Wednesday, December 3, 2008

10 Random Things

One of our administrators added a bonus challenge onto our 23 Things: Tell everyone 10 random things about yourself.

That's wonderful, really. But I have 2 minor problems. First, I have an unfortunate habit of thinking that everyone already knows everything about me. After all, since I know it surely everyone else does too, right? The other problem is that I like to tell stories, so I've totally lost track of which stories about me everyone's already heard and which ones are new to people.

So chances are I'm going to bore you with at least half of this post. Hopefully the other half will make up for it.

1. I was born in Cincinnati but moved to New Hampshire before I was a year old, so I'm a New Englander at heart if not by birth. It's a complete coincidence that I'm back in Ohio.

2. I've been a Red Sox fan since I was at least 6 (my favorite player was Jim Rice). My mother is a professional singer, and sang at an annual charity event where she was able to get me autographs of many former Red Sox greats (including Ted Williams), and also sang the National Anthem at Fenway park.

3. I started ringing tower bells at my home parish in Concord, NH when I was 9. I still ring the chime at Trinity Episcopal Church on the corner of Broad and Third and was written about in the Dispatch for it.

4. My father and I have climbed all 48 mountains in New Hampshire over 4000 feet elevation, and most of them we did together. This started when I was in junior high school and first got into hiking and woodsmanship and my father realized this was something we could do together during my teenage years. I know this went a long way to making my teen years much better than they might have been and bringing us closer together. We finally finished in 2003 when we climbed Mt. Moosilauke.

5. In college my summer job was working as a tour guide at Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, NH.

6. In college I was very heavily involved in the theater: so much so that even though I graduated with only two half credits in drama, I co-won the departmental award. By the time my senior year rolled around there was literally no dramatic production on campus that I wasn't involved with. In addition to acting, I stage managed, directed, built and designed sets, hung and designed lights, and co-founded an improv comedy group that performed professionally (twice). I even used those skills to work as a master carpenter for Actor's Company of Pennsylvania for a few months after leaving college.

7. I first met my wife while she was still married because her ex-husband was friends with my best friend in college (it's not as much of a soap opera as it sounds).

8. I have a 19 year old stepdaughter who's currently attending Rochester Institute of Technology. When I moved in with them she was 6. So to all of my older colleagues who currently have teenage children or children in college, even though I'm younger than you I've actually already been there!

9. I moved to Columbus to enter the doctoral program in Philosophy at OSU. 4 years later I failed my candidacy exam, quit the program, started working at the library and wondered what I had been doing for 4 years.

10. Speaking of Ohio coincidences, I found out only after I moved here in 1996 that my grandmother's family was from Columbus, and that 4 generations of that side of the family had lived in Central Ohio. If you go to the Cardington cemetery, I'm related to any Maxwell you see there.

Well, that's ten. I'm sure there's plenty more, and like I said I like to tell stories. Ask me sometime and I'll probably yak your ear off!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The End

We have come to the end of the 23 Things, although hopefully not the end of Learn & Play @ CML. There's no question in my mind that this is one of the best things the library has done to train staff. Not only did it take much less time in the long run than it would have to bring every employee into a classroom to be spoon fed this information, it also brought so many staff across the system closer together. I constantly hear about how people felt like they got to know their co-workers better and felt closer to staff at other locations than they ever did before. Since CML has been battling some provincialism among the branches for years, this alone could have made the entire project worthwhile.

I can't help feeling that there are a couple of things missing, though. Unfortunately, to get this project to work we couldn't make it mandatory. What sort of "play" experience is required? But staff who didn't participate have lost out in so many ways. Not only did they lose a chance to find out more about their co-workers, they lost a chance to discover how their work has changed and gain skills that will be absolutely necessary working in libraries as we move forward. No matter how much you try to ignore all the "Web 2.0" stuff that's out there, it's not going away and it's only going to increase and spread. People and organizations who don't get on board are going to be left behind. This goes far beyond simply being jaded about how the library has changed and mourning the "loss" of books. The way information is organized and delivered has fundamentally changed, and people who don't understand this risk finding themselves without prospects very quickly.

The other element I think wasn't quite right was the scope and size of the assignments. The reality of our work now is that we must spend a great deal of time in the public space. This only makes sense, since our primary job is public service. But this makes it much more difficult to find time to explore a lot of these things in the depth required. I'm not sure if there's any easy way to pare down the assignments into more manageable chunks, or maybe make the tracking requirements simpler than a blog post for each item (a daunting proposition if you feel compelled to write more than a few sentences). But I think a lot of staff won't finish or didn't even start because they felt that devoting as much time as would be necessary to do these assignments well would take them away from the floor for too long, and that's a shame since this project can only help them in their work.

But regardless, this project has been great. I've gotten to know so many people so much better. I've found new tools to help me do my work more efficiently. Tools that I was already using have now been adopted by more of my co-workers, making connecting with them easier. And everyone who participated has a better understanding of how the world has changed and how their jobs are changing as a result. This can't be the end, because we've only just begun.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lend Me Your Ears


After our video Thing, we come to our audio Thing: Podcasts.

I don't know why, but for some reason podcasts make more sense to me than video blogging. Maybe it's because I was raised on NPR, so audio broadcast of information just clicks with me. I'm also used to listening to NPR while I'm doing other things, and podcasts let me do that as well. So I'm a big fan of podcasts, even though I've never used them in the truest sense of the term-- that is, automatically downloading them onto my iPod. Usually, I just stream them as I need them.

Naturally, being raised on NPR, my most common source of podcasts is NPR. Not only can I hear articles that I missed and share articles that I especially enjoyed, NPR also offers other streams that I really like, especially their "Song of the Day." This has helped me discover all sorts of new music that I might not have checked out otherwise. The other musical feature that I really enjoy is the full-length streaming concerts that they have archived on their site. I wasn't going to spend $80 and drive to Cleveland to see Radiohead this past year, but lo and behold I can listen to the entire concert on NRP for free!

In addition to this, I'm also a podcaster myself. A year or so ago, the rector of my church asked me about podcasting the sermons from the church, since I'm the resident audio guru. I only knew how to record and edit the audio, but the church's webmanager could take care of uploading the MP3 once I had put it together. Initially this involved me taking my laptop to church every week and plugging it into the PA, but eventually we obtained a digital recorder, making my life much easier. The whole editing process takes me less than hour every week, and that even includes introductions and the occasional musical offering edited into the podcast as well. My favorite so far was a special sermon delivered by Mike Harden of the Columbus Dispatch on the Diocese's Appalachian Ministries Sunday.

Finally, no post on digital audio would be complete without mentioning the library's forays into the medium. For some time now, CML has participated in the unfortunately acronymed Mid-Ohio Digital Library Initiative, or MOLDI. MOLDI makes use of a service called Overdrive, which is used by libraries all over the country for delivering digital content. Not only can you get audio books and music through this service, there's also a selection of digital movies available as well.

I've used MOLDI once before, when my stepdaughter had to read "Frankenstein" for summer homework a few years back and was having trouble actually reading it. She was about to leave to visit her father for the summer, and we didn't have enough time to get an audio book from the library, so MOLDI to the rescue. We downloaded and burned the audio book that night, and she was good to go.

My only problem with Overdrive is the ongoing issue of digital rights management. Once again, the legal mess over these issues only winds up hurting everybody. The books people really want aren't available through Overdrive because the publishers want tons of money for them. And on top of that, only recently did the publishers decide to play nice and let Overdrive put up audio books in MP3 format despite that being the industry standard at this point. Essentially, they'd much prefer you pay for your audio books through iTunes. But once again, all this fighting over cash is only hurting the industry. The more difficult they make it for customers to get what they want, the more customers are going to seek other outlets, even if those outlets involve copyright violations. The only reason there isn't a "black market" in audio books like there is in music is because there's not enough demand for the audio books. But it's still a symptom of the larger problem.

So a final word on all this before we end our 23 Things: the world isn't changing, it has changed. Self-generated and free digital content is already here, and producers of content who don't realize this and get on board are going to die out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tubing



YouTube is awesome.

I know, a lot of people see YouTube as the next great time waster on the web-- people spending hours poking around for videos of bikini-clad exhibitionists or public brawls. But as with so many of the complaints about the Internet, the salacious anecdotes overshadow what's truly remarkable about this sort of website.

Many of my views about sites like Flickr and Wikipedia and YouTube have been influenced by Clay Shirky's book "Here Comes Everybody." The overall theme of the book and what links these sites together is a sort of economy of scale. Whereas in the past it took a great deal of energy to spread any sort of information, now it's easy for anyone to put any sort of information out into the public square. These sites are essentially information aggregators on a scale that has never been seen in human history. The scale is so vast that we tend to miss what it is accomplishing. In the past, it would have taken the few people who were able to put this sort of thing together days, weeks, or even months to compile this much information. Now one person can post one small clip very easily. But when 1 million people post one small clip, suddenly you have more information than you ever thought possible.

I primarily use YouTube when I want to see something that has been broadcast that I missed. This could range from news reports to historical events to TV shows to movie trailers. I have not yet been unable to find a clip on YouTube that I was looking for. Seriously.

I know a lot of people complain about copyright at this point. Distributing the work of the people who produce these clips without their being fairly paid for that distribution is a violation of our copyright laws. But again I come back to what I have said time and time again on this issue. Our current copyright laws don't work. If they worked, sites like YouTube wouldn't exist. Publishers, producers, and lawyers simply have no conception of how their world has changed on this issue. There is no way for an artist or producer to be paid for every broadcast of their work anymore. As soon as you take down one offender, the economy of scale kicks in again and if it's something people want to see, it's back up.

A perfect example of this was the recent leaking of the trailer for a new movie based on the Alan Moore breakthrough graphic novel "Watchmen." A friend who is much more of a comic book geek than I am sent out a tweet that the trailer was on YouTube, with a link. I clicked the link only to find that Warner was on the job and the video had been pulled. But I thought, "it's on the Internet, it's gotta be there somewhere." A few minutes of searching later and I had the clip.

So what's the point? You can't stop the flow of information. Artists and producers will still get paid, primarily for live work. People will still pay to go to a movie theater or a concert. People will still pay to own a physical copy of their favorite book. And, as Radiohead showed us, people will still pay to support their favorite artists' work. But we need to let go of the idea that you can control every instance of your work. YouTube is just one symptom of this, but undoubtedly the best way to share video information currently available.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Apply Yourself


Yes, I need to apply myself. I've consistently been behind on my 23 Things, and now I have less than a week to complete them all! So I'm going to knock out Things 17, 18 and 19 all in one post.

Shocking, I know.

But there is a consistent theme here: Apps. Especially with the iPhone we've all been hearing a lot about Apps lately, but what's most interesting to me is how the concept of apps has completely taken over computing. When I first started using computers, it was all about just running individual software. You bought the program, stuck the disk in the computer, and ran whatever program you wanted to run. Windows began the change away from this restricted view of what the computer was capable of. Suddenly you could run more than one program at once! What's funny is how much this seemingly simple change began to change how we thought of the computer. Computers stopped being tools that could only do one thing. They started being nexuses where many things came together in one place.

I think that this greatly influenced how the Web developed. While initially the web was simply pages that displayed static information, people were trying to figure out how to get them to do more right from the beginning. Platforms like Java and Flash only helped develop this trend, and now it's to the point where you almost don't need to have anything actually installed on your computer other than an Internet browser.

I first found out about how far this had gone about 4 years ago. At that time the library only offered Microsoft Office products on a small handful of computers at each location, and managing time on those computers was an unbelievable pain. I actually was yelled at by a customer for asking someone to vacate one of those computers because she was "only" using it for Internet and another customer wanted to use the Office products. The reason for the restriction at the time was licensing, and fortunately we eventually saw the forest for the trees and ponied up to have it installed on every computer.

But I digress. Around that time someone pointed me to a beta site called Writely, which was an online word processor app. I played around with it and was floored. Why were we monkeying around with licensing and software costs when this was available for free on the web? Now Writely has become Google Docs, but we still have Microsoft Office hanging around.

But for how much longer? There is an app for just about everything you would want to do on the computer available online now, and many of them are completely free. From family trees to maps to games and even the Operating System and hard drive itself! I used to or currently have software for all of those apps, and now all I need is my browser. Even Google Docs can save your file in a variety of formats, so compatibility isn't an issue, and on top of that multiple users can edit the same document with an efficiency that MS Word can only dream of.

This really is the direction we're headed in. Everything comes through the browser, and the browser doesn't have to be limited to a desktop. It can be in a lap, in your hand, or even strapped to your head. So if we're going to be involved in this development, we need to be there too.

Fortunately, CML has begun to incorporate this sort of functionality by offering some tools for everyone who's constantly plugged into their browsers. Right now this is just a toolbar that allows you to access common features from our website through the tool bar and a search plugin for the ever-present corner search box. But I know more widgets will be coming! We are there now, and this will only help us connect to customers and show just how much we can do for them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Aπολογία του γάμου

I've recently had a number of conversations about homosexuality and Christianity, probably because of Prop 8 in California, and I thought I should put down my thoughts on the matter for everyone to see. Honestly, I've never had any problem reconciling my beliefs as a Christian with acceptance of homosexuality. Like most heterosexual men I went through a period of mild homophobia until I had been around gays long enough to realize that 1) they weren't interested in me and 2) they were a lot of fun to be around. But I never had any conflict between my religious beliefs and homosexuality.

The obvious question then is why do so many others have this problem? Ultimately it comes down to a few key passages in the Bible. I'm not even going to get into the fact that we are obsessing about three or four passages in a text that contains hundreds if not thousands about poverty, forgiveness, and peace. What follows is my reasoning about why these few passages do not constitute a condemnation of homosexuality for Christians.

As a caveat, I should mention that what follows will most likely not convince someone who believes that homosexuality is a sin that it is not. Any of these arguments can be written off by the other side as "rationalization," or ignoring the word of God.

So be it.

One of my most strongly held beliefs is that we have been given reason in order to apply it, even to our religious texts. To not do so is to deny one of God's greatest gifts. The Bible is a guide that should be carefully thought about, not a dictum that must be blindly followed according to whatever interpretation is fed to us. But for those of you who are not religious or who are open to these considerations, here is my understanding of this issue.

Sodom and Gomorrah
The first passage that is typically held up as a condemnation of homosexuality is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. The key passage is:

"But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’" (Genesis 19:4-5).

Sounds pretty mild, eh? Of course this is "know" in the Biblical sense, literally. Consider what Lot's response was:

"‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.'" (Genesis 19:7-8).

Nice father, right? But in this passage is the key to understanding what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah actually was. It was not homosexual sex. The sin was violation of the stranger. Most early cultures, especially in the Mediterranean, held the tradition of the "guest-friend." That is, if a stranger comes to your house and seeks shelter, you are obligated to offer them protection and treat them as an honored guest. This is the only way humanity could survive in a world where spaces between people were distant and travel was dangerous. The people of Sodom violated this by threatening to gang rape the strangers in order to exert power over them. And Lot was so dedicated to the protection of the guest that he offered his daughters in exchange.

This interpretation of this passage is further supported by Jesus himself in Matthew 10. When giving instructions to the disciples about how to conduct themselves in spreading the good news, he says:

"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town" (Matthew 10:14-15).

By drawing the connection to Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus is confirming that the sin for which they were punished was rejection of the stranger.

Leviticus
Ah, Leviticus. If you ever want to feel like a sinner, read this book. This is one of several books that lay down the law for the people of Israel. We all know about the Ten Commandments, but Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy elaborate on those 10 simple rules and turn them into a full-fledged legal system. In all honesty, there are many fascinating laws in Leviticus, many of which underpin laws that we still have today (modern property rights, for example). But let's get to the meat of it (no pun intended!):

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22).
"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 20:13).

Whoo boy, that's pretty black an white. But as always, we really need to look at the passage in context. Consider some other passages:

"you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning" (Leviticus 19:13).

So apparently getting paid weekly is a sin.

"You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials" (Leviticus 19:19)

There goes mules, mixed crop farming, and poly-cotton blends...

"You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you" (Leviticus 19:27-28)

No tattoos, and apparently no haircuts or beard-trimming.

We could go on, but the point is you can't highlight one passage and hold people to it while ignoring other passages. Now, there are plenty of religious groups that try to hold to every law in Leviticus-- Hasidic Jews for example-- but what about Christians? Jesus actually had a quite a bit to say about the Jewish law, but two passages stand out. First, when confronted by the Pharisees for the fact that his disciples did not keep strictly to the Kosher laws, Jesus said:

"Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile’" (Matthew 15:17-20).

Here as he does elsewhere, Jesus's point is that by following the letter of the law they are ignoring the heart of the law. This culminates in the only "law" Jesus gives to his followers:

"‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’"(Matthew 22:36-40).

In other words, if you do these two things you will be following the law. The question we must then ask is, is it loving your neighbors as yourselves to condemn homosexuals?

Paul
The final passage that is used to condemn homosexuality comes from Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth.

"Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

In accepting this passage as identifying homosexuality as a sin you first must accept that everything Paul wrote was the divinely inspired word of God. Paul himself actually makes distinctions in the same letter between that which he receives from the Lord and that which is his own opinion, but in this particular passage he doesn't specify. So it is left to our interpretations.

But even if we accept that this is the divinely inspired word of God, what is the point Paul is making here?

"The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Corinthians 6:13).

In other words, obsession with physical things distracts us from spiritual things. I think we can all get behind that sentiment. But also note that Paul is condemning fornication. That is, unrestrained, unthoughtful, unloving fucking. He later says:

"To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

In fact, all of chapter 7 gives very detailed thoughts on how to conduct oneself in a relationship.

Clearly, Paul had issues with any sort of sexual relations, but he acknowledged that some concessions had to be made in light of human nature. I don't think there's any question that he found homosexual relations repugnant, but it is possible that the repugnance was more due to the unrestrained giving-in to the flesh than the particular act. Keep in mind that Paul was writing at the same time the Epicureans were promoting a philosophy that the pursuit of pleasure was the highest we could achieve in life, and he needed to explain to the new churches
(especially Greek colonies like Corinth) why that philosophy was wrong.

All of this brings us to the final point. The ancients simply had no conception of a homosexual relationship such as exists in our society today. Any homosexual relationship back then had to happen outside of marriage because if you were an adult you were most likely married. In other words, any homosexual relationship was necessarily adultery, and therefore disruptive to society. But today we do not have to get married to survive. Thus a relationship between two people of the same sex is not disruptive in the way it was 2000 years ago. And furthermore, just as a man and woman can join together in a holy union that helps each one understand the love of God, so too can two men or two women. The larger point was and remains:

"Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Smash

Yeah, so I was hit by a car Tuesday night.

I was going through the intersection at Broad on Grant when I suddenly see a car turning left right into me. I had no time to react. All that stuff you hear about time slowing down is absolutely true, and the further away from the event you get the more you can parse out what happened. I remember seeing the hood of the car just about to hit me and thinking "You stupid..." I remember rolling onto the hood of the car and then somersaulting over the top of the car. I later found out that in doing so I caved in her windshield. As it happened I didn't notice the pain of hitting it though, just rolling up and over. I remember feeling my arms tossed around like rubber as my backpack came off. Then I remember landing on all fours in the intersection and collapsing.

My first thought was "is anything broken?" I sort of did a system check and gingerly pushed up off the ground and thought "holy crap, nothing's broken!" I saw the front wheel of my bike in the middle of Broad and the rest of it further along. As I stood up people stopped at the red light on Broad were getting out of the car and asking if I was okay. Several of them were calling 911. The light changed and as cars started to go through the light several people were yelling at them to stop. I saw one car drive right over the bike wheel.

Someone asked me if I needed anything, and I asked to get out of the street. I was able to walk to the sidewalk when I started to feel light-headed and sat down. At least since I had been through a major wreck before 14 years ago I knew this time that I was going into shock and needed to just sit down and shut up. The cops pulled up and the squad wasn't far behind. I was able to give a description of the collision to the officer, all the time thinking "wow, that sure was a coherent description, all things considered." I told him where to find my ID and gave him my phone numbers. He said he'd call my wife and take what was left of my bike to the house.

One of the paramedics asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said "I'm feeling okay but I know I'm going into shock, so you tell me." They put a neck brace on me and strapped me down. Fortunately we were only a block away. This was my first ride in an ambulance as a patient, and all I could think was that it looked just like in the movies when they shoot the picture looking up at the ceiling.

The doctor came in and checked me out. They took X-rays of my knees and chest and an ultrasound to make sure nothing had been damaged internally. One of the fun moments of this was seeing a little kid in the hall while they wheeled me to X-ray who couldn't stop looking at me. I gave her a smile and a little wave and she waved back. By this time shock was thoroughly set in and I was freezing. They had to pile a couple blankets on me.

Jessica got to the hospital a while after I was back from X-ray and we watched the election returns in the hospital room while waiting for me to get stitched up. Unfortunately, since I had come through it all okay I wasn't a high priority. After the doc stitched me up and a paramedic training to be a nurse (who was a mountain cyclist, so lots to talk about) had wrapped me up, I gingerly made my way out to the car and home. One of the funniest moments of the night was that I had to keep telling Jessica to slow down since I couldn't move that fast. Normally it's totally the other way around.

There's absolutely no question that I was extremely lucky. There's also no question that there was nothing more I could have done to prevent the collision. I was traveling with traffic at a reasonable speed, I had the right-of-way, I had a 5 ultra-bright LED headlight on flash as well as two hanging flashers on my backpack that could have been visible from the side. I do think that several things contributed to my being able to come through it okay. I'm in good shape, so my muscles and joints were able to deal with the stresses the collision put them through. I'm an experienced cyclist, so my body instinctively knew how to take a fall. But if the hit had been a few inches further back my leg could have been broken. And if I had landed on my back instead of all fours the damage could have been much worse.

So for now, I'm simply thankful that someone was watching out for me that night.




Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Offering

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

-- James W. John­son, 1899

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wikid

Things 15 and 16 bring us to "wikis." Once again, we have a term that's probably become so over-used that it will eventually be meaningless. But the concept behind it is brilliant.

Everyone knows about the biggest wiki out there, Wikipedia. Wikipedia has generated plenty of controversy on its own, but one thing that seems to be constantly overlooked in the criticism is the fact that it's actually pretty effective.

So why is Wikipedia effective? Surely if we turn the entire world loose to edit an encyclopedia however they see fit we'll have information anarchy! But as with all things Internet, the answer lies in the scale. For every vandal, there are hundreds of people who care enough about the entry to fix it. Basically, why would a vandal want to waste their time messing with an entry that will be reverted to its original form seconds after it was altered?

In this large example there are several clues as to why wikis are a good idea generally. First, anyone can contribute. This makes them an effective way of sharing the work around. One of my favorite wikis that I just stumbled across was the Lolcat Bible. Someone gets the bright idea to translate the Bible in lolcat-speak, puts it on a wiki, and in about a year the project is almost done. Not because a few people wasted a lot of time, but because lots of people wasted a little time. So if you put the same concept to good use, you can get a comprehensive site about just about anything, not because some expert put lots of time into the project, but because a lot of experts put a little time into it.

Second, wikis track changes. This is important for a few reasons. It allows for accountability-- that is, anything you change will be visible for anyone to check on. If you're messing around with the content, someone will call you on it. It also lets you see how an idea has progressed. How many times have you been working on a project and forgotten how you got to this point? Or come to a dead end and have to reconstruct your work to figure out where you went wrong? With a wiki, it's all there. Finally, if you try something and it doesn't work, a few clicks and you can get it back to where you had it originally.

Ultimately, wikis are another sign of how cheap and plentiful data storage has become. To quote Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, "There's plenty of disk space, and as long as there are people out there who are able to write a decent article about a subject, why not let them?" We can keep all these changes and maintain all these authors because it doesn't cost anything more to do so. Wikis create a framework to be able to do this.

The most obvious application for my job is to create a wiki for circulation practices. Our library has almost always had a compilation of best practices for circulation service. The problem is that almost as soon as we have them written up, something has changed. Also, right now the only way to create them is for someone to bring the idea to me, find people to write a draft, and then go through an editing process. But if we put these on a wiki, anyone with an idea can create a stub, any of the circulation experts in our system can contribute to the practice, and it can be updated as things change with little difficulty. In other words, it would take something that's currently incomplete and would be a big drain on my time to complete, and turns it into a self-completing project!

To wrap up, for Thing 16 I've added to the favorite sport page of our wiki sandbox. I'll let you guess which entry is mine.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Welcome to NaBloPoMo!

It's that time of year, folks! Time to make the Internet explode! That's right, it's time for NaBloPoMo!

Okay, I admit it, I just like saying that.

National Blog Posting Month is another one of those Internet oddities that grew up seemingly out of nowhere, sort of like International Talk Like a Pirate day. A couple people get a crazy idea, a few more people like it, and next thing you know it's everywhere.

I do remember, however, that's it's awfully hard to post something every single day. Fortunately, this year I have my 23 things to spur me along (since I have to finish by December 2nd). Flash drive here I come!

In the meantime, I challenge all you Learners and Players itching for an even bigger challenge to join up with NaBloPoMo. C'mon, everyone else is doing it!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tag, You're It!

So for Thing 13 we're investigating the revolution that is tagging through del.icio.us.

I remember when del.icio.us first came on the scene, and the extent of my thoughts at the time were "isn't that a clever way to use a .us domain name." I really didn't think anything of it until we were changing computers at work and I was worried I'd lose my bookmarks. So I created a del.icio.us account and moved all my work bookmarks in there. Turns out my bookmarks all transferred anyway, so I haven't really used my account since. Once again, this is largely a matter of convenience. Since I'm at the same computer at work each day and the same computer at home each day, I almost never have to access the bookmarks on one computer from another. So I never really had the need to use del.icio.us. I could see myself using it instead of bookmarks if Firefox has a del.icio.us add-on that functions like the bookmarks do, but until I need to access my bookmarks from anywhere I probably won't use it.

But the much bigger story here is the concept of tagging. Tagging is what has really revolutionized information retrieval on the Web. Well, that and Google's remarkable matrices and spiders. See, for those of us in the information biz, we've been relying on a form of tagging to retrieve information for decades. It's called the Library of Congress Subject Headings. This is a controlled vocabulary list of terms that allow us to always find related books under the same heading. That way, instead of one person filing a book on the road bike races under "Bicycles" and another person under "Bike racing" and another person under "Racing-- Bicycles," we'll always find it under "Cycling."

The problem is that the controlled vocabulary isn't especially intuitive. Everyone's favorite example is that books about cooking are filed under "Cookery." What the heck is cookery? Well, when someone was trying to figure out what to file books about cooking under, the term they chose was "cookery;" probably completely understandable at the time. But even all these years later, the term has to remain the same so we can find what we're looking for.

The Internet has turned this completely on its head. Now, instead of determining our headings beforehand, we just start gathering data. So one person tags a site as "cooking," another tags it as "recipes," a third tags it as "food preparation," etc. But over time as more and more people tag these sites with more and more terms, certain terms will begin to float to the top. And people tagging will see that others have begun to use one term over another, and that tag will begin to get more and more use until it becomes the accepted term.

A lot of librarians are having trouble giving up the control that LCSH gives them. There's a concern that if people create their own lists of terms we won't be able to find anything. What's missing in this fear is the sheer number of people doing the tagging. Yes, a group of 10, 100, or even 1000 people might not come up with consistent headings. But we're talking about millions, even tens of millions of people all tagging. Clear winners will emerge and certain terms will become accepted. And the terms will be more intuitive and clearer than the good catalogers at the Library of Congress could guarantee even if they worked on it for centuries more. The system also adapts and changes as culture and language changes.

Probably the largest change we have to accept in this new age is the organic nature of information. Information is no longer static and unchangeable once committed to the page. Information can adapt and evolve as the world changes, and our search tools have to adapt and evolve with it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Disappointment

I always knew that by this time I'd be sick of the election. There was no way that the campaigning could go on for this long and still have me engaged and interested. What I wasn't counting on was how utterly disappointed-- and frankly upset and angry-- I'd be with the way things have fallen out.

This election has gone far beyond normal negative campaigning. This election has gone so far beyond normal negative campaigning that as far as I'm concerned it's verged into outright libel and slander. Where the disappointment comes in is that it's come entirely from John McCain. There was a time when I thought he had a conscience. There was a time I thought he had the courage of his convictions. But what has become clear is that he is a petty, angry, vindictive, and at best Machiavellian bastard who clearly doesn't care if he drags the entire country down with him.

My problems with the McCain campaign really fall into 4 groups: Muslim, Terrorist, Socialist, and "Real America." There is absolutely no question whatsoever that the McCain campaign has encouraged the completely wrong and many times disproven idea that Obama is a "secret Muslim." There is no question that the McCain campaign has suggested repeatedly that Obama is a Terrorist. There is no question that the McCain campaign believes that if they call Obama a Socialist it will stir up latent "Red Scare" fears. And there is no question that the McCain campaign is deliberately trying to force an outright culture war by creating the concept of two Americas.

The reason this goes completely beyond the pale is that the McCain campaign is actively pushing their hard-core supporters into a frenzy of hate and fear that hasn't been seen since Birmingham in 1963 or Selma in 1965. They simply cannot claim ignorance of this. There are recordings of McCain supporters calling for Obama's death. Interviews with many anti-Obama people show clear signs of racism. The "Real America" comments verge on the re-establishment of Joe McCarthy's Un-American Activities Committee.

Is this really what McCain wants? Is this what the supposed war hero who spent five years in the Hanoi Hilton while fighting for democracy and freedom really wants? A state of mass hysteria and fear just so that he can get elected? I'm sorry, but no "Real American" should stand for this sort of bullshit. And it's a damn shame that Obama can't sue for slander without appearing overly defensive. Unfortunately all he can do is continue to take the high road and only attack McCain on the issues.

McCain must come forward and put an unequivocal end to this. He must come forward and state clearly and without qualification that Barack Obama is not a terrorist. That Obama does not associate with terrorists. That his supporters should be ashamed of their behavior and that if that sort of behavior continues he doesn't want their support. That there is only one America, and that is the America where children are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

But he won't. Because if McCain was judged by the content of his character he would be found severely lacking.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tweet Tweet!

Now a month behind, we come to Thing 12: Twitter.

I honestly can't remember when I discovered Twitter, but the first time I tried playing with it was to see if I could find a way to quickly share information across the entire library system. Twitter seemed like an ideal way to do this. If we created location-specific Twitter accounts and then had everybody follow each other, then when we needed to share information quickly between locations we could just "tweet" it. Power goes down at some location? Our infoline tweets it and everyone knows. Staff member goes home sick and you need emergency coverage? Tweet it and someone who can spare a person rides to the rescue. You get the idea.

The catch was that there needed to be a way to see the tweets other than on the Twitter website. The Twitter website doesn't automatically refresh, and it's not sitting on top of your desktop. So the whole "quick notice" idea kinda goes out the window. I played with adding Google Desktop, which allows you to install a Twitter widget. But that clogged up my screen and ran slow. So I pretty much abandoned Twitter.

But now we come to the 23 things and I have to take another look at Twitter. I complained to one of my colleagues that the main thing I didn't like about Twitter was that I couldn't keep it unobtrusively in the background while I was working on other things. It just seemed like too much trouble to have to keep going back to the website to check up on things.

"Oh," she said, "I just have it in my browser."

Yes, I'm an idiot. I use Firefox, and of course there's a Twitter add-on. So I add TwitterFox and I'm off and running.

The most amusing thing to me about this is that as more and more people in the library get on Twitter and start following each other, the more I see my original concept working. I've seen people arrange for emergency coverage via Twitter. I've seen coordination of library programs over Twitter. I've seen information about the power outage and how it affected the libraries shared over Twitter.

But even beyond that, it's another tool connecting people. I can share information, jokes, and ideas with many people at once. I've gotten to know some friendly acquaintances much better. Probably the most fun has been watching the presidential debates with Twitter in the background. Everyone piles on and shares whatever they're thinking and it becomes one gigantic debate party.

So if you'd like to pile on as well, feel free to check me out on Twitter!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Thing About Libraries...

Once again I'm behind in my 23 Things, but this time I think I have a decent excuse...

Thing 11 is to investigate Library Thing (I know, that's an awful lot of things for one sentence).  Well, according to my profile I apparently first investigated Library Thing on July 24th, 2006.  I have a sneaking suspicion I found out about it in one of my graduate school classes.  Apparently I went in and cataloged seven books that I had read recently, and then abandoned it.  It's not that I didn't see how this could be useful, it just didn't grab me for some reason.

As I'm looking at my account now, I think I know why that happened.  First of all, the interface is really complicated.  There's too much to do on the main page of your account, and no obvious way to isolate just your books, or just your friends.  It puts everything that you can do on the site out there at once.  The thing is, I'm not using this site for all those other things.  I'm using it to track my books.  The rest just becomes annoying.  I'm also very disappointed to see that Library Thing has gone the way of so many free sites and is now charging for a "premium" account that will allow you to catalog more than 200 books.  Guys, tracking my books online is not worth any money to me each month, especially when there are other options available.

At some point since the summer of 2006, someone invited me to join a different site called GoodReads.  This one caught me, probably for two reasons.  First, I already had friends using it so I could share titles more easily.  But second, it gave me a dirt simple way to add both books I had read as well as books I wanted to read.  They seem to recognize that this is important to their users, because since I've been using it the interface to add books has gotten even easier.  Now after looking up a title it takes two mouse clicks to add it to my to-read list.  Of course, the down side of this is that my to-read list is over 50 books and I'm backlogged to books I added last summer.  But I guess that's a good situation to be in.

Another advantage of GoodReads is that it's not trying to be about more than just sharing books.  This means that people who don't care for social networking or blogging or the other features that Library Thing seems to be promoting can use GoodReads more easily.  My father has absolutely no interest in Facebook or MySpace, but since he's always curious what I'm reading he joined GoodReads to make it easier.  Since then, he's added more friends on GoodReads just so he can get ideas about other things to read.

I think that the main Web 2.0 message to take away from this is that you need to focus on what you do well.  People already have outlets for chatting and sharing what they're up to.  But if you give them a simple way to share just what they're interested in, they'll add that on top of their social networks.

So to finish off, here's my GoodReads "read" shelf.  Enjoy!


my 'read' shelf:
 my read shelf

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Image-ine

A quick post today on image generators for Thing 10. First, my lovely new logo courtesy of CoolText.

Next, just like everyone else in the world I created my own manga avatar. But I'm so attached to my current Triplets of Belleville avatar that I couldn't bear to replace it. So here's an excuse to share the manga one (since it came out so well, IMHO).


Moral of this post? There's so many ways to manipulate images and text online, why bother with the software?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Feed Me!

On we plunge into the wild and wonderful world of RSS feeds!

I first discovered RSS feeds about 4 years ago when I was recommending an online comic I had discovered to one of our tech folks at the library. I was looking for library-related cartoons for a PowerPoint presentation and stumbled across a fun and quirky daily cartoon about a library called Unshelved. It spread like wildfire through my branch, with several of the staff going back and making our way through three years of archives to get caught up on the misadventures of the Mallville Public Library staff. After shooting the ones that we found especially funny back and forth by e-mail for a while, I thought it would be cool to share it on our staff intranet, so I sent the information off to the person in charge of the intranet. She responded saying that it looked like we'd be able to embed the RSS feed into the intranet. I had no idea what that meant, so I poked around. Turns out RSS is a Really Simple way to Syndicate new information from a website. That is, whenever you add something new, anyone who's watching the feed will see it.

I didn't think much more about RSS until I upgraded to Firefox a couple years later. I had been following several of my friends' blogs just by bookmarking them, but with Firefox I was able to use live bookmarks to put the RSS feeds in my browser toolbar. Now I could see when they updated their blogs just by clicking on the live bookmark.

This made things a lot easier, but now that I had a way to view RSS feeds, I started adding more and more.  I poked around a bit on Technorati and some of the other feed search engines, but most of my feeds just came to me as I stumbled across sites that I liked.  Before long my live bookmarks overflowed the toolbar and went clear down the screen when I expanded the toolbar. Suffice it to say, I was back where I started. It was too difficult to keep track of everything I wanted to read.

I had tried Bloglines once before I discovered the live bookmarks. For some reason it never clicked with me. I've been thinking about why since then, and I think that it's just got more bells and whistles than I really need. I want my feed reader to be dirt simple. Tell me what's new and what I have and haven't read, and give me a simple way to flag the articles I especially like. Google Reader finally gave me what I was looking for. Now I've got an absolutely absurd number of feeds in my Google Reader, but at least with the organization it provides I can skip ones that are less important, and skim over my unread articles very easily.

At some point in this process, I realized what the feed reader was doing for me. Essentially, it was allowing me to create my own newspaper. I could include the news, commentary, sports, and humor that I wanted to see. This was especially important for me since I'm not a huge fan of the local paper or most major media outlets, and I am a huge fan of a certain northeastern baseball team and a sport that's barely covered in the United States. All this means that it's very hard for me to get the news I want from traditional outlets. With a feed reader I can build my own "newspaper" and keep on top of the things that interest me. That sort of customization is the huge advantage that the Internet has given us, and technologies like RSS make it easier than ever to get to that level of detail in what we want to read.

So even though I abandoned my Bloglines account, for the sake of this exercise I went in and updated it with a selection of the feeds from my Google Reader. So if any of you are interested in what a progressive New Hampshire ex-pat cyclist living in Ohio wants to read, here's my public feed. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What's a Cell Phone?


I've now fallen a week behind in the 23 things, so in a desperate attempt to catch up I'm going to try to write the three posts I need to catch up over this weekend.

First off, I'm supposed to write something, anything about technology. I've actually been thinking about writing this post for a while. A few months ago it dawned on me that cell phones are no longer just phones. The first inkling I had about this was the first time we took my stepdaughter to a rock concert about 6 years ago. When the obligatory slow song came along, instead of lighters all over the arena, everyone held up their cell phones. My initial reaction was to laugh, but then I began to think that it made a lot of sense. Smoking isn't allowed indoors in most places anymore, and only 1 in 5 people is likely to have a lighter on them, so why not cell phones? I started wondering who the first person was to do this, especially since only 6 years before that I distinctly remembered being at a concert where it was still lighters that were being held up during the slow song. All it took was the increasing prevalence of cell phones and a new trend arose seemingly out of nowhere.

But 6 years ago, those phones that were being held up were still just phones. In fact, most of them glowed with the green or blue of an old school LCD display. At more recent concerts I've seen the white and multi-colors of color SVGA LCD screens. And even beyond that, a lot of those phones were being held up with the LCD screen pointing away from the stage so that the lens on the front of the phone could take a picture.

More things have jumped out at me recently. My stepdaughter can type faster on a 3x4 keypad than I would have thought was humanly possible, and I've seen her simultaneously holding three conversations by text, five on IM, and commenting on Facebook pages. Not too long ago she was upstairs and forgot to turn on the light in the hallway, so out comes the cell phone to light her way. While she doesn't have a iPhone, she recently got an iPod Touch. With that she has a portable wifi-ready computer, GPS, and music player.

So what's a cell phone?

A flashlight
A lighter
A music player
A pathfinder
A web browser
A note writer
A calendar
An alert system
A camera
A game

and, of course, a phone.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The only real Palin is in Monty Python

Ever since Friday I've been alternating between mocking derision and panicked fear. What in God's name is McCain up to? Is it really as simple as looking to snatch up the Hillary voters? Or is there something more insidious going on?

I sincerely hope that the only reason Sarah Palin was chosen as the Republican vice-presidential nominee was to snare Hillary voters. If that's the case, there's little question that it will backfire, and do so in a very dramatic way. But that makes me wonder, is that the only reason? Is there something more to this?

Unfortunately, a couple things have led me to think that there may be. First, an offhand comment from a co-worker that this will energize the Republican base. At first I couldn't figure out what she meant, but then I got it: the Dems have their revolutionary candidate, now the GOP has their own! And short of nominating Ann Coulter, this is probably the only woman they could find that could seriously pull off the feat of energizing the conservative base with a minority nominee.

But then another commentary made me realize there's even more going on. In fact, Palin's apparent lack of experience and removal from politics may actually be the reason she was chosen. Any time Biden or Obama try to talk about "elitist" concepts (like, say, real health care or energy reform), Palin can play dumb and talk about how in her town of 9000 people they can't afford to worry about saving the Earth because they already pay too much in taxes.

In other words, they're trying to do it again: get the blue-collar, rural population to vote against their own self-interest because all of these high-falutin' ideals about universal health care, diplomacy, and energy policy have "nothing to do with real life." They're betting that just like they voted for the brush-clearing, born-again, plain-spoken Texan, they'll vote for the lipstick-wearing pitbull, mother of five, married to the oil worker, who managed to become Governor while still being a "Christian Woman."

God help us all if they succeed...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Flickering

Here we are at the end of week 3, and I'm just getting around to posting now! In my defense, I've been a little busy since last week with getting my stepdaughter off to college. Conveniently, our task this week is to investigate and play with Flickr, which I was doing anyway in order to document the move in.

I've been a little slow to get on board with the photo-sharing movement. Mainly that's because I don't normally have a lot of photos to share. I've been aware of Flickr for some time though, so when my brother and sister-in-law had their baby, I immediately went to Flickr in order to share the pictures from her christening. Since then I've mainly been using it to keep my family up-to-date on what's happening. So conveniently, here's what I've been busy with since last week:


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

The only downside to Flickr is that there's a monthly limit on how much you can upload unless you pay. I suppose that's fair, but in my wife's case it drove her to Google's Picasa. About the only downside to Picasa is that it doesn't have all the cool sharing apps that Flickr does.

Obviously I'm anticipating thing 6 here, playing with Flickr's own internal badge creator. I think the most surprising thing to me about Flickr is how many different mashups there are out there, and how cool a lot of them are. I'm particularly fond of Mosaickr. I've always wanted to be able to create those photomosaics myself. Now I just need to upload enough photos to do it decently.

The other Flickr mashup that I really like is the Flickr "related tag browser". For some reason, the way this displays just seems to me to be more intuitive than Flickr's own search engine. I also suspect that I'm getting better results out of it. For example, when I searched for pictures of the 2008 Tour de France in Flickr's search engine, I seemed to get a lot of unrelated images. Not to mention that it seems to be a lot easier to browse through, with the large number of related tags it pops up around the image results.

So have fun poking around! I've really been enjoying all the Flickr apps everyone else has been posting!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Learned

I admit I've gotten a bit behind in the 23 Things. Technically I was supposed to blog about this last week, but I figure since the things for this week are to create and register my blog (which I've already done) that I can avoid any penalties.

Our task for last week was to view a tutorial on lifelong learning. I'll be honest, I hate the term "Lifelong Learning." It's another one of those catchphrases that gets overused to the point where a lot of people start tuning out.

That certainly doesn't mean I don't think it's important. I've always tried to live by a statement Socrates made in his last defense before the Athenians:



This is usually translated as "the unexamined life is not worth living." But the Greek is actually much more interesting. The direct translation is more "the unexamined life is no life for a human." In other words, what it is to be human is to constantly explore and examine everything about the world and about your life in it! Doesn't that resonate more than just calling it "lifelong learning"? (Okay, I know, I'm a nerd.)

Having watched the tutorial, I'd say that my biggest problem is that I don't really do any of this consciously. I'm much more of an intellectual hobo: as I wander along I'll stumble across things that interest me and stick them in my satchel. Putting a formal method around learning kinda turns me off it. So forget about beginning with the end in mind: for me there is no end! But the plus side is that I've accumulated one heck of a learning toolbox along the way, and I definitely know how to play!

So a moral to this post? Don't forget to keep asking questions. It's what makes us who we are.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What I Care About in the Olympics

Women's gymnastics takes silver to China? Men's gymnastics takes silver too, but in an upset? Michael Phelps breaks every record there is?

No, this is what I care about:



Fabian Cancellara rides the time trial of his life to win gold after taking bronze in the road race, and Levi Leipheimer brings it home for the USA with a bronze. Even though the road race was boring, the boys came through with one hell of a time trial event. The Olympics are never well suited to the 100+ mile road race format, but time trials provide just the right mix of brevity and a close race to make them exciting.

Too bad the men's time trial is only online or on MSNBC. Apparently they're going to broadcast the women's tonight, but the men's is where the excitement was this morning. Thanks to Pez Cycling News for great coverage where the American press falls flat as always.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Library Goes 2.0

I know, I know, the whole "2.0" thing is way over the top at this point. It seems like just about anything new with the web has to be 2.0 or it's just not cool. Well, bear with me on this.

My library has embraced the idea that if we don't get on board with all the innovations that the constantly changing online world provides us, we're going to get left behind. If you read back through some of my entries you'll see that I've been preaching this for a while. How we create, get, and interact with information is changing drastically, and if libraries are going to survive we need to adapt to this new world.

So what are we doing about it? For the next 9 weeks staff at my library are encouraged to try all the different things that are available online that are changing the world of information. There are 23 things to do over these 9 weeks, and if you do them all you'll have a much better understanding of how the world is changing and how libraries can stay [effective] in this new world.

We kicked off today with a presentation by Michael Stevens. Anytime I go to one of these sorts of presentations I always come across a whole bunch of random thoughts and notes that I want to follow up on or do something with, even if I don't know what right away. So here's a sample of random thoughts from today's presentation.

  • It's all about the user experience, both at the library and online. If we create a great experience, people will want to come to both our site and our buildings. But this only works if the experience is seamless. We can't put up a site and wait for people to find us, we need to put ourselves where people already are so that they trip over us. Don't make silos!

  • What are we doing that restricts/controls customers/staff/spaces/web? Why do we do it? what do we lose by doing it? If a customer has a choice of going to the library where they can't do x/y/z or a bookstore where they can, which place will they go?

  • Need to start taking down signs.

  • Need to edit the CML wikipedia entry

  • Know what groups you're trying to reach and find ways to engage them.

  • Transparency: why do we lock down everything and keep everyone from making content? Most people are well-intentioned, and if someone decides to do something nasty we can deal with it as it comes up. Or for that matter, make the community self-policing. Let users flag objectionable material or otherwise notify us that there's a problem.

  • We need to use our staff from top to bottom. Everyone has expertise, how do we mine all that knowledge for our customers? Let them read the staff blogs?

  • I can't believe how many tweets are out there about the library! Why aren't we already watching this? If someone tweets about the library, we should be answering!

  • We're putting so much effort into launching chat reference, and all we really need to do is embed a Meebo widget in the catalog! Let's do it!

  • "To be curious means to explore first."

  • Why can't we send a bluetooth message to enabled phones as soon as they walk in our buildings? "Welcome to the library, here's what's going on."

  • Don't let fear prevent you from trying something. There's always reasons not to do something, why not just try it?

  • The time to act is now. We don't have to proofread every memo for 3 hours. Last night a customer said to me that customers he knows have been asking for more computers for 3 years. We've got a committee working on it now, but why did it take 3 years? What's been holding us back?

  • Why do we worry about kids using Myspace and FaceBook on the library computers? This is how they communicate! How is it different from the group of teens sitting in the Teen area talking? They're still at the library!


Hopefully this project will give everyone the chance to think about these questions and others, and try to move us forward. We've come a long way, but we've got a long way to go...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Strategy

I've seen a lot of the liberal bloggers wringing their hands over Obama's perceived lack of response to early Republican attacks. Lord knows they have reason to be concerned. There have been far too many instances in recent elections where an attempt to take the high road and not respond seems to have led directly to the Democratic loss. Maybe Kerry was completely unelectable, but surely a more direct and angry response to the foolishness of "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" would have been better than not saying anything and letting the mistatements and outright lies stand.

I'm trying to remain positive, and I recognize that we still have a long way to go. But I recently noticed the convergence of several different items that seem to point to a larger strategy. Am I the only one who noticed that, at about the same time:
  1. Obama went on vacation to Hawaii,
  2. The Olympics started, and
  3. Edwards admitted an affair.
The timing on this is way too convenient. The Olympics drown out the news of Edwards' affair, while Obama is too far away and unavailable to the media for anything more than a soundbyte on a runway. I suspect that Edwards had decided to go public about the affair a while ago in order to not distract from the convention, and thoughtfully coordinated with the Obama campaign to do it in a way that would have the least impact. Further, if Obama had been coming out guns blazing already, the Republicans might have been more inclined to use Edwards against them. On top of that, after the convention McCain will have much less money to draw on than Obama, which will allow the Dems to set the tone going into the election.

Obama has never struck me as a shrinking violet. I think that when the time is right he will come out hard against the idiotic policies and stories that the Republicans have been spinning relatively unopposed up to this point. Plus, why should Obama take on this foolishness directly when one of the other targets of the "Celebrity" ad did it for him?

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Sunday, August 3, 2008

More, more, more...

I’ve been thinking a lot about consumption lately, and not just because of the current state of the oil market. Two things on our recent vacation got me thinking about it. First, when having my usual very enjoyable intellectual discourse with my backwoods friends, the idea was put forward that essentially all that humans do is consume and that there’s not really anything we can do to stop our inevitable consumption of all the resources in the world short of ending the species.

This really gave me pause. I still think that there’s more to humanity than just consumption, but I have to admit that there's something to this idea. Pretty much any example of what we do or what we need to survive comes back to some sort of consumption. On top of that, so much of our history was spent trying to figure out ways to make consumption easier, and then when it became easier so much of our society seemed to be aimed at making us consume more. This is where the state of the oil market comes into play. Consider that in a little over 100 years we have essentially consumed over 800,000 years worth of vegetation that then also took an additional 200,000,000 years to turn into what we now call oil.

The second thing that got me thinking about this was a throwaway statistic in the book Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick, which we listened to on CD on the trip back. In it Philbrick mentions that in 17th century America a European “town of two hundred homes depended on the deforestation of as many as seventy-five acres per year” (p. 186).

This statistic stuck out for me because, while helping my stepdaughter learn to drive on the New Hampshire backroads, I was telling her about how all the woods we saw around there had only grown up in the past 100 years or less. Prior to that most of New England had been completely deforested. In other words, this consumption problem is nothing new. We’ve been dealing with it for hundreds if not thousands of years. The Greeks even had a word for it: pleonexia-- the desire to have more.

But does that mean that all we do is consume? If you look around at our culture today it’s hard not to think so. Even as I try to justify our existence by looking at art and literature and science and education, they all seem to be pointless in the face of our consumption of everything around us to the detriment of the overall ecosystem. We also have to fight the consumer culture that has grown up here in the last 60 years. We need to come to a place where our response to a terrorist attack isn’t “go out and buy stuff or take a vacation.”

I’m also troubled by the view I’ve heard put forward by some religious fanatics that since in Genesis God gives humans “dominion” over all the world, that we’re entitled in some sense to use it all up. That’s not only shortsighted, but it also gets the text wrong. A king who enslaves and kills all his subjects for his own ease and enjoyment is not a very good king. It also ignores all the passages that come later suggesting that we should sacrifice ourselves for the good of all. Consuming everything in the world does no good for anyone.

But I am an optimist, and I still believe that any trouble our brains can get us into, our brains can get us out of. I’m not naïve enough to think that we can remove ourselves from the ecosystem entirely (which I have heard some suggest), and I’m also not suggesting that we should use up the Earth until our brains find a way to leave it. But surely there’s a way that we can live and continue to produce all the things that we value in a way that works with the world rather than against it. The only catch is, we all have to accept this and live into it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Top Ten

… signs that you may be Cycho.

10. You regularly show up at work with chain marks on your pants legs.

9. You look at the wind speed and direction before leaving home or office.

8. You get aggravated by red lights not because of the wait but because you lose momentum.

7. An average speed of 18 mph on a ride is frustratingly slow to you.

6. You can think of no better way to spend July in France than in a camper with satellite TV on top of a mountain.

5. You’re just as likely to have your head turned by a nice bike as a member of the opposite sex.

4. You’ll change in restrooms in order to ride to work and meetings.

3. When driving up a 10% grade you think, “This would be a great climb.”

2. You look at your 23x700c’s and think “My tires are too fat.”

And the number one sign that you may be Cycho…


1. “Man, if VdV hadn’t crashed on la Bonnette he would’ve had a chance” actually means something to you.


Friday, July 11, 2008

A Warning for the "Clinton Voters for McCain"

For those out there who for some inexplicable reason think that it will be better to switch their vote from Clinton in the primaries to McCain in the general, here's another reason not to:



Note that while McCain may have a legitimate complaint in saying that he doesn't remember the vote and will have to look up the background on it (that is, maybe he had to oppose it for reasons other than this specific issue), that isn't what the reporter is asking. She asks if it's fair that some insurance companies cover Viagra and not birth control.

How hard is it to say "No, it's not fair" unless you're in the pocket of the big insurance companies? Not to mention the fact that he obviously doesn't recognize the tacit misogyny of the difference; namely that it's okay for old men to fuck around all they want, but women can't unless they want to risk an unwanted pregnancy.

If you were a supporter of Clinton, especially a female supporter, and are now supporting McCain, you may want to ask yourself if he's really on your side.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bush is a Secret Terrorist!

As evidenced by his exchange of the "Terrorist Fist Bump" with what is clearly a foreign agent in the pay of Al Qaeda!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Read a Book, Save the World


I've always been a Science Fiction fan, although I've noticed that the older I get the less tolerance I have for the more frivolous Sci-fi and the more I appreciate "hard" Sci-fi. For those of you not familiar, "hard" Sci-fi is based out of current scientific theory, attempting to remain as close as possible to what can reasonably be thought possible based on that theory. This is not escapist Sci-fi, this is Sci-fi that really makes you think about where we're headed and what life will be like in the future.

So I was pleased to discover that in a recent poll by the Sci-fi channel, other fans of the genre came down firmly on the side of hard Sci-fi, especially with regards to books. Not only that, but the number one thing you can do to save the world? Read.


1. 1984 by George Orwell
2. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
3. Dune by Frank Herbert
4. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
5. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
6. The Stand by Stephen King
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
10. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

I've read all the books in the top ten except The Andromeda Strain (Sorry Crichton, I've had a hard time liking your stuff since Jurassic Park, and I didn't read The Andromeda Strain first), and they will certainly change your outlook, if not the world. So if you haven't yet, give them a try. If you have, think about what you are doing right now to bring about the good and prevent the bad that they depict. And remember,

"Now they can see us."



Saturday, June 7, 2008

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 has become one of those phrases that is used so much in so many different circumstances that it's almost become meaningless. This is unfortunate, because the concept it represents is probably the most important concept in our society today. The way the Internet has completely integrated into our lives is already changing everything about ourselves, our society, and our world. So in an effort to rescue "Web 2.0" from inanity, I'd like to share (in true Web 2.0 fashion) one of the simplest and best explanations of what it means I've ever come across.



So link, tag, embed, and share, friends. The world is changing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Idiotic Politicians

I know this is a little late, but I had to say something about the string of idiocy that came out of the mouths of our fearless leaders/ would-be-leaders a couple weeks ago.

First, let's talk about gas tax holidays. I think by now we've all seen the commentaries that have been floating around about the idea. The thing that gets me is that a lot of the pundits seem to be suggesting that Obama is making a "complicated" argument against Clinton/McCain's "simple" argument. This I don't get. How much simpler can it be to say "You'd only save 18 cents on the gallon, and that will get eaten up by higher summer prices anyway"? Nevermind the 900 million it would cost the federal government in badly-needed infrastructure repairs. I just wish that the media and the politicians would stop assuming that we're idiots.

Next, McCain's recently unveiled health care proposal. Once more we are being told that if everyone went out and bought their own health care, the market would reduce the costs.

I have a good health plan right now. I know it's a good health plan. I'm happy with my health plan. A $5000 tax credit wouldn't cover what I get with my health plan. Here's the thing: it took a group of very intelligent, very skilled benefits specialists 3 months to put together my health plan. And I guarantee that the only reason they were able to get the deal they did was because they were negotiating on behalf of 700 people.

Health care is one place we can't rely on the market. Since it's a necessity of life, the market can charge whatever they want and we have to pay it. On top of that, the whole point of insurance is group risk. How can you distribute risk if you have a whole bunch of groups of one to four people? There's only one solution for rising health care costs: eliminate the middleman insurance companies, regulate health costs, and provide single-payer health care to every American. I love the market too guys, but it won't work with this.

Finally, our dearly beloved decider deigned to speak to the riffraff of the press corps a few weeks ago, and in response to questions about the economy and fuel prices, he essentially whined that Congress isn't listening to him. He took direct aim at Congress's failure to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

Georgie, listen to me. ANWR isn't going to help us. Our best estimates indicate that we can probably get 7.7 billion barrels of oil out of ANWR. The U.S. is currently using about 20,687,000 barrels every day. In other words, the entire amount of oil recoverable in ANWR would power the country for a little more than 1 year. Even if we take the extremely optimistic end and assume we can get 11.8 billion barrels out of ANWR, that only gets us less than 2 years.

So stop and think. In fifteen minutes I can pull that data off our own government's websites. Why is this still an issue? Why haven't more politicians started asking why we can't real find alternatives to oil?

Sadly, I think we know the answer.