Thursday, December 30, 2010

Choices and Gifts

Retail giant has taken some heat in the past few weeks. The case of the self-published "how to" manuscript written by a pedophile caused a furor in the news when Amazon decided to sell the book - and then decided not to sell it. Most recently, Amazon came down on the other side of the freedom of speech issue when it booted the Wikileaks site from Amazon servers. But whether you love Amazon or hate it, boycott it or are addicted to one-click - well, that's between you and the Big A: I'm here to talk about New Years resolutions.
I don't make them, but I do use this season to reflect on, and be grateful for, the good things that have occurred in the past year, and to think of the ideas and experiences I want to explore, things I want to learn, and books I want to read in the months ahead.
I came across a story about Good Riddance Day recently, and I quite like that idea, too. We can't run all the world's problems through a shredder and walk away, ( Goodbye, global warming....rrrrrrrrrrrrr...So long, war......rrrrrrrrrrr. Yeah. I wish!) but there are things that we can, and should, let go of and move on. We can make that choice. (But can we use imaginary paper and shredder and save some trees? Thanks.)
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos talks about gifts and choices in this commencement speech made to Princeton grads earlier this year. As part of my looking forward to what I want for myself in the new year, I particularly enjoyed the list of questions he puts to the new grads. How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make? Regardless of your opinion of Amazon and it's founder, I think this video is worth watching.

Happy New Year, everyone. See you in 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Google Goggles and the Wonders of Modern Technology

Sorry about yesterday, folks. The library was kind of in the middle of a blizzard, and campus shut down. Not like much is on at the library these days. Winter break is nice and drowsy, when it comes to students and other people using the library, so we usually use it to get lots of odds and ends done. In any case, there's certainly time for blogging. :-)

Today's technology post stems from an article I read over the break that focused on Google Goggles. Believe it or not, but Google's got this cool new ability to run internet searches based on pictures. You take a picture with your smart phone, and Google figures out what it's a picture of, then lets you find information about it. Case in point: you're in Prague and you see this cool building, but you don't know what it is. Normally, you'd have to find your guidebook and thumb through it for a while. With Google Goggles, you snap a picture and in moments you have the Wikipedia entry, the place's home page, user reviews about it--the whole internet full of information on it, right there with you. Who needs a guidebook?

Or say you're in Bratislava and want to go to a restaurant, but the place you pick only has Slovak menus, and no one there speaks English. With Goggles, you can take a picture of the menu, and Google will translate it for you. Yes, it's just as accurate as Google Translate, but that's improving all the time, and in any case, it should be enough to give you an idea what you're ordering, allowing you to avoid the pickled eel noses.

Goggles also works with books, artwork and logos right now. They're working on getting it to the point that it can recognize plants and more. Think of it. We're not too far from being to the point where you can be stranded lost in the forest, but you don't have to starve, because you can Google what sort of plants are around you and find out which are edible. Then you Google how to start a fire, how to make a primitive pot, and look up some good soup recipes using the ingredients you've scrounged together.

Assuming you have phone internet coverage in the forest, that is. :-)

In any case, these "wow" moments seem to be coming more and more frequently for me. What they won't think of next. When I think that when I was a kid, my entertainment choices were limited to what happened to be on one of the 5 channels we got at home--or listen to a record or the radio--and I compare it to what my son has available (YouTube, the internet, video games in various flavors, DVDs, Netflix--the list goes on and one) . . .  That's in 25 years of change. What will the next 25 years bring?

We live in exciting times, my friends. Exciting times.

That said, this post got deleted on me after I'd written the whole thing, all due to a Firefox crash. Kind of ironic, in a marveling-at-technology-but-still-frustrated-by-it-at-times sort of a way. Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chrome OS

Chrome. Have you heard of it before? Not as a shiny part of an automobile, but as something related to Google. That's right--Google, the company that seems to have its finger in just about every pie out there these days. It's got YouTube, it's got Google Maps, it's got Picasa--and it has not only its own web browser (Chrome), but now its own operating system (Chrome OS). Allow me to explain.

First of all, Chrome.

You've no doubt used Internet Explorer at some point in your life. Maybe you use Firefox these days, because you don't like Microsoft. But there are other web browsers out there. If you're a Mac user, you probably use Safari. Maybe you use Opera. Google put its own flavor out a while ago. Chrome prides itself on being one of the speediest browsers out there (meaning it loads pages more quickly than other browsers). In fact, it's my current browser of choice, and I heartily endorse it. Why do I like it? For one thing, Firefox had started to seem kind of bogged down on my machine. I switched to Chrome, and I'm zipping along again. There are some pages out there that just don't like Chrome, and now and then I have to go over to Firefox or even (gasp!) Internet Explorer, but for the most part, I stay in Chrome. This makes sense, since much of what I do on the web is based in Google (Reader, Blogger, Email--that sums up tons of my work right there). In any case, these days it's becoming less and less important which browser you use, so long as you use one that you like. (Although Internet Explorer continues to be the one that leaves you most open to viruses, and I still recommend anything BUT it.)

Now, Chrome OS.

An OS (Operating System) is what you use to use your computer. It's Windows or Max OSX. It's what your computer goes to automatically when you turn it on. It organizes your files and programs so you can use them all. Chrome OS is essentially a computer that goes to Chrome automatically when it's turned on. It uses Chrome, period. Far from mainstream yet, it's only available on a couple of laptops, and its main goal is to create a very slick, light, agile machine that will let you get online fast. No, it won't let you play tons of games like World of Warcraft, and it won't play nice with Office, but if you're looking for something to get you online so you can use email, Blogger, Reader, Google Docs, and anything else you use online (as well as the planned tons o' Apps that Google has planned for Chrome), then Chrome OS might be up your alley.

That said, from what I've read it's still quite buggy, and definitely not ready for prime time. However, technology changes fast these days, and who can say where we will be in a year or five? Much of what we use computers for these days is trending more and more to the cloud (online use). If that trend continues, you might be a Chrome OS user yourself, sooner than you think.

Stay tuned.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mantor Monday

The library hours for this week are:

Monday through Wednesday, 8am - 4:30pm
Thursday 8am - 1pm
Friday, Saturday, Sunday: closed.

While many of you are enjoying a well deserved winter break, staff here at the library will be working on a few projects that we hope will improve your library experience. We will be removing the map collection from the second floor hallway, and moving the Maine State Document collection into that space. That will allow for more study space at the rear of the Reference area.
We will also continue the book shifting project that we hope will make navigating around our collection a little less confusing.
We are in the preliminary stages of planning changes for the Mezzanine and Project Zone 2, and I will share those plans when we've got them hammered out. As always, we want to hear from you: feedback about changes we are making - or changes you'd like to see, is always welcome.

If you and yours celebrate a holiday this time of year, I hope it's a joyful one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Reviews: Daemon and Freedom

Daemon (Daemon, #1)Daemon by Daniel Suarez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting read that took me a while to get into and left me feeling rather frustrated. Despite that, I enjoyed it. First, the frustration: this book is part 1 of a two book series. You won't see that anywhere on the cover, and it very much leaves off right in the middle of the action. I don't mind series, but I'd appreciate to know when I'm reading one, so that I don't expect an ending. (Although in this case, the "ending" is more just a convenient pause in the action, not a real tying up of anything.) Since this is Suarez's first book, I suspect it and its sequel were written as one volume, and the publisher decided to cut it in two. Fine--just let me know!

That said, it's an interesting premise. A big name video game designer dies, and suddenly chaos runs rampant. It's discovered that he wrote a nasty program designed to go into effect on his death. It searches news feeds for key words, then puts into play the next step of the designer's plan, essentially allowing him to continue to influence the world after his death. Seen from another angle, he takes video game mechanics and applies them to reality, with the ultimate goal of destroying major businesses and governments.

If you can get beyond the technobabble that pops up now and then, and you're willing to give the very large benefit of the doubt to the idea that this man planned for so many contingencies, then the book's a good read. It's fast moving and interesting to think about what would or could happen with the proper coding, preparation and foresight. Is the book entirely believable? Not really. But could it happen? I suppose it could.

Recommended to those of you who aren't too persnickety about your science fiction--it's more mainstream than sci-fi, anyway. But if you read it, be sure to have the sequel handy--I'll review that in a moment, since I've finished it, too.

View all my reviews

Freedom (TM) (Daemon, #2)Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The conclusion to Daemon--it has most of the same strengths and weaknesses of the first book. Jumping forward a few months after the end of the first novel, Freedom brings everything to a fitting conclusion, more or less. As with the first, I wasn't really convinced by a lot of the tech side of things, and I can't help but feel like there were some major issues Suarez was ignoring. That said, if you read it as a piece of fiction and forget about being too critical of the science, then it works quite well.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Word Made Flesh

Ink and literature have always gone hand in hand...

Got a favorite literary quote or character you're thinking of getting inked? Tell us!

For more book tats, head over to the tatoolit site.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Facebook, Privacy and You

My boss linked to an article on Facebook today that discusses how keen advertisers are to find out information about you that you've posted to Facebook. It seems like a month doesn't go by without some uproar somewhere about Facebook and privacy, and I know there are quite a few people up in arms about it. I've been a Facebook user for quite some time now, but I've never been all that worried about privacy. Let me tell you why.
  1. Apparently unlike many Facebook users, I actually take the time to get to know the privacy features of Facebook and set them up the way I want them to be set up. I go back periodically and check to make sure everything's still satisfactory. Facebook is there for my friends to be able to find out what I'm doing and contact me if they need or want to. It mirrors my blog. On the whole, I'm a fairly open person. This leads me to my next point.
  2. Anything and everything I post to Facebook I assume could go public at some point. There's nothing on there that leaves me in a cold sweat thinking about Joe Public stumbling across it at some point. Here's the thing, folks: once you upload or post something to the internet, it's out of your control. Someone could copy it and post it somewhere else. Who knows where it goes? If you don't want something getting out, don't post it. Those pictures of you doing the limbo while dressed like Catwoman? Don't post them if you don't want your mother seeing them. (Better yet, don't take them to begin with, but that's another story.)
  3. Advertisers want my data? Great. I personally don't care all that much if they find out what music I like or what my favorite TV show is. Maybe they'll stop sending me ads for junk I don't want. If someone wants to make a buck off of telling an advertiser that I like martial arts movies, fine. They could find that out easily enough from my public personal blog. I know other people might care more about this, but to that, I say see #2.
Facebook is always changing their privacy features. People seem outraged that the company might try to use their site to (gasp!) make money. Folks, "free" doesn't exist online. You get what you pay for. If you want ironclad privacy, maybe using a for-free site isn't the way you want to go. Find a site that charges you a monthly fee and in return promises complete privacy. I don't think that site will catch on too much, because people in the end go with their wallets first, privacy second. Just don't feign outrage when someone calls you on your bluff.

And remember, please Facebook responsibly.

Monday, December 13, 2010


The healthy snacks mentioned in the previous post will be offered at 8pm, not 9pm.

Mantor Monday - Finals Week

Got test anxiety?
Let's face it, finals week can be stressful. But there are ways to reduce your stress levels and boost your test performance. These little pick-me-ups can help you any time you're feeling stressed out or overwhelmed.

1. Breathe.
When we are stressed, we tend to breathe shallowly. Our chest, back, and shoulder muscles contract with tension. Bring your attention to your body for a moment: are your shoulders hunched up, rising towards your ears? Is your neck tight? Does it feel like you have a knot in your chest or back? That's tension. Release the tension by consciously relaxing those constricted muscles. Now take a few slow, deep breaths. Really fill your lungs, and then slowly let the air back out. Pause for a second when your lungs are completely empty, and then take another slow, deep breath. You're not only relaxing your muscles with this exercise, you are flooding your brain with oxygen - brain fuel!

2. Sleep. Staying up all night to study is probably not going to help you in the long run. Studies show that your brain operates much better after a few hours sleep.
Performance wise, you are better off going to sleep at your normal time, and getting up early to do that last minute cramming.

3. Eat.
Healthy, whole foods will boost your metabolism AND your brainpower. Nuts are a great choice - they contain essential fatty acids known to nourish the brain. Fruit is another good choice.
Try to avoid over-caffienating while you study. It will interfere with your sleep, and make you jittery.
Mantor library wants to feed your brain: we will be offering free healthy snacks in the browsing room Monday - Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. The snacks are sponsored by the On Our Minds Reading Program.

4. Cross the Midline.
Right before a test, try doing an activity that forces both hemispheres of your brain to communicate. It only takes a minute, and it increases mental acuity! Here's a couple of good ones:
1. Standing twist: stand with your feet spread and your arms extended out to your sides. Twist your body while bending, and touch the opposite knee, ankle, or foot, depending on how flexible you are. Then switch sides. Repeat a few times.

2. Superman: Lay on your stomach. Raise your left arm and stretch it out in front of you while you simultaneously raise your right leg. Hold, and try to really stretch in opposite directions through your arm and leg. Lower, and repeat with right arm and left leg. Then try both arms and both legs - Superman!

There: now you're destressed and ready to test. Come on in for study, for snacks, and for moral support - we're here for you!

Library hours for finals week are as follows:
Monday - Wednesday: 7:45 - 11:00pm.
Thursday - 7:45-7:00pm*
Friday - 7:45-4:30pm

*If finals must be held on Friday because of bad weather, the library will remain open until 11pm on Thursday night.

Friday, December 10, 2010

We Heart Art

Yesterday, a Wish Tree sprouted on the campus green outside the library.
It's one of the many art installations that have popped up all over the UMF campus, small guerilla exhibitions that leap out at you unexpectedly as you walk through the buildings and grounds.
As I left the library, I shared a moment with a couple of complete strangers, standing under a tree rustling with hundreds of hand-written wishes. Some of the wishes are painful to read - so honest in their naked longing for something: love, or understanding, or healing.
Some of them are funny. Some are universally true. ("I wish someone would make jeans that fit." holla!) It was windy, so some of the wishes, dancing on long strings, were elusive, exactly as some wishes are. After we had caught and read a few, the stranger turned to his friend and said "Damn I love this school!" Amen to that. And to the anonymous artist of the Wish Tree: Thank You. (If you are the artist, please leave a comment so we can all give kudos to you!) Under that tree in a winter twilight, surrounded by your vision, I felt very, very lucky to work here.

So imagine my surprise and delight to find this sculpture waiting for me in right here in Mantor's browsing room! If you recall this post from back in July, you'll know what a big fan I am of art produced from books. This piece, entitled "Quiet No Longer", is made of books, and includes books about racism as part of the display. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to learn more from artist Samantha Funk, and she graciously agreed to answer some emailed questions. Samantha is a freshman, majoring in Art Administration/Art History. This project was for Prof. Christopher Lavery's Sculpture 1 class.

Bookjones: Samantha, what role does art play in your life right now?

Art has always played a role in my life; even when I was younger. I went through a traumatic experience and my mom thought that a good way to help me cope at such a young age (3 or 4 yrs old) was by going through art. I actually had an Art Therapist, and I really think that even though this horrible thing happened I was able to form a love for art. It has been not only a passion but a wonderful tool for me throughout my life.

Bookjones: In the future?

In the future I see art playing the same if not a more important role in my life. My major will allow me to cooperate with other facilities, institutions and individuals. I have a crazy goal that I have set for myself and that is to attend Yale's Art's and Sciences Graduate College to further my interest in museum studies/art administration.

What was the inspiration for this piece?

Honestly the inspiration for this piece came from the quote by Saint Augustine which is written on the human form. "The mind commands the body and it obeys. The mind commands itself and meets resistance." This projects was in response to one of three "concepts" that our final sculpture was to be under; Noise, System and Skin. Originally I was looking at more of a system rather than skin but the project really developed on its own and created its own meaning without to much of the beginning stages of planning. When I realized that I in fact was leaning more towards Skin, I started thinking about how we as a culture focus so much on our own skin and how we have such a history of racism in this country. I want people to realize that even though we may THINK racism is "dead" it is in fact alive and booming in parts of our country and how we have as a whole decided unanimously to *not* talk about it. We need to talk about it, as a country, as a community and as an educational institution. We censor ourselves SO much that every day conversation is no longer organic because we want to make sure we are politically correct and unoffensive. My piece is intended to MAKE you talk about it and to MAKE you think about racism and how it effects everyone.
Bookjones: I love that you used "Sense and Sensibility" as the book you upcycled into your sculpture. Was that a random choice, or part of the message?

Samantha: What do you think the meaning of using Sense and Sensibility is to this sculpture? I like to leave pieces of my sculptures and art open to interpretation to the audience. If I told the entirety of the meaning of my work, that then leaves no room for people to form their own opinions and ideas about the work(s). I can tell you that I do have a meaning in mind, and that it was not a random choice for the piece.

Bookjones: Why was it important to you, as an artist, to display your sculpture in the library?

Samantha: This piece would not live anywhere else if it did not live in the library. If I had this outside, or sitting in the cafeteria that would change the piece entirely. Where the work lives, is where the meaning also lives. When we think of the library, what comes to mind? Knowledge, a place where we can educate ourselves. This is what I have learned so far in my studio art classes; where your work lives is extremely important. You need to think of the atmosphere, location and how you want your work displayed because this all plays a part in the interpretation of the work.

Bookjones: Can you talk a bit about the technical details of your sculpture? How was it constructed?

Samantha: The construction was the most difficult, frustrating, and invigorating process. Basically I told my younger brother [yay for siblings!] that I was going to wrap him up in saran wrap and clear packing tape. You had to be there for the look on his face. See you have to first wrap your form, and it can be anything not just human, in plastic wrap and then using clear packing tape you wrap that around and it holds the form of what your wrapping. I did his torso, arms, and legs on that Saturday night and it took about 4-5 hours just to do that. This was the first time I have ever used this method and you can't do it all at once you have to do sections, and then put it together. I didn't use enough tape and plastic wrap for it to survive the 4 hour trip back to school so I ended up stuffing each section with newspaper and it allowed me to transport it safely without damage. The head is my own, I had to do this also in sections. Next to the hands and fingers its probably the hardest section to do. After I had it all stuffed and put together that's when I started attaching the pages of Sense and Sensibility. I again used clear packing tape because I liked how the pages looked to be "under his skin." I would say attaching the pages took close to 14 hours combined to put together. If anyone wants to attempt doing this method I highly suggest using more materials than I did. (More plastic wrap, more tape)

Samantha welcomes comments and questions about her exhibit at her email address:

Samantha is planning on leaving her piece in the browsing room through Monday, possibly Tuesday. I don't know how long the Wish Tree will be growing outside our door, so hurry in and experience them both.

My wish? That all of the artists who have left bits of themselves around our campus will know how much we appreciate them.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Facebook Profiles and Google eBooks

Two kind of large things happened yesterday. The first was the redesign of Facebook profile pages. Up until now, Facebook profile pages (the pages for each specific user) have stayed fairly static over the years. There have been some tweaks here and there, but until now, nothing major. And it's not like this redesign has been earth-shattering, either. Basically it's an attempt to make it more visual. There are places to post what your favorite sports teams are, for example--and then instead of just listing them, it shows the teams' logos. You can have "featured friends" on your profile. It's not like it's to the point where you can tweak the page to make it look how you want it to look, but it's changed enough that it'll look at least somewhat different from everyone else's page. Facebook is rolling this out bit by bit, but if you don't want to wait, you can click here to activate the changes right away.

The other tidbit is that Google has now officially launched its eBook store. 3 million out of copyright, public domain works available, plus hundreds of thousands of copyrighted eBooks for sale. They're all available in multiple formats, and they all stay in the cloud. What does that mean? It means that you don't really download them to your reading device--you read them online. So when you finish reading a page on your iPad, you can pick up right where you left off on your PC or your iPhone or whatever. Also, they've added page numbers. Not page numbers for the eBook. Page numbers for the physical book. So if you've got the font sized cranked up, you might be on page 53 for seven or eight pages, if that makes sense.

What do I think of this?

I'm not sure. I think eBooks are definitely coming into their own, but it's going to take some time before we've worked out things like standard formats, prices, etc. Eventually one of these competing formats and stores will win out, and then life should improve for eBooks. As it is, how do you tell which horse to bet on? Usually, innovation and competition is a good thing in technology, but I think in this case, it's kind of getting in the way. Libraries, for example, have no idea where to put their money. Users want eBooks, but if the library bets on the Kindle, and the iPad ends up winning, then all those funds are gone. (Imagine a library that invested heavily in Betamax videos instead of VHS.) I personally don't think this will take too long. A few years, and we'll have a much better idea of what's going on and where this is head.

But enough about me. What do YOU think?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Extra Hours for Finals

Yup. We're coming up to finals week, and that means it's the time when projects are due, papers must be written, and any research that needs to be done, needs to be done now. (Or really, a few weeks ago would have been better--but who's counting?) In an effort to meet student demand, Mantor is open this week until Midnight. So come on over to the library and use that extra hour each night to get that much more studying done, or research in, or . . . whatever you want to use it for. And good luck on finals, everyone!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Review: The Likeness

The LikenessThe Likeness by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one was a very unique book to read. It's a mystery, and I have to say that the premise was so outlandish as to make me contemplate putting the book down before I got more than a few chapters into it. What is the premise, you ask? There's this detective, see. And she's a burned out murder detective who also used to do undercover work. And there's this victim, see? And she just happens to be almost an identical twin with the murder detective. And there are no leads in the case. No leads at all. So . . . the detective returns to murder and undercover work, going undercover as the victim.


But here's the thing. Once you get past that premise, it actually is a really good book. The author (Tana French) does a really good job portraying the main character and exploring just how difficult it would be to be put into that outlandish situation. There are some great scenes where the detective (Cassie) is interacting with the victim's friends. Things are made more complicated by the fact that Cassie actually envies the victim's life and is seriously tempted to lose herself in this new identity.

I found myself compulsively turning pages, and that's always a good thing, with me.

So there you have it. If you can get over the premise, I recommend this one. Fun, interesting read.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm with the Band (books).

Hello, readers. Today, I had planned to do a blog post on the 55th anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks took a Montgomery bus ride into history. Instead, I'm writing about this:

Why yes, that IS Horton Hears The Who. And you're right. It has nothing at all to do with Rosa Parks. See, that's what I love about you. You catch on fast. But how, you may ask, did I get from Rosa to Horton?
Like this: I was sitting here in my office, pulling together some resources for the Rosa post, (and trying to figure out how to work in this post by David Booker at The Centered Librarian without committing outright plagiarism...) when two students began working in the Project Zone adjacent to my office. The Project Zones - we have two of them - are equipped with dual monitor, speedy computers, and all sorts of multi-media creating and editing software programs. I have no idea what sort of project they were working on, but boy, do I love the soundtrack. From Brian Setzer to Beyonce, the music coming through the duct work into my office had me doing some serious desk dancing. And I thought: that is one awesome musical mash-up. Which made me think of musical mash-ups in general, which made me think of a contest I read about on one of my favorite design sites, Coudal Partners. (That's just the way my mind works. Try to keep up.) Coudal Partners is a design firm that does all kinds of fun and interesting stuff, and looks like it would be a crazy fun place to work, if you like the sort of place that paints all it's bathroom walls in chalkboard paint to inspire creativity. (And I do. )
Anyway, Coudal Partners recently sponsored a contest called Booking Bands, inspired by a word game the Merry Designers had been playing on the bathroom wall, in which band names were mashed up with book titles. I know, right? I told you it would be fun to work there. But here's the good thing: we don't have to work there to play. I've created our own little chalkboard washroom on the library Facebook page!
So, for a good time, check out the Booked Bands at Coudal Partners for a little inspiration. And then, hop on over to Mantor Library's Facebook page and post your own mash-up under the Discussion Tab.
Oh - and extra points for anyone who can make a mash-up that somehow includes Rosa Parks.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ramping Up for the Grand Finale

Mantor's gearing up for the end of the semester. I just got back from vacation, and I returned to see the study carrels filling up and students hard at work. You haven't seen any blog posts from us for the past few days because we've been off vacationing before the rush at the end, but we're back now and ready for business. I just have a few hundred emails and a thousand or so blog posts to slog through to catch up.


So bear with us as we get our bearings again. It'll take me a bit to have something interesting to say, tech-wise. For now, can I just say I got a 2 terabyte hard drive over Thanksgiving break? That's 2000 gigabytes, for those of you out there wondering. What am I going to use it for? Backup. Home movies, music, pictures--I'm backing it all up, and I don't want to have to keep on switching to new drives. One drive to rule them all . . . for the next few years, until 2TB seems too small. I remember back when a 32MB hard drive seemed roomy. Ah, how the days go by . . .

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

iPad Update and Using Technology to Fight Evil (or Cheating, at Least)

Two snippets for you this week in technology land. The first is only exciting to you if you have an iPad (or have been considering buying one). Apple has finally updated its operating system to 4.1. What does this mean? It means you can now have more than one app going at a time. It means you can stream from your iPad to your Apple TV. It means you can print wirelessly. It means there are all sorts of cool new things you can do with your iPad. So if you have one, bully for you. If you don't, and you've been waiting for another reason to buy, now you have it. I haven't installed it on my iPad yet, but I will as soon as I can finish this blog post.

The second tidbit I have for you is this cool lecture from a university professor. Why is it cool? He used statistics and technology to discover that 1/3 of his students cheated on the midterm. I don't want to go into detail on how he did it--it's explained in his lecture. I just really got a kick out of how technology was used in this case to help fill a need. Yes, it's just automatic test statistics, but the professor knew how to apply that tech to figure out what he wanted to know. So many times, technology isn't about how many bells and whistles you have--it's about using the tools available to do the task at hand as best and efficiently as you can.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mantor Monday - Thanksgiving Week Hours

Hi everyone,

I've got a couple of things to share with you for this Mantor Monday post:

1. There's still time to bring in food for the food drive - so give if you can. The collection bin is in the lobby.

2. The hours for the Holiday week are:

Monday, Nov. 22, open until 11:00 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 23, closing at 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 24, closing at 4:30 p.m.
Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25 - closed.
Friday, Nov. 26 - closed.
Saturday, Nov. 27 - closed.
Sunday, Nov. 28 - open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Happy Thanksgiving to the UMF community and all our readers. And if you have extra pie, well, you know where to find me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Fun

I saw this video today, and it amused me so much that I decided to share it with you all today instead of our regularly scheduled book/movie review. Thinking about library school? Here's a humorous look at both the reasons TO go and the reason NOT to. I see both sides of this. What do you think?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

To Infinity - and beyond..... - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more This morning I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. , in hopes of catching one of the greatest spectacles of the night sky: the November Leonid meteor showers.
Named for the constellation Leo, the Leonids peak every 33 years, (2001 being the last peak) and at their most spectacular pour hundreds of meteors per hour across the pre-dawn sky. No such luck for me this morning: there may have been meteors falling like rain, but I couldn't see a single one. The sky over my house was obscured by thick clouds. Rats.
If, like me, your attempts to catch a cosmic light show were thwarted by weather, or if (also like me) you're just a space geek in general, I've got a little consolation prize for you: some really out-of-this-world (Ouch. Forgive me.) websites.
Want to be a space cadet? The Hubble Galaxy Zoo needs help classifying the overwhelming numbers of possible galaxies photographed by the Hubble telescope. Here's how the website describes the project: "To understand how these galaxies, and our own, formed we need your help to classify them according to their shapes — a task at which your brain is better than even the most advanced computer. If you're quick, you may even be the first person in history to see each of the galaxies you're asked to classify." So you would look at a picture like this:
and classify it as smooth and round, cigar shaped, or a disk. This particular one is a disk, by the way.
The WorldWide Telescope is another amazing, interactive site that essentially turns your computer into a giant telescope. Explore the universe on your own, or take narrated guided tours to some of the most mind-blowing spots in the cosmos.
The NASA website and the Goddard Library website are both just chock full of resources, links, and interactive explorations for all ages - the NASA site in particular has tons of content for kids. If you are an educator looking for classroom resources or you have budding Space Campers at home, then the NASA site is a must-see.
The National Air & Space Museum and the The Space Telescope Science Institute are definitely worth your time as well.
Want to wallpaper your house with space images? Photographic Libraries offers a whole page of links to image sources.
But for one of my favorite all-around space explorer sites, we'll return to Hubble. The Hubble site, for me, is like a black hole: I could just get sucked in and lost, there's so much to explore here. The galleries are breathtaking, and many of the images are available to download as computer wallpaper. (Yes! Fly that Space Dork flag with pride, my friends!) Here's a little video called Revelations: 15 years of Hubble.

On the Hubble site you can also subscribe to a Night Sky podcast that will tell you what to look for each month. I'll give you a little heads up: try again tonight for the Leonids, and maybe, in the hours between midnight and dawn, you'll see more falling stars than you could ever wish on. If not, the next display is coming up next month, when the Geminid Meteor shower is due December 13 and 14. Considered one of the most reliable cosmic meteor events, the Geminids feature an unusual number of colored meteors: 65% white, 26% yellow, and 9% red, green, or blue. Can't wait.
That's it for today, stargazers: may the force be with you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Facebook Mail, the Beatles and Dumping Electronics

Did the title catch your eye? There have been plenty o' changes in the tech world this past week, the most significant of which is, of course, the Beatles coming to iTunes at last. (Well, not really--unless you're a die hard Beatles fan. Earlier today, Apple was drumming up as much interest as possible, promising a "Day you'll never forget." I'm sorry, but I think this date will easily slip my mind. It's not like ten years from now, I'll look back fondly on November 16, 2010 as the day the Beatles came to iTunes. Sheesh.)

No--the real news is that Facebook is entering the email fray. They just announced that a secret project they'd been working on (codenamed Titan) is starting its slow roll out, first to specific users, then to friends of those users, and ultimately to the entire Facebook world. Now, this isn't exactly email. They're billing it as a way for Facebook users to coordinate all their conversations with friends. It's a hub for SMS, chat, email--all the ways we communicate with each other today. And it's supposed to filter things into three categories: stuff from actual friends you want to hear from, stuff from other people, and spam. You'll always read the first, sometimes the second, and never the third.

Will it work? That remains to be seen. Before the news conference, I wondered just how they might "improve" email. I was skeptical, but I'll admit that the idea at the core of this project is intriguing.


Facebook doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to privacy and the public. I wonder if all the techies are going to be eager at all to entrust the big blue and white giant with all their personal communications. Remember a while ago, when Google Wave was supposed to be the Big New Thing? It's pretty much dead in the water now. That said, if this really offers something significant and useful, then I could see it taking off. If/when I get a chance to use it, I'll post my thoughts on it.

And last, I wanted to show a video that impressed me quite a bit this week. We all focus on eating green and and trying to live green, but this points out the need to alter the very way our society approaches the creation and use of electronics. Things need to change, and this is coming from a big time tech gadget junkie.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Review: On Writing

Stephen King On WritingStephen King On Writing by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are many books on writing published each year, and every author seems to have something to day about what to do or what not to do when writing, as well as offering what tips they can on how to get published. In the end, most of the books go over the same material, just with different words. How is Stephen King's book any different?

Well for one thing, he's Stephen King.

If Colonel Sanders tells people how to fry chicken, you listen. Love him or hate him, Stephen King has sold a whole heap load of books. He's written bucket loads. Why wouldn't you want to read what he has to say on the matter? I suppose if you're a "serious" author who doesn't care for all that "genre" garbage, then you might look down your nose at this book. However, the fact is that many of the authors we view today as literary greats were genre writers of their time. Dickens? Twain? Come on.

It really helps that in this book, King avoids trying to make ultimatums. There's no one way to writing, and he acknowledges that. But he also says that you can learn from other people's experiences, and that's true, too. So he discusses how he became a writer, and what sort of sacrifices he made for the trade. He talks about style and form, and he does it all in such a readable manner.

One thing leaps off the page: Stephen King is a master storyteller. Toward the beginning of the book, he tells a story of when he was little and suffered a series of ear infections. The details he includes make the story riveting and memorable, and I finished reading it amazed at how well he had pulled it off. I've talked to people who are convinced that nothing interesting ever happens to them. They read stories by others, and they wish they had those sort of stories to tell. I don't believe that for a minute. Everyone has interesting stories that happen to them every day. The trick is how those stories are told. King's childhood is just like anyone else's--he just knows how to present it so it's fascinating.

Don't believe me? Give the book a try, even if you're anti-King.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tell Me A Story

I was doing some research on digital storytelling for a class I'm taking, and I came across this amazing project called StoryCorps. StoryCorps, whose motto is "Every Life Matters", is one of the largest oral history projects ever undertaken. The heart of StoryCorp's mission is to give ordinary Americans a chance to tell a piece of their own story. These brief snippets of life, which are broadcast weekly on NPR's Morning Edition, are then archived at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Since 2003, more than 30,ooo interviews have been archived. But here's what I think makes the StoryCorps program something really special: the stories are conversations between two people who matter to each other: husbands and wives, parents and children, friends, and lovers.

What was the happiest moment of your life?
What are you most proud of?
What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?
What is your earliest memory?
How would you like to be remembered?

These are the moments: funny, bittersweet, some heartbreakingly sad - all touching in their everyday humanity - that are being recorded. Here's one I loved: Marty Smith asks her 93 year old dad, Paul Wilson, to tell her about how he met her mother. He tells Marty how she was the elevator operator at the building where he worked, just before WWII: “The door slid aside and there she stood -- the prettiest girl I had ever seen.”

Paul Wilson and his daughter Marty

You can listen to hundreds of recorded stories here, or subsribe to the podcasts here. Several books, including the one pictured above, are available here.
Would you like to record a story with someone who matters to you? You can make a reservation here. Because you know what? Every life does matter. And I'd like to hear your story.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another Nail in the Print Magazine Coffin

Remember US News and World Report? If your answer to that question is "yes," you'll no doubt be surprised to hear that they will no longer be in print starting next year. (Of course, if you answered "no," then you know WHY they won't be in print anymore.) A few years ago, the magazine cut down to being monthly instead of weekly, and now it's abandoning paper and going purely digital.

I find this to be Really Big News. When a formerly really well-known publication suddenly starts saying how important the iPad and tablets are to the future of publishing, and then declares it's breaking free of print so that they can "position ourselves to take advantage of the emerging platforms," you know print really is truly 100% dying. Newspapers have been on the way out, magazines are leaving us, and that's all a fact.

It's surprising only that it's happening so quickly, at least in my opinion. One of the things keeping print alive in recent years is that there are so many people out there who prefer reading things on paper--at least, that's what everyone's been saying. Apparently, there are quite a few who prefer this, but not enough to sustain a print magazine.

Then again, it makes sense. I've long since gone digital with all my news. I used to read USA Today in print, but I can get it on my iPad each day for free. Why get a paper copy?

So the question is, will this extend to books? I'm actually going to say that it won't. Not 100%, at least. I mean, you can still buy vinyl records today, despite MP3s and iPods. They don't sell as many copies, but people like them for their strengths--they're physical, they have great sound, they're collector's items, etc. Books will likely become the same thing, in print. People will buy them because they have a particular affinity for an author or title. They'll buy them for the collector's value, or because they prefer reading paper to reading a screen. But the majority of books will be sold digitally.

What do you think?

Mantor Monday

Coming soon: The third movie in our "Food for Thought" film series. King Corn will be showing in Lincoln Auditorium, Tuesday, November 16, at 7:00 pm.

Imagine having laboratory hair analysis done, and finding out your body contains sky high levels of....corn. After film makers Ian Chaney and Curt Ellis get the strange news that they are extremely corny, they decide to grow an acre of the crop and attempt to follow it through the American foodscape.

Want a challenge? Go to the grocery store, and attempt to find any processed foods that do not contain corn. Corn syrup is ubiquitous. A huge percentage of corn grown in America is used as feed in the meat and dairy industry. Your cheeseburger? Might as well be a cornburger. Chaney and Ellis take us on a strange and entertaining trip as they show us just how big a stranglehold King Corn has on the food we eat.

As always, we will have encore showings of the film at 10am, 2 and 6pm in the Mantor Library Browsing Room. And remember to enter the drawing to win a free book!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Lekko my Blekko. (Sorry--I couldn't resist. With a name like Blekko, they're almost begging for someone to make some snappy remarks.) Have you heard about Blekko? Probably not, I suppose. And that's where I come in. Blekko is a new search engine that is trying to prove its significance by showing how it does stuff Google doesn't do. At this point, some of you are no doubt wondering why in the world anyone would use a search engine other than Google. To that, I'll say that the tech world is slowly filling up with examples of companies that once seemed so dominant that no one would ever overtake them, only to eventually fall from grace. (Microsoft anyone? Internet Explorer used to have an iron grip on browsers--not so anymore.) So I'm all for new efforts at beating Google, not because I dislike Google, but because I think in the struggle to continually come up with something better, consumers like you and me win.

So what does Blekko do? As they put it: "blekko is a better way to search the web by using slashtags. slashtags search only the sites you want and cut out the spam sites. use friends, experts, community or your own slashtags to slash in what you want and slash out what you don't."

Hmm. Slashtags, huh? Did that make sense to you? Allow me to explain. Basically, people can come up with lists of good websites in a certain subject, and then assign a slashtag to that list. So sites about dogs would have be labeled /dog. Then, when you only want to search those good dog sites, you'd go to Blekko and add /dog to your search. Voila. No spam results. In theory, at least. So Blekko's saying that if you use their engine, you'll only get relevant results--or at least you won't get filler results from non-related sites.

Will this work?

It might. I did a search for my name, adding /people after it, and it came up with six results, all of which had to do with me. That's a good sign. (There have been "Google Killers" in the past that haven't even really worked that well as search engines.) But just because it works doesn't mean it'll catch on. One concern I have is that the engine is essentially asking you to learn a new way to search--you have to learn their lingo if you want to use the engine to its fullest. Plus, who decides what sites are included in a slashtag? Blekko? So one company gets a lot of power over results lists. At least with Google, there's some semblance that the results list is dependant on a fancy algorithm, not potentially biased humans.

So the jury's out. I'll be surprised if this one takes off, as I don't see the majority of people willingly putting in the effort necessary to use the engine the way it was designed, but I've been wrong before. What do you think?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mantor Monday: Food Drive

Hi! Happy day-after-Halloween! I hope everybody got lots of treats and no tricks, and hopefully, your sugar buzz is not making concentration difficult, because I have something important to tell you.
This morning, the On Our Minds Reading Group kicked off a food drive at Mantor Library. It's going to run through November 21st, and all items will be donated to the Care & Share Food Closet, which helps local families in Farmington, Fairbanks, Temple, Chesterville, New Sharon, New Portland, and New Vineyard.
We all know families who have been hit hard by the struggling economy...maybe yours has, too. Food Pantries and aid organizations are going to be hard pressed to help everyone in need of assistance this holiday season. If you can, please help us help each other. You'll find our collection bin in the lobby.
What is needed? Any food items that are non-perishable. Canned soups, beans, fruits, vegetables, and tuna. Spaghetti sauce. Dry pasta or rice. Boxes of cereal and crackers. Peanut butter. Granola Bars. Dried fruit or nuts. Canned or powdered milk. Baby food.
Some non-food items are appreciated as well: toilet paper, hand soap, toothpaste, shampoo, dish soap, and paper towels. Thank you in advance for anything you can donate.
If you're having trouble keeping food on the table yourself, help is out there. I'm including some links to help you find it.
For our UMF families and neighbors:

Care & Share Food Closet
Location: 508 Fairbanks Road, Fairbanks Neighborhood Center, Farmington, ME 04938
Days and Hours: Monday through Friday Except Holidays Noon to 2 pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday, 4 to 6 pm on Thursday
Contact: 207-778-3833

More help in Maine:

Maine Department of Agriculture Food Assistance Programs by County
Maine Food Pantries

Food Pantries by State:
Feeding America

Now, let's all join hands and sing "Lean on Me." No? Okay. I'll leave it to the master himself, Bill Withers. I hope he inspires you to be, if you can, someone to lean on.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween

In honor of the holiday over the weekend, I wanted to take a moment to salute the growing horror collection we have in our library. Here's a quick rundown of some of the highlights:

1931 Frankenstein--One of the true classics, a movie that singlehandedly influenced pop culture's concepts of the monster.

1935 Bride of Frankenstein--The sequel to the 1931. Woman with crazy Marge Simpson hair with a white streak running through it? That's from this one. One of the most popular horror classics of all time.

1974 Young Frankenstein--What better way to complete the trilogy except with this comedy masterpiece by Mel Brooks. Brooks actually found and used the original sets from the 1931 version to make his, so it all seems very consistent. Good (usually clean) fun.

The Exorcist--Where else can you see someone vomiting pea soup on camera? One of the most frightening movies of all time.

Silence of the Lambs--The only horror film to ever win an Oscar for Best Picture. Yes, some people have said after the fact that it's really a thriller, not a horror, but in my book, any movie that has a villain use another person's face as a mask automatically qualifies for the "horror" status.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer--The entire seven seasons are downstairs on reserve. More fun thrills than you could fit in on a lifetime of Halloweens.

Psycho--Alfred Hitchcock's groundbreaking movie. Looking at it now, it's not quite as terrifying as it was when it was released, but that's mainly because other films have built on the ground Hitchcock broke. You'll never want to take another shower again.

The Nightmare before Christmas--Jack Skellington plans to replace Santa Claus in this Tim Burton produced stop motion animated film.

We have more than just these--some good Dracula adaptations, more thrillers, and other fun films. What's your favorite Halloween movie? Do share!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Halloween Infographic
Source: Online Colleges

Can't get enough Halloween infographics? Here's another one. And yet another.
Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ask a Librarian: Call for Questions

Okay, folks. I've run through some of the basic questions I had brainstormed previous to starting this series of entries, and I wanted to take a break to see if there are any questions out there that any of you would like answered. So here's your big chance. Any takers?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting the Most from your Internet

In today's tech Tuesday post, I want to talk a bit about internet speeds, since many people I've talked to over the years seem not to understand them. They know there's "fast" and "slow", but that's about it. Allow me to explain. The slowest of the slow these days would be dial-up--using something like AOL or another internet provider to connect via your phone connection. This clocks in around 56 kbit/second (theoretically--in practice it's more like 40-50). This is very slow. Painfully slow.

Remember: painfully slow=50 kbit/second.

So what's fast? Blazingly fast in America these days would be around 50 mbit/second. This is about 1000 times as fast as dial up. It also is only available in large cities, and costs an arm and a leg to get. ($155/month)

Fact: you do not need internet speeds this fast.

So what's reasonable? Well, I get 3 mbit/sec at my house, and that's adequate. I'd like 4 or more, but such is life. It's a balance between cost and return. At work, I get something like 35 mbit/sec, which is very appreciated, especially when I have to download large files. Of course, there's the other side of the coin: upload speeds.

When you're using the internet, sometimes you're getting information--you're watching a movie, looking at pictures, listening to music, etc. That's the speed people usually look at, and it's the one I've discussed so far. But sometimes you're giving information--putting pictures on Facebook, trying to Skype with a friend, playing a video game with other friends, etc. This is called upload speed, and it can be just as important, but as a rule, if you get a high download speed, you'll get a relatively high upload speed, as well.

So what people do is they call up their cable or phone company and say "I want fast internet." The cable or phone company cackles and hooks them up with "fast internet." Since people don't understand what fast is (or how to measure speed), they just accept the idea that they now have "fast" internet. It's certainly faster than dial-up, so why worry? This is crazy to me. If you're paying for a certain internet speed, you should be sure you're getting what you're paying for.

How do you tell?

Go to and follow the onscreen instructions.

Don't use anecdotal evidence. Don't assume that it "feels" fast, so it must be fast. Test it. Your internet service provider (ISP) should be obligated to provide you with consistent speeds at least 80% of what they're advertising. (Sometimes internet speeds can bog down, but if you're paying for 10 mbit/sec and only getting 1, there's a problem.) If you note a problem, contact your ISP. Complain. You're paying the money, they need to provide the services.

Why does it matter? If you don't notice you're slow, why care? I suppose if all you do is look at websites with no videos or Flash or the like, it doesn't. (But then, why are you paying for really fast internet?) If you're trying to play games, stream movies on Netflix, Skype with video and the like, a faster connection will give you a noticeable improvement.

In the end, this is just a message to encourage you to be aware of what you're paying for and what you're getting in return. Because a well-informed consumer is a happy consumer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Live from the Archives...

So, I've been spending a lot of time in the University Archives for the past few months, because we are relocating to a new space. What? You didn't know there IS an archive? Okay, let me back up the bus for a minute. Mantor Library is the official keeper of UMF history, in the form of an archive that is currently housed in the basement of Mallet Hall. The archive contains vertical files, consisting of clippings, documents, photographs, theater programs - anything UMF related that can be stored in folders in a filing cabinet. We also have physical objects: books, maps, scrapbooks and all kinds of other memorabilia, that is stored in acid free boxes on shelving. It's a LOT of stuff. Some of it is very interesting stuff. And I've been getting up close and personal with a lot of it that has been waiting to be sorted and processed. And since I have a box that I've been sorting sitting here in my office, I thought you might like to see a few gems from the collection.

This is a receipt for housing in Purington Hall. In 1918, room and board would have set you back $25.00 for six weeks.

This is the program for the commencement of the college's first graduating class, in 1866. In those days, final examinations were given in the morning, and graduation was held in the afternoon. Wow. Talk about leaving things til the last minute!

Here's one I've been getting a kick out of: this list was apparently mailed out to incoming students circa 1950 - and it's a suggestion of things to bring to college.

In those days, according to another list, room and board had skyrocketed to a hundred bucks for the first quarter, and tuition was a whopping $25 per semester. Yes. Semester. Not credit hour.

I'm learning a lot about the history of UMF as I sift through these boxes, many of which were gifts of alumni, or the children or neices or nephews of alumni, who send back these bits of memorabilia with notes that say how much the University, whether it was known as the Normal School, or the State Teacher College, or UMF as we know it now, meant to them, and how they would like their college souvenirs to be preserved in our archive. And they are. The material in our archive is the memory of this institution, and the echo of every student who attended the school in all it's incarnations.
And where is the archive moving to, you may wonder? Well, so do we. That decision hasn't been made yet, but we'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, #2)The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You never quite know what you're going to get when you open up a sequel. In the case of The Knife of Never Letting Go, the ending was such a cliffhanger that you almost had to read the second book before you could properly review the first. (Sort of like how you don't know what you scored with a strike until you've bowled the next two frames. Look at that--I just managed to incorporate bowling into a book review. It's been that sort of a day.)

In any case, I've now read the sequel to Patrick Ness's original, and it was just as good as the first, maybe better. One of the things I liked so much about the first was how well Ness handled his character. You see things from Todd's point of view so clearly, and the choices he has to make all have huge implications, but those choices aren't handled cavalierly or from an author-moving-chess-pieces-around sort of approach. Todd makes the decisions Todd would make. Always. The second book extends that, involving Viola's POV, as well. Once again, Viola stays just as consistent as Todd.

Throughout the book, the two make hard choices. They have to deal with issues that have no clear right or wrong answers--heavy issues that I was genuinely interested to see how they reacted to them. In fact, one of the criticisms I've heard of the first book is that it's too much of a boy's book--Todd's POV is so strong that it can alienate girl readers. This might be the case, but if that's so, then the sequel should solve some of that, since Todd's viewpoint is now only half the book. Viola has her own unique way of looking at things, and the views are distinct and each handled well.

Again, I don't want to delve into spoilers. The basics are that Todd and Viola find themselves caught between two violently opposed factions, and they each take sides as they try to cope with what's at play. Some themes include what makes it possible for a tyrant to come to power, how is the best way to deal with tyranny, and where is the line where resistance to tyranny becomes just as bad as the tyranny itself. Deep, but action packed. Suffice it to say that it's a great book. If you liked the first, you'll like this one. If you were so so about the first (but finished it), definitely pick this one up and give it a shot.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Hey, everyone: I am on a quest to bring you new and awesome ways to locate and organize information - and I just love today's find.
It's called Timeglider, and it's a free, web-based timeline creator built on an Adobe Flash platform.

Timeglider allows you to build a multi-layered timeline, so if your information is very dense, you can prevent visual clutter by assigning importance values to your events: readers see "the big picture" at first glance, and then zoom in for more detail - from century at a glance to hour by hour. To move forward and back along the timeline, just grab and drag, and multicolored "event" lines allow readers to visually follow long term events, and see how they overlap and interact. I also love the fact that you can import images, and everything that you mouse over brings up an information box. It's visually interesting, AND interactive: that makes me happy.
The first thing readers will see when you share your timeline (which is private until you give out the url - no casual searchers can find or use your research!) is the introduction that you write, then, by clicking "start", they can start travelling through your timeline.

I can think of soooooo many applications for this program: for student presentations, for educators who want a graphic way to present information, for historians. Genealogists could use it, as could journalists following a story or novelists doing plot development. Hey, even if you've got a wedding or some other complicated event to plan, you could use Timeglider.

Take a tour of some of the sample time lines on the Timeglider site. (You can start with the Wright Brothers example above, but it's hard to get the full effect in that little box. ) It's really cool. And here in the Browsing Room, that's what Thursdays are all about.
Until next time,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open vs. Closed Systems

There's been a flurry of news today as Steve Jobs had one of his latest outbursts--this time focused on why he feels iPhone is better than anything out there. At its essence, the argument boils down to a disagreement about which approach is better: an open system or a closed system. Allow me to explain. An open system would be something like the classic PC--it's put out there on the market, and any other company can make parts for it, tweak it as they see fit, use it for new products, etc. That's how you have the current situation, where Dell, Gateway, HP and a slew of other computer companies exist, all selling essentially the same thing, just with different tweaks. On the other end of the spectrum is a closed system such as Macintosh. Apple owns Mac and is draconian about what it will and won't allow on the machine. They serve as the gatekeeper to their products. Other companies have tried to make clones of the Mac, and Apple has sued them out of existence.

There are arguments for and against both sides. With open systems, consumers often win. They can wade through all the different setups of the product and select the one they like the most. Prices drop. At the same time, they have to wade through all those different setups to select the one they want. Consumers need to be savvy if they want to get the right product.

With closed systems, consumers don't need to wade at all. They know the product they're getting, right out of the box. The company that sells that product has complete control of the presentation and interface of their product, which often results in a slicker, more user-friendly experience. At the same time, prices rise as the company has control over them. There might not be as much innovation, and choices will be restricted by what the company wants, not what consumers want.

In the days of PC vs Mac, PC seemed to win. Mac tried to control its fate, and it was pushed out of the spotlight by PC, with PC computers reigning supreme . . . until today, where Mac is making more than a bit of a comeback. Clearly, these things come and go.

This same scenario is playing out today in the smartphone industry. You have iPhone (a closed system by Apple) vs. Android (an open system by Google). The same pros and cons apply to both. Steve Jobs wants his iPhone interface exactly how he wants it--no tweaks allowed. Google's all for openness. The great thing for regular folk like you and me is that we don't need to take sides. It's good to see huge companies fighting over our attention, because that means that in the end, we win. We want there to be heated rivalries--it results in better products. So if you'd rather have a slick, easy-to-use experience, go with iPhone. If you want control over your phone and what you can and can't do with it, go with Android.

At least, that's my take on the matter. Any questions?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mantor Monday

It's a busy week for On Our Minds this week, readers! We'll be starting the activities with a Gold Leaf discussion group on October 19th at 3pm in the Browsing Room (the physical one, not this one) , and we're expecting a really good turn-out. In Defense of Food, and Food Rules, our book selections this year, both lend themselves to discussion, so we'll have plenty to talk about!

Also on October 19, at 7:00 pm in Lincoln Auditorium, will be the second in our Food For Thought film series: We Feed the World. “Close to a billion people on earth are starving today. But the food we are currently producing could feed 12 billion people. This is a film about food and globalization, fishermen and farmers, the flow of goods and cash flow - a film about scarcity amid plenty.” - Allegrofilm.
Sounds good, doesn't it? And if you can't make it to the screening Tuesday evening, we'll be running encore presentations here at the library at 10 am, 2 pm, and 6pm.
And remember: at any On Our Minds function you attend, you can enter to win a raffle! The next drawing will be November 15, and we'll be giving away a copy of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is worth the purchase price just for the recipes alone, never mind the fact that Kingsolver is an entertaining and informed proponent of local eating - and a darn good writer. So to get it for free? Like frosting on the cake. The organic, whole wheat, locally sourced cake, naturally.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review: Incarceron

Incarceron (Incarceron, #1)Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a decent book that could have been better. Should have been better, really. The concept's a cool one (although it seems to have been done some before in the past): a boy wakes up in a prison with no memory of how he got there, and only vague memories of his past. Coupled with this is another plotline: a girl who's betrothed to the next king, in a world very unlike the world the boy finds himself in. Of course, we find out the two worlds are connected. The girl's world created what was supposed to be a paradise controlled by a computer. The boy lives in that "paradise," where everything went wrong and the happiness disappeared a long time ago.

So, what did I like? The plot was brisk enough, moving forward in a sort of "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" way. The characters were fairly engaging, and the conflict engrossing. You'll note that I'm using disclaimers here--I clearly wasn't blown away by the book. It took me three weeks to finish, which I think is a sign right there: I just wasn't captivated enough to be swept away and dive into the book.

So what didn't I like? My biggest complaint is that the book is riddled with poor use of magic/sci-fi elements. In a good fantasy/sci-fi book, the rules are clearly established. You can't just do "anything"--the author shows early on what is possible and impossible in the world, and then those rules are adhered to religiously. Not so in this book. The author constantly disclosed elements that conveniently caused trouble or--worse still--solved conflict. It's hard to get involved in the action when the action is solved by a "oh wait--I have this magic ______ that will solve this for us" technique.

Another complaint stems from this: often the description of what was going on was just too vague for me. The fantasy and sci-fi elements were nebulous. I had a hard time picturing what was being described and how it was affecting our characters.

Really, in light of these two critiques, it's a testament to how good the rest of the book was that I still gave it three stars. In other words, if you're not as big of a stickler for fantasy as I am, you might very well really enjoy this book. :-) I've returned it, and it's waiting for you even as we speak, on the Discoveries shelf.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Making a List...

Are you a list maker? I am. I have "to do" lists, shopping lists, lists of books I want to read, work related lists and home related lists. Lists, for me, are like brain maps. They help me organize information and formulate a plan of attack for all the things I want to do. And let's face it: there's something really satisfying about crossing a completed item off a list. (I have a friend who is such an extreme "Type A Personality" listmaker, if she completes a task not on her list, she will ADD it to the list, just for the thrill of crossing it off. Yeah. I know. But she has a lot of other redeeming qualities, so we must forgive her for this bit of organizational overkill.)
If you are a list maker who is looking for ways to reduce paper in your life, or if you just like doing things digitally, have I got a site for you: Listography.
Listography allows you to create multitudes of lists on a customized background. You can create text lists and photo lists, and it's completely linkable to your blog, facebook, or myspace page.

If you find the details of other people's lives fascinating, there's more to see here than a reality show marathon: you can browse other people's lists for ideas and inspiration. You can even comment on lists, and get comments on yours. (Lists you make are public unless you make them in your "private" folder - so be aware, and don't use information you would not want made public - like address or phone lists.)
The user guide spells out how to format your lists, and, most importantly, how to cross things off.
Give it a look. It might just make a digital list maker out of you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ask a Librarian: What Does an Interlibrary Loan Librarian Do?

This one is perhaps a bit easier to answer than the last few, because the job is so specialized and specific. An interlibrary loan librarian . . . gets stuff for you through interlibrary loan. But it's more complicated than that, too. I'll break it down. You go to your library, and you want a book or article that the library doesn't have in its collections. You request it via ILL, and that request goes to the interlibrary loan librarian. He or she process the requests the library makes from other libraries, finding where it's available, contacting that library to arrange for it to be sent to your library, etc. Ideally, you never really see the ILL librarian to thank her. Of course, you might request something that your library actually does have in its collections, in which case you get an email alerting you that your request has been canceled and showing you where you can get the item you requested.

In addition to these duties, an ILL librarian manages the requests from other libraries for materials that library has in its collections. It's a two way street, after all. You can't ask other libraries to send you materials if you turn around and refuse them when they ask you. Then again, in a smaller library like Mantor, the number of requests we send out is far greater than the number we get back, just because our collections are so much smaller than, say, a major research university's.

In any case, that about sums up the duties of an ILL librarian. Any questions? Did I miss anything? Having never been worked in interlibrary loan, there's a good chance of that. Feel free to correct me in the comments!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Today's tech post is all about a little tool called Zotero. At its heart, Zotero is like iTunes for your research. You know how your MP3 player might have thousands of songs on it? What if you had no organization for it? What if you couldn't search for things by genre, or artist, or album? What if all you had was a big pile o' music that you had to sort through each time you wanted to listen to a song? I think most of us would go crazy in that situation. We wouldn't even consider subjecting ourselves to it. But researchers do this exact thing to themselves when they research. They compile a hoard of information on various subjects, then spend little to no time actually organizing that information. When the time comes to use a quote or find a reference, they discover they didn't write down where the quote

Enter Zotero.

It's a Firefox addon, which means that it's a program that works within Firefox. You open your Firefox web browser, and it's automatically running. When you find an article, web page, movie, book or whatever, you can import its information into Zotero. Zotero classifies things by tags, subjects, authors--you name it. Like iTunes, you get out of it what you put into it. When you import information, it's important that you look it over to make sure everything was imported properly. You add tags of your choosing. Put it into various reference collections you have going.

If you're only working with a handful of articles, Zotero is overkill. But if you're working on a large research project--a thesis, or research that spans several semesters--Zotero can be a life saver. No more lost citations, missing quotes, last-minute searches to find the article you could have sworn you had already printed off. Zotero lets you add notes to each entry, including particularly noteworthy passages if you want. Really, there's almost nothing you can't do with it. It does take some effort to learn the ropes, but for those who put in that effort and are serious about their research, it always pays off.

Already use Zotero? Tell us what you think! Have more questions about it? Please ask!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a big, growing genre in YA right now: dystopian science fiction. Basically, it's bleak sci-fi set in a world that's often post-apocalyptic. Worlds that are ruled by totalitarian regimes, have strict laws about what can and can't be done. That sort of stuff. You might recognize other books in this vein: The Hunger Games, The Giver, Uglies, The City of Ember, Feed--I could rattle off quite a few from the top of my head. Books that share the same basic concept, and then focus on how characters deal with living in that situation. I enjoy them all.

Add another great one to the list.

The Knife of Never Letting Go has a fascinating premise: a group of people colonize a planet, but soon after colonizing it, they start to be able to hear what other people are thinking. Not some of the time, either. A constant barrage of thoughts from everyone. They call it Noise. What's worse, the women of the colony all died from an apparent alien disease. The protagonist of the story is Todd Hewitt, the youngest boy of the colony. The only boy, at this point. With no women, there have been no more children, so one by one, the boys have grown up and become men. In a month, Todd will become a man himself, going through with the initiation rites his people have developed.

I don't want to get into too many details, because I don't want to spoil things for you, but the book was utterly fantastic. Todd is thrown into some very difficult situations, but he deals with them all in a realistic manner. There are no convenient plot points--no miraculous saves by the author. Patrick Ness (the author) puts Todd into a mess, and it's up to Todd to get himself out. I read this book in a flash, and I loved every second of it.

Better yet, Mantor is adding the entire trilogy very soon. Look for it in the new books section. But you'll have to fight me for the next one.

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