Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don't Argue With Common Knowledge

I thought this was an interesting post on Butterflies and Wheels, about a downside of Wikipedia's "let the knowledge of the masses be recorded" approach.

It tells the story of an event in history about which common knowledge says a certain thing, but concerning which a single historian has uncovered source material supporting an alternate course. He tried to update Wikipedia, citing the primary sources he had uncovered, but had his edits reversed because these sources, since they contradict common knowledge, are viewed as somewhat suspicious.

As the author, Ophelia Benson, writes,

There is something fascinating about that. I do get the reason – there are always going to be more cranks and monomaniacs wanting to publish their “original research” than there are genuine historians and people who know how to do original research, so Wikipedia errs on the side of caution - but it does mean that mistaken conventional wisdom trumps accurate new research.

Indeed. Often it's going to be pretty safe to disregard a single person arguing for a revised view of some well-known fact...but on the other hand, sometimes conventional wisdom will be wrong.

I'm still not going to be telling students that Wikipedia is the devil, but this is another bit of evidence to support the contention that you don't want it to be the only thing you ever look at.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Repurposing = Awesome!

The Krafty Librarian has presented a very crafty idea, using old unbound journal holders and brightly colored paper labeling to make booklike shapes that sit on the shelf with the print books in a certain subject, highlighting the existence of ebooks on the same subject.

I like it! Partly because we have stacks and stacks of unbound journal holders where I work, too, and I always like to reuse things, so the idea of getting some use out of them now that we have hardly any unbound journals left is appealing.

Also, we are always trying to promote our ebooks.

However, Krafty uses QR codes, with a "scan this code to see ebooks on this topic" message, and I'm not sure about that part. I don't sense a whole lot of excitement around QR codes in our user population. Not that I exactly have my finger on the pulse of what's cool with that population or anything, but the one time someone used a QR code (to promote a workshop), I never saw anyone actually scanning it.

In fact, the main topic of Krafty's post is actually how one generates interest in QR codes, rather than how awesome it is to recycle journal holders.

Given our extremely limited but unpromising experience, I don't really have any advice on how to generate interest in QR codes, hence my focus on the crafts part of the piece. I'm wondering if it might not just be useful to put those up as a reminder that the ebooks are there, because it's true that not everyone thinks to look.

Maybe we could steal the booklike shapes idea, and just put a note on the label to "see our ebooks page for online titles on this subject," with a short URL. (We'd have to actually make short URLs for our ebooks based on subject for this to work, but...I'm supposed to be learning to code, I could figure it out. Or steal it from someone.)

And maybe a QR code too, I'm not opposed to QR codes, I'm just not particularly excited about them, but maybe simply putting them out there would encourage their use. Anyway, they look kind of cool and decorative, so what's the harm?

On the other hand, we're pretty desperate for shelf space right now, so taking up room with this sort of placeholder might not fly.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Good News, Everyone!

Good people! The 6th season of Futurama is streaming on Netflix!

Must watch now.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Arrrrrr! Yes, Arrrrrr!

Wired magazine, as always a boundless source of valuable information, presents crucial details about talking like a pirate: specifically, why pirates say "arrrrr!" (Sometimes spelled "arrrgh," which I suppose is a silent 'gh' but which I can't help pronouncing as 'arg,' so I'm not in favor of it.)

The story (not yet online: page 58, March 2012 issue): Robert Louis Stevenson, in Treasure Island, has a lot of characters saying "ah," in such contexts as "Ah, that's a sweet pirate database full of MeSH terms like 'Artificial Limbs' and 'Parrots'!"

Then in 1950 Disney made a movie version, and Robert Newton, playing Long John Silver, had a Cornwall (Cornish?) accent which made this "ah" sound like "arrr."

And ever after, "arrrrrrrrr!" has been one of those things that pirates say, along with "avast," and "me hearties," and "booty," and that is how that worked out. Fascinating, right?

I know! It really is.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old-School Writing

I found this post on Swan Tower, about the struggle to master a 19th-century handwriting style, oddly fascinating.

Possibly because my handwriting actually kind of looks like that? (Or did, when I wrote neatly, back in my careful youth. It has degenerated to a scribble over the years, which I blame on higher education--taking notes in college ruined my cursive with the prioritization of speed over neatness.)

But other than the elaborate capitals, that's basically the form I learned to write. Or, I may have learned the elaborate capitals, but I don't recall them. I gave up on writing cursive capitals soon after I started writing in cursive, and just used print ones instead.

One might wonder why I bothered to write everything in cursive except capital letters, and I'll tell you what I think: because connected letters in general are faster to write than to print*, but big loopy capitals are slower.

I was an efficient young person.

*For me, anyway. I know some people hate cursive and find they can print faster than they can write, but when I try to print quickly it always starts to run together in proto-cursive anyway, so if I don't expect someone else to have to read it, I just write.

If I'm making notes for other people, I do pretty much always print, handwriting is just not legible enough anymore for me to subject others to it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Never You Mind, PubMed

Sometimes an RSS feed reader can throw you off. For example, I saw that this new NLM blog, ReferencePoint, had posted a Fact Sheet sheet on the difference between PubMed and Medline.

I took notice, because this is a question that I think causes some confusion among the non-librarians among our patrons where I work (that is to say, pretty much all of our patrons), and that I usually brush over with something eloquent along the lines of "we use them pretty much interchangeably, but basically Medline is the database of citations, and PubMed is the search interface we use to access it, the way the internet is, you know, the internet, and Google is a specific interface to help you access it."

If the person seems to care at all, I might say something about the other interfaces for Medline, such as Ovid or the one in Web of Knowledge, and how they're kind of like other search interfaces such as Yahoo or Bing, and how some people prefer one or another of them for various reasons, but they all serve basically the same function.

In any case, I was interested to see how the experts at NLM would, no doubt much more clearly and accurately, explain the difference.

But then when I clicked to read more, there was no post! Removed for editing, perhaps, or updating, or because it incorrectly identified PubMed as "an especially rancorous panda." Who can say? Only the first few sentences linger, a ghostly remnant in my Reader.

Perhaps it will be reposted in the future. In the meantime, feel free to just substitute what I said here if anyone asks you about this topic.

I mean, the bit about PubMed being an especially rancorous panda. That'll get people's attention.

Edited to add that the post NLM blog post did go live, and you can see it here if you like.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Now THIS is Cool, Honest!

For those who get excited about dates with cool combinations of numbers, I note that it's 02-21, 2012...which is only cool in a sort of weird, obscure way if you sound it out, because zero-two, two-one is like two-zero, one-two if you reverse both the two-digit combinations.

See? See? It's a sort of double inverse or something!

Yeah, maybe I'm reaching a bit in my search for a cool date. I'm just desperate for some excitement in life.

Monday, February 20, 2012

But Whyyyyyyyyyyy?

Here's more, this time from Respectful Insolence, on the lack of evidence that patient satisfaction is the best measure for health care, since the most satisfied patients do not necessarily have the best health outcomes.

Sadly, it appears that getting what we want, medically (tests, specific drugs), is not always the best thing for us.

Hm. It feels like a touchy subject, because nobody wants "just shut up and do as your doctor tells you" to be the right answer. Especially not medical librarians with our "here, let me show you how to locate reputable consumer health information, which will be totally the coolest thing you'll do all day!"

I think that the problem is partly the concern about that attitude, which of course ideally would not be the presentation at all. If it's more like "here's what I think is the best approach for your situation, and here's why," then it's less of an issue to take the advice of an expert.

But then we have all the problems with physicians not having time to actually talk to people and explain what they think is the best approach and why, so you probably do get patient-dissatisfying dismissals of concerns or requests for test that may be entirely worth dismissing, but the approach is just wrong...

Like so many things in life, it's really a lot about interpersonal dynamics, isn't it?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Say Yes to Drugs

If you wanted a quick summary on drug-resistant bacteria, there's a nice one on Skepchick. The post talks about research in antibiotics, how drugs develop resistance to them, and potential new areas for exploration.

It also notes that "We are basically in a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ relationship with bacteria. We develop new drugs and they evolve."

This makes the whole process sound a bit futile and depressing, but I suppose if the alternative is to just shrug and drop dead from bacterial infections...well, keep up the good work with that research!

Also, don't go around taking antibiotics for viral infections, and if you have a prescription for antibiotics, take all of them as directed. Do your part to resist drug-resistance!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Less Drama Than Expected

So being a vampire never did much for me in Oblivion--I just stopped sleeping, pretty much, and the negative effects were minimal--and it's turning out that being a werewolf isn't doing much in Skyrim, other than (conveniently!) preventing me from ever catching any of the weird diseases that abound, like 'rockjoint.'

It's true! Beast Blood makes you immune to everything. For that reason alone, I think werewolfhood has been good for me, although honestly I never remember to use my power and actually turn into a wolf, so I'm missing out on a lot of excitement.

I should also explain, though, that I have the good kind of werewolfiness, where I don't change form uncontrollably with the full moons (how does that work with two moons, come to think of it?) and kill everyone around me.

I can change any time I want! And only when I want!

But I like my greatsword and heavy armor so much, it just never occurs to me to turn into a wolf and maul enemies with my bare teeth. So yeah, I kind of expected the life of the werewolf to put more demands on me, but what can you do? I guess the pack isn't into hassling people.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sadly Unperpetual Access

I always feel bad when I have to tell students that no, they can't keep getting awesome access to all our subscription-based electronic journals and databases after they graduate.

I mean, unless they want to come into the library to use our computers, which alums may always do, but if they move across the country or something it's not going to be that helpful an option.

I feel their pain. I love having access to all these databases! I don't even use them that often, not for personal use anyway, but it's just nice to know they're there. It's comforting.

Like a healthy savings account! Of information!

I was prematurely nostalgic for the University of Alabama's databases as soon as I started library school. "I'm going to miss these so much after I graduate!" I said mournfully.

"You're going to be working in a library after you graduate," my spouse pointed out reasonably. "You'll have access to databases that way."

Oh yeah. Sweet!

And so I do. And believe me, it's awesome.

This whole post pretty much proves that I should never not be a librarian, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Whatever You Say, Doc

Hmm. Skeptical Scalpel (via Grunt Doc) writes about a paper from the Archives of Internal Medicine that suggests that people who are more satisfied with their doctors have higher mortality rates than those who are less satisfied.

The post suggests that this is because people tend to be more satisfied when their doctor does what they want (like prescribing the medication they ask for), even if this is not necessarily the best course, medically. So maybe people are asking for drugs they see on TV, or whatever, and the doctor wants the patient to be happy and prescribes it, even if some other treatment might better control the condition.

There are interesting questions to ponder here about paternalism vs. patient involvement in care, and how well patients can expect to understand the fine points of treatment, and how much physicians should try to please their patients as opposed to sternly laying "doctor's orders" if their judgment indicates (but if your patients don't like you and leave to find someone who will give them the prescription they want, what good have you really done?).

I mean, we want people to understand their health and be involved with their medical treatment and so forth. At least, we do as librarians. Consumer health information! Why do we promote it if not to get people engaged?

And yet, no matter how much we read up on things, we still don't necessarily have a grasp on all the details and the background and the complicating factors, and there are times when we may do well to assume that our doctors understand it better than we do and trust to their judgment.

The paper is here, and I'll have to read it sometime, but right now I have to go to bed more than study.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Maybe Just Change the Mascot Already

A strongly written couple of posts on the Native Appropriations blog basically just completely explain why we should probably back off the whole "Indians as Team Mascots" thing.

I mean, those of us who were ever on that thing. I have never felt any attachment to a team with a problematic mascot, so I suppose it's easy for me to say.

But look, people who are in a better position than I am to speak on such things say that something is hurtful and offensive. With science! Is this thing really so important that it's worth knowingly continuing to hurt and offend people, or can we just drop it? (I know, I know. The answer in many cases apparently is, "it's totally worth it! Yay team!")

I'd like to point out, though, that it could be a nice boost to the economy if all these schools hire designers and stuff to make new mascots. And promote new mascots! And sew new mascot costumes!

Jobs could be created here.

Since the basic idea of the mascot is to present a terrifying face to one's opponents, I recommend that these schools pick from among the popular monsters of today, like zombies, sexy vampires, deadly viruses, and of course killer robots.

And in answer to the plaintive cry of "but where do we draw the line on what's offensive? How do we know zombies aren't offended?" I will merely say that classic zombies aren't offended by anything, duh, but if any do come forward to protest their mascotization, we should of course take their concerns seriously.

Right after beheading them and setting them on fire to make sure they don't get our brains. Safety first.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Let's Play

I suppose we can't really claim this (via Geek Feminism) as unshakeable evidence for the beneficial powers of gaming, but we can certainly applaud and wish this 100-year-old woman much joy of her Nintendo DS.

Her gaming collection is reported to be, "mostly built around puzzle solving, along with titles that calls upon a player's artistic abilities, like "Art Academy." We also see her interacting with "Pictochat," so Kit uses her DS as a communication tool as well."

These aren't the games I tend to play, so I guess even if this were evidence of the beneficial powers of her games, it wouldn't say anything about games where you wander around getting in fights and looting bodies, but as long as we're applauding, we might as well lump all games together and applaud them equally.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

This is Good, Right?

I see on Well that measured levels of trans-fats in peoples' blood may be declining, perhaps in response to the campaigns to remove trans-fats from food products.

A study "showed that in a nationally representative sample of middle-aged Americans, levels of trans fats fell 58 percent from 2000 to 2009." That's a big percent!

I guess we'll just have to wait and see whether there's also a measurable decline in heart disease and so forth.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pass It On

In addition to clothing swaps, I also like the idea of Freecycle--an email list that you can join where people post things they're looking to pass along, and other people who might be able to use those things can snap them up.

I got some nice little thank-you cards that way, which I promptly used. Also, I got rid of a dorm fridge from college that I figured I was never going to need again.

And then, a month later, I really wished I still had it!--nah, just kidding. I'm always afraid if I get rid of something I'll wish later that I still had it, but I have never regretted giving that fridge to someone else who, I hope, got some good use out of it.

The only thing is, it does tend to get a little unwieldy with the back-and-forth email tag trying to figure out who's going to leave what where at what time so someone can pick it up, etc.

I'm hoping someone will come get some old board games we never play, but I don't know if I should just leave them in the lobby all night, since that might be a fire hazard or something.

You know I would feel terrible if our elderly neighbors were fleeing from a fire, tripped over our unwanted "Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit" on the way though the foyer, injured themselves, and had to be taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

I mean, if I'm going to get Evil Points, I want it to be for something more intentional, and more clever, than accidentally felling my neighbors with a board game.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What, This Old Rag?

Ooh, I'm invited to a Clothing Swap! Where a lot of people can bring clothes they don't wear and trade them around. Unclaimed items will go to Goodwill.

I don't actually need any more clothes right now, but I do have some I should probably get rid of, for the sake of closet space and general tidiness, so I think this is a brilliant idea.

I don't think anyone necessarily wants my old clothes, because they're very old and were never that interesting (I have been accused of many things, but possessing a keen fashion sense has never been one of them), but you never know.

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's All Perfectly Clear...

This is an older piece, about something I've often noticed: the way nutrition information on food packages often refers to a 'serving size' that is...not very realistic.

Like, "16 chips," say. Because most people will carefully count the number of chips they eat from a bag, right?

I mean, I suppose most people don't actually read the nutrition information on packages, either, and people who do care about the nutrition information may also care enough to count out their tortilla chips, so I'm not sure this is really a huge problem.

But it is always amusing to glance at the back of the package and think "oh, this isn't so bad, only 20 grams of fat in a serving...of two cookies."

You have to read all the way through this sort of documentation, I suppose is the moral here.

Also check out the very bottom, where it probably tells you the percent of various key nutrients in the serving. Because if you care enough to read all the way through, you'll want to know how much vitamin C you're getting.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Burn It! Burn It!

This is an interesting post from Sam Harris (via the Friendly Atheist), in which he explains the many negative effects of wood fires, noting that the crackle of a fire and the scent of wood smoke are dear to many, but saying that it's hideously polluting and bad for your health to burn wood.

One is left with the impression that all of us who don't depend on it for life or health should pretty much cease and desist our wood-burning activities immediately.

Since so many people feel strongly about a nice wood fire, however, he makes an interesting comparison to the way many people feel strongly attached to religion, to the extent that trying to rationally persuade someone out of a religious belief (or a conviction that a nice bonfire or crackling hearth are good things), may be impossible.


Growing up in the backwoods in the 1920s as I did, we often had wood-burning stoves and campfires for heat and cooking. And I have certainly enjoyed a good bonfire as much as the next person. Roasting a marshmallow on a long stick...good clean fun, surely! Well, not clean, the marshmallows invariably get sticky and burnt, but good wholesome fun.

On the other hand, having relied on firewood for practical things in the past, I may have a less fond view of it than some, since it was just what we used and not a fun ritual or anything.

Honestly, I'm willing to forego wood fires in future, having learned that they're dreadful for your lungs.

That doesn't mean I'm more rational and ruled by cold common sense than people who are more attached to their wood fires, of course, just that my irrational attachment must be to something else.

I should try to figure out what it that I can bury the secret so deeply that no one ever learns it, for surely it will be my undoing should it be discovered! I've read books before, I know how it works.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Unrelated Matters

The official Help Desk and web master was able to repair my broken 'L' key. I should have asked him to also paint on a new 'A,' because surely he has keyboard paint in his office somewhere.

On an unrelated matter, is it worth it to pay for copies of an issue of a journal that you wrote a column for? It's not one we get at work, so I can't just steal their copy.

I jest! I wouldn't steal from work. At least, not after I mentioned it on the internet for the world to see. Besides, I have all the pens and sticky notes I can use from loot at conferences.

Anyway, my thieving ways aside, the point is, I won't have a paper copy unless I pay for one, on account of they only send you the PDF. But it's just a review column, not an impressive research article or anything, so I'm honestly not sure how much I care.

I'd probably just stick a paper copy in a drawer somewhere and never look at it again, and it's not as if anyone I know who isn't a librarian cares about the many awesome features of the National Academies Press and their free ebooks.

On another matter unrelated to either of the above matters, there's a blog on my Google Reader that has apparently been attacked by malware, so every time I click on its link I get a terrifying red warning page advising me that my computer could be infected if I proceed.

So I naturally hurry away, but since I can't click on the blog title in Reader, I can't just unsubscribe, and I also can't mark its posts as 'read,' so it just sits there in bold telling me it has unread posts and I can do nothing!

It's kind of annoying. There used to be a way in Reader to edit feeds without displaying posts, but I can't figure it out since they've redesigned it and removed or hidden the Manage Subscriptions link.

And just now I searched Reader Help and it's been placed under Reader Settings, so that solved that problem.

See, I just needed to actually bother to try to find an answer, instead of merely noting my annoyance at the problem! Let that be a lesson to all of you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Computer Abuse

I need some keyboard glue. Is there such a thing as keyboard glue?

I dropped a 7-piece model heart on my keyboard at work and the 'L' key came off. I can still type 'L' by pushing on the little nub under the key, but it's awkward. It would work better if I could glue the key back on.

This computer is having a hard life.

The 'A' is completely worn off on that key, the 'N' is half worn off, and there's a worn out spot on the trackpad where I put my finger to move the mouse.

It deserves everything that happens to it though. It does this thing where it drops its internet connection for no reason at all kinds of times, and it's extremely annoying.

If punching it would do any good I'd resort to violence in a second, but it's just a computer, so all I can do is reconnect the dang internet several times a day.