Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Last semester one of my professors talked a lot about online radio sites, and I'm a little surprised he never mentioned one that I stumbled across today. The ads on Pandora are starting to drive me insane, and I frequently run into trouble finding what I'm looking for on Grooveshark, so I decided it was time to give something new a try.

Musicovery approaches online radio from a different perspective. You choose typical music "genres" the way you do on most sites (Classical, Rock, Folk, Soundtrack, Jazz, etc.), but to launch a radio playlist, you indicate your mood (or the mood of music you are looking for) on a simple graph: a Dark to Positive continuum on the x-axis, and Calm to Energetic on the y-axis.

Many users may be initially deceived by its simplistic appearance, but it's actually quite an elegant design and, at least for me, it seems to work impressively well. At anytime you can readjust your position on the grid and watch the upcoming songs on your playlist adapt to your new mood. A few other cool attributes of the site include: a small timeline will indicates the era of the song that's currently playing, an alternative page allows you to select music from a "Dance graph" (I haven't played around with that one yet), and there's also a playlist for newly added songs to the site's database. They are in the process of compiling a cool looking popularity chart of songs too, where each song is ranked based on users tagging favorites or tracks they dislike. At this point I don't think Musicovery has the variety or volume of something like Pandora, but it's definitely still worth a look!

Monday, January 30, 2012


A required class I wasn't thrilled to sign up for this semester, but which I'm beginning to change my mind about is "Management for Information Professionals." As someone who has had a series of uninspiring entry-level jobs, "management" has always been kind of synonymous with "the enemy." And in cases where things weren't that bad, the individuals in those positions may even have been considered friends, something about the position has always seemed distasteful. But the material in the course has been interesting at least so far, and it's brought up some issues definitely worth thinking through. One of those has been the subject of time management, a key component of a manager's work since time is something they never have enough of, which can really be said of most of us, manager or not.

Mintzberg and Drucker are two writers who wrote about the position and function of management decades apart and have different ideas about how to describe the daily work of managers, but they both agree on the importance of time management. Mintzberg writes “perhaps the most important resource the manager allocates is his own time” (p. 58) and Drucker emphasizes the managerial task of harmonizing “two time dimensions:” the immediate and the long-term (p. 343). This notion of keeping “two dimensions” in mind, while simple in theory, I have found is much more challenging to implement successfully in real life, even just as it applies to one's personal time management, a skill I have never claimed to possess.

Drucker believes that those who are good managers of time “achieve results by planning,” and many
of the elements he identifies that make up the work of managers can be related to careful time management (p. 347). For example, setting objectives is an important way to define goals for one's time and balance desirable end results with “available means” (p. 345). Even when just budgeting personal time management, I find it is often difficult to accurately gauge what a reasonable objective would be for a limited time window. The act of organizing similarly requires one to consider a larger task and “divide it into manageable activities” (p. 344). My tendency to underestimate the time it will take to write a paper or overestimate my ability to read 200 pages in a single sitting shows me that I am not always certain of what constitutes a “manageable activity,” even within my own life. The social skill of communicating might seem inapplicable to personal time management, but on the contrary, communicating with ourselves by writing down reminders or reconsidering our objectives and priorities is crucial for successfully completing projects and meeting deadlines. Finally, effective self-control for measuring one's own performance ensures that tasks stay on schedule and progress is rewarded.

Mintzberg deemphasizes the manager's traditional planning activities but acknowledges that planning does happen on a short term basis “in the context of daily actions,” even if the typically imagined form of long term, abstract planning is not a real managerial priority (p. 51). Personal time management perhaps should also be thought of more along these lines: planning as an ongoing process with adjustments and adaptations made along the way responding to present activities and surrounding environments. When describing the approach of managers to project-related decision making, Mintzberg writes that rather than single decisions, managers work based on “a series of small decisions and actions sequenced over time” (p. 57). Following this idea, perhaps if, instead of designing a set schedule to manage time, I tried to balance homework and other goals as an ongoing process within the dynamic context of daily life, and kept my objectives flexible, I would be able to improve the efficiency of my time management, something this course has made me realize needs to be a real priority in my life.

Drucker, P. (1954.) The manager and his work, in The Practice of Management, pp. 341-350. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Mintzberg, H. (1975). The manager's job: folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review. July-August 1975, 49-61.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fantastic Flying Books

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a short film, by Moonbot Studios

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

A beautifully charming short animation, featuring a scene that takes place in a conservator's surgery, a flying librarian with her flock of library books, and an unforgettable series of events in the life of Mr. Morris Lessmore. At the beginning of the film, a Wizard of Oz-esque storm separates a man from his book. Once the winds calm, the book returns to earth, but all of its words and illustrations have been blown away. The initial sadness felt by Mr. Morris is relieved by his introduction to some highly unusual friends. I especially like the scene where Mr. Morris feeds the books their breakfast of alphabets and picks out their outfits (book jackets) for the day. William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg's film is a wonderful visual representation of the color and liveliness books bring to our daily existence.

Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Short Film category (2012 84th Academy Awards)!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Books of Spring

Where I grew up, you could usually count on winter to reliably last until mid-March. March blizzards, and even April flurries weren't even that rare. So it's a little disorienting to be living in a place (less than four hours away!) that has a very different climate. 60 degrees in January can be a treat, but it also feels downright odd.

I saw the art of Su Blackwell featured on ecofabulous a while back. I'm always on the lookout for interesting artwork, and I found her book sculptures absolutely stunning. With paper cutouts, Blackwell crafts delicate miniature worlds.

On her website, Blackwell reveals an interesting detail about her technique: "I always read the book first, at least once or twice, and then I begin to create the work, cutting out, adding details. The detail is what brings it all together, the magic element."

With a passion for fairy tales and nature, Blackwell brings a living quality to her sculptures, bestowing a second life on the old books she chooses as materials. She has some incredible winter scenes in her portfolio too, but I was struck most by the pieces that transport me back to days of playing outside in the woods and the fields around my childhood home, creating my own imaginary worlds. While it's not a blooming garden outside quite yet, the warmth in the air makes me think it will be on its way before much longer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winter Reading and Novel Appeal Pt. 2

In this followup I'll use two more of Saricks' categories, Framing and Storyline, to catch up on some of my winter reading book reviews.

Framing: Julian Fellowes, Snobs
Though a first person novel, the atmosphere of the fading British aristocracy is the most memorable aspect of this book. Julian Fellowes is excellent at crafting interesting characters, but they are characters who are tremendously shaped by their environment. Rather than dynamic, action-oriented people, they are features of their social world, reacting to the atmosphere of fading luxury and elitism around them. Fellowes is well-known for creating the vivid world of Downton Abbey on television. Though a different medium, Snobs possesses the same power of transporting you into a past world, this time one of aristocratic elites, actors, and social climbers. The story is told through the eyes of a young actor with enough noble blood in his veins to put him in an interesting position: the ability to move in two social circles--that of his wealthy, traditional roots and the less polished, spirited world of the middle class. Through this perspective the reader watches the social rise of Edith Lavery: her determined air, the marriage to Lord Charles Broughton, and the reality she must deal with as a result of her choices. Fellowes' writing is bittersweet, dark, and sometimes nostalgic, and the novel becomes an entertaining comedy of manners with a sharp dose of social critique.

Storyline: Bill Willingham, Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall
Before reading this book, I wasn't familiar with the world of Fables, but Bill Willingham's conception is a modern twist of fairy tale characters intersected with the grit of reality. In this graphic novel, Willingham constructs a multi-layered plot of stories within a story. The setting is Arabia and the main character (or storyteller) is initially familiar: Snow White. But Snow is not a frightened girl in a forest, she is a confident woman serving as an ambassador with a serious warning for the Arab Sultan. When her advice is not taken, she uses her wits and her storytelling skills to extract herself from a dangerous situation. A complex and episodic read, Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall adds additional layers by using the work of eleven different illustrators to depict the characters and storyline. The variety of design and style visually makes this graphic novel unique from any others I've ever read. While there is some immediate resolution at the end of the book, the plot is left open to further episodes of Snow and her companions. A quick search on Amazon will show that the series is pretty extensive: there are at least a couple dozen books that fall into the main Fables serial or its spin off adventures.

There is one fairly major aspect of this system of appeal description that I haven't mentioned so far (or quite adhered to in these posts). Saricks hopes that we can use these categories to discuss reading options with patrons even if the we did not like a book. (pg. 72). It's hard to remember sometimes that a librarian's job is to be objective about the books in his or her collection; to provide the users with information and then leave it to them to decide what to do with it. Pushing one's own reading views or opinions onto a user definitely does not fall into this job description. Using terms of appeal allows you (at least to some extent) to describe a book based on its intrinsic stylistic properties rather than on your personal opinion of it.

Saricks, J. G. (2005). Articulating a book‘s appeal. In Readers’ Advisory Services in the Public Library (3rd ed., pp. 40-73). Chicago: American Library Association.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Weird Words

An interesting collection of weird words, showing both the massive volume (over 600,000 words have been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary) and the peculiarities of the English language.

Ever wondered what Antejentacular meant? (Before breakfast--adj.) How about Phlogiston? (An "invisible fluid first proposed in 1667 to be possessed by all flammable substances and released when they burn. Antoine Lavoisier debunked the theory in 1777"--noun) Or Ucalegon? (A neighbor whose house is on fire--noun) Have you ever heard of these words before? Or do you have any notion of how to even pronounce them?

While some might see unused and forgotten words as empty or meaningless, I think they are a testament to the intricacies and insanities of the English language. Our past has a rich linguistics history that remains a part of our culture and literature even when individual words fall out of use. I have no doubt our future will continue this practice of vocabulary invention. Today to keep up with new and changing aspects of language the OED is updated every three months; the last update, in December 2011, included more than 1200 newly revised and updated entries.

Get your weekly weird word fix at This week's word is Naufragous, an adjective meaning shipwreck-causing. It would be fun to see if you could find an opportunity to use these weird words each week somewhere in your daily life.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Google Art

Despite my frequent Google-related alarmist blog posts... I really do love Google. =)

So here's some neat artwork from the LA Google offices as photographed by Trey Ratcliff: a hallway full of Google Doodles!

Winter Reading and Novel Appeal Pt. 1

Joyce Saricks uses four intrinsic elements of novels to describe their appeal in terms that she hopes will improve communication between librarians and their patrons and help make reader's advisory into less guesswork and more science. While some of her enthusiasm for a "vocabulary of appeal" seems to simplify language and individual tastes and perspectives to an unrealistic degree (different readers will have their own ideas of what constitutes an "engrossing" read or which characters will seem "familiar" or "realistic"), I like her encouragement for describing books less in terms of their plots and more in terms of stylistic choices made by the author.

Saricks uses four main categories to talk about novels (and some narrative nonfiction too): Pacing, Characterization, Storyline, and Framing. Since I am a bit behind on my book reviews, I thought I'd use some of Saricks' terms of appeal to briefly describe a few of the books I read over the break.

Pacing: Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol
Dan Brown is a textbook example of fast-paced writing; ironically, Saricks even mentions him in her article. This third Robert Langdon adventure is easy to read and carries on at breakneck speed as Professor Langdon strives to unlock a new set of ancient mysteries, this time in Washington, DC. Brown's familiar style is a good fit for vacation reading, though I would quibble that The Lost Symbol is rather lengthy, and the nonstop action itself can be a bit tiring to read. This book also suffers from multiple-endings-syndrome, giving the illusion over and over that you've reached the final page, only to turn it and find another paragraph. One of the interesting things Saricks writes about is the way librarians can give basic advice on a book they've never read (and even have never read a review of) by glancing through a copy and observing things like chapter length or the ratio of dialogue to description. A Dan Brown book is a good example of a case where this actually might be possible. Flipping through The Lost Symbol, the short paragraphs, chapters, and large amount of dialogue can tell you a lot about what sort of a read the book will be and maybe a little bit about what sort of reader would enjoy it.

Characterization: Lauren Beukes, Zoo City
This novel gives me a quick chance to mention an issue I'm pretty passionate about, which is the stereotyping of genre fiction. Saricks comments that in most cases Science Fiction focuses heavily on Storyline, with less precedence given to the elements of Pacing or Characterization. While there are a lot of formula novels in the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres, these exist in every category: Fantasy is definitely not the exception here. Cliche works aside, I believe genre fiction can be deeply interested in characterization and be composed with painstakingly crafted prose. It's not all swordfights and rescue missions as anyone who's read Connie Willis, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, or J.R.R. Tolkien can tell you. Zoo City is a book about a character: Zinzi December, a former journalist whose life changes dramatically with the death of her brother. Her most dramatic transformation is one of physical form: the appearance of her Sloth companion, a product of the Zoo Plague that affects anyone who has committed a criminal act. Throughout the novel Zinzi is vividly portrayed as a quirky, flawed woman deeply burdened by the mistakes of her past. The plot of the book is pretty intense, but more than working out the missing persons case Zinzi becomes wrapped up in or music industry scandal she uncovers, I was most interested in the development of Zinzi's inner struggles and characterization.

(Part 2 to come.)

Saricks, J. G. (2005). Articulating a book‘s appeal. In Readers’ Advisory Services in the Public Library (3rd ed., pp. 40-73). Chicago: American Library Association.

Monday, January 23, 2012

One Hour Per Second

A neat animated sequence comparing YouTube uploads to real-time events.

I wonder if (when?) some institution or another will decide to begin a project to capture and archive all YouTube content in the fashion of the Library of Congress Twitter preservation efforts. There would obviously be a lot of copyright implications of a project like that, but even (and sometimes especially) a posting of material that violates copyright could have tremendous cultural significance. If someone were to try to log all the activity on YouTube, this site shows just what an undertaking that would be.

A few screenshots:

See the whole animation at:

Google+ Followup

Following up on a post I did a while back about the integration of Google services, specifically Gmail and Blogger with the (still fairly) new Google+. The most recent development on this issue is the appearance of a new Google account sign up form that requires specific user identifying information and participation in Google+ and Gmail. Lifehacker describes a couple of ways to get around these new requirements, but points out that these methods may not last forever. While this is a small step towards mandated syncing of Blogger accounts with Google+ identities (for the time being you can still create an anonymous Blogger account, or Google Calendar account, etc.), many will find it a concerning one nonetheless.  I think Lifehacker succinctly sums up the probable reception of this minor change: as a perceived example of Google's "intrusiveness and user-unfriendliness."

The Lifehacker article concludes with another (more dramatic) solution to the reluctance to disclose personal details to one of the Internet's biggest superpowers: alternatives to Google services on the web.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pictures of Words

Word As Image:

Designer Ji Lee having fun with letters.

From the Word As Image Facebook page:
Challenge: Create an image out of a word, using only the letters in the word itself.
Rule: use only the graphic elements of the letters without adding outside parts.

Change is hard

For humans the notion that change is hard is something we learn very early in life. I don't know why it is, but we seem to be inherently resistant to new habits, practices, resources or materials in our daily lives, and even new information. Developers of systems and products are careful to build into new models enough familiarity to help users make the transition to a new way of doing something. Which started me thinking about how what if there were such mechanisms available to every sort of change in every area of our lives? Some kind of automatic process to help us adjust to a new schedule or a new boss or a new law, instead of just waking up one morning and discovering it's time to change. Theoretically this assistance could apply to optional things as well. What if new or controversial ideas were always first presented in a "toned down" form or one piece of the issue at a time? And when we get used to that piece, then it would be time to introduce the second.

Clearly I realize that in a lot of venues this sort of imaginary system would be very difficult to implement, and, of course, a problem you'd quickly run into would be time management (everything would take forever). Moreover, what would you do if someone refused to accept step one? How would you ever get them to a mandatory step five? Reality aside, I just think it's an interesting concept to think about. If change is so difficult for humans, would it ever be possible to evolve some sort of system to help us cope with change? It seems conceivable. But if it is, then why haven't we done so already?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Blackout Knight

SOPA inspired artwork by Dean Trippe.

Who says humor doesn't have a place in even the most serious of situations?


Today the Internet was peppered with holes as top sites like Google and Wikipedia blacked out their homepages in protest of the SOPA legislation. While politicians continue to debate the issue of copyright infringement vs. freedom of speech, Internet users were granted a glimpse of the World Wide Web as it could be.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Writing Blues

Why is writing so hard?

That is the question I have asked myself over and over again throughout my life. I have always enjoyed writing, and storytelling, and inventing characters, fictional places, and plots, but regardless, it always seems so difficult to put pen to paper or sit down with a blank word document and actually write. I think it's frequently agreed that beginning (any project, not just writing) is often the hardest step, but I think sticking with something is just as trying.

I imagine writing novels and short stories, recording my thoughts and my opinions, and maybe even creating something new with words and ideas, but it never works out. I am becoming almost desperate to figure out why, partially because I am tired of carrying these unfulfilled writing dreams around with me everywhere I go, and partially because I deeply want this blog to survive and be meaningful somehow, even if it's just for myself. Unfortunately it seems to get easier and easier for me to skip a day, or two, or post something interesting but largely thoughtless.

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, but if I were, this would be my lifelong ambition.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Butterfly Book

Just something pretty. This first week has been good but kind of exhausting, I need to work out my daily routine for this new semester and hopefully plan out more blogging time for next week.

David Kracov's "Book of Life," a unique metal sculpture celebrating the existence, animation, and joy of books. Read more about this interesting artist and his work on

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Space ship library

Science fiction writer Issac Asimov on libraries:

As a kid this is exactly how I saw libraries. I have so many memories of time spent wandering through rows of shelves at the public library and dropping down on the worn carpet to read the first pages of a new book. I can't imagine a childhood without the library and feel devastatingly sorry for those who grow up never setting foot within one or having the chance to explore all the adventures they have to offer.

Monday, January 9, 2012

First Day of Classes Take 2

This semester the first day of classes felt very different from August 23, 2011. I've been registered for the same classes for more than a month already and am 90% sure that I'll stick with all of them, compared to my first day back in August where I barely had half a schedule set, and one of those courses I enrolled in only a couple days before the term began. I'm obviously a bit more comfortable with the program now, I know my way around campus and vaguely what is expected of me. So despite new professors and new classes, today didn't feel nearly as novel, more like the second take of a scene I'd already acted, just with the director asking me to try some new things this time around.

Don't get me wrong, though, I'm definitely excited to be back in school again. And while I have a number of extra things to juggle right now, there's something relaxing about falling back into the regular rhythm of being a student.

Emotional smartphones

Samsung is experimenting with new mobile technology that uses variables like typing speed, backspace use, and device vibrations to measure the emotionality of the user. The concept is still in an early phase of development (currently it functions at just 67.5 percent accuracy) but Samsung sees a future for this new technology with applications in Twitter use, contact lists, and customer service. In one proposed application, people in an online social network would be able "to view symbols alongside tweets that indicate that person's emotional state." In addition to alerting your friends to a potential bad mood, Samsung creators suggest the program could be used to try to lighten a user's troubled emotional state by showing them a funny cartoon.

While the privacy implications of this technology are obvious: negative feelings might not be the thing you want broadcasted to the rest of the Internet, and the reliability of such programs still seem rather dubious (67.5% is failing afterall), anytime you start to mix something so inherently human like emotions with machines, I can't help but be impressed (and eerily reminded of the cylons of Battlestar Galactica.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Technology Trends in 2011

Last month an article on Technology Review considered the recent focus of technological advancement. Despite the fact that the most commonly used computers for work and home are personal computers, in 2011 the most dramatic innovations in computing were made in small scale devices, like smartphones, and large scale networks, such as data centers.

I think it's true that over the course of the last year we have really seen the rise of mobile devices in nearly every age group and sector of life. It's undeniable that companies are working to fit iPhones and their competitors into every niche of the market. Doesn't it seem like today there's an app for everything? "The richness and range of these applications is causing a shift in corporate IT, with increasing numbers of companies allowing workers to bring their own devices to work. But a lot of this mobile flexibility is possible only thanks to cloud computing, which lets devices seamlessly hand off complex tasks to data centers."

Perhaps the only thing in the computer world to rival the increase in mobile devices is the adoption of cloud storage. Not only are more and more people opting to make use of the space that is out there, but more and more new programs and software is requiring that we do so. It's interesting that in this year of "marginalization" our friendly PCs seem to have been forgotten and left behind. I wonder if 2012 will continue this trend or if we will see the return of the PC?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Potter Art

Today I saw this cool piece of book art, coincidentally made from one of my favorite fantasy series.

Expecto Patronum! by Emily K.

In addition to being so neat visually, and I love the colors, I really liked what the artist had to say about the concept of book art, specifically the destruction-creation debate.

As quoted on Emily K.'s tumblr:
Q: How can you cut up Harry Potter, you monster, you piece of slime…
A: I wanted to make an illustration of something I loved, plus the world has no shortage of these books.

I don't know if the fact that there are millions of copies of Harry Potter in print is justification for slicing one up, but I do like the idea that an artist would turn a book into art because he or she loved the material so much. If a book is a huge source of inspiration, emotion, or joy, for an artist to include it in their work, or adapt it to become their work, seems perfectly natural.

Emily K. also has some fun illustrations to look through on deviantART.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Coming back

It's hard to reach the end of a break. While a part of me is excited for new classes, new professors, and hopefully getting a little bit closer to figuring out what I want to do in this profession, it's still difficult to switch back from vacation mode to the reality of school.

It's incredibly refreshing to have a couple of weeks where there are no deadlines or papers, or even scheduled classes (or jobs) to attend. You can just sleep in, hang out, and fill your time with afternoons curled up reading a new book or late nights playing video games. Unfortunately (perhaps) this hiatus from real life is all too brief, and now we find ourselves forced to, once again, get used to the idea of alarm clocks, homework, and before we know it, another round of finals.

Life as a student is pretty darn fantastic, even when you're not on holiday, but anyone who says a three week winter break is not one of the major perks of being a student is totally lying. While I know that I have some great courses lined up and will probably really enjoy the first few weeks of classes (before the sleep deprivation catches up with me and the long hours logged at the library stop feeling so scholarly), I am sad to watch the last few days of vacation slip by...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tolkien's 120th

Happy Birthday J.R.R. Tolkien!

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on January 3, 1892.

Drink a toast to The Professor today in honor of the 120th anniversary of Tolkien's birth!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Shredder Challenge Update

A couple months ago I wrote about DARPA's Shredder Challenge, where code-breaker hopefuls were invited to try to decipher shredded documents with $50,000 going to the winning team.

In December, Otávio Good and "All Your Shreds Are Belong to U.S." took home the prize. Finishing the challenge with just two days to spare, Good's San Francisco team was also the only group to complete all five of DARPA's puzzles.

The winning strategy turned out to be a combination of human and computer power. Bloomberg Businessweek writes that: "Good’s team relied on a custom-built computer program to analyze the ink, tears, and other markings on the scraps to suggest possible matches, as well as guesswork."

You can read more about the contest outcome on Business Insider.

100th Post

Welcome 2012.

"I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind."

Excellent words of Neil Gaiman. Who is quickly becoming the most quoted individual on my blog.