Blogs

Beware of E-Books that go bump in the night!

A blog entry from Tegan describes the joys and perils of discovering e-books available through her local library late one night. Unfortunately, the book in question was Neil Gaiman's Coraline, so Tegan did not sleep well. However the entry and its comments provide some interesting perspectives on e-books from readers.

Another downside is the mere act of reading on a computer screen. While I can handle it now, I'm sure my eyes won't let me in a few years. A short book like Coraline is much easier than a long novel on the eyes, but some folks might even have trouble with that much. On the plus side, it's definitely a case of "instant gratification"... I want to read the book, and moments later there it is for me to read. E-books will never replace paper books for me, but it's nice to have them as an option.

Outreach, Cheers-style

One of my favorite types of reference question is the bar bet. You pick up the phone and are asked a trivia question. In the background, there's a jukebox or a tv, and the sound of clanking glass. Usually, the patron is in a pretty good mood and thinks you're a goddess for being so smart and efficient for telling them that no, Marilyn Manson was not the geeky sidekick on "The Wonder Years."

Yesterday, I got such a call--a real easy one: "Who directed Forrest Gump?" My standard line, which I offered yesterday, is "you know, it's customary to tip a librarian 10 per cent of any wager made in a drinking establishment." Often times, you'll be invited down for a free beer and everyone chuckles and no one expects the librarian to actually show up. The offer was made yesterday and since it was St. Patrick's day, I said I'd think about it. About 5:15, one of my colleagues announced that I had a phone call, and that it was really loud in the background. It was the Forrest Gump patron, wanting to know where I was. Since the bar was on my way home, I decided to stop, IF I could find parking, which I figured was not likely on St. Pat's day after work. Lo and behold, there was a parking spot right in front of the door, so I parked and went in.

I pulled up a barstool and told the bartender that I was the librarian come to claim her free beer from Bob. She crossed the bar to tell Bob that the Librarian was in the house, and I was waved over. Bob called out to everyone in earshot that the Librarian had arrived, and I was Queen for a Day. Apparently, there had been a wager placed about whether or not I would show up. About 6 people gathered around to meet me and shake my hand, including the owner. A beer appeared and I got to talk about the library and being a librarian. Everyone told stories about librarians they had known and loved, and Bob, the original caller, appeared to be a bit of a library wonk, wanting to talk about databases and search strategies. I think he was trying to tell me about a federated search interface that he uses at the University library. I nodded in rapt attention, not having heard the word "Agricola" used so much in my life. He also extolled the awesomeness of CDC.gov and I clued him into IMDB.com. When I mentioned that I had just missed the boat on a job at the University library, Bob and his buddy, a university electrician, told me to keep trying, and said they'd put in a good word for me with "the gal who's probably 4th or 5th in charge there." Right as I moved to leave, another Leinie Red appeared magically before me. I took a few polite sips and thanked everyone, but said that I turned into a mom at 6 p.m. Some gnarled septugenarian sipping from a can of Falstaff patted me warmly on the back and told me to come back any time. What a hoot! And such nice folks.

Time Traveling Librarian

I came across this book about a time traveling librarian from Chicago. The book is called, "The Time Traveler's Wife" Book can be found here.

it's after me

There was a patron that came up to me yesterday, a regular... Not particularly a problem patron, but one of a group of kids who does have the tendency to be a problem from time to time... not because they aren't generally well behaved, but because they cluster. What did she have in her arms but a copy of the aforementioned The Innocents. The book is chasing me. She of course didn't take it out, because the book is only staying in the library to show up in weird places and otherwise freak me out.

I think I have worked out a solution to the timed access dilemma. I think that librarians and circ staff should share the duties. Circ staff will register, and librarians can do any administrative tasks that come up on the console. That leaves information free to do information, and circulation free from having to learn the software. This will also lend credence to the card only restriction.

Personally, I think it's silly the computers aren't card only. I might have a hard time convincing some people on the staff otherwise, though. I mean, true, you aren't physically taking the computer out of the building (well, some people have tried, before my time there, I guess), but there's a lot you can mess up on a computer. And arguably, it's just as if not more expensive and involved to fix it than a book.

I do wish we had the finesse of the Horizon integration with the demo software we're trying. It takes 256 MB RAM to run the software and another 256 MB for every 250,000 users. How many card holders in the consortium? God, I'd say at least a million. RAM is essentially cheap, but tack that on to the $1000 for the integration, and that's still scraping by on bare minimum.

I was told by Boston that their system runs appreciably well but is still slower than they'd like on their server. Considering that the computer on my desk right now has the same specs as the server at our library... Well, you get the picture. I could run an internet cafe out of my backroom.

Robert Bork criticized

Catching up with The Remedy tonight. In the middle of an interesting post ("Saving the Republic, Killing Freud") I came across a strafing of Robert Bork, the Reagan Supreme Court nominee who was not confirmed. Of course that seems odd, coming from a conservative blog, but it is worth paying attention to.

One occasion for the posting is an essay by Colorado State Senator John Andrews on the possibilities and difficulties of preserving the American Republic. I haven't read the essay, so I am relying on Claremont blogger Thomas Kranawitter's discussion of it. Kranawitter:

[Andrews] writes, "today's constitutional conservatives agree that these republican checks upon democracy are justified by the unchanging moral order of the universe itself." Some, perhaps many, conservatives believe this. But not all. And not many of the most influential conservatives.

For example, later in his essay Mr. Andrews cites a recent book by Judge Robert Bork that chronicles the moral bankruptcy of courts around the globe. But Bork himself has lent his authority to undermining moral right, arguing in his The Tempting of America that there is "no principled way to make [moral] distinctions," that we "put such issues to a vote and ... the majority morality prevails." Can one imagine a purer defense of unmitigated democratic moral relativism? For some unexplained reason, Mr. Bork rejects moral relativism only when it is issued from a court bench, not when it comes from a popular vote.

Fellow conservatives, take note: if Kranawitter is correct, Bork believes that there is no principled way to make moral distinctions, and that sheer democratic force is the way to decide such questions.

That scares me a great deal, and I hope it scares you as well. Fifteen or so years back, when I was much more apt to read The Nation than The National Review, I picked up a copy of the latter (I think I was a para-professional doing reference in a public library branch) and found an article on Bork and natural law. The (conservative) author was of the opinion that it was a good thing that Bork hadn't been confirmed. He cited Bork's own writings to show that Bork denied the notion of natural law. The author ended the article by suggesting that Bork's silence on the Declaration of Independence (our nation's founding document, which affirms natural law and reasons from it) ought to raise serious doubts in the minds of conservatives about Bork. I'm inclined to think he was right.

time's up!

Felt much better to go to work today...

I have a lot of thinking to do about the timed access. Turns out, because of our alliance with the consortium, we'd need a crudload of memory to actually handle the Horizon integration. So that's just not going to fly. We have a decent server, but I don't think I could shove the three gigs or so or memory the public would require to make it run to their standards. Instantaneous! We want things instantaneous! I shouldn't poke fun -- so do I. So do I.

So we are doing timed access, because I think it will help. Staff is going to have to come to the realization, like I have, like the assistant director has, that this is not ever going to be a hands-off proposition. It isn't with the sign up sheet, because people can't police themselves, and it isn't going to be with the one time sign up sheets. I think, however, the public will foresee the timed access as being more fair... justice doled out by machine, not by a human. No one will get just ten more minutes.

This doesn't stop the problem of sign up. I am playing with the idea that perhaps it's better to not give out a one time use number more than a half hour in advance. This way, we won't have people saying that they were next in line when they really weren't. Or perhaps we should have a sign up sheet behind the reference desk. You can make a reservation, but we get to hold the number till you pick it up. I need to look at the logistics, and it might go through several changes.

Hey, that's the price you pay for internet access.

I just fear that the staff has this idea that it will be perfectly seamless. That it will be self-contained and hands off. If anything, it's going to be more labor intensive, but more fair. There should be less sticky altercations -- no more fist fights and name calling and computer hogging. But it's obvious to me now that more than just software is involved... it's going to take some strategic planning and perhaps an overhaul of internet policy to some degree.

I need to make them, in some way, card access only as well. This way we can see that someone has used the computer more than their hour allotted time a day. This should be on a sign up sheet.

Today I had a guy come in and tell me all about cookies and temp files, in a tone that said, "Stooooooopid woman". I've understood the cookie/temp file concept since 1995. In fact, last time this guy complained the computers were down I was actually cleaning out the cookies and temp files and doing computer maintenance. I shut him off, rather rudely, I fear. I have enough self esteem issues that I didn't need to be talked to like I was two inches tall.

He says, "There are programs that will erase your temp files!" I wish people knew the budgets constraints @ your library. Honest to pete. Gotta love Linux. Why didn't libraries anchor on to the open source thing a looong time ago?

Back to Debian

Well, I figured out why the debian box liked to crash and cause an out of memory error. Well, for one thing it likes to run more than 5 mysql processess @ 5~6megs resident in memory a piece. Then there is the apache service coupled with perl. 128Megs of memory is just not enough for a Testing release of a Debian LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-Python-Perl-PHP) server.

Anyway, in my rush to get Debian installed, although I created a swapfile space, I never did specifically mount it. So, the swapfile space was never used, and all existing processes chewed up what memory was available, and thus run out of memory. Whats cool is that existing processes were not harmed when memory was out, only new processes trying to execute never properly completed.

Like I said in my first Journal Entry, it's just this Compaq Prosignia 200 Pentium2 233 is just crappy. I suspect I'd get faster response from a 5400rpm 3gig Pentium2 LX rig than this old SCSI pig. At least I'd have plenty of SDRAM at my disposal, instead of having my hands tied by not being able to add more Fast page memory. Like most techies in the Library world, budget constraints force one to use what one one has on hand, yes?

Quote of the day

"The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress."
- Joseph Joubert

I just thought that was a neat quote to start my wednesday off. With all the emotional debates we get into over here I think sometimes we forget that no one ever really "wins" an argument or discussion. The goal is to learn or at least expand your horizons a bit.

Conservative disaffection with Bush

In an uncharacteristically long posting, Instapundit blogs about fading support from the "war base". Plenty of space in the Updates section given to the pro-war base as well, including some lefties. Though he's conservative/libertarian and pro-war, I've found that Glenn Reynolds (the Instapundit) is willing to be critical of Bush when he feels it's warranted.

Presidents and jobs

Robert J. Samuelson states what should be obvious in this Washington Post column:

We are having a ferocious jobs debate, most of it fraudulent. If presidents could easily create jobs, the unemployment rate would rarely exceed 3.5 percent. But all they can usually do is influence the economy through taxes, spending and regulatory decisions -- and hope that job growth follows. In our market system, private employers play the pivotal role. They will add jobs only if: (a) demand justifies new workers; (b) labor costs aren't at unprofitable levels; and (c) they think healthy economic conditions will last. Electing a president based on job creation makes as much sense as selecting a doctor based on palm reading.

The jobs rhetoric captures politics' casual cynicism. John Kerry and John Edwards must grasp a president's modest job-creating powers; otherwise, they wouldn't be fit for the White House. Their jobs obsession is dishonest expediency. They know President Bush is vulnerable. To be fair, the deceit is bipartisan. The Bush administration is ready to claim credit for almost any good economic news.

Indeed, both sides bandy about bits of the economy as if they had brought them into being. Voters on all sides must think critically about such claims, and let politicians know that they can't get away with it.

Why Spain was attacked

Many suggest that Spain's Socialists victory at the polls came because the people of Spain blame the rail bombings in Madrid on Islamist ire at Jose Maria Aznar's support for the invasion of Iraq. If only we withdraw from the coalition and don't inflame the Islamists further, the Spaniards are supposedly thinking, they won't attack us.

I have to wonder about that explanation of Spanish public opinion. Everything I read before the invasion suggested that the Spanish people were not behind Aznar in his support for the war. And in the coverage of the massive protests by Spaniards against the bombings, I don't recall having seen much in the way of anti-U.S. and anti-Iraq-war protests. In my view, the more straightforward explanation for the conservatives' electoral defeat in Spain was the unpopularity of the Iraq war, rather than fear and appeasement of the terrorists.

If I am right about Spanish attitudes, it tends to undercut Christopher Hitchens's analysis of the "nutty logic" underlying the elections. He does cite some on the Spanish left has having claimed that Spain was attacked because it supported the Iraq invasion, but must we assume that the wider populace bought into these claims?

Nonetheless, even if the Spanish vote was not intended as a message of capitulation and appeasement, it is hard for me to believe that it won't be seen that way by the Islamist terrorists, who will now imagine that they have been successful in shaping the politics of an infidel nation to their advantage. And in any case, given the goals of the Islamist terrorists, there is no hope of appeasing them.

As Hitchens points out, the terrorists have not spared those countries who were either neutral (Morocco) in the war or who hindered it (Turkey). Fareed Zakarias reinforces this point in his Washington Post commentary:

Some in Spain have argued that if an Islamic group proves to be the culprit, Spaniards will blame Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. It was his support for America and the war in Iraq that invited the wrath of the fundamentalists. But other recent targets of Islamic militants have been Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, not one of which supported the war or sent troops into Iraq in the after-war. Al Qaeda's declaration of jihad had, as its first demand, the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden does not seem to have noticed, but the troops are gone -- yet the jihad continues. The reasons come and go, the violence endures.

It seems to me that Al Qaida and the indigenous movements allied to it have declared implacable war by terror on all whom they consider infidels. That includes the obvious suspects as Jews and Americans, but also Islamic nations who are either not Islamic enough (such as Morocco and Turkey), or who deeply conservative but corrupt (such as Saudi Arabia). The only difference among these targets will be the opportunities for and benefits from attacking that they present.

I found Hitchens's column via Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day and the Zakarias quote via Daniel Drezner's blog.

Humorous tech business headline (rather crude)

From The Register:

SCO lifts skirt but investors recoil

I have to say, the folks at The Register have a way with their headlines. Picturesque to say the least.

Books trying to tell us something

We have this book -- a visually gorgeous folio called The Innocents about (what else?) people incarcerated who turned out to be innocent. Granted, I haven't really looked at this book except for the covers and a few pages here and there. So I know nothing, really, of this book's "message."

However, this book, or the patrons, or the library spirits, are trying to convey something. This book is supernaturally everywhere, everyone on the staff turns. I placed it on the new folios rack in a prominent position, hoping someone would take it out, to free us for a few weeks. No dice. Instead, this book wills itself to be picked up and carried around by patrons, then seeming dropped beside the PACs, dropped on the reading room tables, dropped by the videos (or, most often) dropped on the floor, right in front of the folios. What gives?

I thought it was just me, so I mentioned it to one librarian and two support staff, who noticed the same thing about it.

I am taking today, when I am away from work and feeling bored, to plan the timed access demo introduction. I am thinking that the wheels won't be in place until next week, which is probably just as well. I don't know how long I'll have things down while I configure them, but having them down over a Friday/Saturday period might be troublesome. I also think, to simplify things, and to keep an eye on how things are running, information is the best place to keep the management software. Reference would be really ideal, but inconvenient mornings and evenings, when no one is at the reference desk. This might take some study of patron records. Not in a Patriot Act what-have-you-been-viewing sort of way, relax, but in a when-is-this-computer-most-active sort of way. The problem is (catch 22) our very unscientific sign up sheet. Just because there is no name on the sign up sheet doesn't mean the machine isn't being used. Naturally the computers are most active when someone is on reference, typically from 2 to 6 in the afternoon.

This may be a staff meeting survey sort of thing. I am usually at reference, and less frequently at information. It might be more of a pain in the butt to have to sign up people on the computer all day at information than it is to just do it off hours and have to physically get up to go to reference to do it. It might confuse the bejeebies out of patrons, too.

I am going to try to put Panther on a dying Mac. I think something merely may have gotten corrupted on it, and now it's getting very upset when you do too much with it. I meant to put Panther on it anyhoo so I guess now is as good a time as any. I put my newly zorched and reinstalled Windows unfiltered-now-filtered terminal out for people to, er, have their way with. At least I finally got the antivirus to activate. Sheesh. What a production.

Snow is headed our way. The sky's got the rich gray-yellow pallor of impending snowfall. Up to twelve inches, they say. I wonder if I will have work tomorrow, either. I am sort of hoping I do, because I do get so bored. Then I'm sort of hoping I don't, because my husband has tomorrow off. (What a racket!)

Feeling guilty about missing work, but at least feeling as though it was justified... I feel pretty miserable, and can't imagine holding down the information fort feeling this way.

Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow...

The Allegheny foothills sure are getting a bit of snow today...fortunately I have my dorm-based dungeon as well as a nice warm library to hide out in from the snow...

ready.gov

Well, the Ides of March have come and gone. So many dates now signify a horrific event that happened in our world; September 11, December 7, November 9 and now March 11. I will never be "ready.gov" for untold horrors yet to come. Preparedness for annihilation...what a concept.

I hate taking sick days

I hate taking sick days, but I think today I am forced to. What I thought was a brewing migraine seems to have yielded to a virus. At least, I have a fever. I went to work yesterday feeling crappy, and felt like I didn't really do my job properly. I hate that feeling too. Perhaps a day in bed will put things right. I just feel so guilty.

I previously worked a job (not in a library) where they would put you on a major guilt trip if you missed a day. I was in the hospital at one point, and they asked if I'd at least be in on Monday. Gee, guys, thanks for your concern. Anyway, now I have a hangover from that job, and I feel horribly guilty for missing a day, even though most people realize, that, er, that people do get sick.

I got the go ahead to employ a demo of the timed access software. The vendors, who shall remain nameless, are picking up the heat as far as saying, "Use mine instead!" Honestly, though, I think for our patrons and staff, less bells and whistles and less we have to adjust to is better.

I do have a copy of A Beautiful Mind (the DVD) on my desk that belongs to another library. Long story. I do hope it can wait another day before I call them to let them know the AWOL disk was returned by an embarrassed patron. Haven't we all returned boxes and left the DVD in the player before? I know I have.

For the record, no temporary library cards. Ever. I understood that, and I'm fairly sure you understand that. But man, do people ever want those temporary library cards. There must be a temporary library card black market.

Meta-Moderating

Tonight I "did" my first meta-moderation. Now I will be plagued by self-doubt and fears of inadequacy for an undertermined length of time ... it's just very lucky I have such poor short-term memory. I should be able to overcome the anxieties associated with the .... errr ...um, what was I saying?

The public library didn't escape this chill

I didn't obsess about religion, but every now and again a question would pop up, and I hunted for answers in the only place I thought might have some. Picture it: the public library in the pre-Internet period of the 1980s and early 1990s. Most of what I'd read about Islam exuded a textbook tone. Lots of reference, little risk. Then, on February 14, 1989, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini declared a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. This "unfunny valentine," as Rushdie would later call the fatwa, demanded of Westerners more than a collective tiptoe around theocracy. Many people in the West did take a stand against the death warrant and I'd be disingenuous to deny that. But the commentaries I tracked down at the public library seemed satisfied with merely explaining Muslim outrage; they steered away from asking if the Koran is as virgin, as divine, as the effigy-burners would have us believe. What happened to the religiously respectful yet intellecutally messy West I'd fallen in love with? Was multiculturalism losing its mind?


In a crucial sense, I think so. I say this because my trips to the library coincided with the era of Edward Said. He was the Arab-American intellectual who, in 1979, used the word Orientalism to describe the West's supposed tendency to colonize Muslims by demonizing them as exotic freaks of the East. A compelling theory, but doesn't it speak volumes that the "imperialist" West published, distributed, and promoted Edward Said's book?


Within a decade, Said was all the rage among young academics-turned-activists in North America and Europe. Their worship of him effectively stifled other ideas about Islam. By the time Salman Rushdie came out with The Satanic Verses, Said's acolytes stood ready to denounce as "Orientalist" (read: racist) just about anything that affronted mainstream Muslims. In my experience, the public library didn't escape this chill.


I began to regain faith, in both the West and Islam, after the mid-1990s. Praise Allah for the Internet. With the Web making self-censorship irrelevant -- someone else is bound to say what you won't -- it became the place where intellectual risk-takers finally exhaled. They reasserted what makes the West a fierce if imperfect incubator of ideas: its love of discovery, including discovery of its own biases. And as the critics probed Islam, I picked up on some jaw-dropping aspects of my religion.

-- Irshad Manji, The Trouble With Islam (Muslim-Refusenik.com)

Micro$oft's DNS Client on 2000/XP

Why am I not surprised? Well, it was definately not the proxy autoconfiguration script, or the caching proxy server itself. It all has to do with the rediculous DNS client Micro$oft silently runs as a service that is automagically started after installing either OS. This service is only useful for Active Directory, does absolutely nothing for that machine if your domain is not Active Directory.

The baffling part was the difference between the browser and the standard command line tools. Load up your browser, type in "intranet.company.server.com" and spend all day either getting a "404" page not found error, or waiting for a page to load. But, drop to the command line and type your "intranet.company.server.com" as a parameter for nslookup, and it happily spits out the ip address for that very server without breaking a sweat. Comeon Micro$oft, what is your browser/dnsclient doing that nslookup/ping does not?

Anyway, if you happen to run a split internal DNS in your organization, allow dynamic updates beteen your DHCP daemon service and Bind 8 or 9, and notice your 2K/XP clients cannot seam to resolve local intranet names, is to have in your named.conf file the ability for your Windows clients to be able to update their own athorative ("A") record. Gets rid of the problem, and you can happily migrate to Server 2003/Active Directory at your liesure without needing to remember, "Duhiiie, did I disable the dnsclient on that box or what?"

rewarding the wicked

A disturbing trend: people have been erasing other people's names on our real high tech internet sign up sheet. While I want to commend these people on their ingenuity (and their perceptiveness of at least being able to look at, then figure out our high tech sign up sheet) I feel that this is morally... well, it's between stealing candy from a baby and kicking a dog.

What concerns me more is how I handle it if I am just coming on to the reference desk. Sure, I can see a name has been erased and another has been put in. Sure. But how do I know if your name was there previously? Plenty of people erase their own names when they leave. Besides, if you were really sneaky, you could see someone else's name was erased and say yours was.

So I have to go by what's on the sign up sheet at the present time, if I haven't been there to see who was waiting. That's just not fair. The eraser then gets positive reinforcement, for, as Beavis would say, being a dillweed.

I so want timed access software.

Another disturbing trend: people are telling me our computers suck. Of course they do. The poor things are abused for twelve hours a day. (This was incidentally, uttered by the same aforementioned patron whose frequently uttered cry of "I don't know what I pressed!" is known by the whole staff.) If a machine had feelings, these would be crying out from the ground, folks. Don't mean to get all biblical (but that line is just so poetic). Until the money tree sprouts in the garden though, libraries in general (not just this library, or even libraries in this state) are out of luck.

So they do their best. Go easy on them.

Disturbing trend trois: Library cards are being stolen and bizarre books are being checked out on them! And naturally, are never returned. I've heard this complaint three times in as many days. Odd. As some LISNews stories have reported, if I were going to steal a library card and then steal library materials, I'd steal resaleable stuff. Like DVDs. Not histories of doilies. (Not to insult anyone who's seriously into doilies).

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