It goes without saying that the office of President is a managed position. There are crowds of people telling him the details of what’s going on in every corner of the country and globe, and recommending courses of action to him. Bush was no different, but he may have been the most micro-managed president in American history; I’ll leave that to history to judge (and so far, Uncle Dick Cheney looks like the Acting Guy in Charge, at least regarding foreign policy in the Middle east from 2001-2008.) Additionally, the Bush family has lived for generations surrounded by a great deal of private money which generally gets what it wants. Regardless of the veto power the National Archives has over the content of the Bush Library–over the loud objections of the Bush Foundation–congress has made these very public venues more vulnerable to private money. That’s a reason to be wary of who co-funds them and why.
In any case, read Tim Naftali’s column and know that the Dear Leader syndrome of recent American Presidential politics rolls merrily on.
It’s the end of the semester. Congratulations on making it this far. (Go you!)
This is a stressful time for students and staff alike; you have your problems, we have ours, things get hurried and hassled, details are lost in translation, and so on. (You know how it is.)
That said, this is not the time to forget why you’re here. The point is to graduate with a degree. I’m assuming (as do my co-workers) that you want that degree. Why else would you be here, right? (Right?)
Anyway, this is a list of things you already know, because we’ve told you before. We tell you at the beginning and the end of each semester, and we tell you at opportune moments during the semester, too. You can’t avoid these.
Granted, that doesn’t stop you from trying to avoid them, because you do try. We’ve seen you. It’s impossible not to know these things unless you expend a fair amount of energy on doing so.
So, here they are: things you already know.
Show up for class prepared.
Learn the applications.
Start projects early.
We are here to help you.
The library (and the school it resides within) is a place of work.
Don’t bash the equipment.
Books are due back in 30 days.
My point is that you know all these things. So why do we keep having this conversation?
Proof positive that Robert J. Sawyer is a visionary writer in at least two respects:
Lloyd and Theo disengaged, and Lloyd surged across the room. He reached out and took Michiko’s hands and pulled her to her feet, then hugged her.
“Honey,” Michiko said, “what is it?”
Lloyd gestured at the console. Michiko’s eyes went wide. “Sinjirarenai!” she exclaimed. “You got it!”
Lloyd grinned even more. “We got it!”
“Got what?” asked one of the reporters. “Nothing happened, damn it!”
“Oh, yes it did,” said Lloyd.
Theo was grinning, too. “Yes, indeed!”
“What?” demanded the same reporter.
“The Higgs!”said Lloyd.
“The Higgs boson!” said Lloyd, his arm around Michiko’s waist. “We got the Higgs!”
Another reporter stifled a yawn. “Big fucking deal,” he said.
In honor of the fact that the world of science has more or less identified the Higgs boson–a.k.a. The God Particle–and, judging from the relative lack of news coverage it received, that the world could not care less (except for us science nerds), I figured I’d take the chance to review Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer. Published by Tor in 1999, it’s a neat book and a fun read which had nothing whatsoever to do with the television series that was ostensibly made from it.
Well . . . it had some similarities. In the show, main character Lloyd Simcoe was the dashing young physicist with Alan Richman’s accent (if not his delivery) and a son on the autism spectrum; in the book, Simcoe is the middle-aged Canadian physicist with a Japanese girlfriend a decade junior to him, who has a daughter who dies on page 10. And there is a strange event that renders all humans on the planet unconscious whereupon they experience their lives decades in the future. But that’s where the overlap kind of ends.
Let’s start with the book.
Lloyd Simcoe is the head physicist on an international project to identify the Higgs boson. The experiment is planned for April 21, 2009. They throw the switch, and every human on the planet falls unconscious for two minutes and seventeen seconds as they experience their lives twenty-one days in the future. They wake to find the world in chaos. Automobile collisions are everywhere (Michiko’s daughter was hit by a car and killed instantly), swimmers have drowned, aircraft have crashed on take-off or landing; people have burned to death after collapsing on their stoves or broken bones while falling down stairs. And no surveillance camera anywhere caught any of it; two minutes and seventeen seconds of snow is all they can show.
Simcoe’s ALICE project has created a temporal event, we learn. Everyone has an experience of themselves at a future point in time. This bring up a slew of paradoxical arguments, suppositions, and flat denials that there is such a thing a time travel in any form (Sawyer bring up Larry Niven’s Law of Time Travel, and mocks a James Randi-like character).
The bulk of the book is an exercise in scientific methodology, as the characters work to figure out what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. In the meantime, everyone wants to work through what they saw (or didn’t see . . . those who were dead in the future merely stayed unconscious; Simcoe’s co-worker Theo Procopides is one of these). A wiki is set up so that individuals can tell their respective stories. Every new story becomes another piece of the mosaic.
Ultimately, the cause is determined: at the very second the Large Hadron Collider was revved up to full power, the Earth was being hit by a wave of neutrinos emitted from a remnant of supernova 1987A. This remnant is not a proper neutron star, but a quark star, an incredibly weird object composed of superdense strange matter. These pulses happen in response to frequent (in human terms) starquakes. As the date of the future visions approaches, a satellite is launched to orbit Pluto so it can give a few days’ warning to Earth (neutrinos have mass so they travel slower than light; a radio message would arrive earlier.) The intent is to create another flashforward.
The final part of the book takes place twenty-one years later and follows Simcoe’s co-worker Theo Procopides; one of the few remaining scientists at CERN, which was abandoned years earlier. The satellite has flashed a warning, and the LHC needs some repair to activate. Descending into the machinery he finds the embittered husband of a woman who died in the flashforward attempting to sabotage the gear. A chase and fight ensues, and Theo both manages to put down the attacker and prevent his own death.
It turns out that the flashforward transported everyone to the day of the second neutrino burst. People prepare for the flashforward by lying in bed or on the floor; the switch is thrown, and for nearly everyone nothing happens except for an hour of mere unconsciousness. Lloyd, however, experiences a bit of life far into the future, well after the Moon has been turned into a partial Dyson Sphere. After the event, he is offered the chance (along with Nobel laureates from around the world) to partake of a treatment that will allow a form of immortality by means of biomechanical bodies. Lloyd realizes that the flashforward was a connection between two points of quantum connection occurring within the lifetimes of the people involved. Since death severs the connection, only those who were offered the immortality treatment had visions.
This is what makes an awesome science fiction story: smart characters doing smart things, trying to solve a problem that threatens to change everything. It does not, however, make for necessarily compelling television. So, they turned it into a cop show. Simcoe became a side character, the FBI became the stars of the show, and the flashforwards became an attempt by shadowy forces to manipulate the world.
I watched the show. Every episode. It was fun and I’m glad Sawyer got the recognition (and, I’d hope, the money) that he deserved. But it wasn’t the same.
There were a few bits in the book that I just couldn’t get over. The reason that the cameras did not record anything, for example, was reportedly due to unobserved (and unobservable) wave functions. In short: every observed event is the result of a collapsed wave function. The cat in the box might be alive or dead–mathematically, it is both alive and dead–until you look in the box. Then the wave function collapses to a single state: alive or dead.
Sawyer’s premise is that if every human on the planet falls unconscious, then nothing really happens in the sense of concrete events; what follows for that period of time is mere potentiality of events. Which might make sense mathematically (my Math Fu is not up to that particular task) but doesn’t quite work in the world we all experience. Clearly the universe existed in a concrete, measurable fashion before humans showed up to observe it, before there was such a thing as conscious thought. I think one can make a good case for the fact of big-brained mammals (dolphins and the great apes, at least) being competent observers. I think one can make a case for the first bacteria being the first observers.
And Sawyer has a thing for immortality. It shows up in a number of his books. Sometimes the subject is parenthetical, as in Starplex and Calculating God, but once in a while it becomes the focus of the story, as in The Terminal Experiment. I admit that I’m years behind in following his books, but I’m eager to see if he ever works through that particular issue, and if so, how.
JOIN US IN CELEBRATING 90 YEARS OF NEW YORK TECHNICAL SERVICES LIBRARIANS
FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 2013 3:00 P.M.-5:00 P.M.
Columbia University Libraries
Butler Library, Room 523
535 West 114th St. New York, NY 10027
Wine & Cheese will be served.
This is an opportunity for librarians, archivists, and information professionals from the Metropolitan area to meet informally. It is also a chance for library school students to learn about the various professional organizations in the metropolitan area and to meet future colleagues and employers.
You are welcome to bring announcements of professional opportunities to the reception. Reception co-sponsors welcome. If your professional organization would like to co-sponsor the reception, please contact us to make arrangements.
Due to a limited space the RSVP is required and we will not be able to accept walk-in registration for this event.
Uploading our catalog’s export to the tech folks at Serials Solutions was uneventful. Their alert that they could see the data in the records was welcome. Their notation that there were no location holdings in them was easy to rectify: I just had to make sure that the “Export 999 field” check box in the Export Records menu of the Utility Module in Symp0hony Workflows was checked on the next go-around.
At some point however, I checked the boxes above and below it as well. The former exported the junk tags; harmless for most purposes, useful for a few. I didn’t think they were really necessary for either project, but figured better too much information than too little and I checked it.
At some point, I checked a box that was marked “Export Symphony catalog key to MARC tag 001″. Now, if you use Workflows and have checked that box yourself while exporting records, you can probably see where this is going. For everyone else, here’s the situation.
We uploaded the exported files to OCLC. They processed the data as we’d arranged in our paperwork and posted the files to their web page. You click the link, download the file, and read it back to your ILS.
Except our files didn’t reload.
I decided that I needed to take a look at the records themselves and wanted to do so within OCLC Connexion Client. I’d been trained to use Client as a primary cataloging tool by my former boss at NYAM and had trained the cataloging staff here how to use it as well. It felt familiar. In there, I felt that I could troubleshoot matters more effectively than I might otherwise. But I didn’t want to import a ginormous file into it.
So I explained the situation to the staff at OCLC’s batchload desk and they were happy to break the files up into smaller chunks, each one with a maximum size of 9,000 files (Connexion Client has a maximum of 9,999 records per file and I wanted a buffer.)
I downloaded the new files. I saw everything that we’d sent, and everything that OCLC had done. The OCLC control numbers were indeed in their 035 fields. Our local control number tags were in their own 035 fields. What I didn’t see anywhere were the Sirsi control tags in 035 fields.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know how important that was at the time. I have since learned that in a properly created export file, Workflows adds its own control number to a new 035 field in each record specifically so that you can match on that number when you re-import the records.
What I did know was that the records refused to load. I tried using the 020 to match on the ISBN number . . . that worked, but it also created a load of duplicated records that did no one any good at all and which were later deleted.
I tried matching on the vendor 001. No go.
I tried matching on the OCLC 035. No joy.
I tried matching on the (non-existent) Sirsi 035 a few times. Nada.
I tried matching on the 245 but that created a similar problem to the attempt to match on the 020: titles matched but duplicated records rather than replacing and updating them. So that didn’t work.
In between all these attempts to use the data I’d exported, OCLC was insisting that I was doing something wrong and Sirsi was telling me that OCLC had wrecked our data.
Finally, I arranged a phone conference with Sirsi’s senior analyst and had him log in remotely to my PC to see what he could see. The punchline was this: you remember that check box that exported the catalog key to the 001? That should not have been checked. Catalog keys cannot be used as matching points on a Bibload report in Workflows.
In other words, I had 129,000 records of garbage.
Sometimes the best thing to hear is that you’ve screwed up. It frees you to trash what you’ve done and start again from the beginning. So I did.
This time, I made sure that the catalog keys were not exported to the 001. I made sure the export files were no more than 9,000 records long. I made sure that each file was checked in Connexion Client before I uploaded it to OCLC’s server. I made sure the file names had the correct syntax.
On top of this, OCLC very graciously re-processed our data for free, owing to the fact that the project was still current and that the result had been a case of garbage-in-garbage-out.
This time when the files came back, they uploaded perfectly and updated our original records without problems. That done, I re-exported another set of records for Serials Solutions and their metadata people will work on that shortly.
So. The takeaway:
1. I don’t care what The Cult of Done Manifesto says, pretending you know what you’re doing is not almost as good as knowing. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Do as much research as you want, but getting your arm stuck in the machinery and pulling a bloody stump out is an effective lesson all its own.
2. Cataloging and Systems Librarianship are like hiking and swimming: both are useful skills, but hardly interchangeable. Catalogers don’t do systems work and the systems folks can’t catalog. Luckily there enough of us accidental systems librarians out there that we can get the requisite work completed, if not always as quickly as we’d planned for.
3. Experts are experts in their systems, not each others. Which means that . . .
4. Experts will blame each others systems for what goes wrong.
5. Ask for a favor. You might be surprised, as I was when OCLC told me they would re-run the project at no additional cost. And finally . . .
6. Fixing it makes everything that came before before seem better.
Our Batchload Reclamation Project is over. It was interesting. Truthfully, this was the first project of 2013 to kick my ass. You might call this a failure of knowledge. I have decided to call it a case of professional development.
For those of you who are not Tech Service Librarians: Batchload Reclamation is the name that the system folks at OCLC give to a project whereby a member library exports their MARC records to their servers. Then OCLC matches the information in those records to the holdings in their databases, strips out the weird shit, dupes, and incomplete material, then sends it back to the library in question. The new records get uploaded into that library’s ILS and the result is a cleaner catalog that can be more effectively searched in WorldCat.
Our catalog, not to put too fine a point on it, was a mess. Fragmentary records, old records, thousands of records that had never been synced with OCLC’s holdings. Our big weeding project from last year helped identity a number of the inconsistencies between our shelves and the online catalog, but OCLC had no records that matched the fixes we implemented. So in the same way that looking at distant stars through a telescope means looking at the light they radiated millions of years ago, any libraries looking into our holdings via WorldCat or FirstSearch would have seen a catalog that was years out of date.
Additionally, we are in the process of implementing Summon, Serials Solutions’ discovery platform, which showed real promise for expanding the currency of our holdings and being able to demonstrate the value of such things to our students and faculty. Demonstrating these things to our administration will take more work (they think we can do the same thing with Moodle. They are wrong. But, baby steps.)
Anyway, Summon also requires current and accurate holdings and catalog records, so we needed to clean up the catalog. Besides that, we wanted to take advantage of the fact that OCLC will do a one-time batch load reclamation project for any library that is a member and has not done such a project since 2005. It’s a win-win project. Or so it sounded when I described the process to my co-workers.
Getting there in practice was another story entirely.
The problem: Summon uses local control numbers as primary access points for scanning MARC records. Specifically, they use the 001 field as a repository for their own tracking data. The problem for us was that our ILS used those same 001 fields as the primary tracking field for our own use.
The Proposed Solution: Move the contents of our 001 fields over to something more easily accessible–namely, the 035 field–and allow Serials Solutions to populate the 001 fields of our uploaded records with their own data. We retain the ability to track our records on the way and and Serials Solutions can track everything with their data once the scan is complete. Win-win, right? Of course, right.
The first hint of something having gone wrong was that my first export to the Summon server went . . . strangely. First, there was the size of the file: 67MB.I use Filezilla as an FTP client on my PC, but the network in my library isn’t as robust as I’d like. Data transfers stutter along, and something frequently gets caught hanging for long enough that the receiving server decides that the connection has been lost and restarts the the transfer from the beginning. With a giant file, this is problematic. Not a huge problem in terms of lost sanity, but stressful nonetheless.
Ultimately, however, the transfer got done. Summon’s implementation team’s news: we see your records. But . . . there’s no item location or object type information in them. What happened?
What happened is that I had never set up a proper export in Symphony Workflows before and didn’t know exactly what I was doing. Resolving to do better, I called SirsiSynix’s tech support crowd and got one of their reps to walk me through the procedures. I took notes and everything.
So when I had to export the files for OCLC’s project, I thought I knew what I was doing. And I did. Sort of.
In Part 2 of this story–which I’ll post on Monday–I’ll let you know what happened.
The phrase “winning their hearts and minds,” is an old one at the Pentagon, going back to the heady days of the Vietnam War. Besides making the unfortunate acronym: WHAM, it’s indicative of how the U.S. military has planned wars: deep down, the logic goes, everyone loves America, and by extension, Americans. The Vietnamese didn’t really want to fight us, they just didn’t know any better. Sometimes they had no choice: Ho Chi Minh was poisoning their minds with anti-American propaganda and the Viet Cong were threatening their villages. According to this logic the key to winning Vietnam was getting the locals on our side: their hearts and minds were ours to count on, if only we could figure out the right incentives.
Well, we know how well that went.
Fast forward a few decades, replace Vietnam with Iraq and Ho Chi Minh with Saddam Hussein, and you get an idea of where this leads: Operation Iraqi Freedom. The particulars are different, the grand plan is not.
Welcome to the wacky world of Iraqi independence from something. But not from American influence and aid, as Peter van Buren describes in his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. Place: Iraq. Population: the U.S. army, a bunch of Marines, the U.S. Navy, which flies combat air patrols from off the coast, a few diplomats, a huge number of private contractors, no small number of mercenaries, and Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren.
The State Department was tasked in 2003 to gaining the trust and co-operation of the Iraqis in managing the American presence in their country. In some cases this meant buying loyalty from local troops. Sometimes it meant paying informants for intelligence on local troublemakers. More than once it meant teaching the Iraqis to create local businesses, complete with written plans, venture capital, income and expenses, and financial reporting. (You’ll notice it generally had to do with spending money.)
The reality was usually different.
Peter van Buren was intimately familiar with these situations. A career diplomat, he volunteered to serve as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) in Iraq from 2009 to 2010. Most importantly, as soon as this book was published, the State Department lost no time in revoking his security clearance and then filed paperwork in order to dismiss him. A case might be made for his situation based on his publishing without a government mandate, but not a good one. The government received a draft for their examination as the rules dictate. There is nothing in this book that suggests vital intelligence was leaked. There’s nothing in here that suggests anything but the pervasive incompetence that comes from following the theory even when it’s been disproved by reality.
But the book is embarrassing, or it should be. It begins with the story of My Arabic Library, a collection of American titles translated into Arabic for the U.S. government, with the stated purpose of teaching literacy to the natives. The possibility that Iraqis might not care to read Huckleberry Finn or Moby Dick never occurred to the planners who developed the project (at a cost of $88,000.) The books arrived and end up in a rubbish heap in back of an Iraqi elementary school.
There’s the story of how they went into the desert to evaluate a sewage plant (among many throughout Iraq) for repair: under Saddam, all water and sewage services were free. The new paradigm meant (among other things) adding machinery to measure flow rates in order to sell services to locals. Repairing the plant involved huge government outlays to be divvied up between contractors in multiple countries, none of which were Iraqi. The plant is never repaired. The cost: $4.6 billion dollars.
There’s the story of sex on Forward Operating Bases: the official rules say don’t do it. Unofficially, there’s plenty of action going on. Some couples head to latrines for a bit of privacy, others beg their room mates to take an extra long coffee break. Propositions fly across offices in e-mails, and some get forwarded all over the Internet. Like seeks like, and the lonely seek each other. What happens in Iraq stays in Iraq.
There are extensive chapters on entering and exiting the country through military way stations: warehouses full of men and women beset by paperwork, gear checks, body armor snafus, and a lot of waiting for something to happen.
There’s the story about seeking coherent trash collection led to van Buren’s meeting Yasmine, an honest municipal service director who concedes that the corruption and lack of skilled technocrats would stymie any attempt to fix existing problems. Everyone agrees that trash pickup is a real need: the army fears that piles of garbage will make hiding spots for home made bombs, the civilians fear the vermin the piles attract, locals hired to actually do the work seem better at making the money disappear than the garbage.
The result is the same, time and time again: the Americans define a problem, the government fronts a huge amount of cash to fix it, the money disappears, the problem never gets fixed. Never has so much been spent to enrich so few with so little result.
And yet . . . we meant well. If those three words don’t make you want to cry, the rest of the book will.
Van Buren is now a regular contributor to Tomdispatch.com. You could do worse than to follow his posts there.
“I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant,” Deary told the Guardian, pointing out that the original Public Libraries Act, which gave rise to the first free public libraries in the UK, was passed in 1850. “Because it’s been 150 years, we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that,” said Deary…
Bullshit. Of course he’s attacking libraries. All those people reading his books for free. (Bastards!)
I wonder if it’s worth noting that public libraries in the U.S. had very little to do with the Victorian example, and everything to do with a Scottish gentleman named Carnegie who thought that public libraries were essential to self-improvement, and led to success in life. (Nah!) For that matter, I seem to remember the Victorian age had a lot more to do with subjugating two thirds of the planet in the name of the crown than educating the masses, but hey, what do I know?
HuffPo followed up by noting that Deary is actually paid by the British government when his book is borrowed. When this was pointed out to him, Deary became incensed:
As one of the most popular library authors – his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times during 2011/12 – Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be.
Earth to Deavy: you did sell those books. To libraries. How the hell do you think those libraries acquired them in the first place? it’s not like publishers hand us books for free. (Donations, I agree, are another matter.)
On top of that, after those books were sold they continued to earn royalties through this amazing program. The British government is paying him every time someone read that book. This creep is sitting on the ultimate sweet spot for any author and he’s still complaining? Putz.
He goes on to declare that libraries are forcing book stores to close, and if there were such things as “car libraries” the automotive industry would collapse as well. Which is stupid because the average rental fleet owns 1.86 million vehicles. For all the problems with the auto industry, people renting cars is not one of them. If he want to decry the loss of book stores, he should try denouncing video games. Those are direct competitors to reading.
You’ll notice he didn’t bother to wonder how many of the folks who discovered his work at the library went out and bought the books for their kids. Nor did he care that those volumes loaned out by libraries already counted as part of his total sales.
An author–even a best-selling children’s author–need not be a saint (Roald Dahl certainly wasn’t.) But it takes a particular mindset to see the act of reading as a zero sum game.
I mean, how big an asshole do you have to be for Neil Gaiman to call you “selfish & stupid . . . mostly selfish”?
You read the header right: Amazon has access to roughly twice as many new texts from the nineteenth century as it does from the twentieth. This is thanks to copyright laws that frankly haven’t kept pace with the promise of the printing press, much less electronic publishing.
The real grunt work in preparing the data came from University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald, who described his effort this way:
We broke these out by decade. … You would expect that if you can crawl through Amazon looking at only new books and only books sold by Amazon — so these are not used books, these are not sold by Amazon associates, this is what’s in Amazon’s warehouses — of course, the biggest number of books is from the decade 2000-2010. That’s what you’d expect; they’re more recent, more popular. Drops off really quickly for books in the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, ’60, 1950, 1940, 1930 — here’s the point in time where books start falling in the public domain. Suddenly it goes up and up and up. There’s as many books [that] Amazon is selling brand new right now from the 1900s to 1910 as from the 2000s to 2010. You go all the way back to 1850 — there’s twice as many books from the 1850s being sold on Amazon right now as the 1950s. So this sort of confirms the notion that there’s some sort of positive public-domain effect …
Snowpocalypse Nemo is upon us, and MCNY is being shut down at 3 pm. The library is closing at 2.30, however, and in the meantime I’m fielding calls to SirsiDynix regarding their MARC data structure, and Bibliotheca concerning an upgrade of our RFID tagging software.
Had I been a truly devoted blogger, you say, I’d have done my Book A Week post last night while I had time for it. Which is one reason I don’t call myself a blogger. I’m a librarian who writes and has a blog. There is a difference. I think.
If you need me, I’ll be stripping the shelves of Trader Joe’s of everything I can carry and beating down people who get in my way. The old, the sick, the infirm, the toddlers, I don’t care. When CNN tells me to panic, I listen. I figure it’d be rude not to.
I missed the Superbowl. Well . . . I didn’t miss it so much as I worked hard to avoid it, seeing as how the Cowboys weren’t playing and in my world if the Cowboys aren’t playing, then who cares?
So I missed this 30-second spot for Oero cookies wherein nerds destroy a library in a whisper fight.
Now, this psychotic episode in ad drama has already been handily dealt with here, here, and here , so I don’t think there’s much I can add to the Intarweb analysis machine other than saying, really, Nabisco? Really?
Let’s set aside that any librarian I’ve worked with would solve the problem of a fist fight in their library with a pair of baseball bats and a bunch of dirty words. (Not really, but we’d at definitely consider it.)
I get what the Mad Men were going for: both parts of an Oreo are so good that normally decent folk would wreck the joint to defend their honor. Or something.
A shushing war in a library would have been funny. A crowd of people all whispering hotly and shushing each other while beating each other up would have been funnier. But that’s not what the commercial showed. It showed them wrecking a place of learning. The guy flipping the table over was passable, but the next scene is the older guy in the stacks pushing the stacks over. At that moment, the wreckage becomes the primary point, not the subtext.
Not what America needs to see, fellas.
I’m wondering why a library was the setting for this mayhem and not, say, an art gallery, or the theater. (Everyone knows that talking at the theater gets you sent to the Special Hell reserved for child molesters.) But the Mad Men who came up with this bit of insanity didn’t go there. They didn’t trash a bank, or an office building, or a war zone, or the White House, or a college dorm, or a tween girls’ slumber party, or a camp ground, or a football game.
They wrecked the library. The message: the collective knowledge of the human race isn’t worth a ten second sugar high. Education isn’t worth being right about a stupid argument. Reading isn’t worth shit, and neither are you. Because all you should care about is which part of the fucking cookie tastes better.
I spent this week taking in the horrors that James Smythe imposed upon his characters in The Explorer. It’s a lot of fun but not for the reasons you would probably expect.
What the author had to say on where the book came from was instructive: On the Apollo 11 mission while Aldrin and Armstrong were bouncing around collecting moon rocks, astronaut Michael Collins was alone in the command module, absolutely cut off from human contact for nearly an hour. Collins reported it as a liberating feeling, but then astronauts are supposed to be made of sterner stuff. What would some guy do in his place?
Well, in this case, some guy is Cormac Easton. And he handles it badly.
Cormac is a journalist turned astronaut, assigned to cover the story of the century: the first manned space mission to the reaches beyond the Moon. The idea is to head out as far as possible, with a crew that’s been trained to handle the daily rigors of running the ship as well as the media aspects of selling it to the public. All the funding is provided by corporate sponsors, and the result is a ship filled with brands and logos: the food bars, the uniforms, the equipment, the hardware. The news networks will be watching everything they do. The point is to make space exploration awesome again to a world that has lost the bug for manned space missions.
The optimistic crew climbs into their sleep pods, the ship blasts off. All is well. Then the crew awakens to find that Arlen, the ship’s pilot, is floating outside of his pod, dead. They call it an accident, Ground Control insists that they push onwards, and life goes on.
Things keep going wrong. The ship’s systems malfunction and shut down. The crew die, one by one, and while each death is tragic, the communications from Ground Control are consistent: deal with it, forge ahead, the mission comes first. Eventually, the radio goes and that’s the end of that.
Finally, Cormac is left alone after having to sedate the ship’s doctor and stuff her into her sleep pod, comatose. He mopes, writes, broods, eats, drinks, breathes, writes, laments, writes , sleeps, all in total isolation. The crew is gone, Ground Control is gone, his family on Earth is gone. Finally, the ship itself proves damaged beyond his ability to repair or even comprehend. He grasps one thing: the ship’s fuel supply will run out in a few days and with it, his air. There is no hope of going home; the ship’s autopilot is also gone, and he doesn’t know how to fix it, anyway.
Cormac finally decides that enough enough. Destroying the ship is the only way out. He heads to the pilot’s chair, brings the engines to full power, says his goodbyes to the universe, pushes the button–
–and then wakes up in complete darkness, freezing, oxygen starved, and freaking out. His hands find what he recognizes as a sleep pod, pulls it open, displaces the body inside with his own, and sleeps. He wakes, opens the pod, sees the now dead body of Arlen, the ship’s pilot, and realizes that not only has he somehow gone back to the beginning, but he’s becom(ing) the cause of his ship’s problem.
Then things get really strange.
This is a difficult book to read, primarily because it brings up the question that all nifty time-travel stories have: where does agency fit in to a world that is looped in on itself ? In Cormac Easton’s case, he finds out the hard way. Once he realizes what he’s done and where he is, he retreats from his crew mates, choosing to live in the ship’s storeroom and later literally crawls into the lining of the hull, watching the others go about their lives through the grill work. I found the choice of the lining fascinating, like a weird kind of ascension even as he devolves into an insect.
This strategy lets the reader take a look at the story and the metastory at the same time. It makes for an always fascinating, frequently infuriating, and occasional aggravating read. Cormac finds out exactly what happens by being able to observe everyone, very much in a fly-on-the-wall point of view. He discovers that the ship’s mission was a hoax: they were never meant to come home. Their deaths were meant to inspire a new wave of space exploration.He discovers that the accident that killed one crewman was no accident, but a suicide, and that the ship’s engineer was actually paid to sabotage the ship.
My trouble was the question of agency. It’s there, but as Cormac watches himself and his coworkers go through the motions and we find out what really happened to each crew member in turn, his own detachment from them and from his first self compounds. Finally, you just want to reach into the page and shake the poor guy, slap him across the face a few times, and scream DON’T JUST TELL YOURSELF IT’S HOPELESS, YOU IDIOT! DOOOOOO SOMETHING!
Yeah. Maybe it’s just me expecting a book other than the one that Smythe wrote, but that really bugged me. It’d be one thing if he tried to change things and was thwarted by whatever, but to tell yourself that something can’t be changed because it can’t be changed sounds like giving up.
And yet, it made sense. Cormac is a reporter, an observer. Watching everything and paying almost voyeuristic attention to people and how they interact is what he does. And in fairness to the author, that’s how he shows us just how screwed up everything in this story is. It worked.
So if you’re into giant space battles, you might want to pass this one up. If, on the other hand, you enjoy tortured explorations into the human soul, then this book is just your speed.
One of the road blocks to making this happen however, is the state of our MARC holdings. The records were not in great shape when I got here in 2007. Some of the cataloging was done in brief records by paraprofessionals who were not trained as catalogers. So a certain portion of our collection is composed of fragmentary records. This is not a problem as far as it goes. Fragmentary records are expanded or replaced whenever I find them. The problem with fragmentary data is the lack of discovery by our patrons, since those records lack some vital access points fully developed records include.
Additionally, our ILS creates new records on demand and populates each one with a randomly generated OCM number in the 001 field. Again, not a problem per se except that I’d originally intended for the 001 field to be utilized by Summon to identify our records. Having spoken to the implementation professionals at Serials Solutions, I’ve learned that is not going to happen.
So, new plan: populate each of our 125,000 or so MARC records with an OCLC control number to live in the 035 field. This would require a Batch Reclamation Project where we’d upload our records to the wizards at OCLC. They’d make the changes, ask if there are any records we’d like remove from their holdings, then send them back to us to swap into our ILS. The good news is that because it’s a one-time deal and we’ve never pursued this type of project before, they’d do it for us for free. (An ongoing project would cost us some money.)
The bad news is that I have a day to learn about batch reclamation projects.
In accounting, credits go on the left and debits go on the right. (I think, so, anyway. It’s been a very long time since I took accounting.) The numbers have to balance. The concept of balancing the columns is so important in accounting that it’s better to have a wildly inaccurate balance than no balance. That’s just how it works.
Accountants also have a term for things that don’t easily quantify: goodwill. Goodwill is the intangible stuff that a prosperous company can’t really afford to lose. It combines the value of the brand, the company’s reputation for ethical and moral behavior, and the quality of the product line into a catch-all term.
I’m working a double shift tonight because one coworker who works evenings got sick. That happens. Another coworker who generally works evenings thought that because yesterday was a holiday and they usually work Tuesday through Saturday, with Mondays off, and since today was a Monday class schedule, they were allowed to take today off, too. It was probably an honest mistake. I mean, it sounds reasonable. Logical. Doesn’t it?
But this is not the first time this has happened. Additionally, Monday is our busiest day. Being here late is not what I would choose to do given an alternative, but I can’t really take it out on my students, either.
Anyway . . . goodwill is not infinite. People notice things: patterns, proclivities, procedures. When you cover for a coworker there’s an implied expectation that there was a good reason. If it turns out there isn’t, well, goodwill drops and things happen.
I spent the week burning through The Long Earth, the most recent work by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I almost but not quite wish that I hadn’t.
The premise is simple: infinite Earths just a step away from our own along an “East” or “West” axis. They’re all ours, the planet is the same, along with the geography, and they all occupy the same time. But due to variation of circumstance along the same time span, some are very close to ours while others are just plain weird. The one thing that none of them seem to have (except ours, of course) is people.
All this was made apparent after a rather eccentric scientist posted plans for a stepper to the internet. It’s a simple device made from a varnished wooden box, ten dollars’ worth of parts from Radio Shack and a potato. Days later, two millon children put these things together and disappear from the planet.
One of these kids, a boy named Joshua Valiente, is hyper attuned to stepping, and it turns out was liteally the first person born while his mother was stepping. Joshua only feels truly at home in the absence of other people and spends more time visiting other Earths than he does on this one. Which is why he’s recruited by the transEarth Corporation to find out just how many worlds there are and what they are like. That’s where he meets Lobsang, a reincarnated mind inside a computer who plans a bit of hard core exploration of the new worlds with Joshua in tow.
Step Day changes everything but not in the way you might first think. There are limits to stepping, for instance. Step boxes must be hand made by their owners. Some people step far and wide with no afteraffects but most get violently ill after each transition. Some people can’t step at all and are stuck at home forever. You can take anything with you as you step like your clothes, or a bag of goods, or your unborn child, but metallic iron can’t. The iron thing prevents the industrialized nations from exploiting the natural resources of a billion new earths as logically as they might want. Having to step to a new world then start from scratch slows things down.
People head to the new frontier. The slums of London empty out, the Australian aborigines head out in huge groups to live like their ancestors did, blending modern sensibilities with ancient dreamtime memories. A few folks go out to carve empires. Entire convoys go to create new communities and suddenly having an MBA doesn’t get you very far at all.
But the further out you step, the stranger the worlds get and some of them are just plain bad places for humans to visit much less settle.
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The story is told along a multitude of axes, much like the nature of the Long Earth. The main thrust of the action is centered on Joshua and Lobsang and their journey towards the far reaches of the Long Earth. It’s never boring but it starts to drag around page 200 and never truly recovers. Throughout the book we get glimpses of what else is going on: Officer Monica Jansson keeps tabs on an anti-stepper hate group; the Green family moves out into the Long Earth to play frontier folk while abandoning their thirteen year old son at home (he can’t step); entrepreneur Jim Russo aims to build a trading empire in the new worlds and just doesn’t have the hang of it. All of these folks get their fifteen minutes of fame as it were, but we don’t stick with any of them long enough to really care about them.
I had a similar problem with the nature of the Long Earth itself. We are constantly shown Earths that might have been but we don’t stay in any of them long enough to process the implications. There’s a rush to get to the next world in the chain. To be fair, one of the characters Joshua picks up in his travels chides him for this. Through her we find a settlement in the middle of the distant realm of the Long Earth where people have been accidentally stepping and congregating for millennia, and it’s interesting but it doesn’t last long enough to satisfy.
This is not too unlike the way that Baxter wrote Evolution a few years ago, but at least there he was dealing with a single environment that was being looked at from a few poignant time-frames over a single four billion year history. In that respect, The Long Earth is a book about dimension hopping the way that Evolution was a textbook on biology.
And yet there is a fascinating discussion of community and individuality, the nature of consciousness and how it shapes reality, and how that truth of quantum physics shaped the Long Earth in the hands of non-human sapient species. It also quickly became clear which portions of the story were written by Baxter and which were devised by Pratchett. It never stopped being entertaining.
The campaign aims to encourage families to enjoy reading together. The latest research from the National Literacy Trust (NLT), based on a survey of 21,000 young people in the UK, revealed that only 50pc of children enjoy reading “very much” or “quite a lot”.
As well as books given out alongside Happy Meals, customers can redeem books at WH Smith, the high-street retailer, under the offer, McDonald’s said yesterday.
Jonathan Douglas, director of the NLT, said: “Our research tells us that there is a very clear link between book ownership and children’s future success in life, so it is very concerning that one in three children in the UK doesn’t own a book, and half of kids don’t really enjoy reading.
“Initiatives like McDonald’s Happy Readers campaign play an important role in getting more books into the hands of children, and inspiring families to read together as a fun and interactive pastime.”
Am I upset that the kids will get access to book that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise have? Of course not.
Do I get upset when the suits use empirical data to figure out that getting kids to read more, and earlier, helps build them into successful adults? Never.
But will I applaud when a multinational corporation whose sole purpose in life is to rack up profits by selling as many hamburgers as possible to as many people as possible, takes up the role of book distributor and portrays it as being good for kids? Not a chance.
It might be a cynical ploy or it might be a good idea. I guess we’ll see.
Listen up, folks: we are in trouble. We’re not totally screwed–not yet, anyway–but we have all moved to another planet whether we know it or not. That planet is hotter, wetter (sometimes), drier (sometimes), prone to increasing weather-related volatility, and generally less stable. It is not the planet we grew up on. It is the planet Eaarth. And since we have nowhere else to go, we need to figure out how to live on it.
This is the premise of Eaarth by Bill McKibben, a book we just ordered and which I gave a close look to while I cataloged it. It’s a fascinating examination of the increasingly obvious and inter-related problems of stagnant economies, population growth, peak oil, limits to capital, climate change, and a less stable environment. The fact that all these things are the product of seventy years of unparalleled economic growth exacerbate the problems due to sclerotic thinking caused by sunk costs, but more on that in a moment.
Bill McKibben is no stranger to environmental issues: he’s been called “the nations ‘s leading environmentalist” by the Boston Globe. He’s led the organization 350.org and has reported on environmental issues since 1989 when his first book, The End of Nature was published following a serialization in The New Yorker.
The problem: First, the heat. It’s increasing. Our industrial age dug a billion years’ worth of fossil fuel out of the ground and burned it, releasing carbon into the air where it traps more sunlight than used to be the case. Even if the cause it not exclusively industry (unlikely as hell, but I suppose, not impossible), it’s clear that all that carbon is not helping matters. The world is getting hotter, period.
Second, the weather. It’s changing. The planet is heating up, more water evaporates into the atmosphere causing more frequent storms of greater intensity than we are used to seeing thus far. The ability to plan for the future requires, however, that we have an effective predictive model to use. We’ve assumed that the future will resemble the past and for twelve millennia that was a safe assumption. Not any more. Volatility is not the friend of predictive modeling.
Third, industrialization itself. All that coal, oil and natural gas had a real value to us: we learned how to extract a great amount of energy from these materials than had previously been harnessed in all human civilization. That’s 12,000 years or so of slaves, soldiers, farming, and animal domestication. None of it could hold a candle to a coal-fired power plant, or even a 350 horsepower internal combustion engine. (Imagine a car pulled by 350 horses and you get an idea of what I’m talking about.) Industrialization allowed a huge number of people to benefit from a workforce that made things in great quantity. The result is a society that commands greater comfort and convenience than the wealthiest kings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and said comfort is available to nearly anyone, at least, in theory. But more stuff requires more energy, which requires that we burn more carbon, which makes the world even hotter, etc.
Fourth, the logical conclusion, is that mass production required mass capital. Mass capital required bureaucratic organization. And the only organizations (up to now) that have been able to marshal such huge quantities of capital for lengths of time spanning decades or centuries are bureaucratic governments (corporations took that model for their own for a reason). And it worked: only our government could have fought and won two world wars, sent a man to the moon, built and paved 47,000+ miles of highway, or created such safety nets as Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. That model of thinking is at an end . . . or will be at some point. The bottom line is that we have spend the past sixty years building an empire that we can no longer maintain. The center does not hold, things fall apart, and working within the system for reform yields nothing but angry reformers.
The result: a hot planet melts glaciers faster than they can be reformed and so there goes all our drinking water. The lack of predictive power over risk will bankrupt governments and insurance companies, as storm surges and extreme weather render the world’s coastlines uninsurable. The rising temperature will melt the poles, Greenland, and Siberia, release a few million tons of methane into the air (Siberia is actually a frozen swamp), and then things will really heat up. Forests literally go up in smoke as drier summers spark fires in the interior. Food gets scarce and then disappears over increasingly wide swaths of the world. Wars will be fought over things like fresh water and arable land.
Maddeningly, oftentimes our solutions make things worse. Land cleared for biomass production has the double whammy effect of dropping food stocks even further and burning more carbon, for example.
Yet, McKibben says, all is not quite as dismal as it seems. People are a resourceful lot and when they stop thinking of things as they should be and start thinking in terms of what is and is not, they can come up with some fascinating ideas.
Decentralized organization is one way of thinking. Using his home state of Vermont as a model, he points to organic farms that are more productive than giant agribusiness. Energy production is something that can be rethought as well; wind farms, solar panels, hydro power are all things that need local concentrations and modeling, not national.
Rethinking a world that’s predicated on the automobile is another. You don’t have to get rid of the cars; deteriorating roads combined with more frequent gasoline shortages will do that. If you stopped building cars this very minute and never built another the surplus would be enough to absorb several years’ sales worldwide. The problem is creating a system that does what cars do–move people and goods from one place to another–but with energy efficiency and carbon neutrality in mind. Two words for everyone: public transportation is a decent option. Rebuilding our railroads would benefit everyone.
The point, McKibben says, is not that we’re all going to die because the planet will kill us. The point is that we have nowhere else to go and the planet is different now. Old models of survival will not work. So even if we can’t bring back the good old days (such as they were), we can almost certainly manage the damage we’ve already done and resolve to do less.
And she’s correct when she says that librarians remove books from the collection all the time, We do it at MCNY, too. We just spent six grueling months taking out nearly four thousand volumes that were too old, out of our scope, or inaccurate for our students’ use.
It happens. It’s necessary.
We even have a term specifically fort it: weeding.
Sequels are tough, especially if you are writing about big ideas. Freedom, by Daniel Suarez, the follow-up to Daemon is all about big ideas: exploitation vs. fairness, real wealth vs. the trappings of wealth, the military financial complex vs. community; mostly though it examines the issue of human freedom, what it is, what we think it is, and what manner of freedom we aspire to.
When you deal with big ideas, the second books is often the weak link in the story. Not this time. This story delves deeply into the society of Sobol’s darknet, which came about in Daemon. In Freedom, Peter Sebeck is no longer a detective . . . no longer even among the living as far as his records show. But he is now working for Sobol and his assigned mission is to determine whether mankind’s penchant for self-destruction is a bug of poor leadership or a feature of the species. Hacker/con artist/identity thief Jon Ross is also working for the Daemon, but his direction is a bit more focused: he’s heading deep into enemy territory to do some damage to the bad guys.
There are now two distinct sides in the power struggle: on the one hand there is The System, aka The Powers That Be, who represent the status quo. The System’s big dog in this fight is a gentleman known as The Major, an ex-military CEO of a substantial mercenary army (“trigger happy dipshits who are willing to make a hundred bucks an hour,” as he puts it), with connections to billionaire hedge fund managers, high level military officers in the U.S., Europe, and China, and virtually unlimited resources to make war on just about anyone or anything he can spot with the world’s extensive security apparatus.
Opposing them is Matthew Sobol’s soul given electronic substance–the Daemon–which has by now recruited its own army of operatives who use their skills with the sensibilities, tools, and terms built into Sobol’s fantasy MMPORG, The Gate, to turn the world into something a little kinder and gentler than The System wants. Namely a high-tech, sustainable, community-oriented world, populated by three-dimensional people who produce three-dimensional products for other people.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the story is the ease which which the narration slides from hard core realism to the pseudo-fantasy settings of the Daemon’s virtual world (known as D-Space). To someone with the right sensibilities, technological efforts become spells, background appliances become familiars and self-tutoring computer applications become members of the spirit world. There’s a scene where Ross visits a Chinese factory in Shenzhen to forge a magic ring, for example. Calling an artifact that’s been welded by a robot in a Chinese factory “magic” might seem hokey to a non-gamer, but what if that ring can shield you from surveillance gear in real life? Any camera, any heat sensor, any microphone? I call that a ring of invisibility. The tech is real: the sensibility is imaginary.
One thing I wasn’t sure I liked was the fact that the Daemon isn’t sentient or sapient in any conventional sense of the world while retaining considerable agency over its operatives. Ultimately, it’s a massive network of contingency programs. Something happens in such and such a city affecting this or that person, one set of algorithms is brought on line, and contact that person with a quest. Completing the quest requires use of real world skills dressed up in fantasy RPG lingo, and that’s fine. There’s a great deal to be said for unlocking Level Four Legal Protection when your farm is being threatened by giant agrobusiness lawyers. But the main purpose of the Daemon remains clear: drain enough of the shadow economy’s wealth–and with it, its power–and put it to use building productive projects, that the fake economy collapses so that a real economy can reform.
But not everyone who works for the Daemon wants a better world. One Daemon operative–an ex-rave promoter/pornographer/drug dealer named Loki–has been amassing power from the start of the Daemon’s revolt and doesn’t care about anything other than wiping out the Major and his power base of tycoons. Loki’s power is uber-tech; the best gear the darknet can provide and robot killing machines at his beck and call. The thousands or potentially millions who get killed in the process a re mere collateral damage to Loki. Plus, he has access to some of the creepier “spirits” of D-space and has plans of his own.
I’m glad I took a moment to enjoy Suarez’s near-future vision of a somewhat fairer place, but ultimately I shudder when I think of some genius programmer at Blizzard building a darknet of his own. I have little faith in the ability of your typical World of Warcraft subscriber to actually want to get involved in a semi-covert operation against The Man. It’s possible: my guild-mates are all in their in their thirties and forties and most of us have kids; there’s a reason the guild is called Midlife Crisis. I could see those folks getting in on a project like this. And it would be awesome to be known on the darknet as a 21st level Librarian.
Anyway, the weekend approaches and now I hit the publish button. I need to get my level 85 protection Paladin to 90.
Over the break I discovered a use for the Costco fruit salad bowl that we basically forgot about in the midst of our Yule party two weeks ago and stuck in the freezer: sangria. Dump the frozen chunks of fruit into a bowl, then add a bottle of red, a bottle of rose, a few tablespoons of sugar, some brandy, then let sit for a while and add ginger ale. The trick is figuring out how to cart the stuff to the party we’ll take it to this evening, but that’s that sort of problem that finds a solution on its own.
Another thing to deal with: The Great Flabtacular Entity that is my waist needs to be tamed, and this is as good a time to decide on doing it as any. I need to lose 20 lbs or so over the next six months. It can be done. A combination of staying away from the crap I’ve been living on lately, portion control, not going back for seconds, and more exercise should do it. Mostly staying off the garbage. I got myself a steamer a few weeks ago and steamed veggies will figure more significantly in our diet over the rest of the winter. Beyond that, some flexibility training might be in order, too.
I’ve thought a bit about how to improve this website, and most of it came down to a decision not to be so damned lazy in maintaining it. I need pages for the Home, About and Links section, and I brought over fifty or sixty links that were appended to TypeLists from the TypePad setting. The links still have value (most of them), so I need to set up pages where they can be arranged here.
Anyway, all that starts tomorrow and I go back to work on Wednesday the 2nd. The new school year will bring a host of fascinating new projects with it. More on those as they emerge.
Finally, I liked Daemon so much than I went and bought Freedom, the sequel. I’ll post a review of that this Friday for A Book a Week.
Have you ever gotten a phone call that promises to ruin your whole day? Detective Peter Sebeck just did:
“Detective Sebeck. I was Matthew Sobol. Chief technology officer of CyberStorm Entertainment. I am dead.
“I see you’ve been assigned to the Josef Pavlos and Chopra Singh murder cases. Let me save you some time: I killed both men. Soon you’ll know why. But you have a problem: because I’m dead, you can’t arrest me. More importantly: you can’t stop me.”
Some days, the word “oops” just doesn’t go far enough.
And so we come to the meat of Daemon by Daniel Suraez, a particularly harrowing techno-thriller for anyone who comes from the world of IT and anyone with a bevvy of microchips in their daily life.
The deaths of two top level programmers at CyberStorm Entertainment attract the attention of the police and Detective Sergeant Peter Sebeck is assigned to cover the case. One man died from an apparent electrocution and another was decapitated by a gate winch. Sebeck declares both deaths to be homicide and investigates. Along the way, he gets a crash introduction to hackers, crackers, spoofs, spear-phishing, identity theft, server protocols, and other tools of the IT trade. He quickly realizes that he’s out of his element and calls in the FBI to take the case over; an unsavory but necessary decision. But Sebeck doesn’t stop there. He meets a programmer named Jon Ross who figures out that the murders were the work of a daemon–a computer program that lives in the background–and lets Sebeck know that the mayhem has only just started.
Ultimately, the daemon is the work of a genius level programmer turned gaming tycoon: Matthew Sobol, father of CyberStorm Entertainment, who died weeks earlier of a brain tumor. But the daemon lives on, working in the background, reading the news as it’s posted on the internet and recruiting new “players” as they become required to beat the police and establish itself as a power in the real world.
The closest thing to this book I’ve seen was years ago when I first read The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer. In that story, an ambitious M.D. proves the existence of the human soul (the “soulwave”) which survives the death of the body. In order to learn more about whether consciousness itself survives, he creates copies of his own mind, alters them for control and experimental status and lets them loose in cyberspace. Murder and mayhem ensue.
Suarez’s story takes the idea further than Sawyer could have, both because of the greater depth which which he presents the world of information technology to the reader, and the powerful agency that his daemon possesses. That’s not Sawyer’s fault by any means; the technology and complexity of the world of computers has increased manyfold since The Terminal Experiment hit the shelves in 1995 and Sawyer was telling a different, much more intimate story.
Suarez, on the other hand, ninja dives straight into the world of computers and the people who use them, and never truly surfaces. He’s one of the few sci-fi writers to comprehend that the world we live in here and now is made of computers. But because 99% of the machines we interact with operate in the background, we don’t think of them or about them until they fail to work properly. In that respect, microchips are very much light electricity or plumbing, and just as vital to our daily lives.
More to the point, nobody complains as bitterly when the toilet stops up or the sink clogs . . . we think of it as annoying as hell, but a call to a plumber is enough to resolve the problem. The worst we do is gripe to our workers are and friends about to $200 bill the correction cost. But if you have worked on a Helpdesk, you know just how shrilly people complain about their gizmos and gadgets. We’ve never really recovered from the revolution in chip manufacturing that enable a single iPod to carry more computational power than in all the computers built before 1980. Hell, my iPhone carries 125,000 times the memory of the multi-billion dollar computers that were built for the Apollo spacecraft in the 1960s. Suarez makes this sense of entitlement work for him (and against us) as he shows us what a world run by computers for their own benefit looks like, right up to deploying computer-operated drone weapons built from stock Hummers and motorcycles. (Hint: if you see a vanity plate that reads AUTOM8D, run like hell.)
The second part of the story is found in the sequel, Freedom, which I haven’t read yet (but will.) in the mean time, Daemon is frightening, timely, and worth looking at. Carefully.
It’s December 24, which means that at midnight tonight, I will have completed 46 years on this Earth. It also means that I’m home on winter break from work until the January 1. We go back to work the 2nd and I have time to get stuff done.
Writing something down makes it real, so here’s primitive but not exclusive list of things I need to take care of:
1. Put up Lara’s trophy shelf. She’s been asking for months, no more excuses.
2. Fix the basement toilet. The damn thing drips. We were getting ridiculously high water bills for a while, so I lifted the lid off the tank and found that some fool had arranged the feed pipe to drain directly into the overflow pipe. I fixed that, yelled at the adults in the house, and the bills immediately decrease by 60%. Trouble is that the traps are not very sturdy. They’re supposed to have a lifespan of three years but the plumber says that’s BS, I should be replacing them every year, or better yet, every six months. So that’s on the To Do list for this week.
3. Think about how to redo website, then actually get off my ass and do it. This will take longer than just one week but it needs to be thought about and done. I like my website, I think moving from Typepad to the Genesis framework and a self-hosted WordPress site has been generally beneficial but plainly, there’s more to do. This site is functional but not impressive visually, and I have tons of links from the old blog that I never placed into additional access points here. I have to change that. Beyond that, I’ve been thinking about what to do with the writing aspect of my time. But that’s for my new year’s resolution list.
4. Think about managing my double life as librarian/SF writer. Here’s the thing. I call myself a writer and I do write. The 560+ posts here are proof of that. What I don’t generally do is get paid for this work. I’d like to change that in 2013. So, I bought a copy of the 2013 Writer’s Market and will see what happens. I have a goal of selling 12 piece of writing in the coming year for actual money.
5. Finish tweaking the second book in the Blockade series, get started rewriting the third. That’s an ongoing project. Fingers are still crossed; more news (if any) as I come across it.
6. Review of Daemon by Daniel Suarez goes op for my Book a Week post on Friday.
I’m not a movie critic, and I’m not about to call myself one. But I went to see The Hobbit over the weekend, and the truth was I liked it quite a lot.
But . . . yeah.
All right, back to the beginning. I specifically decided NOT to see the 3-D version of the film. I think 3-D is fine for people who like that sort of thing, and plenty of people do like it, which is why so many action films are being made for that particular medium now. I’m not one of those people. 48 frames a second, is, I’m told by people who know what they are talking about, a way to make the action sequences more engrossing, more spectacular, more illusory than mere flat projection. And maybe that’s right. I haven’t noticed enough of a difference in my own viewing. At any rate, I saw an old school version of the film. Sue me.
I specifically did not re-read the book before going to see the film. There didn’t seem to be a reason to do so. There was no way that Jackson was going to simply shoot the book, and we all knew that years in advance. Additionally, this is the first part of a prequel and the book is way shorter than LOTR. Hell, even Ranklin and Bass couldn’t pack more than 77 minutes of footage into the cartoon they made in 1977. So, when fans heard that Jackson intended to create a 9-12 hour epic in three parts based on this particular book, it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to realize that he made up stuff on his own to fill up the holes. If this were a novelization, it’d be two thousand pages long.
So, the film is the film and the book is the book. When the credits say the film is based on the book, they tell the truth. Two media entities with common ancestry can be very different and remain true to the original material. What Jackson did was expand the existing Peter Jackson’s-take-on-Tolkien universe. That much, I approve of. (Inventing scenes filled with cringing women–I’m looking at you, Helm’s Deep–not so much; not at all, in fact.)
You know the story: Bilbo Baggins has his comfortable, quite life in the Shire turned upside-down by Gandalf the Grey, who shows up quite unannounced with 12 dwarves from the Lonely Mountain kingdom in tow. They need a burglar to sneak past Smaug, the fire drake who’s set up shop in the ruins of their lost home and Bilbo’s it. What follows is a long and tumultuous sequence of events involving established characters and few new faces: trolls, Elrond, Sauraman, Galadriel, Radagast the Brown, spiders, a Necromancer, Gollum, The One Ring, Goblins, Orcs, eagles, and now we wait for part two.a
Seriously: Jackson fills out his universe is fascinating ways. It’s not the action that interested me–although what Tolkien buff doesn’t want to see massive battles between dwarves and orcs enacted in 70mm–so much as what Jackson did with the characters. Having scads of time to fill meant that a number of the dwarves have fully developed back stories which are brought to bear on a number of points during the film. Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown steals every scene he’s in without even trying. His plot line is also a way to introduce the spiders as something more malevolent than mere blood suckers out of Mirkwood (as they were in the book). Now they’re part of a “creeping evil” out of Dol Guldur: a necromancer who’s feeling his oats after centuries of inactivity–which we know as an audience is a prelude to Sauron’s process of rebuilding his power base in Middle Earth.
On that note, the Wizard’s council involving Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel is a priceless bit of back story reworking without becoming a full-fledged recton. We learn that Saruman is already working for the Big S. sixty years before the LOTR gets going–not a surprise, but we get an awesome scene where the White Wizard insists that there’s nothing to see here as he is presented with the evidence of bad things on the horizon. Beyond that, the signal trading that went on between Galadriel and Gandalf in order to buy time for the dwarves and Bilbo to leave Rivendell unmolested was a better device than another ten minutes of exposition would have been.
As to Andy Serkis as Gollum . . . well, come on, that’s why we all went to see this film. I was interested to see Serkis named as Second Unit Director in the closing credits, too. It made sense to a degree, with all the side story that Serkis is involved with and the fact that crawling around a set in a motion-capture suit has to sensitize you to knowing where everything is at any time during the shoot. Hell, Serkis is the the second unit. For that matter, the point mapping that was done to graft Barry Humphries’ face onto the Great Goblin’s head, wattle and all, was brilliantly executed, and Humphries made a wonderful show of voicing the bad guy. (Think of the character as Baron Vladamir Harkonnen meets The Blob.)
The bottom line is that the film dragged in a few places but at no point did it ever feel like a 3 hour long slog. The credits rolled and I found myself impatient for the next installment. In that respect, Jackson knows his business and delivered a quality product.
You think you have it bad? You don’t. You have a job you hate, kids, a mortgage, stress, crazed neighbors, days when you want to strangle whomever is next to you for no better reason than they pissed you off. We all have those. You haven’t made the big time by any means, but trust me, if you’re here, reading this, you’re in good shape.
To understand the meaning of the term “utterly screwed”, you need to spend a few hours in Winchester, Virgina with Joe Bageant, an old school socialist gonzo reporter who spent the last decades of his life thoroughly denouncing the “American hologram” that life here had morphed into. It was a big deal to him: he used the phrase 24 times in this book alone.
Bageant wrote an online column (www.joebageant.com) that made him a cult hero among gonzo-journalism junkies and folks whose politics veered to the left. He gave interviews on Air America (remember that?) and commented on America’s long history of religious fundamentalism. He was in his editor’s words, a “undeniable product of the Internet.” Not inasmuch as he grew up using it so much as it gave him a huge audience for his work after a meaningless but relatively prosperous (he had health insurance through his job) career in newspaper reporting.
Joe Bageant’s subject matter has been the working-class multitudes of the south and west, the folks that I by a nature of my birth, education, and history have only come into contact rarely and tangentially. It’s best to let him describe these folks in his own words:
The one thing the thinking left and urban liberals have not done is tread the soil of the Goth–subject themselves to the unwashed working-class America, to that churchgoing, hunting and fishing, Bud Light-drinking, provincial America. To the people who cannot, and do not care to, locate Iraq or France on a map–assuming they even own an atlas. Few educated liberals will ever find themselves sucking down canned beer at the local dirt track or listening to the preacher explain the infallibility of the Bible on every known topic from biology to the designated-hitter rule or attending awards night at a Christian school or getting drunk to Teddy and the Starlight Ramblers playing C&W at the Eagles Club.
Welcome to Joe’s world. It’s ugly, and it’s beautiful, and it’s creepy, and desperate, and full of hope, faith, tragedy, anger (a lot of anger), and guns, and alcohol, and religion, and pride, and honesty, and an unshakable belief in the American Dream. It’s full of back-breaking labor in dead-end factory jobs–when there are the jobs to be had, of course, which is not that often. It’s populated by people named Pooter, and Dottie, and Buck who understand every little thing that you and I do and expect from life but count themselves lucky if they can stay two payments behind on a double wide on a quarter acre lot in rural Virginia.
It’s a world where gun culture really is a culture: a way of feeding one’s family through hunting, involving family heirlooms lovingly cared for and handed down, father to son, in an unbroken chain that can go back a century or more. It’s a culture that is intensely spiritual and more fully engaged with the environment than some activist groups can imagine.
It’s a world that involves a level of class warfare that begins at the grassroots level and never really graduates into the capitalism we rich kids learned about in Eco 101. Local business owners call the shots because they are the big shots of their localities. They are (among other things) the landlords and slumlords who advise City Hall and influence the building codes , and they like things just fine. According to Bageant it’s more feudal than corporate, but no one down there has ever used the term class war, nor does it occur to them to do so.
The quote about “urban liberals” above might strike a few people who have spent their lives devoting time to worthy liberal causes as just another redneck slur. It’s not. One thing that Bageant–a long time old school socialist–laments is the way that modern liberalism has lost touch with the working class. To him, the working class is not just a voting block to be wooed every two or four years. The working class is not made of nice people who visit coffee houses and head to open-mike poetry readings in the West Village because the New York Times told them to. The working class is a huge group of men and women who do things with their hands: electricians, plumbers, construction workers, bricklayers, masons, guys who climb telephone poles and women who work on assembly lines. They get the job done for damned little money and no job security, which, considering that they keep the country running, is shameful. And they only way that the progressive left will ever get their attention much less their loyalty is to go down there, spend time with them, and show them what progressive politics offers. These folks don’t have much presence on Facebook.
I could go on, but it’d be like the proverbial blind men examining an incredibly abused and worn down elephant. Just buy the book.
“People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.”
—Terry Prachett, Going Potal
Last week of the Fall 2012 semester is upon us. It’s like . . .
You know the scene in You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan, who has run an indie bookstore for decades, gets her first look inside a five story Barnes & Noble–
And she finds a store clerk trying desperately to figure out what book series his customer is talking about–
Because the only things the customer can remember about the book is that it’s a children’s book and it’s about shoes–
And Meg knows exactly what book they are talking about and tells the clerk the series title and the book titles and the year and the publisher–
And the clerk goes off to see if they can be ordered–
And then Meg bursts into tears because she has just realized that this is what the future of book sales looks like–
Buyers and sellers both wanting something distinct and eminently identifiable, but lacking the common reference points to make it happen–
Like subject, title, author, publication date, edition–
And instead all the customers have to work with is a disconnected image in their mind–
Or a snippet of conversation–
Or a few seconds of a television or YouTube broadcast that they had encountered at some point previously–
It’s a rainy, cold, gross Monday in NYC. I just finished reading Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant, who passed from this world earlier this year. I’ll be posting a review of that book this Friday for A Book A Week.
In the meantime, here’s a documentary by Anthony Sherin that follows a lone piano which has been left on the curb, awaiting its fate. The short film covers the last 24 hours in the instrument’s “life”. Both surprisingly engrossing and fascinating.
There are worse ways to spend a rainy, gross Monday in NYC.
In writing, you must kill your darlings. –William Faulkner.
Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of. –Kurt Vonnegut.
Writers are always selling someone out. — Joan Didion.
This week: Redshirts by John Scalzi.
This was actually the first Scalzi book I read. I was hooked from the prologue. The novel deals head-on with a question we all have had after watching our first episode of televised SciFi (I’m looking at you, Star Trek). Namely: why do characters do things that will obviously get them killed in predictably stupid ways?
Short answer: because the story demanded it.
Long answer: because that’s how the writers wrote it and here is why they wrote it that way.
We don’t get all this up front, of course. The format of the story is very much like a TV show. Scenes and dialogue are written perfunctorily, with a minimum of explanation and introspection. TV is an expository medium, so the book reads in much the same way.
Our protagonist is Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned crewman to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union (aka “DubU”).
Dahl’s first few weeks of duty are normal. Desk work, drills, assignments in the xenobiology lab. Dahl starts wondering about his coworkers in lab after he notices strange behaviors. Like whenever the ship’s Science Officer comes around looking for bodies to put on an away mission, Dahl is somehow the only one in the room. There’s also an alien gizmo in the lab known as The Box, which will deliver an analysis of any substance put into it–but never a complete one. The result always necessitates a visit to the bridge where Science Officer Q’eeng can cluck over it, make a few changes, and then hand the complete data back to the messenger with instructions on what to do with it.
It gets weirder. One crewman named Jenkins has taken to living in the cargo spaces between decks to avoid what he calls The Narrative. “Stay off the bridge,” he tells Dahl, “Avoid the Narrative. The next time you’re going to get sucked in. And then it’s all over for you.”
Ultimately, Dahl does get noticed by the Captain and his officers and does get assigned to away missions, where he watches his fellow crewmen destroyed by events apparently beyond their control, but somehow not. If a root is sticking out of the ground, someone will trip over it. The weapon the security guy pulls out is exactly what will drive the man-eating worms into a killing frenzy, even if no one in charge mentions that fact in the mission briefing.
Even the captain has noticed that things explode on the bridge whenever a battle with an enemy ship comes out, even if that other ship is pathetically underpowered compared to the Intrepid. “There is not a damn reason why everything on the bridge has to go up in sparks every time we have a battle,” he gripes to Dahl.
Along the way he watches his coworkers literally disappearing in hails of bullets, consumed by life forms filled with teeth, destroyed by killer robots that sprout new weapon at will, and otherwise lost to the drama of one away mission after another.
Before long, Dahl is learning that the Narrative is not just a metafictional construct but a persistent dimension that intersects with the ship and her crew. Ultimately, Dahl learns that today’s events are being directly influenced by events deep in the past and that it’s possible to get there using physics that only exist around certain crew members and that’s where shit gets real, as the kids say.
What follows is a masterpiece fourth wall osmosis that twists What Is around What Cannot Be, secures it with Because I Said So and sends your sense of perspective screaming into the darkest forest in the process. Everything can and does make sense if you just learn the rules of the universe and follow them to their natural conclusion.
The real gems of the novel don’t appear until one gets to the final three ‘Codas’, one each written from the first, second and third person point of view, each narrated by a character only tangentially dealt with in Dahl’s story, but just as essential to the plot. They nicely resolve what few loose ends appear and make complete sense in so doing.
Scalzi insists that the book has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he worked as a creative consultant on Stargate Universe for two years, and I believe him. I watched SGU, I liked it. The writing was solid, even if I personally consider SG:Atlantis to be the best part of the Stargate franchise. Having said that, I can see how a reader with some experience watching TV would think of this book as a memoir in disguise. Tina Fey for instance was very up front about the fact that 30-Rock was based on her experiences at SNL. But fiction in general and particularly television or movies can be disconnected from reality, which is why it’s fun. (They don’t call it escapist for no reason, folks). For the first three seasons, Numbers had an actual mathematician on staff as a consultant and the writing made sense. He left at the beginning of Season 4 and that was the end of that. The writers of Eureka were more focused on what they wanted: whatever they thought was cool, they wrote about; sometimes the science made sense, sometimes not so much. In an industry where Randy Quaid can blow up a mile-long spaceship with a Harpoon anti-ship missile or California can slide into the Pacific Ocean, fans overlook the impossible bits of our favorite shows because they’re favorites.
Bottom line: Redshirts is a brilliant book, a great read, and will appeal to anyone who has ever thrown a shoe at a TV.
When visitors come to our office, one of the first things they notice is how quiet it is. Naturally, one of the first questions they ask is “how do you keep it so quiet?”
My answer is “library rules.”
Everyone knows how to behave in a library. You keep quiet or whisper. You respect people’s personal space. You don’t interrupt people who are reading or working, learning or studying. And if you need to have a full-volume conversation, you hit a private room.
So if you want to keep things quiet at the office, treat it like a library. It works surprisingly well.
Well, I’m glad to hear it. Unfortunately, I take a look around at the end-of-semester madness and I wonder: which library is he talking about? Not mine.
I want to be clear and fair. I’m tickled that Fried thinks so highly of the conditions that a library is (ideally) supposed to provide. It’s ostensibly a place to study, to learn, to think, to research. That requires an environment conducive to such things. When we think of a library we generally think of such a place. Open books, clicking of keyboards, the hushed discussions between patrons as they look over the shelves. It’s a traditional image and traditional images die hard.
Not my library. Not during the last week of the semester (any semester). Not when a significant portion of our students are too rushed with deadlines and finals, too stressed out by their personal lives, too shy (or proud) to ask for help early in the semester when projects are announced, to think of a library in the terms that Fried does.
More than a few of the comments reflect this disconnect between the ideal and the facts on the ground. The truth is that noise is part of life and there is no way to shush people into oblivion. You can’t kick noisy folks out of the office–although technically, you can–but what kind of message does that send your employees and coworkers? For that matter, kicking really noisy folks out of our library has happened but it doesn’t need to be done very often. There’s a staff member on call nearly every minute of the day, and having that presence circulating around the floor does keep the disruptions to a minimum.
It gets even messier. The stories in the comments show clearly that not “everyone” understands the rules of the library the way that Fried does. Behavioral standards differ between neighborhoods, which brings up class, social status, and the differences between public and private space, all of which goes to defining one’s knowledge of library rules, or even the fact that there are such things as library rules. Anyway, that’s another post.
Again, I appreciate the sentiment and admire the effort. We just can’t always replicate it here.
I didn’t grow up in a small town in New York, but today’s column by James Howard Kunstler almost made me wish I had. Mostly, it reminded me that it’s a good feeling to think well of the people around you and to know that they are in the habit of returning the feeling.
I was not prepared for how splendid the event turned to be. The theater walls were decorated with pine boughs. Little electric lights and swags of pine edged the apron of the stage and the balcony rail. Many tables were set where the audience usually sits (the chairs are movable), covered with table-cloths, with a big platter of Christmas cookies at the center of each. Children about ten or eleven circulated with platters of pirogies and strudels. The bustle of life in that room was enchanting. There were two seatings at the breakfast, nine and eleven, both of them very full. The program on stage was a mixed bag of dance, story-telling, puppetry, and musical performance, all done surprisingly well and with the wonderful élan of people who know and care about each other. When both seatings were over, our little band broke spontaneously into Christmas carols, which we hadn’t practiced at all, and somehow managed to play pretty well as the townspeople drifted toward the exits.
I maintain that there is something about the room itself, its small-scale magnificence, that honored the presence of the people in it, and amplified all the pleasures of being together for the purpose of festivity. America these days is mostly composed of places that are not neutral as they seem, but positively hostile and antagonistic to what is most human in us – the mechanism that produces love. To quote myself from a book published some time ago, we built a nation of scary places and became a land of scary people. Thus, we are truly fortunate that the long emergency is upon us, because now circumstances will compel us to do things differently.
In other words, we will all slow down to smell the roses on a daily basis because that appears to be what the universe is demanding of us. Not a bad way to slouch towards the new year.
If you’re a space geek then you remember December 7, 1972 as the day we sent the last of the Apollo missions (Apollo 17) into space.
For everyone else in the U.S. December 7, 1941 remains, as FDR said 71 years ago, a day that “lives in infamy.” If you need proof, just Google “Attack on Pearl Harbor” and watch the hits you rack up (I got 13.8 million hits on my search with the full phrase; drop the word “attack” and it goes up to 47.5 million ). Other than 9-11, it remains the best known example of a sneak attack by an enemy power on American soil. I don’t have access to the traffic stats on Wikipedia.com but I’m pretty sure the hits on their “Attack on Pearl Harbor” page are no less impressive.
I was in Japan teaching high school English classes for two of these days, in 1993 and 1994. Over there the big day to remember is December 8 (due to the fact that Japan had already passed the international date line when the attack began.) It’s a day when students study government-approved* literature describing the facts of the event. There is some discussion and questions are asked and answered as best as they can be. Anyway, the moral that is taught is: this attack was a bad idea. A really, really, REALLY bad idea. You kids should know better.
None of the kids in my classes ever expressed the desire to be a soldier or sailor. So far, so good, I guess.
Of the many, many books on the subject that have been written since the end of the war, one that continues to stand out is Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept: the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. I came across this book by accident. I knew it existed as the men in my family are big WWII buffs (despite no Frater serving in the Pacific Theater that I know of) and Prange’s name had come up in conversation over the years. While on vacation I spotted copies in three different used book stores, each one asking less money for it, and I took the hint. A perfectly good copy was obtained for three dollars.
It’s a dense book by any reckoning, and it took me months to finish. It’s not a quick read, but for historians and history buffs alike, the effort is very much worth it.
Prange’s attention to detail within these pages is legendary. Every actor, every decision-maker, every soldier and sailor who could be located was interviewed and their observations and recollections recorded for Prange’s research. Additionally, Prange dove deep into the collective archives and official documents regarding the working of government policy and military directives on both sides. As a result, the book details the who, what, where, when, why, and how of both sides, right down to meetings, phone calls, documented minutes, and personal notes and correspondence.
There is also a lengthy appendix on his source material, reproduced verbatim from a letter Prange wrote when first approaching publishers about his project. Included is a selected bibliography and lists of the people involved in both the attack and the post-attack investigations.
But for all the grueling attention to detail the story the book tells is clear and lucid, beginning with the position the Japanese military finds itself in as the global race for colonies comes to a close and the Japanese government finds itself with much less territory than its immediate rivals. Its answer: seize what can be seized and hold it for the growing Japanese Empire. Their plan to nullify the American Pacific fleet was part of a long, detailed process of planned expansion devised and developed by the Tojo cabinet.
The American side of the story is hardly left to the imagination. Prange’s narrative runs deep under the surface of the US military command structure and illuminates the systemic weakness that led to the catastrophic level of unpreparedness the world witnessed that morning. Prange was probably the first historian to attach major significance to the role of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner in obstructing the smooth flow of intelligence reports from Washington to Hawaii.
At any rate this book is the most comprehensive treatment of the events in print, and as such, probably the most worth reading.
*All literature used in Japanese schools is approved by the Japanese governments. This has caused some real academic friction concerning Japanese actions in World War 2. The war crime status concerning the Rape of Nanking in particular remains a real point of contention between the Japanese and Chinese governments.
The Works takes a horribly opaque and fiendishly abstract topic, i.e., the infrastructure of a big city (NYC in this case) and turns it into a story of how a few million people survive crammed into a densely confined geographic space. How strange is it (for example) that for ten million people living in the five boroughs, “normal” consists of flipping a switch to get light, or that milk comes put of a carton that magically appears at a particular kind of store? Water gushes from pipes on command, and you push a lever on a tank to flush away the remains of last night’s burrito supreme. Our primary form of personal transport isn’t our feet, but a box with wheels on the bottom. And without enough gas to put in that box, it’s about as useless as a bow tie on a fish. Forget crazy fads like television, radio, or the Intarwebs; how insane was indoor plumbing thought to be when introduced at the turn of the twentieth century? (“You’re gonna put what? Inside yer house? Are you crazy?”)
The point is that the 20,000 or so miles of streets, highways, boulevards, and roadway that I and million of others call home all came from somewhere, whether consortia of the business class desiring private access roads, a need to get lots of working class folks to and from jobs that were being brought into the city by new factories, or a need to get product from factories to markets. It’s easy to forget all that in the tedium of daily life here. For a simple experiment in contrast, try walking home from Manhattan to one of the outer boroughs one afternoon. That’ll make you appreciate the subway right quick.
To make her work a bit more accessible, Ascher organized the narrative into discrete sections:
Moving People: where we get a comprehensive view of the facts of the streets, subways, bridges and tunnels;
Moving Freight: all about mail freight, water freight, air cargo, and the evolution of markets and the space they inhabit;
Power: deals with the creation and delivery of electricity, natural gas and steam;
Communications: the history of NYC’s telephone and mail service, and the airwaves which carry everything from e-mail to porn at the speed of light;
Keeping it Clean: water, sewage, and garbage (gross–but necessary).
The Future is the final section, and it’s necessarily more speculative than the previous chapters. That said, Ascher makes the point that in the past, NYC had a less than unified structure. The roads, electric lines, gas lines and everything else all grew up independently of each other. Municipal planning as we understand it didn’t even exist until well after the Revolutionary War (Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, anyone?) and central planning of city services didn’t really get rolling until after the First World War. Ascher’s vision of the trend behind concurrent deployment of a city’s infrastructural needs–where telephone lines run along water mains, for example–is a fascinating one.
I won’t go too deeply into The Heights here except to say that this book deals with skyscrapers much the same way that The Works deals with the guts of NYC. The primary difference is that Ascher extends her scope to tall buildings located all over the world. Very specific business models, labor practices, and technology were developed in order to make such structures possible, never mind how we currently inhabit them. Additionally, it was only after certain city services became available on a truly citywide basis (plumbing, electricity) that even thinking about such things as the 102-story Empire State Building became possible.
These are awesome textbooks, which read like mystery novels, and are worth a purchase for any library.
I have a dilemma: too little time to read and too damn many books on my “To Read” pile. So, this is the day that I do something about it.
Jonathan Coulton got a project going back when where he would write, record, and release a new song every seven days for a year. He called it A Thing A Week and it gave him a platform to establish himself as a geek song lord. I’m not going for anything that ambitious other than the ambition of purchasing all of JoCo’s work, which I’ve already done. But I do like the discipline of getting through and reporting on the texts one week at a time.
So, every Friday I’ll post a reader advisory of a book off my shelf and I’ll call it A Book a Week. It gets its own category and everything so you can set the pages to scan according to tags or category filters.
I figured I’d do a bit on Old Man’s War by John Scalzi to start. One because I like Scalzi’s work, and two I just finished the book so it’s still fresh in my mind. A not-too distant third is that the novel is a clear riff on Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, and I’ve been a giant Heinlein freak for a very long time.
Here we go:
John Perry has just turned 75. And he does what any other red-blooded American septugenarian might do on his birthday: he visits the grave of his dead wife, wraps up his affairs, and joins the Colonial Defense Forces.
Perry’s experience in boot camp gives us the basics. The CDF is Earth’s first and only line of defense in a universe that has nothing good to offer humanity except new planets to colonize, and the rare alliance with an alien race that doesn’t want to kill us. This has been going on for centuries, and we’ve learned a few important lessons while traipsing among the stars.
First, there are more of them than there are of us. Second, many of them don’t like us except as a potential hors d’hourve with dinner (if not as dinner). Third, even those alien races who do like us, think of us as too evenly matched to really fight with. Fourth and most importantly, they all want the same real estate we do and are willing to kill us for it.
The Colonial Defense Force is therefore very necessary and recruits from the best Earth has to offer: the oldsters.
It makes a wacky sort of sense. Older people have interpersonal skills, life experience, and job-related skills that no nineteen year old can hope to match. The main thing the kids bring to the party is the physicality of youth: strength, endurance, stamina, and-near limitless energy.
The CDF can fix that, though. We learn that the Colonial Defense Forces have access to technology that nobody on Earth ever even sees, because well, the folks back home don’t need it. The fancy stuff–the beanstalk and orbital space station, the skip drives, the starships, the weapons and armor, and especially the new genetically enhanced bodies that each soldiers is wired into during their orientation–is due to the trade the CDF has managed with other, more advanced, alien races. Humanity gets technology, yes, but it’s universally applied to colonizing and defending other planets. That includes defending said colonists, and that means a huge infantry.
Oh, and nobody who enlists, either as a colonist or as a soldier, ever sets foot on Earth again. Ever. One more reason to take the old ones rather than the kids. People with a lifetime’s worth of experience have a better basis from which to choose to leave.
It’s a fun read, both for the main character’s personality, and the way that Scalzi unfolds the universe for us. There’s not a lot of descriptive verse which works, as it’s an action story, but I happen to like that sort of thing. Similarly, space battles and boots on the ground sequences are told explicitly from Perry’s POV. None of this is problematic and it’s all fun. But Starship Troopers included enough of the wacky bureaucratic nonsense one expects of the military to give the story an extra dimension that I didn’t feel coming off the pages from this book. On the other hand, the story engages to the point where that added bulk isn’t necessary.
Besides which the book’s main character is an old guy. As I plod through middle age, it’s easier to identify with older characters–one reason why I liked the movie Red so damn much–and I thought that Scalzi brought out that aspect of John Perry’s character nicely. You get old, you watch everyone you know die, then you sign up, get young again (Woo!), make some new friends who then die half a galaxy away . . . After a while, it gets to you. But in the meantime, you do your job, you check your rifle, and hope the guy leading your platoon knows his business.
This book came out in 2004; there has since been a sequel to it (The Ghost Brigades), but I’ll get to that a future post. I just got a copy of Scalzi’s Redhirts and need to deal with that first.
I was going to type out a quick rant about the lack of print management (at the moment) in the library but since a picture is worth a thousand words, I figured I’d go straight to the meat of the nut:
Can you believe this?
That stack is what was left after I emptied out all the discard bins this morning, which I tossed into the recycling bin. Three printers, three discard bins. They are rarely empty. That stack is 9 inches tall, something in the realm of 1200 sheets of paper.
Let’s do the math. 1200 x 300 operating days per year = 360,000 wasted sheets of paper. That’s roughly 20% of all the paper we use in a year. We’ve been waiting for IT to act on the print management plan that we devised over a year ago, and I am hoping that eventually it happens. We’ll see. In the meantime, this is what our students’ tuition dollars are helping produce. I intend to show them this photo the next time one of them demands to know what his or her tuition is paying for, anyway.
We all know the phrase, since we’ve all had the talk with our students regarding research, so let’s all say it together: Wikipedia is not a citable source. Fine. Except we came up with that rule a billion years ago when the Wikipedia project was in its infancy. Or at least, its adolescence. Things have changed since then. Haven’t they?
Ultimately we have to re-evaluate the question and ask ourselves how reliable is Wikipedia anyway? I mean, considering that professionals like Trevor Thornton and Christina Pattuelli are using publically edited records for their own work? Does the description of Wikipedia’s contents as nonsense invalidate these models by association? The question did come up during the NYTSL panel, and they felt that for the purposes of their own work, the data standards were high enough to make it a reliable source.
On the one hand, those linked data projects were limited in scope. It’s one thing to crowdsource the conversations and quotes from musicians, or an index of personal names in a historical context. It’s quite another to use the same strategy to, say, devise medical treatments (except they are). And to be fair there is a world of difference between creating a wiki-based general catalog of informative articles and utilizing a distributed data processing model. (Except when there isn’t.)
Additionally, Wikipedia can be improved and if its own metrics are to be believed, is continually being improved by users who actually give a hoot about the quality of their submissions. Whether or not that improves the whole project or just select bits of it is yet to be seen.
In the meantime, I’m sticking with my advice to students that Wikipedia is still not citable, but it is a decent source of useful references that might be well be worth checking out.
Trevor Thornton then introduced his project, which involved linking data in archives and establishing links in archival storage systems to open data systems.
The NYPL got a series of private grants to digitize a variety of data from manuscripts and archives, which itself had to focus on a number of different elements:
-Linking archival data to open source GUIs;
-Redesign a web-based user interface to take advantage of linked open data;
-Establishing links between the appropriate collections and open data sources.
Focusing on personal names which existed in the description was their first step. Through Library of Congress URIs* they can link LC authority records to clusters of IDs that collectively represent the name in question.
The Samuel J. Tildon Papers was the first collection Trevor’s team worked on. Interestingly, LC and Wikipedia were all considered to be valid access points, with correspondence files used to provide additional data access points where needed. Ultimately, 1300 personal names and 100 corporate names emerged as a result of the linking practices. That done, name authority control utilities streamlined the process and distributed the work among the researchers.
The model being established, the next project was a bit more involved but went more quickly. This time they went to the Thomas Addis Emmet collection, which had been donated to the library in 1896. The documents involve all founding fathers, reprints from historical documentation included. One of the examples of the emergent model that Trevor showed us was a calendar to the Emmet collection, including a letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams describing how all the newspapers in the colonies hated each other.)
Google also become an important part of the process, used to refine data , i.e., cleaning up dirty data in large sets. The addition allows one to refine large collections of dirty data values into a more uniform value. Finally, they ended up with 3000 personal names.
The big lesson: discrete data can and will eventually give way to open frameworks as more and more private data supplies become available for use by those open frameworks.
*URI = Uniform Resource Identifier. Slightly different from a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) inasmuch as it points to a particular datum rather than the server location where the datum sits.
Finally, Christina Pattuelli spoke about her own linked data work on the Linked Jazz Project.
The main thrust of this particular project was the idea that linked open data takes disparate data which is published online into a single global dataspace. New data paths create newly navigable paths and new interpretation of data in an emergent web of relationships. The ultimate goal was to create a linked open data cloud (LOD Cloud). The phrase Christina used to bring this home was “Sharing Reuse Integration”.
Legacy data allowed the cloud to grow 100 pieces, but theoretically, the only limits to such a database would be storage space, bandwidth, and maintenance (read: labor) costs.
The resulting Web of linked data made use of documents on the web, linking networks of people to networks of information, connective creativity being the pathways between each discrete item.
As the title of the project suggests, they used Jazz musicians as their points of access: the statements of musicians were used as data sets. For instance, statements by Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Count Basie, and Art Williams became linked by way of personal names linked by their mention of each other’s names. (Think of it as a running interactive record of mutual citation.)
Once the relationships were established, they sat down to begin building an application to use as a distributed platform. It wasn’t easy. The Linked Jazz name directory had to build a controlled vocabulary of jazz artists’ names from scratch, using DBPedia as a semantic hub. A personal name mapping tool was created by extracting names from DBpedia relative to authority names. Integration with alternate names was achieved with a transcript analyzer which led to the use of another tool, which mapped to authority files within given context.
The final result was the Linked Jazz Visualizer, an interactive tool that had no need for plugins or downloads.
Last night the New York Technical Services Librarians (NYTSL) held its panel presentation at the New York Society Library. If you weren’t there, you missed a fascinating evening in a gorgeous space (with impeccable catering).
The speakers were Cristina Pattuelli, Associate Professor, School of Information and Library Science, Pratt Institute; Ingrid Richter, Head of Systems & First Ledger Project Coordinator, New York Society Library; and Trevor Thornton Senior Applications Developer, Archives, NYPL Labs, New York Public Library.
Mark Bartlett, Society Head Librarian, made a few opening remarks about the history of the institution: the founding of the library in 1754 as a private repository which was open to members only. The Society Library’s membership has included names like John Jay, Herman Melville and Willa Cather. (Their website gives a fuller description of the institution’s history.)
Ingrid Richter spoke about the New York Society Library’s First Charging and Early Borrower Ledger project.
The starting point for Ingrid’ project was a wealth of original material dating from 1789-1792 that provided some amazing information about the books that luminaries such as Aaron Burr, George Washington, and John Jay checked out while in New York. As the only materials used in the project involved raw data transcribed in the original ledgers, the main goals included creating images which were user friendly and promoting knowledge of the charging ledgers.
Step one involved converting TIF images of the pages. Automated batch commands in Photoshop created thumbnails which were then converted to JPGs.
Step two was the creation of spreadsheets, using Excel. A team of four librarians converted the ledgers into the sheets in question to track data locations.
Step 3 involved creating database in File Maker Pro, imported all spreadsheets into raw data over 2k entries. This database allowed a better, more comprehensive type of reporting than spreadsheets.
Step 4 involved tracking people. What were people doing? Ledgered information allowed the tracking of birth and death dates (for example) and the two databases were linked together by linker web addresses together. The result was a count of borrowing records, counts of checkouts, borrowing dates, etc. Finally, a database of book titles was created to define what happened to book information. Each book had its own database.
Web pages were created to link back to raw data about books. A pages database was visualized as a finding aid for people who might want to read the ledger page by page. HTML sounded simple enough but they finally decided that static web pages were preferable as the metadata needed to be reliably locatable. A bulk reading utility made everything more convenient.
Our reference librarian asked me to think about what we might want on the shelves to represent genre fiction titles.
My writing for genre fiction has been limited to a couple of RPG adventure books a long time ago and an epic SF series (The Blockade) that I hope will be published sooner rather than later. I have shared opinions on Andrew Burt’s Critters workshop. I’ve taken writing workshops in college, which, to my mind, is the only time anyone needs to take such classes, because, hey, 3 credits! I know my own writing here can be kind of rushed sometimes (like, when I’m in a rush) and I try to avoid that.
On the other hand, I know what I like to read. I can tell a good story from a bad one. I know what good writing looks like, or I think I do. And God help me, I know what bad writing looks like. That said, I do enjoy thinking about what titles I’ve read recently (or not) that remain with me.
Granted, the genre stuff I read these days is limited to sci-fi. I have read and enjoyed fantasy books in the past but it’s been years since I found anything in that space that I like enough to suggest.
At the same time, I’m slogging through titles which I think are amazing (The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, for one) which I don’t think our students are likely to enjoy. My favorite horror write of all time is Joe R. Landsdale, but unless you really enjoy reading about the freakish things that happen in East Texas, you’re unlikely to share that opinion. We got requests for Urban fantasy, too, but in that realm, your guess is as good as mine.
Anyway, because your guess is as good as mine I’m looking for feedback on this one. I’d appreciate hearing from readers (all three of you) what you’d suggest for the genre fiction shelf.
My nowhere nearly exhaustive sci-fi list is as follows:
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Redshirts by John Scalzi
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Long Earth by Terry Prachett and Steven Baxter
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
Expiration Date by Tim Powers
Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman
Moonfall by Jack McDevitt
And on the fantasy side:
The first two Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson
The River of Dancing Gods series by Jack L. Chalker
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein (obviously)
It was easy to get. At parties, at work, after work, even on television. Some got theirs out of books or movies, some waited for an election season to begin (or end) before diving in. It was all over the internet. Some got theirs in church. It seemed harmless enough.
And it made them feel great. A shot of offense was enough to turn a boring discussion of minutiae into a great, roiling, one-act play about them. Lights, places, action! It was intense.
But like all gateway drugs, the intensity was temporary, almost a cheat. They took more and more offense to maintain the extraordinary high, to make it seems as if their lives were about something greater than themselves. About something, period. The illusion displaced the reality, too quickly. With each new hit the lows got lower and the highs were relegated to mere background noise.
Then they tried the hard stuff. Indignation. Umbrage. Tantrums. Wrath. Even pique, and Oh. My. God in heaven, self-righteousness. That stuff was the shit, and it was everywhere. The pros took it, the wannabes took it. The politicians, the businessmen, the college professors, the cops, the pundits, the bloggers, the social media geeks, the preachers, the teachers, the parents even took it. It had a way of soothing the mind while energizing the body. On a bad day it felt like swallowing a five hundred cc engine. On a good day, they felt they could leap Mt. Everest in a single bound. Self-righteousness was the ultimate score.
There were consequences. They hurt people. They hurt themselves. They became known as fatuous gasbags, crybabies, whiners, hypocrites. But in the depths of their binges, they never noticed. All they knew was that they were right. (Say Hallelujah!)
We’ve asked ourselves whether this development in using e-textbooks to mine data on students’ reading habits is as highly unnerving as it seems:
CourseSmart, which sells digital versions of textbooks by big publishers, announced on Wednesday a new tool to help professors and others measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.
When students use print textbooks, professors can’t track their reading. But as learning shifts online, everything students do in digital spaces can be monitored, including the intimate details of their reading habits.
Those details are what will make the new CourseSmart service tick. Say a student uses an introductory psychology e-textbook. The book will be integrated into the college’s course-management system. It will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.
The idea is that faculty members can reach out to students showing low engagement, says Sean Devine, chief executive of CourseSmart. And colleges can evaluate the return they are getting on investments in digital materials.
Three institutions—Villanova University, Rasmussen College, and Texas A&M University at San Antonio—plan to run pilots of the product, called CourseSmart Analytics. It’s expected to be broadly available in 2013.
Our answer is a resounding YES! This is every bit as creepy as it seems. And the ALA agrees.
Rebecca Solnit was right, it turns out (but you knew that). Not only because she’s an excellent writer with a reputation for top-notch research but her recent book A Paradise Made in Hellis about the community-centered action that the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita took up to dig themselves out of the hole that Mother nature had dropped them into.
We’re seeing something very similar in the presence of Occupy Sandy in NYC and the surrounding areas Consider the following items:
Justin Wedes, an Occupy Sandy organizer, said that ever since Occupy Wall Street was formally evicted from Zucotti Park, the Occupy network has been working on building communities and fostering relationships around the country, in neighborhoods like Red Hook and Sunset Park.
“We’ve been building neighborhood assemblies and community support networks,” he said. “So this relief is a natural response for us, where communities band together to reach out and support each other.”
The group has already launched a relief hub in Red Hook, in partnership with the Red Hook Initiative, to help coordinate donations of food and supplies and to cook meals for the over 5,000 residents of the Red Hook Houses housing project that are without electricity in the flooded neighborhood.
The Red Cross doesn’t accept individual donations of household goods—these things, it says, need to be cleaned, sorted, and repackaged, and all that takes up more time than they’re worth. It asks for financial donations only. But Occupy, as you would expect, has a different style. For instance: as soon as it was safe to go outside after the storm, first thing Tuesday morning, Michael Premo and a couple of people he knew got in a car and drove over to Red Hook.
There is no doubt that Sandy required an all hands on deck approach to relief efforts, and with voids left by FEMA and The American Red Cross, Occupy Sandy is here to help with immediate needs and minimal red tape. Once again social media is being used as an effective tool to organize and Occupy Sandy is taking full advantage.
As Slate‘s Katherine Goldstein reported last week, Occupy Sandy got their hands in quickly to the relief effort in New York City. So how are they preparing for Sandy’s colder littler sister? “One thing we’re really good at is adapting,” Ed Needham of the Occupy Sandy press team told the Slatest. “Everyone’s going to try to do as much as they can until the storm provides an impediment to anyone’s safety,” he added.
The items on the New York registry are shipped to the Brooklyn chapter of Occupy’s Sandy relief operation at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill, where they will be taken to those in need. Gifts from the New Jersey registryare sent to Occupy’s outpost at Barrow Mansion in Jersey City.
Check out their link and help with whatever you can. Time, labor, materials, other donations are all appreciated.
Not to gloat, because even though my guy won, it’s nothing to gloat about. We can still do better as a country and I hope that we do. That said, a few observations about this past election cycle are in order:
A crushing amount of money went down the tubes (5.8 billion dollars of it by at least one estimate) to keep the political chess board as it was yesterday morning. This could have been spent on literally anything else. Space exploration, cancer research, libraries, education, etc. Literally anything.
Saying anything to get elected does not work. A lot of people would have voted for Romney if he had just given any inkling of what his plans for the country were, rather than pandering to every single audience. If you must pander, figure out who you’re pandering to and stick with it.
You don’t have to care about the whole country. But you probably should.
President Obama has done a few things I question–giving trillions of dollars to giant banks who did flatly stupid things with borrowed money without asking for any re-regulation in return, for one–and a few that I absolutely disagree with (drone strikes everywhere all the time.) He’s done quite a lot that I do agree with: The Affordable Care Act is only the best known known in a long list of items. I don’t think he has much of a plan for the future of the country that doesn’t involved ideas that he’s already thought of, but it’s better than the alternative.
I look at his opponent and I cringe. I have never cringed from any politician before now, and it’s doing things to my head. I look at Mitt Romney and I see a robot who is programmed to make money and has no room for any other course of action. When he opens his mouth, I hear William Shatner’s (admittedly awesome) cover of Common People. If the three televised debates were any indication at all, the man has no concept that hasn’t been fed to him by a GOP advisor. The fact that he has said that federal disaster relief is immoral sits especially poorly with me after the ugly fact of a particular storm named Sandy. One of his church’s foundations is the death of every Jew on the planet.
The man is a bastard. I don’t mean that the way I’d say that Richard Nixon was a bastard. Nixon was a progressive compared to the freaks the GOP supports now. Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Nixon wanted to give every American a guaranteed income. But Nixon thrived on power in a way that no President before him did. Romney is all about power. Making money is his only real skill. A president should be a statesman, a leader, a man who at least acknowledges that the nation he leads is inhabited by people who are not like him. He needs to know where Syria and Iran are located on a map and he needs to be someone who does not vow to strip a few million Americans of their health insurance. He should not be willing to say literally anything to any audience to get their votes.
Anyway, you don’t have to care about the country. You should however care enough about your little corner of it to get your ass out to your polling place and vote for someone. It takes a few minutes, and it is a freedom we have not yet lost–but may lose one day if too few people bother to take care of business today.
First, 33 states require some form of voter ID. Check this map to see what form of identification the laws in your state require.
You can find your Congressional District maps here. They aren’t particularly detailed but if you can read a map well enough to locate your house on one, then you should be able to use these. You can find your polling place here.
If you know your representative’s name, you can look up his or her voting record here. If you don’t know his or her name, you can find it there as well. (We’re currently in the 112th Congress.)
State ballot initiatives are listed here. Opensecrets.org has a list of which corporate donors gave the most money to which congressmen. Sadly, one thing I can’t seem to find is a website that has listing for all the local races in each state. (If anyone comes across such a page, please post a link in the comments area. Thanks!)
If you are not registered to vote in your state, you can probably still volunteer at your polling place. They’re often short-handed, so head there and see what you can do.
“There’s always a boom. After a while . . . BOOM!”
–Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova
It’s Thursday, November 1, 2012. (Happy Day of the Dead!) Metropolitan College of New York remains closed until Monday morning due to the continued power outage in lower Manhattan. Which is just as well, because without power the subways aren’t running, which means I can’t get to work physically. The phones are out, but the school website and emergency text services work, as they are off-site services. Unfortunately, the mail server, which is local, is also out. So not only can’t I check my work e-mail, but the webinar links and contact information I needed to learn more about RDA yesterday are sitting, unused and unusable, on my work server. No working from home, either, it seems.
We rely on electricity to make our library work properly. Without it, it’s just a room at the top of a tall building with too many stairs to climb. No databases, no online catalog, no ILS, no contact with our own materials. I remain convinced that this is a real weakness in how we run libraries. Electric current is a marvel, and we rely on it almost completely at this moment in time. So completely that it becomes part of the background noise of our lives, noticeable primarily in its absence when it goes boom and vanishes.
We got lucky. By ‘we’, of course, I mean, ‘me and my particular corner of Queens.’ That corner includes my mother, who weathered the storm without incident but not my brother who now has a giant tree leaning against front door of his house (the house and all inside, however are fine.) Grand disasters tend to narrow one’s focus.
In my own little corner of Queens, we didn’t lose power but we were ready to. We had our battery powered gizmos charged up, lots of candles and flashlights available, plus a giant water barrel in the back yard (55 gallons of water weighs more than 400 lbs., no way was they thing going anywhere), and canned stuff in the pantry. No leaky roof tiles showed themselves, and while my backyard looks like a tree-bomb went off, it’s nothing I can’t fix with a few hours of work.
In terms of, say, the northeast portion of the U.S., ‘we’ involves a lot of people who did not get lucky, and will continue to not get lucky as Hurricane Sandy barrels further inland to Pennsylvania then heads north towards Bufffalo, NY. For that matter, MCNY, where I work, is in the part of lower Manhattan that’s been stuck by flooding, lack of electric power and phones. I have no information on the flooding that surely occurred in the old stacks of the New York Academy of Medicine, but as it was a giant worry when I worked there, I suspect that it still is. NY College of Medicine is without power, as is Weil-Cornell Medical Center. If you’re really into mayhem, you can click here to see a beautiful movie of a ConEd transformer on 14th street exploding in a bright flash of fire and smoke. Fun times.
What I’m trying so inelegantly to say is simply, NYC and the surrounding areas, are fucked for at least a few more days and probably much longer.
It wasn’t that long ago (last year) that another lady named Irene devastated parts of Vermont; according to James Kunstler, parts of the rebuilding effort that began last year haven’t even been finished yet so it’s unclear what might have happened had Sandy trended a bit further north.
Worse than that is that this manner of storm arrival appears to be a normal feature of the weather rather an aberration. The Northeastern U.S. is now part of of the Atlantic hurricane formation zone because of rising ocean temperatures. That means that we’ll get more of them and the years in which nothing happens will eventually become the non-standard data points.
Today, I am trying an experiment: writing a blog post from my iPhone. Chances are you are wondering just how far behind the curve I am, but not in this case. It’s true that the WordPress app for the iPhone is infinitely more comprehensive than it was a year ago when I first acquired it. But I was more interested in discovering what it feels like to take something I can do in my sleep with a laptop and deal with it in a different environment.
The truth is I’m trying to get into the heads of my students better.
Here’s the thing. Our students are not dumb. But many if them are what I call functionally computer illiterate. You know what functional illiteracy is. It’s the guy who can read traffic signs, and license plates, and street signs, and can read the title of a book and the stuff on his driver’s license. But when it comes to cracking a book, or a newspaper, or a magazine, the words on the page congeal into a hardened mass that he can’t understand without tremendous effort. And, since people tend to follow the path of least resistance, he just walks away. The experience of reading eludes him. After a while he stops caring.
Our students are not that different in this one respect. Many of them own PCs and use them proficiently but many don’t. But the ones that aren’t fully computer literate are smart phone savvy. They can make their phone of choice flip over, beg, and ask for a tummy rub. Unfortunately they don’t have the ability to write term papers on their phones.
At least, not yet. And at least a few would if they could.
I’m not suggesting that such a thing would be wise even if it were possible but consider this: SirsiDynix already offers the ability for an iPhone or Android phone to search online catalogs by way of the BookMyne app. Considering that smart phones and PCs really aren’t that different under the hood, what further levels of integration are possible?
Anyway, I’ve learned a few things from doing this. One, blogging from my phone, while sort if neat, is annoying. The distractions are endemic. In the twenty or so minutes I’ve worked on this I’ve received a dozen texts from three different people and one phone call. All force me to either deal with the distraction and kill my train of thought, or shove the problem to the side for later. Second, There is a certain uneasiness to this activity and I’m not sure that its’ something that can be ignored. That makes me wonder whether my students have the same discomfort when they sit down in front of an unfamiliar (or barely familiar) PC and open a new document in Word.
Featuring: Cristina Pattuelli Associate Professor, School of Information and Library Science, Pratt Institute Ingrid Richter Head of Systems & First Ledger Project Coordinator, New York Society Library Trevor Thornton Senior Applications Developer, Archives, NYPL Labs, New York Public Library
Monday, November 19, 2012
Registration and Refreshments: 6:00pm
Meeting & Program: 7:00-8:30 PM
The New York Society Library
Members’ Room (2nd floor)
53 East 79th St. (Between Park and Madison Aves.)
New York, NY 10075
Registration is now open and will continue until the deadline of November 14th; due to limited capacity, pre-registration will be required.
Program (Members): $15.00
Program with September 2012-August 2013 Membership: $30.00
Program with September 2012-August 2013 Student Membership: $20.00
Program only (Non-members): $40.00
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To make an online payment, you will only need a credit card – a PayPal user account is not required. The links below will take you to the NYTSL payments site on PayPal where you will be prompted to enter your payment information. You will receive a confirmation email shortly after your registration is received.
I know, I know, I’m WAY overdue in announcing a winner for my book give-away from last time. I liked Jennifer’s comment the best so she’ll be getting a free copy of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Congrats, Jennifer! (Now you can read the book.)
The reason I’m overdue is that last week we had a death in the family. Our senior tuxedo cat, Zonker Kurgen Harris, aged 20, met the end of a long and dear life. He had a unique personality: a chopstick fetch maniac, a foodie who swung between the extremes of quality and quantity, a cat who just didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to get up and walk around five minutes after a procedure at the vets. A stoner and a berzerker. He’ll be missed.
More good news came last week: I got a note from my editor to let me know that my book has been turned into a proper proposal, which may be seeing the rounds of publishers as early as this week. It’s not completely done; it’s going to be revised by her boss and his partner and their lawyers and the agents they end up speaking to. That means, as I mentioned in a previous post, more meetings, delays, un-returned phone calls, missed opportunities, and stumbles as an intellectual property wends its way through a maze of ideas, rewrites, publishers, producers, editors, lawyers and a cast of thousands. I remain confident that something good will happen. Eventually. In the mean time, we have a proposal. (I have a copy. I can;t post it here but take my word for it, it rocks!)
More bad news: I have no time to write. This is a problem, as I’m intending to use November’s NaNoWriMo as a way to crank out the third book in the Blockade series.
In my experience, no one uses the word “utopian” correctly. The incorrect way is to do so in a hyperbolic sense rather than the literal one. For example, those who say that our tax system could use some progressive tweaking are being utopian. Not true, as the tax system gets tweaked all the time. The offenders intentionally misuse the word in order to halt the discussion.
Utopia comes from a pair of Greek words: ou, or ‘no’, and topos, or ‘place’. Utopia, therefore means ‘no place’. A perfect society is a logical and moral construct rather than an expression of reality, so it can’t exist. We don’t even really want to live there. We just like to dream about it.
Dystopia is the rhetorical opposite of Utopia. In this case the stem dys (also from Greek) means ‘bad’, so ‘bad place.’ Except in this sense, it’s a place as bad as we can imagine. That’s easy–work a shift in a Foxconn factory for a few weeks. Get yourself a cup and beg in the slums of Calcutta for a while. I guarantee a life lesson or two.
I sometimes tell my students that I think calling Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World dystopian is unfair. That gets a discussion going pretty quickly, as the allure of utopian societies remains subject to opinion. One writer’s paradise is another writer’s hell. There are elements of both extremes in this story, but the book isn’t usually taught that way in classrooms.
First a few historical bits. Brave New World is #52 on the ALA’s list of most frequently banned books. It’s been banned for its politics (communism, socialism) and for the sexual content (pornography). As far back as 1932 the book was being challenged for its language and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion. In 1980 it was removed from a classroom in Miller, Missouri, and in 1993 an unsuccessful attempt was made to remove it from California readings lists due to its “negative activity.”
The year is 2540 (or 632 A.F. –After Ford–as it’s known locally). In terms of physicality, it’s not that different from the world we see around us now. No flying cities (there are personal helicopters), no teleport booths. But . . . all aspects of human behavior and physiology have been standardized. People are cloned in factories, raised to specifications in education centers, and every aspect of their lives is predetermined by a centrally planned state. Society is completely managed, but the level of stimulus-response training people receive as they grow up avoids the need to micro-manage the population. Once grown, people are sent into careers of the government’s choice based on economic need and they live out their lives. They wake up, go to jobs, do their work, eat, sleep, and take a hangover-proof wonder drug called soma when they need a break from reality.
And that’s it. Literally, that’s all there is to this world. There are no new discoveries about the universe or insights about people themselves. No sexual hangups, no real problems other than deciding how to entertain oneself. No real skills except for those needed to do one’s job. No parents, no children, no psychological trauma. No emotions, which means no drama, so no comedy or tragedy. No illness. It’s a well managed world where where everyone is perfectly average. Everyone is happy, healthy, and productive literally until they day they die. The world is homeostatic.
So . . . what’s not to like?
Quite a lot, actually. For example, the happiness that is considered normal here is more like a self-reinforcing apathy. No one has any real worries about work because jobs are there, waiting for every human being who emerges from the education centers. Famine and disease are unknown. Personal relationships as we understand them don’t really exist. Death is inevitable, but the lack of connection between people makes grieving unnecessary. Monogamy is considered a social disease, and wanting to be alone is thought pathological. Sex is cheap and soma use is mandatory, at least, at certain times of the month. (A state pseudo-religion which glorifies sex and soma allows co-workers to bond and blow off steam on Friday nights.)
We learn about this world by watching Bernard Marx (Huxley named every character after a real life fascist or communist), a state-employed psychologist, run through the matrix as it were on his way toward what he thinks are laudable goals. Understanding how society operates curses him to awareness of just how low in the pecking order he is; he craves status, sex, and authority. Bernard is the physical and mental antithesis of what people expect: he’s short, smarmy, socially inept, and thinks much too much. He is a loser. And that’s what makes him wonderfully human, but that comes at the end of the book.
He pursues a co-worker, Lenina, who likes him well enough but no more than her other male partners. Bernard figures his chances with her will improve if they go on vacation together, but his idea of a vacation is a visit to a “savage reservation” in North America. When they arrive, they ooh and aah at the natives, but they get a surprise. They meet a young man named John who is the son of a civilized woman who was herself stranded there decades ago. Lenina is utterly fascinated by John, while Bernard plans to use him to bolster his career.
They bring John “home”. Things get worse when Bernard’s supervisor threatens to send him to an island, i.e., banish him to the equivalent of a leper colony in the North Sea. Things get horrible when Bernard exposes his supervisor as John’s father, which to civilized morals is so freakish that the gentleman resigns in disgrace and the matter is literally never mentioned again.
Bernard shows John around the equivalent of high society and gets his status (and Lenina for a while), then mishandles it rather badly when he mistakes his new admirers for friends. John’s mother dies in hospital, and John handles it badly. John stops co-operating with Bernard. Barnard handles it even more ineptly. Mustafah Mond, the World Controller of West Europe, finally takes an interest in the savage’s integration into civilization, and things end badly for everyone.
Or do they?
John and Bernard have a lot in common: neither belongs in civilized company, and both try to use the other to access what they want (status for Bernard, Lenina for John). Both exacerbate their own misery and make the people around them miserable in turn. Square pegs jammed into round holes tend to do that.
One of the more absorbing aspects of this novel is the fact that the protagonists are the State’s failed subjects. Think about it. Bernard is responsible for maintaining paradise but is physically and mentally ill-suited to living in it. Lenina’s perfect man is one that was born outside civilized society. John wants no more than to be accepted by the tribe of natives he was born into, and is rejected out of hand due to his foreign origin. Even Mustafah Mond, the Guy In Charge of Western Europe, began his career in social control by being too smart for his own good. The fact that he was offered an out by going into politics was a fluke. Had things really worked properly, he should have been banished decades ago.
There are holes in the plot. Giant holes that you could drive a UPS truck through. One is John’s exposure to the English language by way of an old Shakespeare collection his mother just happened to be stranded with way back when. There is no way that John could have learned his absorbing command of the bard just by reading it. For that matter, his mother is described as a twit, and the idea that she’d have any book in her bag when they arrived is not exactly credible. As Neil Postman noted in Amused to Death, Orwell feared the banning of books, where Huxley feared a lack of respect for and interest in them. The only books we ever see live in Mustafah Monnd’s office safe.
Another problem (and one that Huxley acknowledges in the introduction) is the either/or nature of the world as presented in the text. There is civilization and there is savagery, but there’s no in-between. Neither universe informs or acknowledges the other. We’re told that the islands are numerous enough to house the total sum of all social misfits but we don’t get to see what life there is like. We’re told by Mond that an entire society of elites was sent to an island to carve out what life they could and have to take his word that the situation imploded rather quickly.
There are similarities to our here and now, too. Economics is the reason given for everything that happens in BNW. The economy isn’t everything–it’s the only thing. A person’s entire meaning in this world is the sum total value they can add to the machinery of commerce. His labor feeds it, his money lubricates its guts, his leaders direct it. In Huxley’s world, the economy is purely mechanical. All humans are its servants, one way or another. Worse, there is no place on Earth to get away from it. Our current political discourse, where the lower orders are placed in the position of defending their right to eat at every turn, differs from the reality of BNW in degree only.
So. Are we there yet? Well, yes and no. The book assumes that all the wacky assumptions of utopian science fiction–unlimited energy, resources, and perfect balance with nature–have already been achieved, in defiance of history and the laws of physics. Since new inventions that don’t directly serve consumption are illegal–you will be banished if you try to pursue what Mond calls “real science”–it’s expected that there’s no new information about the world or the universe is being discovered, either. Material concerns reign supreme. Clone people, give them jobs, feed them, extract their labor, convert the dead to fertilizer for crops, repeat as necessary. The modern idea of economic growth has no place in a world that depends on homeostasis. I doubt we’ll go there.
On the other hand, in the respect that iron-clad social control is maintained by a central authority standardizing human behavior for the sake of the wheels of commerce, you can argue the details all you like, but I think we’ve been there for at least 50 years.
Not that the list is a static thing. It changes as time passes, with some titles sticking around a few years (or decades) and others arriving and departing within a year or two. But, hey, you knew that, too.
Anyway, my own contribution to observing Banned Book Week here is going to be something similar to what I did last year. Then, I reviewed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a creepily prophetic story of a future America controlled by a brutal Christian Fundamentalist government.
This year I wanted to do something that in the same vein, so I’m reviewing Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. One, it’s a book that I’ve taught in class, and two, I’ve never sat down to review it. Like then, I’m doing this in partnership with Shiela DeChantal’s Book Journey blog, so we’ll be swapping a few readers along the way. Shiela is covering posts for the entire week, so it’s worth a few minutes to check out her updates along the way.
Better than that, I’m going to give away a copy of BNW. I’ll choose a winner based on the most interesting comment that someone leaves here.
The post will be up by 9AM on Thursday, October 4th, so check back then.
We met the sales team from PrivCo. last Friday. Nice guys, but there’s a potential problem with their product: PrivCo. is a sole-source vendor.
A sole-source vendor is essentially what it sounds like. The vendor is your only known source of the material being offered. In PrivCo.’s case, it’s database information regarding the internal workings of private companies, venture capital firms, and other financial entities.
It’s a neat database. I won’t give a full review here (you can find a top-notch review from Library Journal here), but I will say that we found the package easy to navigate, highly responsive to search tweaking, and possessed of very handy export features. Trial subscriptions are not insanely priced, either. It looks like a good deal.
But Sole Source vendors can be tricky to work with. It’s not exactly the same situation as the one that Meredith Farkas blogged about a week or so ago. In her observations, she described a situation where a library goes with a vendor to gain access to a particular journal (or set of journals) even though doing so makes less than obvious financial sense. A Sole Source vendor pulls a switch and you have access . . . or they pull another switch, and you’re out again. Since they are the only source of the stuff you need, they can dictate whatever subscription terms they like, and if you want access, you’re kind of stuck. When I worked at an electronic components broker years ago, I worked with government purchasing agents. They were very up front about their bidding rules: if you were a sole source vendor, and identified your company as such, you automatically won the bid for the part.
Additionally (in this case), there’s another question to raise: private companies by definition don’t file the same reports with the SEC as public entities must. All the information that’s being extracted by PrivCo. is reported by their research staff, and while we met the sales guys, we didn’t meet the researchers. I would have liked to ask them what their rules of conduct were, what the penalties for false (or just sloppy) reporting were, what their histories were, what their relationship with their target firms are like, etc. Where does this information come from?
In all fairness we’ll probably get a trial subscription to PrivCo. It’s too useful not to have as a compliment to Business and Company Resource Center and we all had positive reactions to their user interface and product demo. But sometimes you just want the choice to go with a competitor.
On October 26-27, the New York Law School is hosting In re Books, “a conference on law and the future of books.” Featuring a diverse mix of speakers from groups such as the Sloan Foundation, Unglue.it, the ACLU, and the Copyright Clearance Center, as well as academics and legal scholars and practitioners, the conference aims to discuss a number topics, including copyright, orphan works, digitization, reader’s rights, and “long-term trends in publishing, culture, law, and technology.” To attend the conference, visit the registration page.
Needless to say, the tangled intersection of copyright law, publishing, and technology has had a significant impact on libraries as they strive to align patron services, collection development, and other activities with the evolving landscape of digital delivery and ebooks. The In re Books conference is taking a admirably broad approach to the issue by including panels on retail bookstores and backlist issues and, one would assume, plenty of talk about the open-access movement. Being hosted at New York Law School will also ensure a wide-ranging discussion of the legal landscape around publishing in the digital environment. That said, ebooks have been a particularly contentious and disruptive issue for libraries, as the lack of a coordinated approach between publishers and libraries towards ownership, rights, and lending policy has led to what one writer termed an “e-book tug of war.”
Changes in the methods and technologies of content creation and dissemination often feature attempts to “revisit” (to put it mildly) relationships — legal and implicit — between intellectual property, mercantile determinism, and the public good. Just as the idea of permanent ownership of digital content has received more attention of late regarding personal collection (heck, even SXSW is examining the topic), the role of ebooks in libraries has also merited increased study, with two reports released in August that examine the issue.
The first is the ALA’s release of Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries (announcement and PDF). Produced by the Digital Content & Libraries Working Group, the report “describes model terms libraries should look for in their dealings with ebook publishers and distributors, as well as conditions libraries should avoid.” In delineating “features and attributes” of potential ebook business models, as well as potential “constraints and restrictions,” the brief, readable paper offers an good overview of the benefits and pitfalls of ebook business models in order to help libraries plan and negotiate accordingly.
Another report released in August wasE-Books in Libraries: A Briefing Document Developed in Preparation for a Workshop on E-Lending in Libraries(SSRN page for PDF access), a product of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard written in preparation for their “E-Books in Libraries” workshop in February 2012 and “developed with helpful inputs from industry stakeholders and other practitioners.” The Berkman document features a more in-depth environmental scan of the state of ebooks in libraries, examining “licensing and lending practices,” “business models,” and “challenges,” and includes a two-page list of additional resources.
Well-sourced and featuring a number of use cases and real-world examples, the Berkman paper also remains sensitive to the perspective of ebook publishers, analyzing the ways ebooks can lead to the “cannibalization” of sales and the general risk-aversion publishers are taking toward business arrangements with libraries. The picture that emerges is of a publishing industry struggling to reconceive “traditional notions of strategy, organizational structure and culture, economic assumptions, and business models” in light of the disruptive force of ebooks. How that disruption is impacting libraries is only beginning to be understood.
Other recent news has put the publishing industry in a somewhat less-flattering light regarding their ebook businesses. Last Thursday, a federal judge approved a settlement between the DOJ and three publishers over alleged conspiratorial market practices and price fixing. Though that case did not directly involved libraries, a story in Publisher’s Weekly the next day detailed one library system’s pricing report (a cheer here for open data) and shed light on both the impact of publisher boycotts on ebook collection development and the egregious fact that, when publishers do sell ebooks to libraries, the markups are often “up to six times the consumer price for the same title.”
The In re Books conference will certainly focus more on the legal ramifications of ebooks than on the operational challenges they pose to libraries as far as costs, infrastructure, and services. Panel Three does, however, focus directly on libraries and while I love the provocation of the session description, which begins “some observers think libraries are obsolete. Others think the time is ripe to build a new Library of Alexandria,” I would prefer a little sourcing to that comment, as proclamations such as those deserve a bit of skepticism. The “libraries” panel will also discuss the recent “Georgia State” decision on e-reserves, which just yesterday publishers announced they are appealing (because clearly we cannot go two days without more legal churn regarding electronic publishing and copyright) as well as the mother-of-all-zombie-copyright-topics, Section 108 review.
The conference is sure to continue a wide-ranging discussion within the library, legal, and publishing communities about on the difficult and still-evolving topic of ebooks.
Interoperability is a word that is prized by library staff and reviled by online security managers.
It suggests that different devices should work together as the sum of a wide variety of parts, which produces a favorable outcome for the user. This is the logic behind cloud computing, smart televisions, and wide area networks. Apps exist on multiple platforms simultaneously, swapping data and metadata as needed.
To a security manager, each additional point of access is actually an open window into that app’s data. With each new device added to the network, another opportunity for mischief appears. A particular desktop PC might be locked down tight, but all it takes is a shared access between that machine and an undefended synched mobile device, and hey, someone has access to your stuff. This happens.
Our problem at MCNY has been what to do with our RFID equipment.
We started implementing our RFID plan several years ago, and we had problems. The gates were expensive and were not immediately compatible with our intranet. The tags were expensive unless we bought in quantity. The gates did not work as the sales team had promised. In fact, what they told us–that the gates could read a tag several feet away–was untrue. The SIPCHK account we plugged into our ILS worked only after considerable tweaking by our ILS vendor. The vendor’s conversion and circulation control software have shifted their design from the original data models we utilized. Then the tags’ physical design changed. Then the vendor merged with another company and everything changed again.
It’s not a problem that is limited to us, either:
RFID (radio frequency identification) tags have been used in libraries since 1999, when the National Library of Singapore installed the first system. RFID tags, like barcodes, are used to uniquely identify library material. A barcode tag has the barcode number imprinted on the tag, and the barcode scanner reads that number using optical technology. With RFID, much more information can be stored on the tag, and the tag data is read via radio technology instead of optical technology. Whereas barcode scanners require line of sight to operate, RFID readers just need to be able to detect the tag. This means the reader needs to be within 18 to 20 inches of the tag, but the tag need not be visible (e.g., it can be inside the book).
Today, RFID spending exceeds $5.85 billion worldwide, and the technology is used in virtually every industry. However, RFID adoption in libraries has not seen this type of explosion. NXP, manufacturer of the integrated circuits that are part of nearly every library RFID tag, reports that some 3,000 libraries worldwide have implemented RFID. So, while libraries were among the first to get involved with RFID, libraries haven’t gone very far with it since 2003.
In fact, most of the library RFID components (tags, readers, software) are essentially the same today as they were in 2003. There have been some improvements in the quality of the products offered, but there isn’t much difference when it comes to functionality. The vendors providing RFID solutions are also largely the same, although some of the smaller players have disappeared and some have merged.
After many months of work we are finally nearing the end of this project. Still, now that we have achieved a certain amount of backwards compatibility, the question remains: what happens going forward? If we buy new gates in ten years will they work with the existing tags and software?
If two words can capture the extraordinary redistribution of wealth from workers to the wealthy over the past forty years, the flagrant shamelessness of contemporary conspicuous consumption, the privatization of what used to be public privileges and the wanton destruction of our atmosphere that is rapidly leading toward the extinction of nearly all non-human life on earth, all covered in a hypocritical pretense of pious environmental virtue … those two words are Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic, billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, is charging $200,000 a seat for a few minutes of weightlessness and a view from outer space. The firm has so far taken in $70 million in deposits from 536 passengers, according to an August 1 report from Reuters.
Call me old-fashioned, but I personally find it morally offensive that some people can afford to spend $200,000 on a three-minute experience when others can’t afford food. Food first, luxury yachts second and $200,000 suborbital flights last. That’s my motto.
He’s right to be pissed off. A world where some can afford $200,000 for a ten minute suborbital flight where billions starve is at best unfair and at worst insane. Whether this particular luxury is making things worse for the poorest of the poor is another question.
Babones’s main point is that private spaceflight pollutes, creating greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming. His secondary point is that very wealthy people are assholes who prefer private luxury over the public good. He adds these values and calculates that private space flight will boil us all alive in the cauldron of global warming. And, yes, he has a valid concern.
Astrophysicist Carl Sagan had a different take on the power of wealth when applied to private space travel, at least, he did at the time he wrote Contact. In the pages of that book he noted several crucial points:
First, space travel is expensive. The limitation of such a thing to government bodies was a natural result of the ability of a government to amass the capital, labor, and knowledge to create such an industry. Only the wealthiest got the chance to head where only scientists, pilots, or military officers had gone.
Second, environmental repair is expensive. Same reason.
”It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”–Neil Armstrong
“I see Earth! It is so beautiful!”–Yuri Gagarin
“I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.”–John Glenn
“We can continue to try and clean up the gutters all over the world and spend all of our resources looking at just the dirty spots and trying to make them clean. Or we can lift our eyes up and look into the skies and move forward in an evolutionary way.”–Buzz Aldrin
Fourth, private space travel exposes the people with the greatest levels of wealth to the subversive experience of Earth as a very tiny blue dot in the cosmos. As a result, this “Oh, Shit!” moment came home to the class of people with the resources to repair the environment and stimulated them into action.
Therefore, space travel for the wealthy was a good thing. (One hopes.)
The bad news is that Contact was a work of fiction.
It will be fascinating to see which line of thinking pans out. There’s every reason to imagine that it won’t go as well as Carl hoped, but it probably won’t be as bad as Babones fears. With 11 million potential clients worldwide, only a few hundred have signed up for the tours.
But . . . those few hundred customers are the ones in the best position to incorporate the spiritual aspect of space flight into their world views. And, since the wealthy tend to gravitate toward each other, they have access to plenty more resources, and can direct those resources toward Earth-healing projects of their own.
Know why you are here. I mean in here, in this college. Why did you choose to pursue a degree as opposed to any other course of action? I would hope that the outstanding level of academic service you expected to contribute here was a factor.
Know what you are studying. Program, purpose, and plan of study. They should be second nature to you by the time you’ve attended few classes.
Know your professor’s name. Yes, I am serious. Some reserve materials are cataloged by class and professor, but not all. Knowing her name helps us find the stuff you need.
Know what’s expected of you in class. Your professor explained this to you on Day One of the semester. I hope you paid attention. If you didn’t, re-read my first question.
Know the titles and authors of the books you are expected to read. Usually, these are found on the syllabus. Coming to the Circ Desk and telling me that it’s the blue book that Prof. You Know Who uses for class doesn’t help much. If we shelved books according to color and class, it would work. We don’t.
Know whether we have those books in the library. If you don’t know offhand, give the library a call and I will look in the online catalog and tell you. If we don’t have it, I’ll find a local library that does and tell you where they are.
Know when your project is due. Your professor told you this. He probably gave at least one reminder. Don’t come in with three days to deadline and tell me you’re in a rush. Look behind you: see those students at the reading tables? They started early and they’re going to finish on time. Take the hint.
Know how to find more books. If you don’t know how to search the online catalog or subscription databases, ask, and I’ll take time to show you how. I do it for others, I’ll do it for you. But you need to take notes and remember what I show you.
The Aspen Institute is supported by a bizarre array of corporate donors and individuals ranging from the secretive, devious, extreme right-wing Koch brothers to Goldman Sachs, to Michael Eisner to Duke Energy. The mission of the Environment Forum is divided about equally between publicizing the gathering horrors of climate change and promoting an ethos of wishful thinking that all the problems of mankind will yield to technological rescue remedies.
It’s a very odd mix of hard-headed science and the most dismaying sort of crypto-religious faith in happy endings, tinged with overtones of corporate log-rolling and government propaganda. The basic message is: the world is hopelessly fucked up but thank God for technology. There is not even a dim apprehension that many of the aforementioned vexations originate in technology itself, and its blowbacks. Alas, this is about the best that the American intelligentsia can do right now, collectively, and it explains why we have such uniformly impotent and clueless leadership across the board in America, from the White House to the CEO offices to the diploma mills to the news media and every other realm of endeavor where thinking realistically about the future might be considered valuable.
It’s worth keeping this point of view in mind, even if you think of Kunster as a doom and gloom crank (I don’t.) Kunstler notes in the (new) book that even libraries, for instance, are now devoid of the gadgetry that kept them running before the advent of cheap, ubiquitous electricity. Card catalogs are largely gone, more of what we have to offer students and researchers are electronic in nature, namely databases, e-books and free Wi-Fi and internet connections.
On the one hand, he’s right. We have completely changed over to the new stuff, mostly because we have had no choice in the matter. We keep ourselves financially solvent by changing, adapting, improving services. If he turns out to have been premature in his estimation of what the quality of life in the next thirty years entails and we do somehow manage to tech our way out of the decline he says we’ve entered, then we’ll still be needed. If not, we’ll be needed even more.
I expect the truth will fall somewhere in the middle, but in the mean time, we’re still tagging our collection with those fancy RFID chips and adding new databases to our electronic stable.
David A. Bell, writing in The New Republic, has this to say regarding the future of libraries:
IF LIBRARIES ARE to survive, and thereby preserve their expertise, their communal functions, their specialized collections, and the access they provide to physical books, they must find new roles to play. The critics of the NYPL Central Library Plan claim that it has put the library’s standing as a premier research institution in jeopardy, but they finally fail to acknowledge that the very nature of premier research institutions—and all other libraries—is changing in radical and inexorable ways. Clinging to an outdated vision of libraries is in fact the best recipe for making them look hopelessly obsolescent to the men and women who control their budgets, thereby ensuring that the nightmare scenario that I have laid out actually comes to pass.
In imagining new roles, it is important to think about the way that the digital revolution has already changed the world of learning as a whole—above all, in its democratizing effects. To be sure, the world of learning has always had its democratic institutions, with the NYPL itself among the greatest. Anyone can walk in off the street into the Schwarzman Building, get a reader’s card, and have immediate access to one of the greatest troves of learning ever assembled. And yet, in practice, most people have not had the resources, physical or intellectual, to make use of such a wonderful resource. Doing so required time that working adults could not easily spare. And in most cases it also required a high level of education. For every autodidact who found in its collections the keys to a new universe, many other well intentioned readers, less motivated or less skilled, ended up turning away in confusion.
Today interested readers, or aspiring amateur scholars, have far more help available, most of it at their Internet-enabled fingertips. There are full undergraduate courses online, complete with lectures, free from the likes of Harvard and MIT. There are excellent and accessible lecture courses geared explicitly to the general public from sources such as The Teaching Company, for a low cost or for free from a public library. There are half a dozen allegedly “educational” television networks, even if ones such as The History Channel have increasingly shifted to routine entertainment programming. And of course there are an infinity of websites offering introductions to every subject under the sun. Caveat lector, yes—but what an embarrassment of riches.
I took the title for this post from librarian Kate Adler, who pointed out that Bell’s argument rests on the idea that even if somehow all books disappear as physical objects, there would still be a need for a meeting space of the type that only libraries provide. I think the entire thing is worth reading and considering.
Anyway, I’m heading to Vermont for two weeks, where the internet is rather more spotty than in NYC. As a result, no posts next week apart from Twitter and Facebook tidbits. Back on the 14th.
Lara and I are heading to Vermont for two weeks on the 2nd. (I’ll post pics and tidbits to my Facebook and Twitter accounts along the way.)
My ribs hurt. That’s what happens when you try to be funny in a dark movie theater and fall into the seat the wrong way. I suffer for my art.
A senior paraprofessional here has been out for a month on medical leave. Productivity has doubled in her absence. No, I am not kidding. I wish I were.
Our RFID Tagging/Weeding/Inventory project is more than half done. We’ve weeded something like 3,000 books and tagged roughly 15,000 books. The Director is very pleased. He suggested that Emma and I write an article about the project. I’ll let you know what happens with that.
Our book budget looks like it will not be cut before the end of the year.
I have a full cart of donated books to catalog and process before I leave on Thursday.
I have a cash receipts balance sheet to finish before tomorrow.
The new RFID tagging station was successfully installed on our third Circ desk PC. Now all I have to do is get IT to make the use of the platform available for all user accounts on the PC.
I opened the library today at 9.00 as usual. The first student who walked in gave me a big smile and said “Good morning.” Just like that. Awesome.
Finally: a time delay on all broadcasts from London, NBC? Really?
Everyone who applies for a position at either of my companies, iFixit or Dozuki, takes a mandatory grammar test. Extenuating circumstances aside (dyslexia, English language learners, etc.), if job hopefuls can’t distinguish between “to” and “too,” their applications go into the bin.
But grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.
Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn’t in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers.
I want to apologize to Great Brain fans everywhere.
In my post last week about Encyclopedia Brown, I mentioned that he and Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a The Great Brain were counterparts of sorts. Brown was the good kid, righting wrongs and helping others, while Fitzgerald was a young version of Jaimie Dimon.
In going back over the Great Brain books–which I devoured with the same voracity that I did the Encyclopedia Brown series–I was reminded that while generally being a complete and utter jerk to his peers, Tom Fitzgerald had his moments of humanity. He convinced Andy Anderson not to kill himself after Andy lost his leg to blood poisoning, for example. I don’t think that the CEO of JP Morgan Chase can say that. Dimon also never figured out how to track the Jensen brothers after they got lost in Skeleton Cave, nor did he work to get “Britches” Dotty Blake hooked on reading.
Dimon looks out for Dimon, and that’s pretty much it. As far as I can tell, he would have taken the opportunity to foreclose on the Jensen family’s house and wonder why tomboy Dotty couldn’t get a job. And Andy? Bah! Cripples should die. Oh, and there’s no way Jaime Dimon would have organized a heart-stirring funeral for Old Butch, the town stray dog. Tom did.
Tom was a recognizable ten-year old boy. None of us growing up in the 1970s had any clue what growing up in turn of the century Utah was like. But we saw enough of him in ourselves that we simultaneously rooted for him, watching carefully to see just how much crap he could get away with, and wondering why the adults let him get away with it. (They didn’t, but that’s another point.) Tom looked out for himself but he always recognized that the world was a very big place and he commanded a very small piece of it.
For all the greed and selfishness, he was helpful when Adenville needed the assistance. He helped his Uncle Mark, the town marshal, gain the evidence needed to arrest a trio of Salt Lake City con men while they prepared to walk off with half the town’s savings.
Tom understood that he was smart, certainly smarter than the other kids in Adenville (except maybe Harold Vickers, who was 16 and studying to be a lawyer), and probably smarter than many of of the adults, but he had no empathy. To Tom, knowledge was the key to taking what other kids had without getting in trouble for it. As his younger brother J.D. described it, “Tom never swindled people. He always arranged things so that they swindled themselves.”
For years, it worked like a charm. Tom got Parley Benson’s air repeating rifle by betting him that he could magnetize wood . . . then presenting Parley with a boomerang and pointing a magnet at it. He took all of Basil Kokovinis’s money in exchange for some old toys after convincing Basil’s father that having the right stuff in one’s pocket was what being an American boy meant. Most importantly, Tom refused to part with ten cents’ fare for a raft ride and nearly killed himself, Jimmy Peterson, and Howard Kay during a flood.
Tom was even capable of pure evil. After the new teacher in town became a little too free with the paddle, Tom conspired with four other kids and J.D. to convince the town that the man was a drunken sot. Justified or not, false witness is criminal. There’s a commandment forbidding it and everything.
Even when he meant well, Tom just didn’t know when enough was enough. When his five year old adopted brother wanted to run away, Tom figured some reverse psychology was in order, packed the kid a lunch, and sent him on his way, telling him how to leave town.
Finally, Tom recognized limits to his abilities. Tom’s father, as the only man in town who’d been to college and the publisher of the local newspaper, was unquestionably The Smartest Man In Town. Tom frequently disobeyed his dad, but wanted so badly to be like him that he decided to start his own newspaper. Tom’s story about a local bank robbery being solved went over well in Adenville. Tom’s gossip column superficially written as “Items of Local Interest”, did not. It was the only time his father told Tom that he was clearly “too young to help in any way except deliver the paper.” Tom handled the news poorly. It was a rare moment of humility for The Great Brain.
Only one thing got Tom to stop. The other kids in Adenville–the friends he’d swindled and those he hadn’t–got together and put him on trial. They did it by the book: there was a prosecution, evidence and testimony were presented. Harold Vickers, who was sixteen and wanted to be a lawyer, presided as judge. Tom defended himself (he pretty much had to, as every kid in town wanted to see him punished), and he was found guilty. Harold sentenced him to a year of the silent treatment–essentially a year of pariahdom at the hands of his peers. Tom offered to give back everything he’d stolen and reform, and the sentence was suspended.
Jaime Dimon could use a similar lesson. If the President ever appoints an SEC Chairman who believes in enforcing the law, he might just get one.
Bottom line: Tom Dennis Fitzgerald might have been a little creep, but he was ten and he really was smarter than most of the people around him. I hope he didn’t grow up to be a billionaire scumbag like Dimon. I hope that he learned to use his mutant powers for good instead of evil. But then again, Tom had excellent role models in his parents, his neighbors, and his little brother.
Don’t let your brilliant son grow up to be Jaime Dimon.
I shared that link into half a dozen apps and was rewarded with a respectable crowd of sorrowful adults. We read the Encyclopedia Brown books ravenously as kids, read them to our kids when we had them, or to nieces, nephews, and step kids if we didn’t. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown, was as real to our ten-year old minds as the keyboard that I’m typing this on.
I read every damn one of those books even though I sucked at figuring out the answers.
For years, my brother and I couldn’t hear the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” without smiling and wondering aloud what the hell kind of world would allow Bugs Meany, Private Detective, to be a thing? (As adults, we found out. Boy, were we pissed.)
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of these books in my life.
It wasn’t just the fact that Brown knew everything, and learned everything he knew through reading. It wasn’t the fact that he was self-conscious enough about his wonderful brain that he purposely dumbed himself down when answering crossword puzzles for his neighbors as they stopped him on the street (he always paused a moment before answering.) It wasn’t even the fact that Encyclopedia’s dad was the local chief of police and occasionally asked his son for advice.
And it wasn’t just that Brown was a good guy, the sort of kid you’d want to have as a friend, unlike that asshole Tom Dennis Fitzgerald. The Great Brain was the neighborhood smart-ass who would eventually grow up to be Jaimie Dimon. We hated him even as we kept reading about his adventures, because well, the books were a lot of fun and the YA market back then was not what it is today. The point is, we liked Encyclopedia.
Encyclopedia Brown believed that life was a series of opportunities to apply the stuff you knew to everyday situations. Every day brought up a long string of questions to ask and every question had an answer. There was no such thing as useless knowledge.
Encyclopedia Brown cared about every kid who came to him for help. No case was too big or too small.
Encyclopedia Brown was fallible. He didn’t always get it right. There was one instance where the clues were out of his scope–social cues, mostly, involving the differences between how men and women behave in public–and Sally Kimball had to hand him the answer by pointing out the clues that he’d missed. He didn’t have to know every little thing because his friends would fill in the gaps in his knowledge, just like he filled in theirs. The take away: examining reality is a joint exercise.
Encyclopedia Brown was never afraid to call out a liar. He knew that reality had one set of facts and everyone had to abide by them. Only crooks, con artists, and liars avoided this.
Encyclopedia Brown wasn’t afraid to go up against bullies–kids older, bigger, and frankly, meaner than he was–in order to solve a case. This was decades before the phrase “My Dad is a cop,” was used by asshat jocks to cow younger classmates.
Finally, Encyclopedia Brown taught me that even if you don’t get the clues right, they are out there. Anyone with the ambition and tenacity to search for them can find them, and therein learn a bit more about reality.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Queens Councilman Peter Vallone said the law is in an attempt to prevent what they call an underreported crime against children.
. . .
“It is common sense that we keep sexual predators away from areas where young kids congregate,” said Vallone. “Children’s rooms in libraries are really indoor playgrounds for growing minds, and our kids need every protection we can give them.”
A law banning offenders from entire libraries passed the New York state Senate but did not pass the Assembly. This time around Vallone and de Blasio singled out children’s reading rooms to get the bill to stick.
. . .
Currently offenders are banned from playgrounds and from living within 1,000 feet of a school or children’s daycare. In other states sex offenders have previously been banned from parks, beaches, pools, and even malls.
But you know what I think might be a better idea? Hiring enough children’s librarians to populate all the children’s sections in NYC libraries. Nothing sends a past (or potential) sex offender packing faster than a motivated adult with a good pair of eyes and an itch to dial 911.
Gov. Bobby Jindal does not like libraries. A library to him is a socialist enterprise, a drain on state resources, a thing that the people who use them should support directly in the manner of church pot lucks or clothing drives. A library, to him, is not a source of education or other means of acquiring health, wealth, or the pursuit of happiness. If it were, he would not allow his office to present anything as self-evidently false as this tidbit reported by the Library Journal:
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide, said in a statement, “In tight budget times, we prioritized funding for health care and education. Operations such as local libraries can be supported with local, not state dollars.”
It’s clear to those of us who work in libraries that life is not that simple. It’s also clear to us that funding libraries is how one funds health and education. To say that libraries don’t count in that effort is either bald-faced untruth or utter ignorance, disguised by political double-speak to appear as governance.
The double-speak is laid out more clearly a few paragraphs down:
Louisiana Division of Administration spokesman Michael DiResto told LJ: “The FY 13 Louisiana budget includes two federal technology grants for the State Library for the purchase of e-books ($1 million), which local libraries can use through the interlibrary loan program, and to provide statewide technology training and equipment for public libraries ($782K) – for a total of almost $1.8 million, which more than makes up for the $896K in direct state funding.”
However, those federal technological funds from the BTOP program are earmarked specifically for providing training, laptops for citizens to check out, and accessible workstations for the blind. As such they cannot be distributed to local libraries to maintain, upgrade, or replace the in-library desktop PCs and servers that were previously covered by state aid. Increased access to ebooks may help make up for lack of collection development dollars to some extent, but since 34-43 percent of Louisiana residents don’t have Internet access at home, ebooks can’t completely replace the lost dollars for print materials, especially in poorer areas.
Technology is nice, but it’s no substitute for the basics. Print books cost a few dollars each (maybe a few hundred for the good reference books), last for a decade or more and can be visually perused by anyone not sure of what they need at a particular moment. A laptop that can be checked out costs a thousand dollars and has a significant chance of never returning. To a community that finds itself perpetually in the red, the fancy electronic resources remain a pipe dream. The stuff on printed pages is the real deal, along with internet access. That’s what they need.
Another point to consider is this: any corporate entity–a mom and pop store, a national giant, or a library–needs something called operating income. It’s a clever accounting term that refers to the funds that maintain day-to-day operations. Part of that operating income is expected to maintain the people who maintain and grow the enterprise. You and I refer to this line of funding as what it looks like from the back end: salaries. State grants, foundation endowments, and gifts from the federal government generally do not provide that type of maintenance. That sort of thing is reserved for growing the collection in one specific way or another. It’s bonus money, the same way that $10 from your grandfather on your birthday was bonus money. It’s nice to have but not enough to live on.
So when Hizzoner “prioritizes” health and education while holding back funds which contribute to such things in poor neighborhoods, he is at least being short-sighted. At worst, he is a lying, unprincipled, creep.
I’m reasonably sure that Bobby Jindal is not about to suggest that local businessmen forgo their own maintenance (or that he forgo his) for the sake of health and education. That said, the motivated, inquisitive people who make good employees and entrepreneurs are generally the ones who are going to be spending significant amounts of time researching ideas, borrowing books on business (accounting, marketing, managing) and probably looking at such pop favorites of the business community as “Who Moved my Cheese?” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” De-fund the basics and all that goes away. How he expects them to find anyone worth hiring in that sort of environment is beyond me.
And if I was really cynical, I’d guess that he doesn’t.
When asking a reference librarian for help, phrasing is everything.
“How do you make the sound happen on the computer?” he asked.
On my own time I’m a jerk, and it took a real effort to push the impulse to snark back down into the floor. On the ref desk, you have to take everything seriously. So I did, and I went through my normal checklist of possible problems a PC might have in the classroom.
“Is the mute box unchecked?” (Yes.)
“Is the volume slide turned all the way up?” (Yes.)
“Are the speakers connected?” (Yes.)
Normally, I’d have volunteered to get up and head to the classroom in question and physically examine the equipment, but due to minimal staffing levels today, that wasn’t an immediate option. So I apologized and offered to send the IT HelpDesk a ticker (which I did.)
Then he stared. For about fifteen seconds. Not saying a word, no expression on his face, just staring at me as if I was the cause of his morning’s problems. Oblivious to the fact that the classroom equipment is routinely used and often abused by people in the teaching profession who cannot be bothered to learn its correct use, care, and maintenance. People who call themselves professors, who sometimes aren’t fit to teach water how to run downhill. People who expect me to fix problems that occur outside the library.
For instance, had the gentleman asked me “There’s no sound out of the PC in the classroom. Do you think you could take a quick look?” I’d have done it, despite the staffing weirdness. I do that for others, I’d have done it for him, too. Had he just asked me. Had he not stared.
236 years old today. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. It hasn’t always been pretty, peaceful, or particularly enlightened, but it’s never been boring either. There’s also no guarantee it will continue much longer, but that’s material for at least one more post. But not today.
Today we have food, we have booze, we have several tons of ice, and we have guests coming. We have propane for the grill, and a day off. What we don’t have is a Meat Tank. Dave and I will be assembling one of those throughout the morning, and I promise to post pictures of the final product.
While you’re waiting for that, take a look at the Declaration of Independence. (A must read.)
Considering the composition–which is to say packed full of useful information but dry as day-old toast–of some of the written documents they’ve created over the years, you wouldn’t normally think of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as an institution which promotes reading. Shows how little I know about them, because they are doing so right here, right now. There seem to be only two real criteria for inclusion into their summer reading list: some reference to pyrotechnics, and the fact that it’s fiction. It’s worth a prolonged perusal.
“For far too long, gay and transgender youth who are experiencing homelessness have not received the attention, resources, and support that they desperately require,” says Lauper (left), explaining that Forty to None is the first national organization solely devoted to addressing the needs of homeless LGBT teens and hopes to end to the crisis by bringing the 40 percent figure to none. “All of us must join together to stand with America’s next generation so that they can stand on their own.”
School and public librarians are not only in the perfect position to educate and get the word out about this problem-but they also offer LGBT teens a safe haven, says Greg Lewis, executive director of the True Colors Fund, which seeks to advance LGBT equality and was cofounded by Lauper.
“There is much that the public and those who work directly with kids can do, especially librarians,” he says. “For many young people who find themselves homeless, the local library is the only place where they can search the Internet for information and resources. For this very reason, libraries and librarians can play a major role in dispersing effective, sometimes life-saving information for homeless or at risk gay and transgender youth looking for help.”
Lewis says he encourages all librarians to familiarize themselves with the information and resources available on the Forty to None Project website, and to “urge any homeless or at risk gay and transgender youth who may visit their local or school library to seek help.”
Just a quick recap here: “gay and transgender youth who are experiencing homelessness” is a polite phrase for “teens who were sent away from their homes and told not to return once their parents found out they were gay or transgender.” Sometimes the kids outed themselves, sometimes they were outed by others. In any case this is not how a civilized society treats its children. Any society that allows it to go on cannot consider itself civilized. In those terms, we have a lot of work to do.
A bit of disclosure, since a couple of people have asked: I came up with the title to the previous post in a pretentious fit of Shakespearean geekery. It’s a hazard of English majors everywhere. The wording is a play on a line from Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4, where Falstaff tell the young Prince Harry “banish plump Jack, banish all the world.”
There’s more to the quote than that. I have always thought that these lines are the finest description of what the bard’s Fat Man stands for as he defends his behavior to those around him. It’s a strangely honest rendition of what goes on inside Falstaff’s head:
But to say I know more harm in him than in myself,
were to say more than I know. That he is old, the
more the pity, his white hairs do witness it; but
that he is, saving your reverence, a whoremaster,
that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar be a fault,
God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a
sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if
to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine
are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto,
banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack
Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff,
valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant,
being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him
thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s
company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.
Translation: You can’t avoid me, kid. I am the most real human being you will ever meet.
The thing is, he’s right. John Falstaff, for all his failings, is the most real person that the future Henry V will ever meet.The boy has been raised his whole life in the presence of the royal court; his father, the current Henry IV, has no time for anything that isn’t state business. His staff teaches the boy royal manners, rules, and behaviors, but not what it is to be a man, or , really, a king. (Harry comes to grips with his kinghood in Henry V, but that’s another play.)
Anyway, normally, Harry would have to figure out the gritty bits on his own so into this breach (as it were) steps Sir John Falstaff who proceeds to show the boy what a larger-than-life, raucous, boastful failure of a man looks like. This is a lesson that Harry learns well as the audience sees when he tells Sir John to pop off at the end of Henry IV Part 2 (“Old man, I know thee not!”)
Not that I’d compare Alan Moore to John Falstaff: one is a liar, a cheat, a buffoon, a lout; a fat, slovenly, cowardly sot. The other writes comic books. But no matter how crazy, nonsensical, utterly bizarre, or freakish one of Moore’s stories might seem to the new reader, his work is unquestionably real, drawing believable, flawed, heroic, and well-developed characters into terrifying situations, and failing or prevailing as they can. There is much to be learned about story and storytelling within the pages of any of Moore’s writings. Arguably as much as in a Shakespearean play, although probably in a more accessible form.
A patron objected to the book after their teenage daughter checked it out of the library’s adult section. The teenage girl however was given an adult library card which ultimately allowed her to check out adult themed books.
Some pertinent facts that readers of Johnson’s article may not be aware of include these: most (but not all) public libraries have children’s sections. Most (but not all) of the libraries with such sections sharply limit borrowing privileges for children. Teens generally (but not always) are given adult cards which lets them borrow from all sections. There may be public libraries with a third class of card for teens that would limit them to only borrowing from the Children’s or YA sections, but I haven’t encountered any with that level of specialization. At any rate, the Greenville Public Library apparently does not have that three-tiered access protocol.
It doesn’t help matters that the writer chose the phrase adult to describe the material in question. In the literary parlance of modern day America, adult often (but not always) means pornography. In the world of comic publishing, however, things like murder, sex, drugs, violence, and so on is often called Mature, and gets a little icon with a black and while M in the lower right hand corner of the book cover. It’s a general purpose rating system, designed to help parents know what their kids are reading, and that’s generally a good thing.
A book by Alan Moore is likely to cover all those things. The Watchmen, for example, begins with a brutal murder. The sex is a significant part of the story but the sex scenes are almost incidental. The violence permeates every page in that book, but it’s not grisly, gruesome, or gross. It doesn’t need to be. Alan Moore knows how to tell a story without being grotesque. Not all authors choose to take that route, however. Hence the rating system.
In the case of the Greenville public library sex seems to be the problem. So far the solution is a bit of backbone on behalf of the trustees:
In a statement regarding the possible removal of the book a letter sent to the Library Board of Trustees reads:
“Removing the book because of sexual content not only fails to consider the indisputable value of the book as a whole, but also ignores the library’s obligation to serve all readers, without regards to individual tastes and sensibilities.
And, the writer notes, “The groups opposing the challenge warn that the books removal could lead to First Amendment implications.” Well, of course. Any challenge to a published work involves First Amendment implications. That’s the nature of the beast.
Why are the teen’s parents not simply insisting that she have her adult borrowing privileges revoked and perhaps her child’s borrowing status reinstated? It’d be easier than trying to threaten the comic book publisher or the library board of trustees. And there’s certain logic behind that possibility, which is to say that if one’s teen-aged daughter is too immature to handle knowledge of sexual situations, then she is essentially a child, and therefore only entitled to a child’s borrowing privileges. But her parents don’t seem to have considered that option, or, if they have, have dismissed it.
The reason is simple: that’s not what this challenge is about. It’s not about one parent’s concern for one child’s access to topics that parent finds questionable. It is about one parent who wishes to dictate to every other parent and by definition every other child in Greenville, South Carolina what can be read.
It is about censorship. More broadly (read: “in the non-literary sense”), it’s known as banishment, which means “to send away,” or “to rid oneself of.” It’s a way of avoiding unpleasantness . . . the uncomfortable but necessary need of explaining the facts of life to one’s kids, in this case. Or, more generally, the unpleasantness of realizing that there are points of view other than your own, that the world is vaster than one’s imagination can comfortably grasp, and that we really are not in control of very much of it at any one time. It’s about making life neat and clean and antiseptic, so that one can cruise through it without making choices and dealing with the consequences. What this parent wants is a life free of parenting.
Having raised two kids, I can only say: tough shit.
William Vambenepe says that “If the lords of the Internet have their way, the days of RSS are numbered.” He then points to the facts that Apple, Twitter, Firefox, and Google are all slowly but surely de-coupling RSS access from the functionality of their products.
Before I got the chance to work with RSS personally, I had categorized this post as a bit of a rant and kept it in my drafts folder, wondering if I would have the chance to take a closer look at it. For the past week I’ve been trying to figure out how to push this blog’s new material into my existing FeedBurner RSS account. I have no idea how to make it work. Our Emerging Technology Librarian, Emma, has no idea how to make it work (and looked sort of freaked out when I told her about my project.)
At the moment, I’m ready to start cheering for Team Lords.
The process of building a new website after importing the old posts was the easy part. Typepad has decent export options and WordPress is much the same with importing new material. What it doesn’t have–what nobody in the world apparently has–is a way of seamlessly switching an existing RSS feed for a new one. There is the added consideration of where the new stream of traffic comes from: so far, most of the action on the new website has come out of shared posts, tweets, and URL transfers, not RSS click-throughs. Even on the old blog, RSS click-throughs constituted less than 10% of the total activity.
I have tinkered with the guts of FeedBurner’s forms, tried splicing new feed URLs into existing feeds addresses, and played with the idea of using third party plugins to push new posts to the old feed. Nothing has worked very well. There are plenty of ways to squeeze traffic into the new feed but no way to transfer the new stuff into an old RSS URL. (If you know of a way to do this, don’t keep it to yourself. Drop me a comment and let’s talk about it.) Old blog = old feed, new blog= new feed, and there is no crossing the lines between the two. At least that’s how it seems right now.
I can burn new feeds all I want. I can combine them into one gigantic master feed through applications like Yahoo Pipes and Google Feed. I can redirect existing feeds from one blog to the other if I can figure out how to create a 301 permanent redirect through cPanel (or convince an exceptionally helpful tech support person at my ISP to do it for me). I can build an XML redirect and send it into the old feed in the hope that the current subscribers take advantage of it and migrate.
Or, I can abandon the current subscribers. For obvious reasons, that’s my least favorite option. Sadly, it seems to also be the most efficient option unless I can muster the additional time and energy to Franken-feed something together. Regardless of FeedBurner’s relative ease of use, modifying an existing feed is considerably more difficult than just burning a new feed and assigning it to a syndication page.
I’ll be honest. After three days of this, I’m ready to give up. RSS is unquestionably useful tech, but if it’s not portable, then other more portable options will leave it in the dust.
I burned a new feed for the WP blog, and I hope that at least some of the existing RSS subscribers have the patience, energy or motivation to click on the new feed when they get to the new website.
Which brings me back to the original critique of Vambenepe’s point . . . maybe the reason that the big players are abandoning RSS is the fact that you can’t really do anything with it. Except, of course, create more RSS feeds.
Again, if there is a way of making RSS portable, then I’d love to hear about it.
Here’s a testimony on the self-educational power of libraries from the now late Ray Bradbury, forwarded to me by the ERIL-L listserv care of Walter Miale, who nicked the link from Andrew Sullivan, and excerpted here:
…I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?
I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.
And when you’re done with that, drop me a comment to let me know what the best way of tracking a trail of resource breadcrumbs like the above situation might be. We have four online and disparate sources that just happen to be connected through my clicking habits. There has to be an OpenURL gadget that does that, doesn’t there? Yes? No? Anyone?
Posting has been a challenge lately. We are 4,000 or so volumes into our grand mission to RFID tag, weed, and inventory a 37,000 volume physical collection all at once, and it’s been a struggle. We’ve managed after three weeks to get the entire staff trained (the younger ones are more relaxed with the equipment than the older staff, which is not that big of a surprise. Not because the older ones are older–read: near retirement–but none of them are very relaxed around PCs.) I’ll post more about the details of this project at some point in the future. (Promise!)
Anyway, I clipped this column entitled Ten Things You Need to Know About Knowledge Management from Steve Denning at Forbes.com a few weeks ago in the expectation that I’d be able to poke some vague fun at it at some point. And so I am. But the truth is it’s not bad advice as far as general principles go. It’s long winded, however, so I’m going to just sum up the bullet points.
The essentials are these:
1. Knowledge is infinite, money is not. (Duh!)
2. Knowledge has no intrinsic value. (Of what use is the knowledge of fishing to a man who wants to build a camp fire?)
3. Money spent on non-utilized knowledge is gone. (That’s a bit of a fallacy. The money is gone no matter what the outcome, but you get the idea.)
4. An institutional knowledge base may become a set of blinders. (Remember to look outside the box now and then.)
5. The really interesting stuff is not going to be from your organization. (Diversify!)
6. Effective use of a knowledge base may require exceptional expertise . . .
7. . . . and that expertise may evaporate. (Sometimes very suddenly.)
8. The value of knowledge lies in improved outcomes. (See my campfire example on number 2.)
9. What constitutes an improved outcome depends on the organizations’ strategy. (A rod and reel company that intends to develop a client base of fishermen should not try to reach them buy selling fireplaces.)
10. Measure outcomes against the organizational strategy. (Apples to apples.)
Of these tidbits, I’d pay particular attention to the first half of the list. We all want as much as possible to be available for our patrons but can rarely afford more than a few choice subscriptions. But subscriptions from expensive vendors are not useful merely because they’re expensive; they’re important because our patrons need them for their work. If not, then you’re out twenty grand and you won’t get to redeploy those funds until a year from now. Do not be afraid to look to non-traditional vendors for useful additions to your collections.
The biggest problem with a full time librarian job: no time to write. Not a huge amount of time to read, either. It’s the greatest existential problem of working with books for a living: you are literally surrounded by tens of thousands of tomes for the taking and instead of picking one (or two, or twenty) up, cracking the cover, and letting the rush of prose engulf you over the course of an afternoon, you’re stuck having to remain at a respectful distance. Time is the enemy.
In my case, I have other writing projects on the table, too, and often the opportunity to finish everything in a concentrated wave of activity just isn’t there. One effect of this situation is no time to write. And, as I said, perilously little time to read. With so little reading time, what do you read? Non-fiction is simpler than fiction in that the subject matter determines the need and then personal interests–a favorite author, a notable organization of the material, a book jacket that catches your eye–take over to help you make that final determination. There are many things to agonize over if you don’t want to take a gamble on wasting your time.
Andrea Cumbo over at Andilit.com picked five elements that rang true with me. Those five are:
1. Characters That Feel Real I don’t care if it’s fiction or nonfiction; if the characters seem too perfect or too one-sided (too “flat” to use the writing teacher term), I get bored or annoyed very quickly. I love characters who are flawed and who make mistakes, and I also love characters who seem to mostly get it wrong but also get it right in just brilliant, profound, sparkly ways.
2. Beautiful Language I adore sentences that move like water, trickling through and around or rushing over and easing off the edges. I also adore sentences that sound authentic, as if the character or narrator really said them (and hopefully, the writer actually did – there’s so much to be gained from reading our work out loud.) I love the opening lines of Lolita for their consonance and lulling sound, but I also love how James Baldwin’s words get all choppy and sharp when he speaks of anger.
3. Complex Relationships In a piece of writing, if two characters show some complexity in their relationship, I’m hooked. I’ve never had a relationship where everything was easy, so when I see that played out on the page, I watch closely, partially to see I”m not alone in this experience and partially to get some tips on how to do better in my own friendships. In nonfiction, if a writer can do this, I find it masterful – see Anne Lamott, who manages to show us the complexities of her relationships without having to give us much beyond her own thinking about them.
4. A Good Sense of Time One of the things that’s most difficult for me in some writing, particularly by newer writers, is that it loses a sense of time. I don’t know how much time has passed between actions, or I’m not sure what time period the story is set in. Maybe it’s just that I”m typically hyper-aware of time, but when I don’t know where in a day or year I am, I get frustrated. Good example – The Lord of the Rings; we always know how long Frodo and the boys have been on the road.
5. Honesty For me, all good writing comes down to this – is the writer willing to be honest? This is one of the reasons I love Denis Johnson and Kathleen Norris. It’s why I adore Thomas Merton and so appreciate Chaim Potok. They are able to be honest on the page, even if their characters are not. In fiction, this honesty is complex because it may mean creating a dishonest character but signalling to the reader that the character isn’t trustworthy (a la The Great Gatsby). In nonfiction, my favorite moments are when the narrator admits something we don’t usually speak to anyone but, perhaps, our closest friends. I find there’s a great strength and freedom in those moments.
It’s not the most complete list of this type I’ve ever seen but it is the most concise and well-defined. You can read the whole thing here, and I’d suggest setting a few minutes of your Friday aside to do so. Enjoy!
Marisa Kaplan writes a little about the subtle (and not so subtle) bouts of technophobia some teachers feel from time to time, and offers these five workarounds:
Remember, it’s not about you! Your discomfort with technology impacts your students’ futures. Teachers need to be preparing students for the world we live in today. So many jobs are dependent on a basic understanding of technology. Always ask yourself, “am I teaching something that is obsolete, or something that will help my students in the future that lies ahead?”
Don’t resist your tech guru teacher-friend: It is difficult to ask for help but partnering up with a tech guru teacher-friend can provide a support system that can help ease your transition from tech terrified to tech curious.
Realize it’s okay if you are not in control: In reflection, I realize that a major reason that I resisted tech for so long is because I feared what would happen if I was no longer in control…but it is okay if the tech malfunctions. In fact it can lead to some pretty teachable moments.
Let your students teach you something: Newsflash – if you think you are the omnipotent force in your classroom, think again! Kids know a lot these days and it can boost their confidence and engagement if you call on students for support.
If you find a product you like, ask someone from the company to come visit – Tech startups want you to use their products so most likely if you send an email, they will answer any questions you have or maybe even come visit your school to teach you how to use their product.