vegetables. Even if I have to gnaw handfuls of raw beets.

*Sadly, summer basically ends the week after next for me, when the med students show up and we spring into full-speed library orientation mode.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Educational Movie Review: Sarah's Key

We saw a screening of Sarah's Key last night.

This is a movie about the Vél' d'hiv' Roundup in Paris in 1942, which is an event of which I was previously unaware, so I learned something. Learning is good.

The movie follows two parallel timelines, one the story of a little Jewish girl (Sarah) in Paris in 1942 who, with her parents, is arrested and held in the Vélodrome d’hiver before they're all sent to the camps.

Before leaving the house, she hides her little brother in the closet and locks the door with the key referenced in the title. As the story goes on, she works desperately to get back to the apartment to save him.

In the present day, a journalist (Julia) is preparing to move into an apartment which has been owned since 1942 by her husband's family. It is the apartment Sarah and her family lived in, made available after they were arrested and taken away, and Julia becomes engrossed in an investigation of the history of the place.

If I were to make a broad summary, I'd say it's a movie about how the past lives on inside the present; about secrets; about, obviously, the horror of the Holocaust and how people can turn on each other, or simply stand by and do nothing. Complicity. Guilt. Intentional and unintentional wrongs.

So there are some heavy themes, as you might imagine, but it wasn't overwhelmingly dark, nor did it seem overly didactic or heavy-handed about the historical information it conveys or the points it addresses.

It's mostly in French, so if you fear subtitles (and don't speak French), be aware of that.

I thought it got a little bit slow toward the end, as Julia is trying to contact members of Sarah's family in the present day and we lose the immediacy of Sarah's own timeline.

Overall, however, I would say it was well worth watching, and I'm glad I saw it.


Monday, July 25, 2011


If you like peanut butter and crunchy things and you want something super delicious, you should spread some peanut butter inside a pita and toast it on a griddle. It's like a peanut butter quesadilla. It's the best.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Just Call Me "Sovereign Ruler"

Scicurious has an interesting post "On the Issue of Pseudonymity," prompted in part by the much-discussed Google+ and its no-pseudonyms policy.

I confess I do not feel strongly about pseudonyms. Use one, don't use one, whatever works best for your particular situation. If you build up a body of work linked to a name, and I'm interested in that work, then I don't much care whether the name is the one on your driver's license, or one you just made up for yourself.

I understand some people do feel strongly about pseudonyms, and I'm aware that it's a complicated issue. Honestly, I'm not even going to get into the virtues and vices of anonymous and pseudonymous writing on the internet.

I'm looking at the last line of Sci's post, which reads, "Why is someone with a name that doesn't sound real less trustworthy, even through years of work, than an unknown person with a real sounding name?"

It made me flash back to about a million years ago when I was a kid and I saw a book in the library by an author named Crescent Dragonwagon. I remember thinking something like "cool name, and that person totally made it up."

Because it just didn't sound like--not that it wasn't a real name, because I would accept a lot of things in a real name (having a randomly placed apostrophe in my own name may have helped), but it wasn't a regular name. (Incidentally, this author still exists, and has a blog on which she has explained the story of the name.)

Did I take that author less seriously as a writer because of an unusual name? Probably not. But fiction writers are allowed to be weird. Artistic types, you know. Eccentric. It's the creative process.

Is it just that we can't deal with people using odd names if they want to write things we assume to be presenting true facts? I want my facts to come from a stolid upstanding citizen with a stern, homely name, thank you!

That lets me right out. It's going to be all lies and elaborate cursing on this site from here on.

I don't know. I guess it's natural to be curious about who other people 'really' are, so we're interested in their 'real' names. Who hasn't felt at least a flicker of interest at a good "match this celebrity with the name they were given at birth" quiz?

But whether or not it really matters, especially when you're just reading people on the internet that you've (presumably!) never met and likely never will meet, is in doubt as far as I'm concerned.

If someone called Scicurious does good science and presents results explained with clear methods and replicable findings and all that good stuff, do we have to care that we don't know how to look the author up in the phone book?

Wait, why are using a phone book, I don't even have a phone book anymore.

Hmph. I'm apparently not really going anywhere with this--I keep thinking I have some point or other, but it escapes me.

I guess I should say that as a cataloger, I want consistent author names above all else, and I'm totally in favor of everyone picking one thing and sticking to it forever and ever, but I do recognize that life is lived mainly outside the OPAC, so in practice you should call yourself whatever.

I'll mutter darkly about it if I have to look up a new authority record or something (mutter mutter grr), but you don't have to pay attention to me. In fact, I wouldn't advise it.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Time to Slouch

Yes, I have heard about the study (via @medlineplus4you on Twitter) suggesting taller people are at increased risk of cancer, and as a tall person I am naturally all agog.
Among women, the risk of breast, ovarian, uterine and bowel cancer, leukemia or melanoma appears to go up about 16 percent for every 4-inch bump in stature, the researchers said.
This is based on data from 1.3 million women, whose information was divided into four groups based on height, from those shorter than 5'1" up to those 5'9" and taller.

One theory mentioned is that taller people might be exposed to more growth hormones, which might encourage the development of cancers later in life.

This is obviously not directly relevant to anyone's personal life, since height isn't something you can do much about (indeed, one researcher is quoted as stressing that "[t]he study is important not for individual or public health, but because it may help us to understand better how cancer develops"), but it is interesting.

So it's not all fun and games for us tall people, but at least we can reach things from high shelves. That makes up for a lot.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Was Working! I Was Working!

I was thinking how whenever anyone startles me at work, even if it was because I was concentrating on some work I was doing (and possibly listening to music at the same time), I always secretly wonder if it makes me look 'guilty.'

I think "does she think I was buying socks on eBay right then instead of working?"

And the weird thing is, this means that I must assume no one could ever think I was deeply engrossed in actual work, right?

Because work is so boring, it's not like I would be concentrating on it! Clearly if I was wrapped up in something to the point that I didn't hear someone come to my office, I must be doing something else!

Apparently I have a low opinion of other peoples' opinion of my job.

I mean, I don't have a low opinion of my job. I like my job. Sometimes I get caught up in working on something and I get startled when someone shows up at the door. It happens.

But I seem to think no one else would believe that I could get caught up in my job, and that they must all be assuming I'm slacking off instead, if I'm paying that much attention to something.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this thought.

Something about how it's not cool to think your job is interesting enough to get engrossed in? Something about how I assume everyone else thinks my job isn't interesting enough to get engrossed in? Something about how I'm defensive about my job and feel like everyone's always picking on me because my job isn't cool? Something about how I'm always feeling left out of all the cool parties?

Naw, it's gone. Anyway, look, sometimes I just get really focused, and then you might startle me if you come in suddenly.

It doesn't mean I was reading novels on the computer on company time!

I only read short stories on company time.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Clothing Fancy

Is there a clever way to rebrand a tee shirt? I have a quite nice one, with a good fit and made of a nice soft cotton, but it's got the distinctive logo of a past event that I don't really care about continuing to promote.

It would be nice if you could get the logos off of shirts, but I suppose that's a vain dream.

And by 'a vain dream' I of course mean one in which I admire myself inordinately in my handsome logo-free tee shirt. My but I do look good in that shirt in that dream.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


So, today I sat at my desk and added about 80 e-books to the catalog while listening to the Moody Blues streamed from Google Music.

I have basically factory standard ears, but after several hours the earbuds got uncomfortable even for me, so I switched to restful silence.

Also, I ate a lot of fruit, because it's the season to buy luscious cherries and peaches and blueberries.

And...that was my day.

Some days are less brimful of drama than others.


Monday, July 18, 2011

No Thought. No Pants. No Caring.

I am pleased to announce that a colleague and I, merely in the course of our daily business, have hit upon a can't-miss formula for fabulous productivity as a writer.

Now it all started when my colleague mentioned how he read that the guy who wrote hundreds of pulp novels about The Shadow (probably Walter B. Gibson, but I couldn't be bothered with details), was rumored to sometimes write as many as 10,000 words a day.

That's a lot of words. Now we figured that if you're writing that much, you're pretty much doing nothing else, and you're certainly not pausing for long thoughtful stretches while you ponder your next plot twist. No thought! Thinking is for weaklings! Just type! Type, damn you! Type as you've never typed before!

Then my colleague, who is a font of useful information, recalled that he has also heard that Victor Hugo, when he had trouble getting motivated to write, would have his servants lock him in a cold bare room, with nothing in it but pen and paper, and they'd have orders not to even give him pants to put on or a cup of tea to drink until he'd written a certain number of pages. (I have no idea if this is true, and I'm not even going to do a web search, because that would involve thinking, which has already been forbidden.)

So we concluded that one problem with today's lazy, unmotivated writers, like ourselves, is that we've grown decadent and soft. Always wearing clothes, and having food. Bah.

If you really want to get something done, have your servants (or, if you have no servants, your family, friends, or someone else who would like to see you suffer just a bit) lock you naked in a chilly room with nothing but a computer, on which is installed only a word processing program. You'll get something done.

Finally, it's kind of obvious that in order to make this work, you need to not care about subtle plot points, or carefully developed characters, or what people are saying about your tendency to go around without pants. You must be uninterested in--indeed, oblivious to--the opinions of others.

Therefore, no thought, no pants, no caring, just typing as if your life depended on it, throwing onto the page/screen whatever demented and half-baked ideas flit through your mind, and I'm pretty sure you'll produce, at minimum, some acceptable pulp novels.

I say "you," because I suggest that you try it first, and let me know how it goes.

Also, if your first thought was that "No Thought. No Pants. No Caring." was the tagline for another horrible 'friends with benefits' movie, shame on you, and you should probably just write that up and pitch it if you know anyone in the movie business, because it could be your big break.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

So Many Secrets

My main problem with grand conspiracy theories is that, in general, it seems unrealistic to expect that large groups of people will be able to keep huge, exciting secrets for very long.

I mean, granted, you never know, and conspiracies have existed, and obviously the fact that you don't hear about it just means it's successful!--but still.

I therefore appreciated this post on More Grumbine Science, talking about critical evaluation of theories that involve vast conspiracies. It poses some useful questions to consider:

How long would the conspiracy have to have lasted?
How much data would have to be faked?
Who all would have to be involved in the fakery?
Are there other sources of data to confirm or refute the passive microwave observations?

This particular post is about measurements of the Arctic ice sheet, hence the specific reference to "passive microwave observations" in the last question. Obviously a reference to this specific data-gathering technique will not apply quite as well to every conspiracy theory, but there will probably be a substitute information source that could be considered.

I guess the takeaway point is that it's rarely a bad idea to think carefully about something. Unless it's whether or not to run away from a charging tiger, because you should probably just go ahead and do that.

Not that it'll help much, because tigers are fast, but maybe you can duck behind something.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Putting on Your Armor

Speaking of the Chain Mail Bikini Thing, which I once was, I would like to salute Bethesda Softworks, maker of games including, to my knowledge, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, and the Elder Scrolls games, particularly (to my knowledge) Oblivion.

Bethesda games are famous, among me and this guy I know, for having incredibly gorgeous scenery and kind of creepily ugly people. But one thing they do not do, in the games I have observed, is make much of the Chain Mail Bikini Thing.

You see a lot of characters, male and female, wearing either solid, workaday armor, or else the sort of regular clothing one might wear while going about one's day-to-day business in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or in a magic-infused realm threatened with apocalypse, depending on the game.

And there's none of that "this armor is pretty ordinary looking on a male character, but you put it on a female character and suddenly it makes a nice target area for your enemies by revealing the entire torso."

They're also pretty good about having the characters you run into be fairly evenly mixed between male and female, as well as possessing various skin tones.

Bethesda does not make my favorite games ever, but they've got some fun stuff going on, and I do appreciate the fact that they assume women as well as men would like to have some protection against injury when going into battle.

As previously stated, I would also accept men as well as women clad in nothing more than courage and magical sandals, but if not that, than actual armor for all characters is fine with me.


Thursday, July 14, 2011


I was just thinking about peanut butter cookies. There's nothing like a classic chocolate chip, but I do also love a good peanut butter cookie.

I was also thinking about the fork marks you always have in peanut butter cookies. For no real reason, it's just what you do with peanut butter cookies.

Recipes say to roll the dough into balls and gently press it down with a fork. This leaves an indentation from the fork tines. You could theoretically also press it down with a spoon, or your fingers, and it would achieve the same basic end, but no, that's not what you do! You use a fork!

A peanut butter cookie without fork marks would still taste like a peanut butter cookie, but somehow it's just not right.

I am a little more flexible on whether or not you have to press the fork twice, with the second one crosswise to make a crisscross pattern, or if you can stop with one impression. Follow your muse on that.

But don't talk to me about pressing the dough with something besides a fork.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All Days Are Alike to Me

I had this training event on Advanced Serials Cataloging, today and tomorrow. I planned my travel and time off work and everything.

Only it was July 12 and 13, which, it turns out, actually corresponds to yesterday and today.

I must have read it wrong one time, pegged it in my head as a Wednesday and Thursday, written it into my calendar on the wrong days, and never revisited the date information to notice the error.

I'm on my knees right now, shaking my fists at the sky, shouting out, like an imprecation, the single word:


Way to let me down, brain. Way to sabotage my earnest attempts to learn more about Advanced Serials Cataloging. Why do you hate Advanced Serials Cataloging so much, brain?! What has Advanced Serials Cataloging ever done to you?

Perhaps we shouldn't try too hard to answer that question.

On the plus side, I don't have to go out to Wellesley College tomorrow (Wellesley is very nice, but the commute is even longer than my usual).

And the one day of training that I did have today was good (serials: a whole big pile of complicated mess!), and I have the book with all the slides, so I can review the information on my own. I will generously refrain from providing details here.

I can't get over the total date-recognition failure, though. Oh well...I was close, right?


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pick Your Video

Well, we could pretty much see this coming: Netflix is no longer offering a combined DVD/streaming video package for $9.99. Instead, you can pay for either or both at $7.99 each.

Hm. It's not that $15.98 a month is a huge amount, so we could just keep getting both, but the video consumption patterns in my household have changed a lot in the several years we've been Netflix subscribers, so I'm not sure that makes the most sense.

Back in the day, you see, we used to get two DVDs at a time, and we'd watch a couple of movies a week on a regular basis. We were movie-watching fiends!

Then I started library school and wasn't around to watch movies as often, so we scaled back to one DVD, and would usually watch about one a week. That seemed to do OK, so we kept it even after I finished school.

Then we got a PS3, and started playing video games with the hours that would once have been prime DVD-watching time, and then the streaming video came out. These days, even if we want to watch something instead of play games, it's usually streaming video rather than a DVD.

When our one DVD does come, it often sits around for days before we get to it. I'm a little anxious about no longer having that option, because there are still things that aren't available to steam, but I think the most logical option at the moment is to drop back to the streaming-only subscription and see how it goes.

There are other places to get the content Netflix doesn't stream, and if we don't do that often, we may spend less than $7.99 a month on it.

I'm sure Netflix will not refuse our money if we later decide we want the DVDs after all, but I really think we might not even miss them much.

We shall see, I guess. It's all part of the grand adventure that is video access in this exciting age.

I note that not everyone is taking this so calmly. Apparently a lot of people are pretty peeved about the change in terms, but I guess my dwindling DVD use has made me less invested in the subject. Easy for me to say, with my game worlds to suck up all my stray attention!


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Sweet Smell of Zombies

In case anyone is still worried about zombies, given that the killer robots will probably make short work of them on the way to finishing us off, drrubidium has some extremely useful advice over on the Scientopia Guest Blogge.

It's a careful explanation of the chemistry involved in making a corpse-scented perfume (I like to think it will also be available in a shower gel or body wash), so zombies will think you're one of them. Ingenious!

I think we should probably all start wearing this right away, just to be safe. After all, you don't want to not smell like a rotting corpse when the zombies show up, and that could be at any time.

Possibly not soon enough, either, if everyone smells like a rotting corpse.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ebooks and Me

In my continued effort to keep a keen eye on the matter of the ebook and its infiltration of bookly culture, I have made a small foray into the electronic book world, when I read a couple of Jane Austen* novels on vacation.

I will say that it is absolutely easier to carry an iPod Touch on planes and trains and around airports than a couple of physical books (even paperbacks). You can slip it in and out of a bag, where it takes up very little room, or even carry it in your pocket.

There was a faintly disorienting feeling of never knowing how far into the book I was (you make different kinds of half-conscious deductions about plot points and story when you know there's half the book left, than you do if you've only got 30 pages to go). I think this is based both on the small amount of text that fits on an iPod 'page'--I might have flipped to the next page 200 times, but who knows what that means?--and on not having physical pages in my hand to judge by.

I know that the screen will tell you how much of the book you've read if you check, but this was never something that rose to the level of a thing I needed to check on, just a sort of nagging uncertainty that sometimes came to the back of my mind, and that is not usually part of my experience of reading a book.

Other than that, it really wasn't a different thing to read on a tiny screen than to read on a small page. You can enjoy the prose and get absorbed in the story the same way.

So I'll definitely be all about carrying a bunch of public domain titles around with me on trips where I don't feel like taking up space in my carry-on bags with physical books. Ebooks are a wonderful thing for travel.

As long as your battery holds up, and also as long as you don't mind putting away the book during the first and last several minutes of the flight, when they tell you to turn off electronic devices. You don't worry about that with paper. And remember, if you're traveling to Europe, you'll need an adapter so you can plug your device in and recharge it there, which is also something you don't worry about with paper.

These are small details, and easily overcome. I think I will not be making any kind of wholehearted plunge into this format, however. I like to check out books at the library, because there are all kinds of titles I don't really feel I have to own. (Also, one downside of ebooks from my selfish perspective?--if people who used to lend me their books start buying everything on Kindle or the like, where am I then, I ask you?)

I love the library, good people. And since paper books work so perfectly well for day-to-day running around where you don't worry about taking up space in your bag, why switch to something that needs a regular battery charge?

I've got nothin' against it, but I don't find it generally necessary at this time. Such is my considered opinion.

*I'd never read Jane Austen before, and as an English major I was naturally filled with shame.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mmm, Silica

Slate's Explainer answers a question that has surely puzzled generations: what happens if you eat silica gel, the tiny pellets of stuff in those little packets that come in your shoes?

It turns out, nothing much will happen, as silica is non-toxic, so I will plan to chow down on the next package I see, disregarding the sternly labeled "Do Not Eat".

One question Explainer does not address is, why is it called silica gel, when it's clearly a kind of sandy, grainy, or tapioca-pearly substance (depending on your specific packet)?

Is not a gel something soft and squishy and midway between liquid and solid? Not something grainy or pearly?

The internet is no help, merely noting, on various descriptive pages, some variation of the phrase "despite the name, silica gel is actually solid."

Yeah, thanks. Got that part.

Also, I suddenly feel like some tapioca pudding. The kind with the big pearls, that we called 'frog eggs' when I was a kid. I wonder how tapioca pudding would be with those really huge pearls they use in 'bubble tea'? Mmm, frog eggs.

Anyway, obviously 'gel' in this case doesn't refer to the word as commonly defined (for example, by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary), so maybe it's short for something. Say, the person who invented it's name was Gelvine and he or she was called Gel for short.

"Hey, Gel! We're naming this grainy silica product after you! I'm sure it won't sow any confusion in the minds of earnest folk reading about it on some sort of vast information distribution system in years to come!"

Or, it's short for 'gelastic,' which means laughable, and calling the product 'gel' was a very roundabout joke.

Those are my best guesses. I know, they're both pretty terrible, but when the internet fails you, what are you supposed to do but make something up?


Friday, July 8, 2011

Easy, Breezy, Hat-Wearing

Check out the hotly anticipated (by me) book cover over on Our Bodies, Our Blog. As I expected, it's beyond awesome.

There I am right in the middle. Good thing I sent in the picture of me wearing a goofy hat. Nothing else would have been nearly as cool.

My grandmother knit that hat for me, you know. She'll be proud.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

More Catalog Power

Having the awesome power of the catalog, I today made a sweeping change to our CDs. Please fetch a refreshing beverage and settle in for the thrilling saga I am about to relate.

So the CDs are all stored behind the desk, because of fears they would just get lost up in the stacks, and for some time they'd been listed in the catalog with a special location code set aside for audio/visual materials, that prompted the helpful note "Circulation Desk" in the catalog. This way, people know not to go hunting in the stacks for CDs. Perfectly sensible.

The trouble is, this location code came with a "do not circulate" rule in the system (because, in an added bit of exciting history, the code was recycled from a now-defunct special collection that did not circulate). So about every blue moon, when someone tried to check out a CD, there was a whole process of overriding the rule, which requires a certain login level, so the student employees have to find someone who can do it, and in general it's been a rare but recurrent pain in our necks for years.

We asked the Ultimate Masters of the Catalog to change the rule, naturally, but they are busy, and despite various tearful pleas, it never happened. (Possibly we should have sent better tribute.) Now we're supposed to get a whole new catalog system next year, so you know making changes to this one is not going to be anywhere near the top of anyone's priority list.

So rather than ask again, we just reassigned all the CDs to either the circulating collection or the reference collection, switching them all to those existing location codes and circulation rules, and as far as I'm concerned we shall never use the a/v code again, because of the lingering neck pain issue.

It's all fairly straightforward, especially because we have fewer than 300 CDs anyway so it wasn't even a very large project once I got around to it.

The main demonstration of my vast power is that I co-opted the "volume" line, which appears following the call number in our catalog display (where, in a set of books, we'd say "volume one" or whatever) to say "CD at desk" so people still know where to look for them.

Technically, "at desk" is not volume information, but darn it, the people demand to know where the CDs are*, and since the a/v location code told them, while the reference and circulating collection do not, that information has to be conveyed somehow.

I contemplated putting a 590 note in the main record, but concluded that no one would see it there.

This long and terribly fascinating story is all just to say that you have to try to meet the needs of your users (and your colleagues at the circulation desk) as best you can discover those needs, even if you have to bend the catalog a little to do it.

Also, that I have the awesome power of the catalog, and I'm not afraid to use it.

However, I don't have Ultimate Master of the Catalog Power, or I would have just changed the a/v circulation rule myself, meaning I wouldn't have had to bend the catalog on the "volume" line. I think this is a pretty good argument for giving me more power.

I am totally not chortling in a sinister way right now, either.

Hahahaha! Ahem. Normal non-sinister chortle. Think nothing of it.

*At least every blue moon, when someone is interested in checking out a CD. Most of the time, I admit the people don't really care where the CDs are.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Catalog Power

We mostly do copy cataloging at my library. For non-catalogers, that means that rather than make up a record in the catalog from scratch, we use one someone else made, with minor adjustments according to specific practices at our library.

It's standard library practice. Economies of scale, etc. Saves every single library that owns a book having to catalog it themselves; instead, one library catalogs, and everyone else can just copy their record.


Now the thing is, very often you don't find a record that's exactly the way you want it for your own library. A frequent issue I've noticed is that ebooks seem to often have different years listed in the most popular catalog records than are listed on the item itself. I don't know why.

But that's merely an example. There are plenty of other irritating discrepancies that must be dealt with in various formats. As a result, there's ever so much tidying up that always has to be done.

Some might say this is the job of a cataloger, in the age of mostly copy-cataloging, but I say it's a ghastly imposition on my valuable time, which might better be spent appreciating lightly armored fighters or worrying about killer robots.

So I've recently decided that the solution is to start throwing away any book that doesn't have a perfect, pre-existing record to use. This will clear a lot of clutter from the shelves, cut down on some of the little details of my job, and bring us closer to a nice, clean catalog.


The catalog seems very formal and official and so forth, but ever since I started working on it, I realized its clean tidiness is an illusion. One constantly strives for perfect accuracy, of course, but it's a goal that is forever out of reach. There's always some strange misspelling or misplaced text or some peculiar code in the wrong subfield.

Always! Embrace the sea of tiny imperfections, strive to make the records at least suggest the holdings of the library, and let it go, I say.

Besides, the library catalog is possibly on its last legs anyway, what with new federated search features. We're getting Primo soon! It's bound to be a whole new world.

In the meantime, I'll keep tidying my copied records, at least until I get approval for my throw-away-all-the-books plan.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

'Cover Model' is So On My Resume

Many people are familiar with the women's health classic Our Bodies, Ourselves.

There's a new edition every so often, as a health book will tend to have in order to remain relevant, and for the upcoming 40th anniversary edition there was a call (on Our Bodies, Our Blog, which I have always thought is just a fantastic name for a blog) asking people to submit photos for the cover.

So I did, 'cause why not, and in fact it turns out I will be included on the cover of the next edition. I have not seen it, but from my vague understanding there's going to be a sort of tiled design with lots of small photos of lots of different women. And one of them will be me!

That's pretty much what I'm doing this year to maintain my notoriety.

Quick, hurry out (to your local bookstore, or to your computer, which you foolishly left in the yard) and pre-order your copy today so you can see what I look like on a book cover!

Tiny and awesome, is my guess.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

We Don't Have the Three Laws Yet?

This Slate article makes the good point that it's all very well to fret about killer robots in the sense of machines that turn on humanity and intentionally try to kill us all, but we should actually be paying attention to killer robots in the sense of machines that malfunction and accidentally kill some of us.

We should be concerned about robot safety the way we're concerned about automobile safety or lawn mower safety or toaster oven safety. Because machines are complicated and sometimes things can go wrong, and we need to think about that and how best to guard against harmful consequences.

During our session on robotics at Librarian Science Camp, the presenters mentioned this topic. I remember there was talk of how one potentially dangerous robot in the lab just won't activate if a person is too close. In this approach, safety isn't a matter of just relying on people to take proper precautions around the robot, because the precaution is built into the machine itself.

So, yeah, keep thinking about this issue, roboticists. We're all counting on you to keep robots from accidentally killing us, before they decide to do it on purpose.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Lightly-Armored Fighter Collection

There's a thing, in the fantasy game world, that we can call the "Chain Mail Bikini Thing."

This is where, traditionally, male characters are drawn in some sort of full armor, such as might prevent a weapon from piercing, slashing or directly bludgeoning the flesh, and female characters are drawn in, well, some variation of a chain mail bikini.

A chain mail bikini cannot logically be supposed to provide the sort of physical protection from damage that armor with more coverage would offer, but it is explained, in practical terms, with the argument that men like to look at scantily clad women.

This may well be so. And you know, I'm willing to buy that magical chain mail bikinis may offer an armor bonus beyond what would be expected from something that leaves so many vital organs unprotected. I've decided that I can hardly object to chain mail bikini depictions, provided we can start getting some similarly magical armor for male characters.

It could be based on a wide variety of classical models, some of which may be seen in the following photos I took in the Louvre. I would be happy to see any of them in a future rule book or video game. (Of course I was thinking about games in the Louvre. What did you expect?)

I guess I should warn that some of these are not NSFW since there are some naked manly bits, but it's art, so I think we're cool. A greater problem is the rather poor image quality, for which I apologize.

 Basically just naked. A perfectly good look. Simple and to the point, if not allowing for a lot in the way of armor customization for the player.

Naked and striking a pose! Yes indeed.

 Naked save for a handsome drapery. In-game, this could be cut from a variety of fabrics and colors to personalize your character's look while still leaving plenty of enticing skin exposed.

Naked, but with the trace of some sort of buckler or something. The guy's not un-armored, he just travels light.

If David can slay Goliath in this smart hat and velvet loincloth, I don't really see why anyone needs anything more.

One of my favorites. This gentleman is definitely not naked: he's got a shield, sandals, some sort of shoulder sash, a nice bit of draping, and a helmet. At the same time, there's a lot of skin to admire. With proper enchantments on these items, I honestly don't see why any male fighter should wear more than this.

Again, with good spells on his sandals, shield and helmet, he shouldn't have to worry about a complete lack of protection on his back and torso.

I like to think this is sort of the Chain Mail Speedo.

This is honestly a bit more armor than I like to see on a man, but it's at least skin tight on the chest, so I'm going to let it slide. It would also be appropriate for a science fiction game, where skin tight is the name of the game.

I like the way this guy has a fairly substantial cloak over one shoulder, but still doesn't bother to put anything around his middle. This is called confidence.

This poor fellow seems to have just been stabbed through the chest, suggesting that the magic on his helmet and shoulder strap may have failed. It's important to get quality spells!

If you can kill a snake with a rock while in the nude, you're all right with me.

Identifying information suggested this gentleman was a captive, so he could potentially have been stripped of more armor prior to the sculpting of this likeness, but he was a fighter, so I included him.

The old 'helmet, drape and shoulder strap' look. It's a good one, and I would like to see more of it.

Bringing down a deer, clad only in a bit of fur. This is also a good look for a male warrior.

Obviously, men as well as women are perfectly capable of fighting battles in skimpy outfits. I call on game illustrators to extend the magic of the chain mail bikini to proud male warriors who would also enjoy not having to sweat inside heavy armor!


Friday, July 1, 2011

Bold New Initiatives

I'm back!

And I'm all aflutter with the latest news from PubMed New and Noteworthy, which reads, in full, "PubMed search terms are now automatically displayed in bold in the search results."

Automatically! In bold!

This appears to be a substitute for the My NCBI option to have search terms highlighted (in your choice of exciting colors), since my search terms are highlighted when I'm signed into my account, but emboldened when I'm not.

I imagine it's probably helpful to searchers, especially those using keywords rather than MeSH terms, since being able to quickly spot the search terms may allow for speedier elimination of results in which they show up in other contexts than the one of interest.

Nice, PubMed.