Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reader's Almanac

For devotees of American literature Reader's Almanac is a blog from the Library of America, chock full of interesting historical information about the great U.S. writers. Yesterday's post, for example, includes fascinating footage recorded by Zora Neale Hurston on a field trip to Florida in 1928 while doing ethnographic research, before she became a noted novelist. Check out the dancer at 3m25s (if you want to link to a particular segment of a video, just add minutes and seconds to the end of the link like this:#t=3m25s, or let Splicd generate the link or embed code for you...)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

William Deresiewicz on great books, friends and solitude

Google images overhaul

Over the next few days, Google will be  introducing some improvements to Google's image search:

from the Google blog;

Here’s what’s new in this refreshed design of Google Images:
  • Dense tiled layout designed to make it easy to look at lots of images at once. We want to get the app out of the way so you can find what you’re really looking for.
  • Instant scrolling between pages, without letting you get lost in the images. You can now get up to 1,000 images, all in one scrolling page. And we’ll show small, unobtrusive page numbers so you don’t lose track of where you are.
  • Larger thumbnail previews on the results page, designed for modern browsers and high-res screens.
  • A hover pane that appears when you mouse over a given thumbnail image, giving you a larger preview, more info about the image and other image-specific features such as “Similar images.”
  • Once you click on an image, you’re taken to a new landing page that displays a large image in context, with the website it’s hosted on visible right behind it. Click anywhere outside the image, and you’re right in the original page where you can learn more about the source and context.
  • Optimized keyboard navigation for faster scrolling through many pages, taking advantage of standard web keyboard shortcuts such as Page Up / Page Down. It’s all about getting you to the info you need quickly, so you can get on with actually building that treehouse or buying those flowers.

Best genealogy sites 2010

Family Tree Magazine lists the best genealogy sites:

I write like

This is fun, nothing more...

Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers.
Read more about it at 3:17 a.m.  (and I am reminded once again of the wonderful and durable Canine Algorithmic Transfer System (CATS), previously reviewed here in October 2005 and January 2009)

Shteyngart and Powers

Two interesting and to my mind complementary reads: Gary Shteyngart's "Only Disconnect" (called "overwrought" by John Battelle, and "very clever and nicely done" by me) and Laurie Winer's sensible review of William Powers's Hamlet's Blackberry. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What is the semantic web?

 Google has acquired Metaweb in an effort to bring "deeper understanding" to the web. Deeper understanding, unless I've completely misunderstood,  means penetrating beyond the words that describe things to the things (entities) themselves - I believe this is what is meant by the "semantic web." If you (too) have struggled to understand all the talk of "semantic web", the snippet below might help. It dawned on me while watching it that they're talking about those same exhilarating ideas we grappled with and discussed far into the night at library school - disambiguation, sign and signified, Ogden/Richards' semiotic triangle, etc. How quaint to see Google showing an interest in these things.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't reason with me or bore me with facts

Like many other people, I find my preconceptions are far more persuasive than mere facts. Joe Keohane writes in the Boston Globe about this phenomenon, and about democracy, informed citizenry, and the misguided notion that facts will enlighten ignorant people. Farheed Manjoo covers much of the same ground in his excellent and entertaining "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society," and at The Monkey Cage, John Sides provides links to some other interesting sites/papers on the topic, including a disheartening case study of  such unimpressionable ignorance,  "The Causes and Consequences of Public Mis-perceptions about Immigrant Populations"  So much for Carnegie´s ideas about public libraries providing empowerment through knowledge and enlightenment!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

SAT tests for the really really gifted

For a real brain teaser, go to SAT's "question of the day" for July 11. Read the question, answer it if you like (that's the easy part) then copy and paste the question into your blog (as I did below), or into a text editor like Notepad (but not MS Word), or whatever. Now explain why "a bag of 50 marbles for 4$" magically becomes "a bag of 50 marbles for 5 dollars" when you paste it. If you have an explanation, please share in comments!

Troy bought a bag of 20 marbles for 2 dollars, a bag of 50 marbles for 5 dollars, and a bag of 100 marbles. If the average (arithmetic mean) cost of the marbles in all three bags was exactly 8 cents each, what was the price of the bag of 100 marbles?

Incidentally, if you subscribe to the email version of "question of the day" you'll receive the "5 dollars" version of the question. The answer I arrived at ($6.60) is not even offered as one of the multiple choices...it convinced me there was no place for me in higher education...

Paintings and fingerprints

Fascinating article by David Grann in the New Yorker about the authentication and/or forgery of paintings (and/or fingerprints) in the New Yorker.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More kind words from Marilyn Johnson

Marilyn Johnson, author of "This Book is Overdue," writes in an LAT op-ed "U.S. Public Libraries: We Lose Them at our Peril." For the morbidly inclined, here's a map charting school library closings. For an even more sweeping view of the dire state of affairs, see losinglibraries.org

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


(thanks to Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration)

Etherpad  is a collaborative online writing tool where multiple authors can edit a  document simultaneously and view changes in near real-time. A  particularly cool feature is the Time Slider, which will play back your writing process for you, replete with corrections, edits, and revisions.  I'm not sure what you'd use it for,  but it sure  provides a striking demonstration of how much refining and editing goes into even the simplest bit of word processing...and makes you wonder how we managed to write anything at all when such editing options weren't available!Here's a link that shows you the genesis of an earlier version of this post - just click the play button. 

Open Library with DRM enabled digital library

Quotable: "I figure libraries are one of the major pillars of civilization, and in almost every case what librarians want is what they should get" (Stewart Brand)

Bit strange to hear Brand waxing so charitable about about a system that uses DRM, given his EFF credentials, but so it goes.

 The Internet Archive reports:

Checking out digital versions of books that are automatically returned after two weeks is as easy as logging onto the Internet Archive’s Open Library site, announced digital librarian and Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. By integrating this new service, more than seventy thousand current books – best sellers and popular titles – are borrowable by patrons of libraries that subscribe to Overdrive.com's Digital Library Reserve. Additionally, many other books that are not commercially available but are still of interest to library patrons, are available to be borrowed from participating libraries using the same digital technology.

According to Kahle, "Digital technologies promise increased access to both old and new books. The Internet Archive, through its OpenLibrary.org site, is thrilled to be adding the capacity to lend newer books over the internet, in addition to continuing to provide the public with all access, free downloadable older materials.” He added, "We expect the number of books in the digital lending library to grow annually."

Article on this in the Wall Street Journal, and WSJ video.

Currently, OpenLibrary.org is making available:

  • More than one million digital versions of older books are now available for free download in a variety of formats.
  • Over 70,000 current digital books to those with a library card from many of the over 11,000 libraries that subscribe to the OverDrive service.
  • Genealogical books from the Boston Public Library.
  • How-to and technical book collection via the Internet Archive.
  • Marine life reference materials from the Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
  • Spanish texts from Universidad Francisco MarroquĂ­n in Guatemala.
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Friday, July 2, 2010

Citation searching in Google Scholar

Something I learned about at library school that actually struck me as new and exciting, was the citation index, which the professor described as a list of references more recent than the article they were referencing. At first I dismissed this as an impossibility, a Borgesian fantasy - an article citing articles more recent than itself? Impossible! - and it troubled me the same way seeing the picture of cover of a book inside that very book still troubles me. But with the professor's patient prodding (I was taken aside) and gentle explanation of the difference between "snowball searching" and "citation searching", the concept gradually seeped in. And then citation indexes began to excite me in the same way web2.0 and gossip in general now excite me; you know, getting to see what everybody is saying about things!!! During library school I would spend every idle moment in the library with Eugene Garfield's enormous ISI citation indexes (especially the Arts & Humanities Citation Index), seeing how other people had responded to articles I was currently reading or had recently read.

Now Google Scholar has enabled citation searching; a search for Nicholson Baker's 1994 New Yorker article Discards, for example, reveals that 53 sources have subsequently cited it (most of them disparagingly, I bet, and unfairly so).  Those 53 sources are listed in descending order of their own "Cited by" frequency, with The social life of information by JS Brown and P Duguid at the top of the list, with 2815  citations. To see who in turn cited Brown and Duguid's book, just click on the "Cited by" link, and off  you go. This is a fascinating new feature at Google Scholar, and you should set aside some time for it.