Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Fairy Tale Gown

Once upon a time,
a designer named Ryan Novelline took several boxes of discarded Golden Books for children, and transformed them into a Cinderella-worthy gown. The skirt contains twenty two thousand square inches of illustrated pages, and the bodice was fashioned from the golden metallic spines that give the books their name.
Was there Fairy Godfather magic at work? You be the judge: the entire process is captured here in a photo essay.
According to Novelline's website, he is "a Boston based alchemist who spends his free time in search of the extraordinary."
I think he found it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Firefox 4 and the Amazon Cloud

Two fairly substantial developments occurred in the tech world this past week. The first one up is the release of Firefox 4. Things have really heated up in the Browser Wars since the days of Internet Explorer vs. Netscape. These days, there are many more real options for the user, including Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera (as well as some more obscure choices). Firefox, in fact, had begun to really lag behind the latest golden child of browsing--Google Chrome. With the update to 4, it's back to being competitive again (although since Google is continually updating Chrome--instead of being tied to a strict release schedule--it's hard to believe Firefox won't begin lagging behind again soon). What does the update bring? Faster browsing speed, for one thing. To be clear, updating won't suddenly make your internet feel twice as fast, but it will help it feel a bit zippier. It also has better support for the underlying building blocks of the web: HTML5, CSS3, etc. It should be less resource-hoggy, too. Basically, if you're using Firefox, upgrading to 4 is a definite must. If you've given up on Firefox because it had begun to seem outdated, it's worth giving it another look. I'm still sticking with Chrome, but it's good to have a nice backup with Firefox again.

The second development occurred in the cloud--you know: that great, big nebulous online data storage that lives somewhere in the ether. In other words, instead of storing files on your physical computer, you store them on the computers of a company--whether it's email on Google's gmail service, or with an actual backup company like Mozy. The web has been buzzing with rumors that Apple or Google would launch a full-blown cloud service, letting iPhone, iPad and Android users access their movies and music through an online storage site. Well, look who went and beat them both to the punch? Amazon launched its Cloud Drive service: 5GB of free online storage available with your Amazon account. You can stream from it to an Android phone or a computer--but not any of Apples mobile devices. That's quite a bit of online storage for free, and although I haven't used it yet, it seems pretty solid. My only wish is that all of these companies would stop bickering and start playing nice with each other, but the odds of that happening seem slim to none right now. Such is life.

In any case, check out those two services, and if you have any questions, stop by and ask. I'll be here!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No StarsFull Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't grow up as a Stephen King fan. I think up until college, my sole attempt at reading one of his books was The Stand, and I just couldn't get into it. It wasn't until I picked up The Gunslinger that I started to understand the appeal he has--I read all of the Dark Tower series at once, and I really enjoyed them. Since then, I've read quite a bit of his new material. I've said it before, and I'll reiterate it here, the man has a real gift for telling a story.

Take Full Dark, No Stars. I checked it out of my library and took it home. I glanced at the first page, thinking I'd just check out a paragraph to see how it begins. The next thing I knew, I was twenty pages into it. I'd gone from knowing nothing about the characters to *needing* to know what happens next. That's not an easy thing for a book to accomplish.

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four stories by King, all of them exploring the darker reaches of human behavior. It certainly isn't for everyone. I found it quite disturbing, and I definitely recommend against reading it late at night (unless you prefer nightmares). One of the things that makes it so unnerving is how realistic he makes it. How understandable and normal his horror is. This isn't outlandish, unbelievable stuff. This is stuff that could happen. Possibly has happened. Now, it wasn't like that in all 4 of the stories, but even in the bizarre, King manages to keep the connection to the realistic. The characters are people we can understand, and that's far more frightening than complete monsters.

In any case, it's a good book, but really unsettling. If you're not into horror, stay away. But maybe you're like me--not necessarily into horror, but unable to turn away when it presents itself. In that case, good luck. :-)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Impressions on Windows 7

I've been using Windows 7 now for the past few weeks, and I finally feel like I can give it a fair assessment. According to Google Analytics, 82% of you reading this are using a Windows machine to do so (14% are using a Mac), and I'm guessing most of you are still back in Windows XP. And that's fine. Windows XP has been around for quite sometime--since 2001, in fact. It's been tried and tested, and you're likely really familiar with it by now. It's like an old friend, almost.

But you know what? It's ten years old now. When XP was brand new, America Online was at its peak. Mark Zuckerberg couldn't even vote. In tech terms, your old friend is a dinosaur. But it's a dinosaur that didn't really have many other options until recently. Yes, you could switch to Linux, but that's a big leap for many people. There was Windows Vista, but we'd all heard how awful that was (even if the reality wasn't nearly as bad as you'd heard). But there aren't really any excuses now. XP is nice, but if you're in the market for a new computer, it's time to take the plunge and upgrade to Windows 7.

There's really nothing to be afraid of. The new operating system is pretty straightforward. They've moved some features around, but nothing that's too hard to find. It responds quickly, and I don't have much in the way of complaints. If you're using an older machine (more than a few years old), I'd wait to upgrade until you get a new one. XP works just fine, and with upgrading you're going to need to find new drivers, and some of your older components might not work. I've upgraded some library staff computers, and we've had difficulty with printers especially. Since upgrading isn't free, it's easiest just to wait until you need a new computer.

If you do decide to upgrade, might I recommend AGAINST doing a simple "upgrade" to Windows 7. Do a clean install of the operating system--meaning back up all your information, then wipe the computer clean and start from scratch. Less to go wrong that way. You should be backing up anyway, and this is an excellent time to do so. Plus, with a clean install, you'll notice your computer running more quickly and smoothly--a definite plus.

Anyway. Windows 7 has been much easier to use than I thought it would be, and overall I'd say I like it more than XP. Definitely a step in the right direction. If you have any specific questions, fire away!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mantor Monday

Looking for a comfy place to read or study? The reference area has sprouted some Spring green armchairs! Located behind the reference stacks, each chair is nestled into it's own private bay, and is paired with a funky convertible laptop stand that can be used low like a coffee table, or high like a desk, depending on your work style. We've accessorized each study bay with some colorful artwork, as well: posters of graffiti-style takes on classic fiction covers. Enjoy!

In other Mantor news, the Mountain Valley High School sent a group of juniors and seniors over for a morning visit today. The students came as part of a Gear Up program that exposes high school groups to college experiences. The students enthusiastically tackled a library orienteering activity, which sent them exploring all over the library in search of clues. Then, Laurie MacWhinnie, Head of Reference, led them through a taste of college research in the Peter Mills Electronic Classroom. When asked if they had discovered anything surprising about the library, many of them commented about our confusing stairs (they ARE fairly Hogwarts -ish) and they were impressed by the study rooms. It was fun to host them, and we hope to see some of them returning as UMF students after graduation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Information, please...

Some of the information tidbits in this presentation are mind-boggling. For example: did you know that there are more people alive, right this very minute, than have lived and died in the entire history of people??? No wonder we're all feeling a little crowded. The good news: a whole lot of those people need information. And that's where we come in....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The iPad 2

Apple released it's latest flavor of the iPad: so the question of the day is "to buy or not to buy?" First, a rundown of the differences between the iPad and the iPad 2. They're pretty much identical except for the following improvements:
  • iPad 2 has a low quality camera on the front and a bit better quality camera on the back, good for videoconferencing, but that's about it. You're not going to want to try to take award winning photos with this, but if you want to talk to family members and see them, then this is great.
  • iPad 2 is twice as fast, with graphics 9 times faster. So a significant speed boost.
  • iPad 2 is 33% thinner and .2 pounds lighter. From what I read, it's pretty sleek to hold. (And it's got a cool new cover, which is nice--but shouldn't exactly make your decision for you.)
  • iPad 2 now offers 1080p video output (with the right cable), so you can see full HD video on your big screen TV with it, streaming Netflix or whatever else you'd like. That's pretty cool, and a bump up from the 720p available earlier.
  • iPad 2 comes in white as well as black.
And that's about it. Same great battery life. Same great screen. Same apps. It's a great product.

But should you buy it?

Well, that depends. If you already have an iPad, you could sell your old one for about half its value and upgrade. I have an original iPad, and I'm not upgrading. I just don't think the improvements warrant me giving Apple another $300 of my money, especially not when you know there will be an iPad 3 in the future. With Apple, you have to know which features are important to you, and upgrade when those features come. For me, that's not now.

If I didn't already own an iPad, I would definitely consider getting one. I use mine probably about 2 hours each day, minimum. I love it. Would I buy an iPad 2 or a refurbished iPad 1 for half the price? I don't know . . . Probably the refurbished iPad 1, because I'm not rolling in money. $149 saved is a good chunk of change, but that's a personal decision.

So there you have it. Hopefully enough info to make a fully-informed decision on the iPad. If you've got more questions, fire away!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mantor Monday

New reads for Spring!

Take a look through our list of newest acquisitions, and you'll see a nice variety of fiction, non-fiction, and music.
March also brings a wide assortment of new young adult and juvenile titles. Like vampires? Fairies? Witches? Steampunk? We've got it covered.

New Acquisitions list here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: I am Not a Serial Killer

I Am Not a Serial Killer (John Cleaver, #1) I Am Not a Serial Killer (John Cleaver, #1) by Dan Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books out there that are just plain creepy. Books you read, and you can't really put down, and you can't forget months after reading them. I am Not a Serial Killer is one of those books. It's the story of a young man who is obsessed with serial killers. He knows all about their typical characteristics--what sets them off. How they tick. Why is he so obsessed? Because he recognizes that he has all those characteristics himself. He's a sociopath, and he knows it. But he's a sociopath who really just wants to be good and normal. Even though he can't be. So he makes up a bunch of rules he tries to follow. Simple things, like not torturing animals. You know--the basics.

It doesn't help that John Cleaver (our protagonist) works in a mortuary for his mother. So he's around dead bodies all the time. (The first scene that introduces us to John is particularly memorable in a horrific sort of way.) I really enjoyed this book (although I wonder if "enjoy" is the right word). Dan Wells (the author) manages to create a character who is horrifying but sympathetic--not an easy feat to pull off. You find yourself rooting for this kid, not in spite of his sociopathic tendencies, but because of them. Does that make sense? His very drive to be good--even though he can't be 100% good--is what makes him such a likable character. That and the fact that he has a good sense of humor. That always helps.

Do be aware going into it that this is very much in the horror/fantasy genres, so don't expect a strict crime procedural throughout the read. That said, the book is also very much a mystery, so I don't want to discuss the plot too much. Suffice it to say that it's a page turner and is making quite the name for Dan, a first time author. The second and third books in the trilogy are already out in England--the second (Mr. Monster) is out in America, and the third (I Don't Want to Kill You) is coming March 29th.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Celebrating CSA

I've really enjoyed having Food Rules and In Defense of Food as the focus of the On Our Minds reading program this year. I'm generally preoccupied with food anyway, so to work on library events about food, and blog about food - especially healthful, organic, sustainably grown food - is pretty sweet.
Rule number 22 of Michael Pollan's book Food Rules is: "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves."
Rule number 15 states: "Get out of the supermarket whenever you can."
One way to get out of the supermarket is to shop at Farmer's Markets. (Here's a directory if you live in Maine.) Many Farmer's Markets operate year round. (Maine Winter Market list here.)
Another option: Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.
What is CSA? It is a consumer/farmer partnership based on a simple idea: that a community will support a farm, and the farm, in turn, will help nourish the community. Early in the season (right about now, in fact) farmers participating in CSA begin selling "shares" or "subscriptions". Buying a share generally provides a member with a weekly supply of freshly harvested produce, often valued at more than the purchase price of the share. All CSA farms operate slightly differently, and offer different products - some offer produce only, while some may offer eggs, meat, milk, or even cut flowers as part of a share. Some are completely organic, and some are not. As with anything else, it's important to shop around and find the CSA that best fits your needs.
What are the benefits of CSA?
  • Shares bought in advance of the growing season help farmers cover seed and production costs.
  • Food dollars are kept in the community, helping the local economy and contributing to the development of regional food systems.
  • Ultra-fresh, seasonal, and often organically grown food straight from the farm, reducing dependency on petroleum and pesticides, and reducing costly transportation practices that now exist to bring produce to market.
  • CSA puts "the farmer's face on food" and increases understanding of how, where, and by whom our food is grown.
  • Offers families a chance to visit a working farm.
  • Exposure to new types and varieties of vegetables - such as interesting heirloom varieties no longer offered in supermarkets - that you might not ordinarily try. (On the other hand, if you aren't exactly an adventurous eater, you may consider that more of a minus than a plus.)
Before buying a CSA share, it's important to know that it does come with some small shared risk. After all, throughout the growing season there are elements beyond a farmer's control - pests, weather, etc. - that could affect the amount or type of produce you receive in your share. Happily, most CSA farms are diversified, so if one vegetable is adversely affected, there are plenty of others to substitute.
Want more information? Here are some resources to help you find a CSA farm that's right for you:

Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Association CSA Directory

Mabel's Book (Western Maine's Guide to Farms & Farm Markets)

Local Harvest

But before you go, enjoy this short clip about CSA in action:

(box of vegetables image from

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 A Techie's Public Service Announcement

I was reminded this last week that often some of the tricks and tools I take for granted are things that other people might not be aware of. Today's tidbit?  If you're in the business of installing programs onto computers quickly and easily, this thing is a gift from above. What does it do? It's a website that aggregates all the different commonly used programs out there. You simply check off all the programs you want to install, then download them all at once as a single file. You click on that file, and it installs all the programs you selected. Easy. Simple. No bloatware offers to uncheck. No endless series of "OK" to click. No searching website after website for the current version of the software. It's a one stop shop that gets almost everything you need done, all at once.

So last week, when I upgraded my computer to Windows 7, I got Chrome, Firefox, Safari, iTunes, Quicktime, Flash, Java, Silverlight, Air, Picasa, Reader and Steam, all at once, installed in minutes. And because I enjoyed it so much, I thought you all might enjoy it, too. Questions? Fire away!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mantor Monday

Mantor happenings this week:

Tuesday March 8, 7:00pm, Lincoln Auditorium: On Our Minds presents a showing of the film Black Gold: A Film about Coffee and Trade.

"As westerners revel in designer lattes and cappuccinos, impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers suffer the bitter taste of injustice. In this eye-opening expose of the multi-billion dollar industry, Black Gold traces one man's fight for a fair price."

There will be encore performances of the film Wednesday, March 9, at 2 and 6 p.m. in the Mantor Library Browsing Room.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Sorry folks. I've been updating my computer from Windows XP to Windows 7 today, so my time for composing book reviews has been woefully limited. (I can tell you, however, that the upgrade process was much easier than I anticipated. Of course, I did a clean install, so I suppose "upgrade" is the wrong word to use.) In lieu of an actual review today, I'd like to provide a forum for people to share what they're reading--or what they can't wait to read.

Right now, the book I'm dying to open up is Pat Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear. I really enjoyed the first book in this series (The Name of the Wind), and I've been looking forward to this next book for quite some time. (Long enough that I think I might have to reread book 1. That's the way fantasy goes sometimes . . . )

How about you? Read anything truly excellent lately? Share!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dettmer Redux

Waaaay back in July 2010, I did a post called Language Arts that profiled the work of several artists who use books as a medium. One of the artists, Brian Dettmer, was profiled recently on the website My Modern Met. Check it out here for 15 stunning examples of Dettmer's scalpel work. Dettmer, a.k.a. The Book Surgeon, was interviewed by one of the site's bloggers here, with another seven photos. (Including the image at left.)
Do you know of other artists creating alchemy with old, unloved, discarded volumes? If so, please share in the comments section - I'd love to see their work.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ebooks in Libraries

Hello, and welcome to another exciting edition of Technology Tuesday. Up for today's topic: ebooks in libraries. There have been some developments in the past week or two on this front, and it will be interesting to see where things end up once all cards are on the table.

First off is a new effort by several startup companies to try and leverage a little ability Amazon just added to their Kindle ebooks: the ability to lend them to friends. That's right, if you have a Kindle, you can now loan your ebooks to other people with Kindles. The catch? You can loan each ebook only once, and the loaned copy self-destructs after two weeks. I'm not entirely sure why they decided to limit it in this way, but anything's better than nothing, I guess--so this counts as a step in the right direction. How are these startup companies trying to leverage this ability? Well, say you have a Kindle, but you don't have any friends with a Kindle nearby--or at least no friends that share your taste in books. Companies are trying to organize to let you maximize your lending ability. Basically, you sign up for the service and lend all your Kindle ebooks out to strangers, thereby earning yourself credits, which you can spend to lend books from other people. It's like one big library system, in essence, with all users loaning each other books.

This is all fine and good, but you've got to think Amazon isn't crazy about the idea. After all, they're in this to make money--to sell more books. Efforts like this appear to be aimed at getting people free books. What's my take on it? I think ebooks need to be more user-friendly. You need to be able to do the things with ebooks that you do with normal books. Lending them to friends makes sense. Limiting the number of friends you lend them to? Not so much. I believe people are inherently honest--especially after they reach a certain age. Most adults don't have any desire to steal a book--especially not book lovers. There are already illegal ways of obtaining books online (which I won't go into in this blog post). In other words--if someone wants to steal an ebook, they can. Right now. Usually days after the book is published. But book lovers would rather own the books they love. They want to support their favorite authors. If Kindle ebooks could be loaned to friends with no restrictions (but only one readable copy available for you or your friends to read at one time--just like a print book), more people would be willing to get an ereader and start reading ebooks. Since it looks people read (and buy) more books once they get an ereader, everybody wins this way. (And word on the street is that Amazon is aiming for a free Kindle one day in the future--who knows where that will go . . .)

The second item of interest is a new twist in the way publishers handle ebooks for libraries. HarperCollins has decided to let libraries have ebooks, but put a limit on how many times those ebooks can be checked out. That limit? 26 times. Their reasoning? Printed books only last so often before they fall apart, so libraries typically have to purchase replacement copies. Since ebooks never wear out, publishers worry they'll lose this source of revenue. 26 times is supposedly the national average for how long a print book lasts before it needs replacing.

My take: most library books aren't going to make it to 26 check outs, unfortunately. The really popular ones will surpass that, but the others . . . it might take years, if they ever get that many at all. So for many books, libraries aren't losing much, but for the few bestsellers (the ones people with ereaders might actually want to read), this is imposing an artificial means of making sure publishers keep getting their cut. Perhaps a better approach would have been to charge libraries slightly more for an ebook. I don't know.

All of this boils down to one thing: the world of ereaders and libraries is still a wild and crazy one, and how things look five years--or even one year--from now may well be much different than how they look today. Stay tuned . . .