Friday, May 27, 2011

Reminder: eBooks and Audiobooks

I'm on the road today, so no chance for a full blown blog post from me. However, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that we offer access to thousands of eBooks and Audiobooks--available to be downloaded directly to you. No need to come into the library. All you need is your library barcode. Just go to and get started today. (It hasn't worked with Kindle in the past, but that's changing soon--great news!) I've been reading Lord of the Rings on my iPad, and I have to say that I've really enjoyed it. I never lose my place, I don't need a reading light at night, and it's easy to use.

How about you? Any of you out there using eBooks? What's your experience been like with them?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Twitter-pated, Gmail Labs, and Black and White Movies

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Special Edition)I follow quite a few blogs, and every so often, I see some things that I just really have to share. Typically I'll share them through my personal Facebook feed (and often Twitter, too), but now and then there are some links that I have a bit more to say about. Today is such a day. Three links for your reading and viewing pleasure. Here they are:
  • There was an excellent piece this week in the New York Times, all about how Twitter is making us stupid. It's a fascinating article--one which I highly recommend--but if you just want the executive summary, the author (Bill Keller) argues that we're training our brains to abandon actually using our memories. In days of yore, people would regularly memorize all sorts of things, including the entire contents of books. These days, stunts like that make a person seem freakish, even though it's (apparently) not that hard to do. (Check out this article for a more thorough discussion in that vein--more great reading in and of itself.) With the advent of calculators and Wikipedia, it's argued that people are outsourcing control of their knowledge to the Cloud. Here's an excellent quote that captures the essence of the argument:
    Many of us have discovered that navigating by G.P.S. has undermined our mastery of city streets and perhaps even impaired our innate sense of direction. Typing pretty much killed penmanship. Twitter and YouTube are nibbling away at our attention spans. And what little memory we had not already surrendered to Gutenberg we have relinquished to Google. Why remember what you can look up in seconds?
    What do I think about the argument? I have to admit that I think he's got a point. As we rely more heavily on computers, it's bound to change the way our mind operates. At the same time, I'm not sure that's a wholly bad thing. At least, it won't be if we don't let it. Sure, we could easily jettison all our hard won knowledge for fluffier things, like American Idol statistics or brownie recipes, but at the same time, we can divert our attention to bigger challenges, instead. I'd say this is a good observation, but in the end it's a glass is half empty/half full situation, which brings to mind an excellent Woody Allen quote I just read in Entertainment Weekly:
    Nostalgia is an unhealthy trap that’s very seductive,” says Allen. “The problem is, life is a very cruel, tragic, and unsatisfying experience and you always think that another time in the past would have been ideal for you. For example, if I think back to belle-epoque Paris, it’s like Gigi, with beautiful costumes and carriages and great wine. The reality is there was no novacaine when you went to the dentist.
    In other words, it's all fine and good to wish for days of yore--but don't forget that those days had their own problems, too.
  • Next up is something for you if you're a Gmail user. Lifehacker has two excellent posts (first, second) on features in Google Labs that you should turn on in your Gmail account. I'm not going to say that I use all of them, but some of these are real gems. (Unread Message Icon, Background Send, Message Sneak Peek, and the wonderful Undo Send all stand out.) This is one of the reasons I love Gmail--the ability to turn on little things that can make the whole thing feel so much better. I think it's fantastic that Google doesn't have to wait for a whole new upgrade to push out improvements. They do it with Chrome (still my browser of choice these days), and they do it with their whole line of services, from Search right down to Gmail. If you're not a Gmail user, I really don't see a good argument for why you don't switch. Anyone care to enlighten me?
  • Finally, here's one last link that isn't tech-related, but I really wanted to share it. Flavorwire has a great piece focused on modern movies that are better in black and white. Now, I know that some of you are thinking to yourself, "Why in the world would I want to watch something made in color in B&W instead?) Well, just watch the first clip of Raiders of the Lost Ark in B&W, and I almost guarantee you'll see the light. A really cool experience, and each of the clips has an accompanying commentary discussing the differences the change in color bring to the table.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Devoured any good books lately?

The Seattle Center for Book Arts looks like my kind of place. Not only are they dedicated to providing classes and workshops on all types of bookmaking, they regularly promote the creative endeavors of people who want to upcycle under-loved books into works of art. As regular readers know, I loooooove me some book art.
While visiting the Center's website, I was grabbed by the intriguing "Eat a Book Today" graphic. It seems they sponsored an Edible Books Festival: participants created edible versions of a book cover, often involving a foodie play on words. Food, books, and bad puns? Priceless. Check out the delicious Flickr slideshow of the Festival here.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Thor: Something's Rotten with Rottentomatoes

ThorI went and saw Thor last night. Expectations were high. This was Marvel, after all--and they've been doing a great job in my book recently, between Iron Man and their Incredible Hulk redo. Add to that the fact that Rottentomatoes gave it a 78% fresh rating, and it seemed like a lock. Sure, I'd heard some negative vibes about the film ahead of time, but you hear those about anything. If 78% of critics liked it, it couldn't be that bad, could it?

Well, it's not that bad. It's just not that good, either. The biggest problem with the movie is that the effects come first, and the characters come . . . fifteenth or so. Honestly. The characterization in this movie is so bad, it makes made-for-tv sitcom writing glow by comparison. Thor is a total jerk. We are never presented with a reason to like the man/god. He's a jerk when he's 7, and he's still a jerk when he's 27. He gets banished to earth, where he does some more jerky things.

Then, he has his Big Moment. His moment when he realizes what a jerk he is. And that supposedly changes him. Makes him a Better Man.

The thing is, this Big Moment isn't big enough. Not to justify the change the audience is supposed to have in opinion about the hero. So much of a successful climax is prep work. You have to lay the foundation for a Big Moment, starting from the beginning. Step One is to make your character somehow likable or believable or at least understandable to the audience. Iron Man did a great job with this. Tony Stark at the beginning of Iron Man I is a total jerk. But he's a really smart total jerk, confident and capable. We don't like him, but we at least realize why other people do.

Why do people like Thor? He's got buddies who supposedly would follow him to hell and back. Why? Because he has a magic hammer? People who base their friendships on magical artifacts aren't the sort of people I relate to.

When Tony Stark has his Big Moment, it's sufficiently big. He gets kidnapped--becomes a victim of his own technology. He sees first hand the effects it has on people, and that changes him. That makes sense.

Thor has to slum it with humans for about 24 hours. Oh noes!

I could go on. Thor and Natalie Portman supposedly have a Love for the Ages in this film--or at least that's what it seems like we're supposed to believe. What is this love based on? A late night conversation on top of a building.


That's epic. I can totally  understand how one chit chat can change their lives completely. That's why I'm so careful about who I chat with when I'm on top of buildings. You don't want to say the wrong thing and then Wham!, you're in a lifelong committed relationship. Blech.

Anyway. Is Thor awful? No. Stuff blows up. People punch things. And it's shiny while it happens. That gets it 2 stars. But is it good? Not really. It's okay.

And that's where this post has been leading me. According to Rottentomatoes, 78% of critics recommend this movie. After I saw it, I started digging some more. For a critic to "like" a movie, they have to give it 2.5 stars out of four--sometimes as low as 2 out of 4. A movie could get a 100% fresh rating if 100% of critics gave it 2.5 stars.

That's not a great movie, folks. That's a decidedly average film. One I probably don't want to waste money on.

I've decided that the whole premise of Rottentomatoes is flawed. You can't boil down a review to a "yes/no" recommendation. That's why we have four stars, not just two to choose from. So from now on, I'm not using Rottentomatoes. You hear that, Rotten? You're Rotten. I'd rather use a service like Metacritic, which gives an average of the actual reviews. According to it, Thor got a 58. That's much more accurate. I'll try Metacritic for a while and see what it does for me.

How about you--what do you use to decide which movie to see?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An eco shout-out to HP

I don't usually post on Technology day, but I just had to give a treehugger high five to the Hewlitt Packard company. Yesterday, when I opened the box my new printer came in, it wasn't what I saw in there that made me happy, it was what I DIDN'T see. No styrofoam: my printer was braced with recycled (and recyclable) cardboard. And the printer was wrapped in a handy-dandy re-usable fabric tote bag - NOT in miles of plastic film. Not only that, the printer itself is largely made of recycled plastic! I immediately wrote to HP and thanked them. Way to go, HP. When it comes to planet friendly packaging, I hope other electronics companies follow your lead.

What Google Won't Let You See

Small Time Crooks
There's been a video getting kicked around librarian circles the past few days that I thought you all might like to watch. Many people these days look at the internet as the Great Equalizer, believing that it brings new ideas to people every day. And maybe it did, at one point in time. But there's a distressing trend lately--more and more, the internet is only showing you what it thinks you want to see.

There's a big difference there. When I Google something, and when you Google something, the results pages are going to be different. Sometimes completely different. But no one knows about that fact--or at least, few people know about it. Here--watch the video, and then I'll give you a bit more commentary below.
What did you think? Did you have any idea that was happening? The reason I find it so distressing is that more and more, people are only going to be exposed to ideas they already have and already agree with, if this trend continues. When your ideas are never challenged, you never have to defend them. I believe ideas get stronger through debate. It's important to expose yourself to other ideas to make certain what you believe is correct--or that you really believe it.

If you'd like to combat this trend somewhat, you can turn off Google's search history personalization. To find out how, check this link. Of course, that only takes care of some of the problem--not all of it. My hope is that talks like this one will raise awareness, which will eventually correct the trend.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Browsing Room's New Look For Spring...

Hello, Readers!
Spring semester is finished, the Class of 2011 has graduated and gone, and we are getting ready to settle into summer mode here at the library. I'll be blogging about the world of books and libraries on Mondays instead of my usual Thursdays - and I'll throw in any Mantor News, as well. 1337Librarian will be talking tech on Wednesdays, and he'll also keep on doing a great job with the Friday book review - along with anyone else we can cajole or coerce into submitting a review. We'd LOVE to get outside reviews from our readers. Seriously - we are not even above blackmail, so if you've got the goods on someone, let us know....

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Microsoft and Skype

Big news for today's Technology Tuesday: Microsoft is buying Skype for $8.5 billion ($4.5 billion more than the closest other bid from Google, or so anonymous sources say). We're assured that this won't have too big of an effect on us as end users--that business as usual will continue for Skype, and that Microsoft is only really interested in taking advantage of the synergy for other Microsoft products that Skype's expertise in the internet conferencing market will bring.

Do I believe that?

Not entirely. Microsoft doesn't exactly have a clean track record when it comes to dealing with companies it purchases. Hotmail's a good example. I personally feel like Hotmail went downhill once Microsoft got hold of it. To me, every time a company is purchased, it takes a step away from what it originally was intended to do. Things that make a company successful are usually focused on the vision of the founders. Bring new owners in, and who knows what will happen?

In any case, it'll be interesting to see what happens with Skype and Microsoft products in the years to come. Ebay bought Skype for $2.6 billion in 2005, only to then sell it for $1.9 billion four years later. Has the value of Skype really gone from $1.9 billion to $8.5 billion in two years? That would really surprise me. I'd have to say Microsoft overpaid by a good $4 billion easy. But hey--it's their money.

To read more about the deal, check out CNN's coverage:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Finals Week

First of all, congratulations to the class of 2011! Graduation is only a week away - a bittersweet day for many who have made our little community their home for the past four years. Good luck, and do good things out there.

We'd also like to thank our fantastic crew of student workers for another year of excellent service. You guys are the best. For those of you who are returning next year,(Yay!) have a wonderful summer, we'll be looking forward to welcoming you back in the fall. For those of you who are graduating, or moving on to other jobs or experiences: we'll miss you. Every single one of you made a contribution to making this library a great place to be. Thank you.

Good luck with your finals... and don't forget: we're offering free snacks to studying students tonight through Wednesday night, so come on in and feed your brain.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ken Burns Documentaries

Have you ever seen a Ken Burns documentary. If not, let me just say that you're missing out. This is a man who's so good at making documentaries, Apple named an effect after him. (The Ken Burns effect is when action is given to still photographs by zooming in or out of a particular spot of the photo. You've seen it before--I almost guarantee it.) Anyway, Burns has been steadily cranking out miles of documentary films over the years, all of them wonderfully done and very informative. The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, World War II, The National Parks, Mark Twain--hordes of movies. I've been working on adding some of these to Mantor's collections, and they're getting cataloged and put into circulation at last. Right now we have two great ones to choose from:
  • The Civil War is 660 minutes of film studying that period of history of America. 11 hours of meticulously researched material for you to watch and enjoy.
  • The National Parks trumps that, giving you 750 minutes of material focused on the creation of the national parks system and then looking at their 150 year history.
If you're a fan of learning through documentaries, why don't you come on by and check out these fine films? They circulate as a set (all Civil War discs together, and all National Parks discs together), so you can really make a marathon weekend out of them. As of right now, they're both checked in and waiting for you. Look for more documentary sets coming from us in the future.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Roll With It

For the literary hamster in all of us.....

Roll on over to The Tattered Cover for this and more - it's one of my favorite sites for gorgeous book-related images.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Basement Lights: No, It's Not Closed!

Mantor's director just sent out the following notice:
After the lighting audits on campus last year, a plan was developed to save energy with sensors and timers on lights in the library.  In most cases, it has been a great fix, but we have a situation I want people to be aware of as we head into finals week.

At this point, the basement area, which has study rooms and houses part of the book collection, has most of the lights off most of the time, and they are activated by motion sensors.  We have been able to get a switch for 2 rows, so at least it will not appear to be closed (we had some students thinking it was closed because the lights were off).  We are putting up signs letting students know that if they move into an unlighted area, the sensors should detect them and turn on the lights.  We will also have signs up in the stacks and in the study rooms saying if the lights go off, students can wave their arms and the sensors should detect them and come back on (we have had the lights go off on students in the study rooms).  I know some of you are laughing at this, and all I can say is sometimes you never know you will have a problem until you have a problem.  Thanks for your support
 I thought I'd just add a few thoughts about this, themed for our Technology Tuesday blog edition. Change in technology can be a difficult thing. One of the problems with a major transition is the learning curve involved. Take going from Windows XP to Windows 7. It can be scary. You're not sure if your devices are going to work at the end of the road, or if you'll end up having to buy new ones of find elaborate work arounds to get the ones you have to work for now. And these unknowns can make you really reluctant to try anything different. What you've had has been working for years, so why branch out? Why bother?

In the case of these lights at Mantor, we're branching out in an effort to be more environmentally friendly. To use less energy. And yes, there are some bumps on the road, but we'll get through them. In a month or two, this will all be a distant memory (I hope!). The same thing happened on campus recently as we all got new copy machines that could be networked to work as printers, too. I went from having my own personal printer right by my computer to having a networked printer off in the adjoining room. Is it as convenient? No. Did it take some effort to figure out how to use it properly? Yes. But I'm now happier with it than I was with my personal printer.

And that's why we do it. We make these changes because sooner or later, we reap the benefits. I upgrade computers with a fair bit of trepidation--just because I know how much effort will be in store for me. But at the end of the effort is the reward: shiny new parts, faster processors, increased capabilities. Yes, we can bemoan the fact that every few years, the products we have that seemed so great are now out of date.

But you know what? Why not be excited instead? Because what that means is that technology has gotten significantly better in just a few years. That's great, and we should all be in favor of it.

So, yes. If you're in the book basement in the next few days and the lights go off on you, wave your hands in the air. Feel a little foolish, but know that we're making things better. Just bear with us. :-)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mantor Monday

The end is near, people.
The end of the semester, that is. As always, we are offering extended hours this week, May 2-8, to give you a little more pre-finals study time. Come on in and get comfortable: reserve a Project Zone, grab a group or private study room, or curl up in one of the Reference Area study bay armchairs.*

Extended Hours Week:
Mon. 5/2-Fri. 5/6 7:45 - Midnight
Sat. 5/7 9 am - Midnight
Sun. 5/8 11 am - Midnight

Finals Week Hours:
Mon. 5/9 - Wed. 5/11 7:45 - 11 pm
Thurs. 5/12 7:45 - 7 pm
Fri. 5/13 7:45 - 4:30

Sat. 5/14 and Sun. 5/15 - Closed.

*Fuzzy slippers optional.