Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Moving Computers

I'm in the middle of moving from a PC laptop to a new MacBook Pro. I've used both operating systems over the course of my computer lifetime, but it's been a good four years or so since I had a Mac laptop, and a good decade at least since my main computer was a Mac. It's always an interesting experience--going to a new everything. It helps me remember what it's like for people who don't use computers all the time. Simple tasks like opening files, knowing where your default save location is, learning the new keyboard shortcuts--it's all new.

I've only had the computer for a day so far, but there have already been some panic moments. I forget how PC-centric the computer world can be. I'm used to just being able to run any program I feel like. I had some favorite free programs on the PC that suddenly didn't work for me anymore. They were PC only. But I've been able to do some mad Googling (and inquiring of friends), and everything's getting ironed out, bit by bit.

(Really, I'm not sure how I functioned in pre-internet times. If I had a question then, I had to rely on phone calls (and good luck finding the phone number sometimes) or the advice of technicians. I remember having to take my computer in for fixes for things that these days I could just search for a solution on my own.)

I will say that one thing I've really appreciated is how easy Chrome makes it to transfer everything between computers. I logged into Chrome on my old laptop, told it to sync everything with my Google account, then logged into Chrome on my new laptop, synced, and now all my bookmarks, my history, my favorites, my add-ons--they're all there. That was pretty slick.

Anyway--just wanted to share some of the process with you. I'm loving the new machine. (Why did I switch operating systems? Partly because I wanted to bone up on my Mac skills, partly because I felt like I'd bought in to so much of the rest of the Mac machinery (iPad, AppleTV, iPod, etc.) that it just made sense to have my laptop follow suit.) We'll see how the rest of the transition goes over the next week or so as I find other things that I don't realize now that I need to discover workarounds for. There's always something.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Did You Know the Sky Wasn't Always Blue? (Sort of)

It's Technology Tuesday, but the tech world has been kind of quiet recently. (Or is that just because I've been on vacation and not paying attention to it as much. Could be.) However, I came across this awesome podcast, and . . . podcasts are technology, right? Right? And they interview a librarian, which makes it even more relevant. Right? And anyway--I'm the one with the blog here, and I get to decide what goes on it.


I'm a bit of a linguistics nut. I was a linguistics major in my undergrad years, and language fascinates me. This podcast episode from Radiolab is focused on how languages develop the words for colors, and how the development of those words in turn affects how cultures perceive colors. Cyclical awesomeness. Give it a listen--or I'll tell you a bit more about it after the link.

In a nutshell, it appears that linguists have shown languages only come up with the word for a color when they can reliably make that color. Black and white come first, then red, and blue almost always comes last. Homer had no words to describe blue. Neither did any of the other Greeks. Isn't that crazy?

And of course, if you're anything like me, you immediately wonder how that's possible, since every sunny day, we're all looking up at a blue blue sky. With all that blue all around the heavens, how can people just not see it?

Here's where it gets even crazier. Until we decide as a society that the sky is blue, it isn't. Did I just blow your mind? I know I'm still stumped, but it seems to be true. The sky--until it's labeled--is just a blank emptiness. It's nothing.

If this makes no sense to you, but you'd like to learn more about it, listen to that podcast. I love love loved it. (Though it takes it a minute or two to really get into it.)

Anyway--thanks for bearing with me from this temporary divergence from our normal tech subject. I'll try to be more on task next week. Promise.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Books Have Feelings, Too.

There is no denying that books inspire feelings. They make us cry and crave, imagine and grow. In this video, a book warehouse becomes a canvas for artists to express - through books themselves - how they make us feel.

Friday, July 13, 2012

TEDTalk: 404

Today's video is a quick look (under 5 minutes) on the web's most recognizable error - the 404 page. In a few minutes, Renny Gleeson talks about how web designers can take a "oops, you fell through the cracks" moment, and how companies can use those moments to build a different kind of relationship with the people who see them. Some fun examples, too!

(This has gotten me thinking about how libraries can do that better: find the places people get stuck and say stuff that's more useful than "Hey, that book's not found." What does it get you thinking about?)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Underground Books

Intrepid finder-of-good-things Sarah O. tipped me off to a quirky, interesting, book-ish website today, so of course I had to share.  It's called Underground New York Public Library, and it features snapshots of people reading on the NYC subway. Sarah and I agree that we find this site equally cool and creepy: I will readily cop to the fact that I am a bit of a book spy myself, and enjoy seeing what others are reading. It's the posting photos of readers without permission part that we find a bit dubious. And apparently, we're not alone: one reader-turned-unwitting-model commented "Hello! I am the girl you photographed reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women two weeks ago. I was shocked when a friend sent me a link. (And a bit creeped out, too, I must admit.)"  But she went on to express support and appreciation for the blog, so in this case, I guess, no harm no foul.

 The site, which also features people using their ereaders on Fridays,  reminded me of this old post of mine about the anonymity of digital books, and how they have been a boon to the readers (and sellers!) of genres some readers prefer to read under cover, so to speak. (50 Shades of Grey, a title many readers might feel uncomfortable reading on the subway, was recently the first Amazon Kindle book to sell over a million copies.)

So go ahead: release your inner book voyeur, and see what you think. And for you multi-lingual types out there, there's an additional level of spying: the site regularly asks for translations of non-English titles!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tagging Netflix: Like Cataloging, but Simpler

I just came across a fascinating article about how Netflix categorizes movies. Did you know, for example, that Netflix actually pays over 40 people a couple hundred dollars a week (each) to watch 5 or so movies (per week) for them and tag each movie in great detail? How do I get a gig like that? :-)

Basically, the taggers watch the film and keep track of all sorts of details--happy or sad ending, amount of profanity, humor, quirky, sci-fi, romance--you name it. Each movie then has more than 100 different data points, and those are then used to recommend to Netflix viewers what they'll like and what they should see next.

I enjoyed the article on many different levels. First of all, as a Netflix user myself, it was fun to get an insight into how the company decides what I'll like and how  much I'll like it. Yes, a fancy algorithm is the big basis of this, but you need to put data into that algorithm, and I'm sure this is some of the data that piece of tech needs to function. It's nice to know that all the fancy computer programs in the world still can't substitute for human beings watching something and evaluating it.

Second, the librarian in me loved seeing the care and detail a company is taking to make sure it categorizes its offerings correctly. There's really little difference between this and what I do as a cataloger. The article mentions how some movies can be harder to categorize than others, and that's true about any classification system. You'll have something in place that seems like it covers all the bases, but there's always going to be some strange entry that doesn't really fit anywhere. The solution is to force it somewhere--because if you keep making crazy exceptions for individual items, then pretty soon you lose the utility of the organizational system you're using.

Anyway--just interesting to see a "real world" application of some basic cataloging principles, used for a purpose that so many people take advantage of every day. Wanted to share. :-)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday video: a cool outdoor experience

Tn this TEDTalk, physicist Wolfgang Kessling talks about using solar power to create a comfortable setting for spectators and players.

While I'm sort of in the "Why don't we just not do these things in very hot climates?" category, I find the actual science fascinating. (Especially as we are heading into summer here.)

Take a look and see what you think!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

eBook Datamining

A lot of people have been discussing the way eBooks are changing the commercial landscape of publishing--and of libraries, for that matter. But I came across a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that talks about how eBooks are also changing the books themselves--and the way authors write them. I'll give you a second to click over to the article and check it out before I give some of my thoughts.

All good?


I know I should have considered this earlier, but it never occurred to me that Apple or Amazon or Barnes & Noble would be able to monitor my reading habits by watching how I read a book. I can't say I really like the idea. Honestly, I think it might be something that turns a lot of people off reading eBooks. In my experience, many people look at reading as an intensely private affair. Yes, they'll be in book clubs, but no one goes around to check and see if you actually read the whole book, or if you skimmed it. Or if you just watched the movie.

I'm a pretty public person. I don't hide what I'm doing. I post what I'm reading on Goodreads a lot of the time. But that's all voluntary. The idea that some program or robot will be watching me--all the time . . . That's unsettling.

It's understandable why Apple and Amazon might want to do it, of course. They want to see what they can sell you next. The pretense is that they want to give you your next favorite book, but in the end, what they really want to do is make money off you. This makes me wonder if Apple is watching what apps I'm using on my iPads. How much of my information is really private?


And speaking as an author, the idea that I might use the reading statistics of my books to make my books more marketable . . . That scares me a fair bit. (Maybe I'm just in an easily-frightened frame of mind today). When I write a book, I write for myself. Yes, I'll ask myself questions about what will be popular or marketable, but in the end, I write it the way I want to write it. The times when I've crowd-sourced the writing--written what my readers want, or what my writing group wants--the results are less than impressive.

In any case, we certainly live in interesting times. I've said it before--this is the Wild West of the electronic age, despite how far we think we've come. Times are changing very quickly, and it's anyone's guess where we'll be when all the cards hit the floor. Or maybe the cards will never hit the floor. Maybe there's no floor to hit anymore.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Video day: You're getting math in my history!

(Because I managed to forget that Friday was Friday once again, you get a video this morning. Happy Monday!) 

Did you know that a number of historical patterns, unfolding over centuries and across the globe, fit into mathematical patterns? I knew a few of these, but not all of them, and I find the ideas of the underlying patterns and structures fascinating.

In six minutes, learn about how math reveals and explains trends in the size and frequency of wars, the changes in the English language, or the focus on a particular idea, trend, or event.