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.....

ImageChef.com - 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.