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 na├»ve 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.