Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Andrew Carnegie

Courtesy of my Uncle John's Bathroom Reader calendar:

A 21-Flush Salute to Andrew Carnegie, Born On This Day in 1835

One of the 19th century's leading industrialists and richest men, by 1901 Carnegie's holdings in telegraphy, railroads, and steel manufacturing had earned him more thatn $250 million. Two years earlier he had written "The Gospel of Wealth", an essay stating his conclusion that the rich should live modestly and distribute their wealth to benefit the common people. True to his own belief, Carnegie devoted the rest of his life - and income - to building libraries. He put out the word that any town in any English-speaking country could request a grant for a free library. The criteria were minimal: a demonstrated need for a library, an agreement to pay the library's annual upkeep, and a vacant lot. Carnegie provided the money for raw materials, design plans, and a building crew. The first in America: Braddock, Pennsylvania, the location of one of Carnegie's biggest steel mills. By the time Carnegie died in 1919, he'd funded more than 2,500 libraries.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Article About Information Pollution That's Not Annoying

I never thought I'd see the day there was an article about 'information overload' I didn't find either condescending or arm-flapping woe-is-me, but here it is. Dustin Wax points out some common marketing strategies and offers suggestions regarding filtering your information. I was particularly interested in his theory about dumb parents in television:

Watch a kids TV show recently? Watch a few? You might have noticed a trend — dumb parents. Uncool, hapless, clumsy, dorky, way-out-there dumb parents. Remember the parents of yore? The Bradies, the Cleavers, even the Wah-Wah-Wahing parents of the Charlie Brown universe? They were pretty with it — voices of sanity and authority in an adult world kids struggled to grasp. Not any more — today’s TV parents are hopeless.

Why? Because that’s what media producers’ customers want. Not the kids — viewers aren’t customers, they’re product. You don’t buy Jimmy Neutron. The advertisers whose spots fill the commercial breaks during Jimmy Neutron buy you — the cartoon is just a way to get enough of you watching to make it worth the advertisers’ buck. Well, not you — your kids. You’re just a wallet with legs — what they really want is to show your kids really cool stuff that they’ll get you to buy. And of course, you’re going to say “No”. That’s where the show’s content comes in — your kids have just spent 4 hours learning that parents are uncool idiots who say “No” to all the coolest stuff.

Very true. My personal advertising bugaboo is dumb guys. Those bumbling fools, always needing a woman to save the day. I can say this is annoying; I'm a woman myself and I'm tired of men being presented as idiots. If it's insulting if I swap the genders, it's not good.

A History of the Internet in a Nutshell

A very educational article about the history of the internet. I only came into the picture in around '94. I could've sworn Hotmail was around before '96, but I suppose I could be wrong. I do remember only having a freenet address. All text bulletin boards and IRC chat. Fun times.

Judging a Book's Cover

Here is a look at some of the best covers of the '00s according to The Book Cover Archive.

My favourites are The Abomination one from 2000 and A Shortcut Through Time from 2004. One Perfect Day's cover is clever. The Abomination cover would definitely make me at least pick up the book out of curiosity.

Exile in the Kingdom from 2007 is just painful, while The Way Through Doors from 2009 is just annoying.

No Guns Allowed

In Knoxville, Tennessee, some guy brought a gun into the library. Apparently there weren't enough signs saying DO NOT BRING YOUR GUN. Why would anyone bring a gun into a library? To fight library bad guys? To be very very serious about people being quiet? Scary.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Petit Controversy

A controversial book about the Petit murders will remain in the public library of the Petit family's community of Chesire. In poor taste? Possibly, though yeah, it's censorship. The thing that had me scratching my head at the article was the mention of people's home addresses. Do you disagree with Mary Smith? She lives on 24 Grapenut Avenue. That just doesn't seem wise.

More On the League

A follow-up on this story: The Black Dossier threatens public safety. The Black Dossier being the name of Volume Four of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel.

The petition reads in part, "This community is known to have sexual predators, and works such as these encourage those predators to act out their desires or at the very least justify their desires."

Man, I hope they don't learn other things from graphic novels and comic books, like how to fly or shoot lasers out of their eyes. My favourite quote from all I've read about this case comes from an editorial at Omnicomic:

And here we are now. Cook and Boisvert personally attempted to withhold the book from the public in the "best interest" of kids. Which is basically censorship. Honestly, they have no right to do so and the library was completely within it's jurisdiction to terminate these two employees. It's so easy to forget with abortion, healthcare, war, economy, etc. that censorship used to be a big deal as well. Especially in comic books. Way back in the day of Dr. Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent comic books were actually burned in many southern towns. Why? Because of their perceived ill-influences on kids.

Aren't we past that? I understand the desire on the part of adults to want to protect kids. What are we protecting them from though? You don't think that if the book was removed that kids wouldn't see this stuff elsewhere? Even further it's the parents decision regarding what kids watch/read. Taking such a critically-acclaimed book and re-checking it out is almost bush league in it's immaturity. Cook and Boisvert had no right whatsoever to impose their views onto those of the library patrons.

Is The Black Dossier appropriate for an eleven-year-old? No. I can't come up with anything off the top of my head from Alan Moore that would be appropriate for an eleven-year-old. The issue isn't whether the book is appropriate, it's whether library workers can decide what's appropriate.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pushing Paperless

Christopher Dawson at ZDnet asks "Why aren't students pushing paperless?"

The digital divide for one.

Though phrased rather brutally, I found this comment from Dr_Zing interesting:

First of all, the poor in this country do not have 24/7 access to the internet. Anyone who thinks they do, like you Christopher Dawson, is an urban elitist I.T. snob who's been lucky enough to still have a job.

Second, a large number of children in this country don't have 24/7 access to a computer. While there are many households with a computer, and they can be found in libraries and at schools, there is not a one computer per child ratio. But then elitist snobs who've never seen the hoops that teachers go through just to get a few hundred dollars worth of paper and pencils for all their students, much less a $500 computer per child, wouldn't understand that.

Third, there's no standard media. A plethora of different document formats, on a myriad of different storage media is a terrible way to go. I remember a few years ago doing my Master's that we went through 3 professors with 3 different sets of requirements. Hell of a way to go. You might think a rich text format on a USB 2 stick would be acceptable for most papers but the funny thing is it's still easier to drag a dozen papers into the bathroom with a red pen to make annotations on them after school.

Fourth, instructors, professors, teachers aren't consistently demanding it. And as previously mention, they don't demand it in a consistent format. Speaking of that Master's program. You know the media they required for the thesis?



A separate copy for each member of the review board too.

My reply was more sedate.

I can think of a couple reasons, both of which have already been touched on.

Not every kid has access to a computer; nor does every teacher. Most libraries have computers, but they're heavily used and not always available depending on how many the library has.

Adding comments and corrections is a lot more difficult in a digital document; paper and a red pen are far more convenient. Many people still find it easier to read paper than they do screens.

What really bothers me is the assumption that everyone has access to computers. In an ideal world, yes. Maybe at some point in the future, sure, but definitely not now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hocus Pocus Junior

Partly a reminder to myself to read it another time, but also of interest from BoingBoing: a really old example of plagiarism.

Although it's the earliest book devoted to magic as a performing art, it apparently takes its text almost exactly from a 1584 book called The Discoverie of Witchcraft. The Witchcraft book was meant to be a debunking text, proving to people that witches didn't exist and, thus, that we shouldn't go about condemning other people for witchcraft. Hocus Pocus Junior took the chapters on sleight of hand and slightly (heh) reworked them as an instructional manual.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How the Kindle is Like a Brown Paper Bag

This one just amused me. Two of the top five Kindle downloads are smut.

The Kindle does for erotica what the paper bag does for a 40 of O.E.: provide a respectable cover. Kindle owners are free to download anything, regardless of what’s depicted on the cover, and read even the sexiest office romp in, well, the office, with no one the wiser. Although I must warn that if you share a Kindle account with your spouse... you may get an incriminating email receipt forwarded to you. The Internet, depending on your perspective, has been the best or worst thing to happen to porn since VHS. Given the appeal of anonymity and quantity of free content, the Kindle might do the same for soft core fiction.

Mein Kamf App for One Day Only

Apple Inc. approved the sale of a Spanish language e-book version of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kamf, complete with a swastika icon. The application was pulled after one day. Apple's selection process is a little odd - they won't sell erotica, so even the Kama Sutra is banned from the store - but somehow a big ol' swastika-bearing Mein Kamf made it through... rated as appropriate enough for nine-year olds and up to read. Oops. Also, someone was making $1.99 a pop off this. At least libraries are free. Supposedly, Apple only has forty people reviewing applications. Maybe they just have thirty-nine now.

E-Book Readers Don't Grow on Trees

Which is better for the environment, an e-book or a print book? Most people would say an e-book, though Don Carli, Executive Vice President of SustainCommWorld LLC thinks print is still better ecologically despite being cast as wasteful and obsolete.

There is no question that print media could do a better job of managing the sustainability of its supply chains and waste streams, but it’s a misguided notion to assume that digital media is categorically greener. Computers, eReaders and cell phones don’t grow on trees and their spiraling requirement for energy is unsustainable.

Making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals including gold, silver and palladium as well as extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. To function, digital devices require a constant flow of electrons that predominately come from the combustion of coal, and at the end of their all-too-short useful lives electronics have become the single largest stream of toxic waste created by man. Until recently there was little if any voluntary disclosure of the lifecycle “backstory” of digital media.

Sadly, print has come to be seen as a wasteful, inefficient and environmentally destructive medium, despite the fact that much of print media is based on comparatively benign and renewable materials. In addition, print has incredible potential to be a far more sustainable medium than it is today… and a truly digital medium as well. Despite its importance to business, government and society, print has been cast in the role of a dark old devil in decline. Digital media has been cast as the bright young savior on the rise.

E-Readers for the Blind

Intel introduces a digital book reader that reads aloud to the blind. It's about $1500 US dollars, but that's less than some Braille readers which cost $10000.

The device has several functions. It can read digital files aloud, obviously, but it also has a large colour display that can render large fonts for the visually impaired. It also has a high-resolution camera that can convert printed text to digital text and then read them aloud to the user. It can even, with a small amount of work, be used to read webpages.

This has uses for people with severe dyslexia as well. I wonder if libraries are going to start trying to acquire them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on Science Fiction

Cory Doctorow writes about how science fiction doesn't so much predict the future as reflect the present.

Mary Shelley wasn’t worried about reanimated corpses stalking Europe, but by casting a technological innovation in the starring role of Frankenstein, she was able to tap into present-day fears about technology overpowering its masters and the hubris of the inventor. Orwell didn’t worry about a future dominated by the view-screens from 1984, he worried about a present in which technology was changing the balance of power, creating opportunities for the state to enforce its power over individuals at ever-more-granular levels.

It just turned out that 1984 was creepily on target, just not when it was actually the year 1984. I find the notion of science fiction writers trying to 'predict the future' kind of silly. Science fiction is a vehicle for stories that often reflect present fears and concerns, though I wouldn't mind some of that stuff on Star Trek.

The Digital Divide

Technology and education go hand in hand, or at least it seems like a good idea that they do. However, some kids are able to access things like computers and the internet, and others aren't. A New York Times article by Stephanie Olsen asks, 'Will the Digital Divide Close By Itself?'

Jim Steyer, chief executive of CommonSense Media and co-sponsor of the event, stressed that “every kid needs to be digitally literate by the 8th grade” and called for a major public education campaign to make that happen. He argued that technology and learning are synonymous and that schools, parents, and kids must get up to speed in the next five years.

Five years? Really? I don't think it can happen all that fast. Back when I was in school (the 80's to mid-90's), it used to be you hand-wrote your assignments. Somewhere along the line - I want to say grade eight or so - people would hand in their work typed up. Those people were the lucky ones, or keeners. My family still had a Commodore 64 at that point. Soon enough, some teachers began to request assignments be typed. Hand-written was frowned upon. Surely everyone could reach a computer. One of my teachers was fond of saying, 'beg, borrow, lie, steal' with regards to getting his demands filled. Back in the early days, I had to go to my friend Sharon's house. She had a computer and a printer. For a while we had a computer but no printer; we'd type things up, put them on diskettes, and my father would print them up at his office. People were impressed by laser printers back then. There was a lot of elbowing to get access.

Now it seems like there are laptops everywhere. I purchased my first laptop earlier this year, in March. It was a bit of a bend of finances to manage the refurbished one I'm typing this post on now, though I did want one that was also decent for gaming. Computers are such a big part of my life that when a fellow classmate handed my instructor a hard copy of her assignment, I was a little surprised. She could just e-mail it, after all. I'm spoiled, and I'm also younger than her by, I would estimate, at least ten years. E-mail was my first thought.

It really can't be easy for some families to have computers in the first place, or for kids to get time at their local library's computers. I am not an expert on the elementary/high school student's ease of access, but I do know it will take longer than five years to get laptops in every classroom.

Another thing I've noticed is that my handwriting has gotten worse since I started doing everything on my computer. I jot things down, I don't write, and I'm used to being able to click my cursor over to a mistake and redo it. My class notes are bordering on a scrawl with lots of bits impatiently scribbled out and sometimes I find myself wishing I'd brought my laptop.

Food for Fines

In an interesting twist of policy regarding overdue books, a library in Chicago is clearing one dollar of late fees from every customer who brings in a can of food. This is part of the library's annual 'Food for Fines' promotion, which is a pretty good marketing move. The food collected will be donated to the Salvation Army and Community Crisis Center.

Burlette said library staff has seen an increased need in Elgin this year for this kind of help. "There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs or who have had their house repossessed. There are a lot of difficult issues out there for our customers," Burlette said. "I thought this was a very good thing to do for the community."

An excellent idea for the community.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November is National Novel Writing Month

Every November I get very sick of people talking about NaNoWriMo, which is the abbreviation (sort of) of National Novel Writing Month. This is not because I'm against people writing novels - I like to read - but more that I get pretty tired of reading endless word count posts. Still, it is an event worthy of discussion.

Maybe I'm bitter; I tried it years and years ago and didn't get very far without throwing in the towel. Maybe that's why I don't want to hear about people's success. Maybe just a little.

I regret that I can never figure out something I'd like to write that much about. There are no plots in my head scurrying about wanting to get out. None. I wanted to be a writer when I was little (in between wanting to be a forest ranger and something else I forget) but it just never panned out. Maybe someday I'll have a story I want to tell. For now I content myself with writing a library science blog. It's almost daily! That counts, right?