Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Dark Forces are REAL


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mmm...Archival Newspapers...

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bah. Paperwork.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duly recognized.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bah and Hooray

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Non-Awesome News, Honey

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

Spooooooky Faces

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Outdated Herbals

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Library! Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn

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

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

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

This alone touches my troubled heart.

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

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

Especially if you like a good royal library scene.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Blame the Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuity of dullness.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Boy Howdy

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Flavor Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011


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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Keeping Busy

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Borrowing Ebooks

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yay! Boo!

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Monday Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Good times!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Food on the Edge

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bad Idea! Let's Do It!

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

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

And you know what, it turned out OK. 

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


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

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

Perhaps this is a good lesson for writing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

That's a Lot of Ones

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

Sorry kids!

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

And now, I should get back to my writing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everything Seems So Tainted Now...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting the Most From Your Food

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reading Aloud: Not For Presentations!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Absent-Mindedness Sets In

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Making Up Words

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's True, Peanuts Are Precious Now

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

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

Not Gettin' It Done

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Coming in With a Whimper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Awesometasticness Movie Review: Harold and Kumar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Usefulness Applies

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

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