Friday, March 27, 2009

Death of newspapers

Clay Shirky's March 13th Thinking the Unthinkable  post about the death of newspapers has engendered much discussion,  much of it  collected at  Pressthink. There was also this piece about Why newspapers can't be saved but the news can at   NYT's opinionator.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


If you prefer a reading experience like the one above to the one below,  Readability is for you. Visit Readability, tailor the reading experience to your preferences, and slide a bookmarklet up to your toolbar. The next time you're on a page that is the visual counterpart to "talk radio, except the commercials play during the program in the background", click on your bookmarklet for soothing silence!

To kindle is to set fire to

In this nicely turned piece, Emily Walshe makes the inevitable (though I would never have thought of it) connection between the fiery success of the Kindle and Ray Bradbury's cautionary tale of bookburning. Refreshingly, Walshe emphasizes the distinction between access and ownership instead of pretending that it doesn't exist, the familiar tactic of those who pooh-pooh the very notion of intellectual property rights. Walshe acknowledges that the difference is big indeed, and warns against the dangers of "digital commodification." For a well-fed fellow like me living comfortably in the world's s most comfortable kingdom, it's (far too) easy to say pish when alarmists start going on about civil liberties and Orwellian or Bradburian dystopias, but Walshe argues compellingly.

Access equals control. In this case, it is control over what is read and what is not; what is referenced and what is overlooked; what is retained and what is deleted; what is and what seems to be.
To kindle, we must remember, is to set fire to. The combustible power of this device (and others like it) lies in their quiet but constant claim to intangible, algorithmic capital. What the Kindle should be igniting is serious debate on the fundamental, inalienable right to property in a digital age – and clarifying what's yours, mine, and ours.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


What a wonderfully useful site this is!
"ePodunk provides in-depth information about more than 46,000 communities around the country, from Manhattan to Los Angeles, Pottstown to Podunk. Our listings also include geocoded information about thousands of parks, museums, historic sites, colleges, schools and other places across America."
And, I might add (using dear old Madison as an example), 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nice words, adopt them!

This morning I was reading Bruce Bawer's tribute to poet Tom Disch.  As an example of  Disch's way with words,  Bawer cites his characterization of  Elizabeth Hardwick, the last surviving member of a group of mid-century New York intellectuals, as the "tontine winner."  Had to look that one up, but I agree, very nice! Then - in an embarrassment of riches for a Tuesday - my colleague pointed me to "Save the Words"  As you may know, when words fall into desuetude, they also fall out of the dictionary.  Lexicographers need room for new words and are all to happy to get rid of old ones....just like librarians and their books. Save the words urges you to "adopt" words in effort to save them from oblivion,  and provides advice on how you  can help spread  the word(s)  For hours of good clean fun!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Record for longest shush not held by librarian

Here is another installment in the increasingly popular tough reference questions series; when I asked a youth to keep her voice down in the reading room the other day, she responded sassily by asking, "Tell, me, does a librarian hold the record for the longest shhhhh ever?" I answered sassily, hands on hips: "No young lady, that record belongs to art director Mark Sikes of San Francisco." That's just one example of the many hard to find answers a reference librarian will find at the useful "Universal Record Database"


If you'd like to put a news ticker/box on your website, that can be arranged. Type in your searchwords, and Google's newsshow wizard does the rest.

Limiting searches by date

Librarian in Black just redicovered this post by Phil Bradley, causing me to discover it. Very useful overview of the (limited) possibilities for limiting your itnernet searches by date. ResearchBuzz's Goofresh mashup has moved since Phil's post, and is now here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


CopyTaste must be the fastest/easiest way to post text on the web for sharing with others...and with the Firefox plugin, it can all be done with the click of a button. Here's how it presents itself:

CopyTaste enables you to create your own private URL with the data you wish to share with your friends or colleagues.  You can paste codes, tips or stories into the text editor, upload an image or a video file, or share a video link from any video streaming site. And the best part is that you can do all of these at once without any registration required!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Battles with Birkerts

People who read this blog - or, for that matter,  read about it in other publications - will know that digital doubters like Sven Birkerts, Nick Carr, Lee Siegel and others with misgivings large or small about where IT is taking us, are treated respectfully here.  Even Michael Gorman.

When Birkert's Gutenberg Elegies came out in 1994 (!), it stood out in contrast to the glib Californian internet evangelism of the day as a beautifully written and serious consideration of issues that are still important today; in particular, the intense privacy of the reading experience, and the threat to that kind of privacy that connectedness poses. But hey, the world moves along, and at some point, the steady drone of an axe grinding becomes tedious.  I'm afraid Birkerts has reached that point now, with his recent piece in the Atlantic about his resistance to the Kindle. I will still read him gladly on literature, but suffer him less gladly on technology. In Resisting the Kindle he seems to argue that reading a book on a screen - never mind which book - somehow diminishes the reading experience - and the culture of writing and reading - by decontextualizing it. Huh?  He explains:

But we should not forget that the sum of reader-text encounters creates our cultural landscape. So if it happens that in a few decades—maybe less—we move wholesale into a world where information and texts are called onto the screen by the touch of a button, and libraries survive as information centers rather than as repositories of printed books, we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another. We will also have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associative relationships of ideas and their creators.

To me this sounds a bit contrived - nicely put perhaps, but you can't help notice the speaker is standing in a a corner with wet paint all around. In In Defense of the Kindle, rare books librarian Matthew Battles responds. Like Birkerts, Battles is a serious, scholarly sort with a reverence for books and learning (and the author of Library: an Unquiet History [2003]) but he argues - very persuasively, I think - that the digitized ease of access that an apparatus like the Kindle provides, will promote the culture of letters rather than undermine it. In the following passage Battles does Birkerts a disservice, however:

When someone at a party he [Birkerts] attends responds to a question about Wallace Stevens by calling a Stevens poem up on his BlackBerry, he frets that we may be "gradually letting go of Wallace Stevens as the flesh-and-blood entity he was, and accepting in his place a Wallace Stevens that is merely the sum total of his facts."

This incident took place at  a poetry reading, not a party.

Open Congress Wiki

The Sunlight Foundation's exemplary Open Congress project now includes OpenCongress Wikii - an editable guide to Congress for the people by the people.

A nosegay of miscellaneous new stuff...

New for me anyway...
A Free Technology for Teachers - jam-packed with useful stuff for teachers and others.

Techfuga - all the top tech news aggregated in one clean page. Read this - in addition to your regular scanning of the Knowbodies LibTech Metagator - and you will be respected and relied-upon.

Phrontistery - Gadzooks, what a trove this is! Its owner says: "Since 1996, I have compiled word lists in order to spread the joy of the English language. Here, you will find the International House of Logorrhea (an online dictionary of obscure and rare words), the Compendium of Lost Words (a compilation of ultra-rare forgotten words), and many other glossaries, word lists, essays, and other language and etymology resources." If you're wondering whether there are lists of rare three letter words, or unusual animals (320 of them), the answer is yes and yes. The latter also includes that carnivorous mouselike Australian marsupial the antechinus.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

T.S. Spivet

A couple of months ago I posted about the "See the website, buy the book" phenomenon, as described by the New York Times. The Times article mentioned the imminent launch of a website for the much talked about debut novel of Norwegian-American author Reif Larsen, "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet."  I was curious about the book and still am,  and the other day tried to find the website with search terms "Reif Larsen" and "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet" (I am a trained librarian) - but no luck there. Finally, in frustration, I just entered in the address bar - eureka! Perhaps playing hard to find is part of the marketing strategy...The website features that same eery background hum that momentarily suspended my laughter during Bergman's "Serpent's Egg" and Lynch's "Eraserhead," but it's graphically very clever; I particularly enjoyed the block and tackle device for hoisting the page to provide a scrolling effect - should become a Windows standard.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Get down with Kutiman

Here's a new genre of music...I guess you could call it YouTube sampling. Here Kutiman explains that he has simply collected many different unrelated YouTube music videos and spliced them together to make new music - and I might add, very funky music. I tried to contain myself, but I simply could not keep my fingers from snapping. Check out The Mother of All Funk Chords (below), or Babylon Band. Click on "credits" and the urls to the original YouTube videos will scroll across the screen.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Stewart on Twitter

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More Carr

The Question Technology blog (with its stylish logo - a person either escaping from or succumbing to the clutches of technology) directed me to this interview in the Sun: Computing The Cost: Nicholas Carr On How The Internet Is Rewiring Our Brains
Carr, author of the Atlantic article Is Google Making us Stupid and the book The Big Switch: Does IT Matter?

Some other recent writings that cover some of the same ground are William Deresiewicz's essay "The End of Solitude" in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Neil Swidey's "The End of Alone" in the Boston Globe.

While on the topic "mind and technology": in the Feb.12 issue of London Review of Books, Jerry Fodor reviews philosopher Andy Clark's Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension (Where is my mind?) This mind-expanding Extended Mind Thesis (EMT) holds that (Fodor quoting from the foreword)

I bought an iPhone. The iPhone has already taken over some of the central functions of my brain . . . The iPhone is part of my mind already . . . [Clark’s] marvellous book . . . defends the thesis that, in at least some of these cases the world is not serving as a mere instrument for the mind. Rather, the relevant parts of the world have become parts of my mind. My iPhone is not my tool, or at least it is not wholly my tool. Parts of it have become parts of me . . . When parts of the environment are coupled to the brain in the right way, they become parts of the mind.

I don't have an iPhone, but I must get one. Fodor is skeptical to EMT, and says there is a clear gap between the mind and the rest of the world. His conclusion: "Mind the gap. You'll regret it if you don't"

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Zemanta - reblog for sharing

Zemanta's Reblog Firefox extension is  "the easiest way to snip and quote from your favorite blogs."
More accurately, if I've understood it correctly, it is a way for you to allow your Zemanta-enabled readers to easily snip and quote from your own blog and republish the stuff on theirs. This is accomplishes by inserting the "reblog" icon in your posts: visitors who would like to republish all or sections of your post just click on that icon, and Zemanta takes care of the rest. To see it in action, visit pistachioconsulting and look for the icons in the posts.