Six impossible things before breakfast.

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

Monday, April 30, 2012


One project left and I'm finished with my first year of grad school! I am so excited!
(And so sleep deprived...)

I am already starting to accumulate a list of books I want to read over the summer--I need to make it my goal to add some more non-fiction titles to the list--and in some cases the books themselves are starting to creep into my apartment. They've been a pleasant sign of what I have to look forward to as soon as I get this last little bit done. Admittedly in some cases I haven't quite been able to resist reading just a taste... or a little more than that. Right now, however, I'm inclined to think I will take a couple days to just sleep before diving into that glorious pile of summer reading.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Last one for now, I promise! Thanks PhD Comics for entertaining me through another all-nighter. You'd think by grad school I would have figured out this is always a bad idea.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Any minute?

Another gem from PhD Comics:

It's probably a bad sign that there seem to be so many parallels between my life and this comic...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Presidential Words

"Higher education is the single most important investment you can make for your future."

It's also "one of the best investments American can make for our future."

"We have to make college more affordable... This shouldn't be a partisan issue."

President Obama, 04/24/12 UNC Chapel Hill

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Bard

William Shakespeare, born in 1564, will turn 448 this year, and while his exact birth date is unknown, it has long been celebrated today on April 23rd.

So whether the 23rd marks Shakespeare's true birthday or not (it is also believed to be the date of his death), Happy Birthday Mr. Shakespeare!

Shakespeare was quite a popular figure in a lot of the early digitization efforts for public domain texts. The first online version of the complete works of Shakespeare was offered by MIT in 1993, and the site is still alive today for anyone looking for access to his plays and poetry.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

Shakespeare, Hamlet 3.3

Saturday, April 21, 2012

iPods bring new life to old songs

Music & Memory is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving quality of life for the elderly and infirm in an unusual and creative way: by using the distribution of refurbished iPods to bring personalized music opportunities to retirement facilities and nursing home patients. And it's not just about listening to music, the group has found that for many individuals, hearing melodies from the past strengthens connections to memories of people and events from the patients' earlier lives. By using digital technology to bring familiar sounds of decades long gone by, older generations can once again experience life more fully. In an article on, neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks says that "Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience. Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring with it memory... Music brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can."

In addition to collecting iPods (and iPads) for distribution, Music & Memory also encourages people to set up mp3 players and digital music libraries for elderly friends, relatives, or neighbors who may benefit from the transforming sounds of their past. In an age where younger generations are constantly discarding last year's model for a new iPod touch, smartphone, or tablet/computer, this project seems well poised to put our inherent waste to good use. Not only is there the potential to help the aging members of society, but Music & Memory is also providing new life for something else entirely: technology itself. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book igloo

What do you do when you have too many books to fit in your room? Build a new room out of books!
This construction is part of Miler Lagos' series called Home.

A view from the inside:
Add a few pillows (and maybe a lamp) and it would look just like the perfect little reading nook; I'd love to have it in my apartment! (But realistically, there isn't anywhere it would fit.) To see this sculpture at the Magnan Metz Gallery opening, watch this video over on YouTube.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Google Glass

Another cool idea from Google...

The unveiling of Google Glass came with this video demo of a day in the life with Google Glass, which helps us see how we might incorporate such a gadget into our daily lives. It looks pretty cool, I have to say (though from a practical standpoint seems to do all the same things an iPhone can do). With the introduction of this early prototype, Google is encouraging feedback about the device, always a smart idea in my opinion, and in this case it looks like they've gotten some valuable responses. I was pleased to see, for example, that they updated their Google+ page to address concerns about using Google Glass with prescription glasses. And personally I think the device actually looks a lot better incorporated into a pair of real glasses than as a standalone accessory.

 Read comments about Google Glass or leave your own on Google+

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lions, Tigers, and Pirates

A recent TED Talk caught my attention today. In it Rick Falkvinge, an unlikely politician and founder of a modern political movement in Europe, talks about falling into politics and changing the world. The party is based on the principles of civil liberties and Internet freedoms; in the last six years it has become a major party for people under 30, and today--represented in 56 countries--it is called the fastest growing movement in Europe. The name of this movement: "The Pirate Party" (or "Piratpartiet," in Swedish.)

Falkvinge describes the party as a protest movement that has solidified into an ideology. The essence of that ideology? Freedom of Speech and Openness = "Leave the Net Alone." Based on a firm stance of anti-censorship, anti-wiretapping, anti-online tracking, and pro-anonymity, the Party argues that just because technology and methods of communication have changed over that last decades, doesn't mean our rights to privacy should be rewritten (or revoked). I thought one of the most interesting sentiments he expressed in his talk is that "entrepreneurs do not get to dismantle civil liberties even if, and perhaps especially if, they don't get to make money otherwise," as he argued against anti-file sharing and distribution legislation. In one of my classes today, we talked a little bit about the role of librarians enforcing copyright law within the library and the ethical conflict one faces when patron freedoms and access rights run counter to the librarian's perspective of their legal responsibilities. I think ethics are kind of fascinating, something that affects us every day, but that we rarely stop and think about.

While unquestionably a visionary and quite brilliant, Falkvinge also seems more than a little eccentric. In his talk he vacillates between seeming almost uncertain about his presence on stage and confidently declaring that this is his "chance to change the world for the better." He paces (a lot) and quotes Futurama ("When push comes to shove, you gotta do what you love--even when it's not a good idea.")

But I think the best quote of the presentation is one of his own: "Whether you believe that you can or cannot change the world… you're probably right."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Forgotten Fairytales

An article in The Guardian last month described the exciting discovery of 500 new fairytales, originally collected by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth in Bavaria over 150 years ago. Von Schönwerth was a local historian, and though he published some of his research in the 1850s, it never became popular and much of the material he amassed over the years remained unseen until recently cultural curator Erika Eichenseer began to sift through it. The stories were gathered firsthand from country villagers, laborers, and servants, and many are not found in any other European collections. Von Schönwerth was a contemporary of the famous Grimm brothers, and was known for his faithful and authentic recordings of the material he collected. Eichenseer prizes Von Schönwerth's work most for its unpolished nature; his writing lacks the "literary gloss" of other fairytale collections. Even Jacob Grimm is said to have praised Von Schönwerth with the comment that "nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly, and with such a sensitive ear."

Dan Szabo has begun to translate some of the stories into English, and The Guardian currently has one of them, The Turnip Princess, available online. In its current state it's a bit fragmented, and it doesn't read in the straightforward style of the fairytales that we are used to. But it's neat to read it and imagine how it might have been told to children hundreds of years ago. I hope that in time the whole collection will be available for English readers. And I can't help but think with a smile of all the new potential material that this discovery provides for Disney.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Power of Books

Too tired to post anything tonight. Will write tomorrow.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shelves in the wind

Impractical but oh so awesome.

I love the way an unusual or creative book shelf can make something as ordinary as books on a shelf into visual art and the focus of an entire room.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

Big news today on the literary front! JK Rowling has just announced the title and release date of her new book! The Casual Vacancy will be in stores later this year on September 27th!

Little, Brown Book Group unveiled the announcement along with a short summary of the new story. While some of the descriptors sound like classic JKR, such as "blackly comic" and "constantly surprising," the plot sketch wasn't at all what I was expecting. From the limited information we have, it sounds like a book about small town politics, and while I could immediately envision the type of fun quirky village-dwelling characters that I can imagine JKR would really enjoy writing, it all sounds so dramatically, entirely different from Harry Potter that it's hard to think of it as JKR's work at all.

Described as being "for adults" the book will undoubtedly fly off the shelves this fall. It will be really interesting to enter a new world of JKR and meet new characters, and to see what kind of reception The Casual Vacancy gets from JKR's massive worldwide fan base.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Weird Sisters

While not the sort of book I would usually pick up, The Weird Sisters left me interested to see what comes next for first time novelist, Eleanor Brown. This lighthearted family drama follows the stories of three sisters who live very different lives; each faces trials that bring her back to her college-centric hometown and the family that lives there, where the resulting intersections cause the siblings to reflect, remember, and eventually move on with their lives. As one of three sisters myself and someone who grew up in a town where life revolves around the local university, I started off the book with some natural connections to the story. But my family (I suppose I'm glad to say) has very few literal similarities to the Andreas clan, who are not exactly a fairy tale bunch. Though it's always refreshing to meet characters who are inherently human, with flaws that may even outnumber their positive qualities.

Rose, the eldest in the family, is controlling to a fault, a frequent accusation of oldest siblings (I'll remain silent on whether it's a true or false one). Bean, the middle daughter is constantly striving to be someone else--anything but ordinary--essentially afraid of who she really is and where she comes from. Cordy, the youngest, has never had to account for herself and runs from responsibility, avoiding the stigma of settling down, until her circumstances force her back to her small town roots. One of the things that initially drew me to the book was the Shakespeare connection: Dr. Andreas, the father of the trio, is a well known Professor of that immortal figure and has ensured Shakespeare's omnipresent status in his children's lives by gifting the sisters with given names from Shakespeare's works: Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia, heroines from As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, and King Lear. Personally I think the book jacket summary over-sells the girls' struggle with their literary namesakes, it might have been neat if there were more parallels between the novel and the three plays.

One other aspect of the book I found somewhat disappointing was the use of Shakespeare quotations. The opening of the novel gives the impression that the Andreas family's internal communication consists almost entirely of Shakespearean language, and while there is a smattering of couplets and iambic pentameter, I guess I was expecting much more integration of words of the Bard and the dialogue and narration of the story. Overall, I'm afraid The Weird Sisters didn't quite live up to my expectations, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the book (I did.) or that I wouldn't recommend it to someone looking for a quick read with a cast of entertaining and truly interesting characters (I would.)

Voltaire on Work

"Work banishes those three great evils: boredom, vice, and poverty."

--Voltaire, Candide

I got a job! =)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

National Library Week

This week is National Library Week!

Celebrate by visiting your local library, checking our a book, or hugging a librarian.

What with the past few years' financial issues, budget and staff cuts, and ever-growing competing presence of the World Wide Web, librarians deserve more than a week of appreciation, but it's a good time to start.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coffee Bunny

It's that time of year again...

Less than a month until the end of the semester. When all the deadlines start coming one after the other. And the number of hours per day you spend sleeping decreases dramatically. And all you really want is a couple months of summer vacation. But there's just so much to do, and you have to find somehow to keep going...
Coffee is the answer to everything!

Welcome to the time of year I become inevitably, thoroughly, enthusiastically addicted to coffee.

PS: Happy Easter!

Friday, April 6, 2012


Listen to books. They usually give good advice.

Book art sculpture by Isaac Salazar.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Camera Irony

I'm always fond of art with a sense of irony, and that's something Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs' work definitely has. In their recent book, As Long As It Photographs It Must Be A Camera, the pair display the products of an innovative project: experimental homemade camera manufacturing. One of my favorites: a camera made out of photography books!

This photo-book camera is not even the most unusual of Onorato and Krebs' camera creations, which include camera made out of materials like rocks, antique musical instruments, and turtle shells. (All of which, according to Onorato and Krebs, actually work!) The artists cite simple imagination as a major inspiration for their work; and when asked about their approach to the As Long As It Photographs project the photography duo says: "we're having good fun… we're curious, trying to experiment with different things." There's an interesting interview and a nice gallery of images from the book on American Photo.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Likely Search

One of the things I've enjoyed discussing the most this semester has been the subject of information retrieval and the different philosophies and corresponding technical methods used to achieve IR. Google's PageRank algorithm of course features heavily in such discussions, but not everyone thinks Google's invention is the best tool for returning search results. Some sites, like alternate search engine blekko, advocate human curation over computer programs, a careful but time consuming method that may not be entirely realistic on the grand scale of Internet searches.

Edward J. Black discusses another way that human beings can be involved in the determination of search engine results: through the content they share and the pages they "like" via social media networks. While surveys show that people are definitely heavily influenced by shared content, it's debatable whether integrating social data from sites like Facebook will actually improve the quality of search results. Regardless, it’s becoming more and more true that “today’s webmasters need to do more than just optimize their websites to rank well in search results; they need to facilitate connections with a user’s social network.” Read the full article, “Likes are the New Links,” on the HuffPost Tech Blog.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Computer literacy for all ages

While there is a lot of hype these days about making technology available to kids, elementary school isn't the only venue for encouraging computer skills. Today, the North Carolina News & Observer ran an article about the importance of teaching computer literacy to another user group and one on the opposite end of the age spectrum: older generations. The story caught my eye because of a number of recent class discussions revolving around accessibility issues and serving users with special needs. (It always surprises me how unintentionally well-coordinated different classes can be).  The article describes a program at Pace University in New York that offers computer courses to elderly citizens interested in learning to use email, ebooks, or even just to be a little more comfortable navigating files and basic programs on their home computers. I was particularly impressed by the age of the oldest senior to participate in the program so far: 101 years old! The strongest incentive for the 75 and over age group to improve their computer literacy is to facilitate communication with children and grandchildren who increasingly rely on digital means to communicate and share pieces of their lives. This certainly isn't a surprising motivation; in the simplest terms the older generations attending these classes just want to be able to navigate our increasingly technologically complex world. They don't want to feel left behind.

In addition to poor eyesight and arthritic limbs, some elderly users striving to familiarize themselves with computers face the challenge of fading memories. To overcome this barrier, re-offering classes can be very helpful; the program coordinator has found that repetition is one of the best ways for the elderly to learn new technical skills. Jean Coppola describes the benefits of repetition saying that after "the third or fourth time, something clicks… By the second time, they’re beginning to understand. By the third or fourth time they’re comfortable with it. They’re no longer confused. They’re no longer afraid.” An interesting part of the article is the description of the "sensitivity training" that student tutors go through before they begin leading classes. These sessions help the college-age participants really understand the special needs of the elderly user group. Anyone who has helped an older relative or neighbor struggle to learn a technical skill that comes so naturally to many of us we don't even have to think about it will agree that there is certainly a place for computer literacy programs in libraries, and the elderly are just one population that can be targeted for such outreach. I'm sure our libraries would benefit if librarians tried to devote a little more time to personally understanding the positions, difficulties, and information needs of special user groups and designing new ways to make library collections and services more universally accessible.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kodak Kittens

Developed "by a small group of dedicated imaging scientists after a very spirited lunchtime brainstorming session," Kodak is proud to bring the world KODAK LivePrint!

The steps are simple:

And kittens are just the beginning. For Easter, Kodak plans to unroll a special on rabbit LivePrint Stations ("Buy 2 Bunnies, get 10 free!") And a little further down the road, there are big things coming in 2013:
See the original news item here.