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.