12.30.2007

Calendars

One of my favorite rituals at the end of each year is preparing next year's calendar. I open the new calendar (this year - celestial maps) and page through last year's calendar transferring birthdays, anniversaries and other notes reminding myself to renew the car tabs and seal the driveway. It is usually a peaceful process to go through the old year remembering where we were and what we did -- the occasions, the appointments, the vacations, the happy hours -- and contemplate the upcoming year with anticipation. While not the sexiest of rituals, my old calendar is the closest thing I have to a diary, besides time-stamped photos, and once a year I enjoy the process of recollecting that 'on this day I [fill in the blank].' And my new calendar helps me visualize the new year and set goals and benchmarks for myself.

So, imagine my chagrin when, as I began the transfer of memories and envisioning the new year, I slowly realized that my new calendar's grid starts with Monday, and places Sunday at the end of the grid. Why, oh, why did the publishers have to throw me off that way? I figured it had to do with how grids are displayed in other countries around the world (the Time and Date.com calendar generator indicates my suspicions are correct), and, I get that the work week starts on Monday for most people, etc., but still. This could really throw me off. Sheesh!

Anyway. I'll live. Or get a new calendar. But, it got me thinking about other calendrical facts that I manage to forget.
  • The Gregorian calendar system began in 1582. Because the change in systems was a papal bull, several protestant countries continued to use the Julian calendar. England didn't switch until 1752. Many other countries didn't make the switch until the 1900s.
  • The Jewish calendar is based on the moon's revolution around the earth, as well as the earth's rotation and revolution around the sun. (It seems like most people can keep this straight whether they are Jewish or not, but maybe that isn't the case). The holidays are on the same day of the Jewish calendar every year, but I'm going to need some help to keep track (mainly for purposes of putting out the Passover books at the appropriate time of year).
  • The Chinese calendar (again, of interest so I display Chinese new year books at the right time) is similarly based on lunar and solar observations. Chinese new year begins at the second new moon after the winter solstice, btw. There are legends about how the years were named, but I guess the animal name system is mainly used today for practical purposes. I was born in the year of the Snake, FYI.
  • The types of calendars (covering lunar-based, solar-based, and combinations of the two and how they fit with Muslim, Chinese, Mayan and other calendar systems) are nicely summarized by the Hermetic Systems calendar software company.

And finally, on the topic of calendars, there are sooooo many posts in the blogosphere about organization during this time of New Year's Resolutions. iCalShare is a place to publicly post your calendar and allows users to view upcoming calendars from tons of different organizations. Pretty nifty.

12.29.2007

Kat's Index

2007 was a year of ups and downs...here is a review, Harper's Index Style. By the way, this doubles as my Christmas letter, which I never wrote and therefore never mailed to anyone.

Number of weddings in which my brother married his best friend: 1
Number of those weddings my husband and I were honored
to be a part of: 1
Number of new nieces: 1. The perfect-in-every-way young Dannika.
Number of birthdays in which I turned 30: 1. So far, I like 29 better.
Number of years my husband and I have been married: 7
Number of cats we have: 2 lovely Siamese
Number of books read or listened to that I actually remembered to
write something about in my book journal: 92
Number of books read in Spanish: 3
(Ramona la Chinche, Colmillo Blanco, and another one)
Number of home improvements: 3
(including a new deck, new window and interior paint)
Number of significant problems that came up with my POS car: 5
Number of cavities: 2 (I didn't think I had room for any more)
Number of years since I have been to the dentist prior to this year's visit: 7
Number of breakfasts I ate at Hell's Kitchen: 27 (the lemon ricotta pancakes
are stillthe best item on the menu, with the porridge coming in second)
Number of reubens I ate in the last week: 2
(at Cecil's deli - so so so so so delicious!)
Number of reubens I ate prior to this year: 0
Number of pairs of high-heeled shoes or boots
I have worn regularly this year: 6
Number of pairs I have worn prior to this year: 0
Number of television shows I watched regularly: 0. Seriously.
Number of video blogs I watched regularly: 2
Number of storytimes done at the library: 52
Favorite new library programs:
Classics Bookclub, Reader's Theater, Mad Science
Number of hours playing Rise of Nations, Civilization, Big Bang Reversi,
Pootris, and Guitar Hero Rocks the 80's: lots and lots
Number of hours spent knitting: 0
Number of 'movies' I made: 4
Number of months I held an account on second life: 8
Number of months I actually *enjoyed* my account on second life: 3
Number of feeds in my Google Reader as of 12/28/07: 90
Number of songs purchased on iTunes: 47
Number of friends on Facebook: 32
Percentage of those friends who are family members: 47%
Number of friends made that I wanted to know
for a very very very long time: 1
Number of those friends that I lost: 1
Number of match-making attempts: 1
Number of those attempts that were successful: 1!
Number of farm animal rubber duckies received at Christmas: 12
Number of hours I have spent with friends and family,
feeling truly blessedby how many wonderful people are in my life: countless


So, there you have it. May you have the happiest of new years, Dear Readers!

12.28.2007

Toodles, 2007

I like reviewing various things that happened when years come to a close. Lists like Time Magazine's 50 Top 10 Lists of 2007 are just so fun to browse through. So, here you have some other lists with minimal commentary.

Awards
The National Book Awards (yay! Sherman Alexie), the Pulitzer Prizes and Nobel Prizes have been awarded for 2007, but we must wait until January 14th for the Caldecott, Newbery and Prinz award announcements, and until February 24th for the Oscars.

Book Reviews
Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, Hornbook and many many others provide their Best Books of 2007 lists. And, I'm not ashamed to admit that I got involved in the frenzy surrounding both the final installment of Harry Potter AND the third installment in the Twilight series.

News
The CNN top stories include the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the Virginia tech massacre and the deaths of Benazir Bhutto and Anna Nicole Smith. Yahoo News stories, on the other hand, while ranking the Virginia tech massacre as the top story, feature the birth of the Duggar's 17th child in their coverage. Hmmmmm.

The Internet
The Bloggers Choice Awards have announced their 2007 winners (why wasn't I on there? Hee hee), while the Cybils (literary awards given by bloggers) and the Webby Awards (billed as the Oscars for the Internet) have extended their deadline for submissions. Mashable presents their best of the best in 2007, including viral videos, web apps and trends. Top Web 2.0 Applications for Education - useful tools in education based on ease of use.

Random
Top 10 British Out of Print Books - I hope there is an American counterpart to this list and that publishers are paying attention to it.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl brilliantly reviews the best dishes of 2007. Yum. I really must try Broder's Pasta Bar and La Belle Vie.
Wikipedia provides an overwhelming list of deaths in 2007, but WCCO provides an easier tribute to follow, even though they neglected to mention Madeleine L'Engle. I stumbled upon the Neatorama post listing the 30 Strangest Deaths in History, which includes death by bookcase and death by beard, among other..well...strange deaths.

Celebrities
People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly sum up the year's celebrity gossip. Hey. I enjoy this stuff!

12.27.2007

Of esquires and godparents

During the recent holiday gathering, two terms came up that meant one thing for half the group, and another thing for the other half of the group.

Esquires
My husband was feeling that he should have some extra titles after his name on his business card, and his brother suggested "esquire." Most thought it was a term reserved only for lawyers, others thought it was simply an honorific term.

Findlaw defines esquire as

n. a form of address showing that someone is an attorney, usually written Albert Pettifog, Esquire, or simply Esq. Originally in England an Esquire was a rank just above "gentleman" and below "knight." It became a title for barristers, sheriffs and judges.
and Merriam Webster defines esquire as
1: a member of the English gentry ranking below a knight
2
: a candidate for knighthood serving as shield bearer and attendant to a knight
3
: used as a title of courtesy usually placed in its abbreviated form after the surname Esq.>
4archaic : a landed proprietor.
We're both right. In the end, my DH decided his business card was impressive enough. And I agree.

Godparents
I was startled and honored when my atheist brother-in-law asked my husband and I to be the godparents for their little daughter. Startled because he used the term godparent - honored that he and his wife trust us. I have only heard the term godparent used to refer to religious sponsors at baptisms, and my godparents are not the people I would have gone to live with if something had happened to my parents. So, is there another term for backup parents? Associated Content uses the term godparent, so it isn't out of the ordinary. Findlaw uses the term guardian, and most legal documentation uses that term. Either way, we know what is being asked of us, and are able and willing.

12.23.2007

First Wives Club

We have a regular patron who wants to know the first wives of famous actors, singers, and lately her daily inquiries have entered the realm of presidents, generals and martyrs. She doesn't want to know the names of any subsequent wives, but always the first.

Most of the time I don't know who she's talking about - the actors and singers are from an era that I am not particularly familiar with - and she doesn't seem to know that I have to look the information up. I do not have this information filed away in my memory. I always site my source with her, and tell her it will take a moment for me to find the information for her, but I sense her frustration when it takes more than one second to look it up. Most of the time, IMDB (which includes spousal information in the minibiography section) and Wikipedia (which often contains personal information for people) are the best first stops for this particular patron, but sometimes we need to look elsewhere for the first wives.

Biography.com
and Infoplease Biography are usually a good first stops for quick basic information about people, but neither provide links to different aspects of their biographical information, and neither include marriage information consistently. Who2 also provides only quick basic information, but the stats are easier to find and their Famous People by Category list includes some unusual categories - including accident victims, attempted assassins, clergywomen and groupies. As our patron strays more and more from actors, we may have to consult specialized biographical dictionaries. Excellent lists can be found at the IPL and ALA websites.

Anyway. A scary thing happened the other day - our patron called asking about the first wife of an actor I had never heard of. I told her the name of the woman, and later that night, that woman was referenced in the novel I was reading. And I knew was able to say I knew who she was.

Cat vs. Cat

Title Cat vs. Cat: keeping the peace when you have more than one cat
Author Pam Johnson-Bennett, a feline behaviorist that, according to her website, charges $285 for a 60-minute phone consultation. Wowsa.
In a nutshell Tips (that actually aren't too hokey) for keeping a multi-cat household.


Update: I meant to give credit to
Alicia for the "in a nutshell" summary of book reviews in blogs. Very helpful!

I picked this up on the off-chance that I would be able to bring about the end of the war between Tiki and Sam. As much of an animal lover as I am, I was quite skeptical about this book. I was mostly worried that she would be overly obnoxious in anthropomorphizing cats, but I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of her explanations and tips make sense to me, and she kept the feel-good cutesy stuff at a minimum. Plus, I was worried that this would get into pet psychic territory, which I don't buy into at all.*

Some things I learned:
  • When Tiki continuously buts her head against mine when I come home at the end of the day, it's called bunting. She's giving me the familiar colony scent, and welcoming me back home.
  • We messed up big time when we introduced Tiki and Sam to each other. I've known this for five years, but now I have specific information.
  • Tiki and Sam both want to be alpha-cats, and whose on top actually shifts. For example, Tiki walks in the center of the room for awhile, then Sam does for awhile. Tiki eats first for awhile, then Sam does.
  • I'm surprised they don't fire us. The author recommends we scoop the litter twice a day. We scoop more like twice a week. But! There is a possible solution for Sam's practice of hanging his toosh over the edge of the litter box. Yay!
  • It is more intimidating to clean themselves and act disinterested in the fight they're having. So, Tiki's way of swatting at Sam and chasing him out of the room and then cleaning her ass is her way of attempting to intimidate him.
  • The basic behavior cycle is hunt, feast, groom, sleep. So! To prevent them from waking us up in the middle of the night, I can do some interactive play and feed them right before bed. It's working.
  • Finally, there is a way to reintroduce cats as though they had never met, but it is a lot of work. It involves baby gates.
I think there will be peace on earth (at least, our house) yet.

*A psychic at a bar once did a free reading on Tiki. He dangled his little charm over the picture I have of her on my cell phone. That was very very weird, but he did tell me that she is very happy with me.

12.21.2007

Five year countdown starting now

I've seen more than a few references to the Mayan prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012 in the last few days, the most recent being a booklist provided by Shelf Awareness (a daily newsletter for people in the book business). (I love that in the newsletter she mentions Sounds True as one of the publishers producing some titles. I know nothing about that particular publishing house, but just the name... sounds true. Sounds being the operative word. Oh well.)

I am fascinated by the Maya. The first hook for me was their beautiful and complex writing system, and I was quickly taken in by their architecture, religious belief system and political practices. Their advanced knowledge of science and mathematics is impressive, as is their numbering system (which is base 20. We are base 10). I have two Mayan calendars in my house - one that shows the cycle, and another that depicts the date of my wedding. But this prediction stuff is pretty far-fetched, in my humble opinion.

Looks like most people agree that the world won't *end* on that date (I intend to live it up anyways), but there are some scientific and new age (hokey shit) reasons beyond the Mayan prediction for people believing that there could be some sort of cataclysm on 12/21/12. Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research predicts that the next solar maximum will be a doozy, and will happen in 2012. New Scientist (and others) report that when solar flares peak in 2011 or 2012, GPS signals will be severely disrupted. In a report on a cool-looking crop circle, BBC reported that the galaxy will begin a new era in 2012 as its 26,000-year cycle comes to an end. My favorite, though, which doesn't seem to be supported anywhere else on the interwebs, is the India Daily editorial about volcanic eruptions in the year 2012. Come ON!

Of course, there is quite a bit of evidence that debunks the whole thing, not to mention common sense and the fact that we can't do anything about it. I certainly don't get wrapped up in doomsday stuff (although post-apocalyptic fiction is probably one of my favorite types of fiction), but one good thing about blogging about this phenomenon is that I found a list of historic calendars. Fun!

12.20.2007

Food History

The last post made me think about food, so I decided to poke around the Food Timeline site. Dear Reader(s?), I recommend you do the same. It's fun.

Some tidbits...
  • The punishment for shortchanging customers on beer in 2100 BC was death by drowning in the Code of Hammurabi.
  • Chickens have been domesticated since 3200 BC.
  • Rice pudding was thought of as medicine in the first century.
  • I can most likely thank 9th Century Arabian law prohibiting wine for my morning coffee.
  • The debate over who invented the hot dog can be quite heated.
  • Instead of Raisinets, I would have had hazelnuts in Elizabethan England.
  • It's French Onion soup because of the bouillon crafted in 17th-Century France.
  • While the crystallization process was created by a German apothecary in 1747, I can probably thank Napoleon for the sugar beet industry that gives my college town that awful smell!
  • This site is the only other place besides the Library of Congress Subject Headings list that I have seen the word cookery. Good thing we can search modern library catalogs by keyword these days.

Norwegians and Swedes and Finns, oh my!

Once, I got in a fight with someone who lives in South America after I asked about their heritage. Oh, the anger! "What'd I do wrong? It is a common question in the United States!" Thinking it might have been an issue of translation, I gave my example. "I'm Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish." Anger still. So I said it again. That person got startlingly huffy, replied "I never ASKED you what your heritage is. Italian, okay?," and walked away.

O. K.

For some reason, at work especially and with family, ancestry comes up and we talk about it. "Well, you're Norwegian, so you know that..." or "That's the Finnish in you..." or whatever. I don't really know much about my Norwegian or Swedish or Finnish heritage. I like knowing my grandparents' stories (all but one born in the U.S.) and shopping at Ingebretsen's, and I love making lefse with my mother, but I've never particularly wanted to travel that part of the world or find distant relatives or display traditional Scandinavian paraphernalia in the house or anything. So, I don't know why I talk about it, or particularly why I asked my foreign contact about ancestry. Where did I expect that conversation to go, anyway? Oh well.

Today the table in the breakroom was filled with traditional Scandinavian deserts that I had not seen or heard of before. Krumkake, rosettes, sandbakkelse and lingonberry sauce over cheese. "How could you not know these are Scandinavian?" Give me a break -- it's not like there are tons of Norwegian restaurants around, like there are Indian, Russian, Korean and Mexican! (Well, I did know about the lingonberries -- thank you Ikea!)

It got me thinking about today's immigrants, and the challenge of retaining cultural values and tradition. I started thinking about the melting pot/salad bowl metaphor, and current policy, practice and treatment of some immigrant and refugee populations. I thought about language acquisition and retention. Immigration today is a serious issue, and one that I care about, but tonight, I decided to look up what traditional Scandinavian food I've been missing out on instead.

Looking over this list of Norwegian recipes, the only ones I remember my family having were lefse (from the Norwegian family), lutefisk, herring and meatballs (from the Swedish family), and cucumber salad and cardamom bread (from the Finnish family). I didn't know that Svenskarnas Dag (Swedish Heritage Day) was even a day, or that it is celebrated less than a mile from my house every year in June, and I don't recall ever having the food served at that celebration during any family get-togethers. My Finnish grandmother was an excellent cook, but I don't particularly remember anything from this one list of traditional Finnish recipes. And, just because I went through a phase when I wanted to be Korean, I had to look at some traditional Korean recipes. Just for fun. Yummmmm.

And, on the off chance that my mother is reading this blog, I like the food we had growing up, and don't really feel that I missed out on anything. And I am really happy about bringing lefse for Christmas.

12.13.2007

Royality is not a word...

...but it is better than M-W's w00t. But more on that later.

So. I watched The Queen yesterday, am listening to The Virgin's Lover (not as good as The Other Boleyn girl), and finished Shakespeare's Secret (a children's mystery involving a necklace belonging to Elizabeth I) last week. With all these Royal stories floating around in my mind, I have been prompted once again to sort out the history of the British Monarchy.

To quote Queenie (from Blackadder) "girls should be called Elizabeth...or Mary," so I don't feel too bad about not being able to keep at the Marys, Annes, Elizabeths, Catherines, Henrys, Edwardses and Georges straight. But, for someone who has always been fascinated by royal figures, I figured it was time to figure out their history...again.

The Official Website of the British Monarchy is an excellent resource. The history section provides overviews of the dynastic families of Scotland and England before 1603, and of the United Kingdom after 1603. PDF files of the each family tree certainly provide a helpful visual, but doesn't necessarily answer my next question...

How do the rules work? I would probably turn to a book for more in depth explanation of specific circumstances for particular successions, by for my purposes tonight, Wikipedia best provided the kind of answer I was looking for, and of course royal.gov.uk again offers the current list of succession as well as an overview of how the succession to the throne is governed by both descent and statute.

Other royal issues I can't seem to keep straight...
  • Mary Queen of Scots was not the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, as I thought for years, but the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Margaret, and mother to James I of England. She is the Mary that Elizabeth I had beheaded, though, as I thought.
  • Prince Albert became King George VI in 1937 after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. (Now, there's a grand gesture). King George VI's daughter is Elizabeth II. Neither of them wanted or expected the roles they held.
  • Queen Mother is an official royal title, but Queen Elizabeth (mother to Elizabeth II) is one of the few who decided to use the term.
  • Titles are declared and specific. For example, the title 'Prince of Wales' may be possessed only by the eldest son of a Sovereign.
And much more, but I'll sign off...

12.11.2007

Control your cupid!

Wise words, wise words indeed.

We all know about the little winged boy, son of Venus and Roman god of love. But what's his story? And does the myth offer any advice for modern matchmakers today that get wrapped up in exciting process of introducing two fantastic people in the hopes that they'll hit it off?

The first thing to do is distinguish between Cupid (Roman) and Eros (Greek). But, it seems like the Roman deities simply have their Greek counterparts, and I'm going to leave it at that for now.


Tip # 1: Avoid deceit.
Poor Eros / Cupid almost lost his wife, Psyche, after he deceived her into marrying him sight unseen. When she discovered his identity, he had to disappear due to his fear of his mother's wrath.

Tip # 2: Don't be attached to the outcome.
Cupid's arrows can bring people together, or pull them apart. Yikes!

Tip # 3: Don't play around.
One story is that Cupid and Venus were playing around with the arrows and accidentally hit Hades straight in the heart. He fell in love with Persephone, and took her to the underworld (hell?) with him.

Tip # 4: Control your Cupid when drinking.
Friends don't let friends drink and shoot arrows. :)

This holiday season, give the gift that keeps on giving...

...a pair of rabbits. (A favorite quote from Todd Signs in Duluth)

I know animals have their ways of adapting for the harsh winter, but I started to wonder about the rabbits that live in my yard. I could say with certainty that they don't hibernate, but I started to wonder how quickly I could find information about their survival strategies by using major search engines. I got such a wide range of results just on the first page from each search engine. So, rather than a list of what these little guys are doing to survive, I'm going to share just a few of the random results I got.

From Google, I stumbled across the DNR site, and I learned that some rabbits have tattoos from the 4H site;

From Dogpile, I got a brief article from Science Made Simple about how animals adapt, and two posts down, an article from About discussing survival strategies for your thyroid; and

From Vivisimo, I found info on how to hunt for winter rabbits, and keeping your 'carrot' warm.

From Yahoo, I found a quick guide from Canada's Hinterland Who's Who, (the rabbits in my yard are not snowshoe hares), a variety of DNR pages from different states, and then I realized that they changed their search interface, was quite impressed and therefore got really distracted and wasted a lot of time searching for random things on Yahoo.

12.10.2007

One of my favorite things

I've been doing an outreach program called Read to Me at the women's section of the Adult Correctional Facility this month - one of my favorite opportunities my job has afforded me. In three evenings, six residents and I get together and enjoy children's literature. They have long, productive work days, yet they come to the sessions ready to share stories, ask questions, and participate fully in the discussion. I always bring bags full of books that highlight different early literacy skill areas, and of course, read some favorite books aloud. We watch videos, read poems, talk about how libraries have changed (yet remain the same), and laugh. At the end of the program, the residents send a book, a tape recording of themselves reading from that book, and a photo to their child. I have the best time.

I have done this program for two years now, and it never even occurred to me to wonder about what kinds of offenses land someone in a correctional facility (as opposed to a jail or a prison) until my husband asked about it. Well, in Hennepin County, the ACF houses those convicted of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor and sentenced by the district court for up to one year.

This program is definitely one of my favorite things.

12.09.2007

Celebrate the freedom to read

Title: King and King
Authors: Stern Nijland and Linda de Haan
Ages: 5-10
In a nutshell: A prince forced by his mother to marry a princess finds his true love - another prince - and they live happily ever after.

Read it. Enjoy it. And celebrate the freedom to read with a children's book that illustrates the diverse world we live in, and the love that brings a range of modern families together.

I don't intend to write about news articles often, but this one about some parents demanding that King and King be taken out of circulation at their public library more-than-irked me. I know this isn't the only instance in the country where this book has caused some controversy - I'm just particularly fed up with people trying to censor for the majority right now. I can understand their frustration. Truly, I can. I felt strongly about the O.J. book. I didn't even want to hear talk about the proposed book, much less see it published and then carried in bookstores or libraries and purchased by people. But the operative word here is felt - as in feelings - as in my feelings do not get to determine what other people can take in for their information.

From the article:

Kathee Rhode, the library's director, said censoring books based on subject matter is the duty of parents, not the library. She said the library strives to provide material representing a spectrum of views and ways of life.

''That's what a public library does, and you make the choice,'' Rhode said. ''We certainly want parents to make that decision for their children -- not one parent making that decision for all children.''

Well said. It is up to families to determine their values and what is right for them, and while I may internally cringe at some ultra-conservative parenting styles, I admire the parents who can say "this book isn't for my kid," and move on with their lives. Don't make that choice for everyone.

By the way, there is a sequel to this book, called King and King and Family, where the newlyweds go on their honeymoon and come home with an adopted baby.

12.05.2007

Celebrate the freedom to celebrate

I quite enjoy the holidays with family, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. I spend Easter with my family too, and a lot of times there is a family event on the weekend before or after July 4th. This is all good, but I wish we had a Friends day. I spend wonderful quality time with friends throughout the year, but with Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparents Day and even Administrative Professional Day, we don't have a day to celebrate friendship. (Other countries have established this - earlier this year I got a Friends Day card from a 'friend' who lives in another country. I received an International Women's Day card from that person too. Why don't we celebrate that day here? I digress).

Well. Today is an important day, and comes close to the friendship holiday I seek. This day in history, December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition was ratified. Today is a day that we can and should celebrate our constitutional right to consume alcohol. Who better to do that with than dear friends? So, I think we should support these folks in making Repeal Day a national holiday. :)

AMENDMENT XXI

Passed by Congress February 20, 1933. Ratified December 5, 1933.

Section 1.
The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.
The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

12.03.2007

Um, how on earth did I miss this?

I was quietly weeding easy nonfiction books today. A pleasant task. While browsing through a book on materials, I came across this simple statement: plastic is made from oil.

I never really thought about it before. I think I assumed plastic was manufactured using some kind of random scientific process like this one, involving 'polymers.' Polymers sounds pretty innocuous, but after digging a little deeper on the chemistry archive, the polymers for consumable and industrial strength plastic are built using ethylene. Specifically, molecules of the material have to react with one another and end up joined, so that you can make huge long molecules (polymers) that are chains of the molecules you started out with (monomers). For example, ethylene, a common component of natural gas, reacts to form very long polyethylene molecules, the stuff out of which plastic bags and milk bottles are made. According to AmericanChemistry, other pure forms of carbon, like coal, can be used to make plastic too. Huh.

We had a Go Green display at the library when we stopped offering plastic bags, and part of that display included little factoids, which I apparently didn't read. One of the factoids read "when 1 ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil are saved." What other connections have I neglected to make? I wonder.

12.01.2007

Seven stories

In the past three days I have heard two separate references to the "seven basic plots" in literature, so I tried to figure out what they are. The Internet Public Library guide to The Basic Plots in Literature suggest that others have identified three basic plots, twenty or thirty six, and even one.

7 basic plots "as remembered from second grade by IPL volunteer librarian Jessamyn West:" (This article is referenced often, but I'm kind of surprised that the IPL would leave this summary up there based on a memory from second grade...not exactly authoritative)
  1. [wo]man vs. nature
  2. [wo]man vs. man
  3. [wo]man vs. the environment
  4. [wo]man vs. machines/technology
  5. [wo]man vs. the supernatural
  6. [wo]man vs. self
  7. [wo]man vs. god/religion
OR, from this review of The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker:
  1. Overcoming the Monster (Beowulf, Jaws)
  2. Rags to Riches (Cinderella, David Copperfield)
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return (Alice in Wonderland, The Time Machine)
  5. Tragedy
  6. Comedy
  7. Rebirth (Christmas Carol, Snow White)
But even he couldn't stick to seven. He added two more plots...
8. Rebellion (1984)
9. Mystery (for the detective novels)

Oh well. I personally like Vonnegut's analysis of the plots. "There's a person, doing stuff. And it's okay. And then, oh shit! Something happens!"

Anyway. I enjoy how others have creatively used the notion that there are seven basic plots in literature. Seven Stories, the Centre for Children's Books in the U.K. is an organization and museum celebrating British literature. At least one independent publisher has used "seven stories" in their name, and bloggers (probably struggling to name their blogs) have incorporated the idea into their blog names as well.

11.29.2007

Happily less than a blip

Criticisms of blogs have been around as long as -well- blogs. Yes, I realize I'm not putting anything new out there. I could follow some of the tips from The Washington Post on how to Be More Than a Blip in the Blogosphere, but the point of this blog for me is to have an outlet for writing and to prompt myself to play around with search strategies. Plus, I don't often get interesting reference questions, so this is my way of exploring resources on the Internet that I would not otherwise. It is more about the process of intentionally thinking about search technique than becoming Perez Hilton or Daily Kos.

According to this year's State of the Blogosphere, there are 70+ million blogs, and 120,000 created each day. That's a lot. Plus, Lord knows I've done more than my share of social networking with strangers this year, and it wasn't with librarians. Maybe next year I'll put myself out there a bit more and try to connect with colleagues across the nation, but for now, I'm happy being less than a blip.

Orphan trains

For many many years I thought my grandpa rode the orphan train out to Minnesota after his mother died from influenza. I got the story only partially correct. He and his brother were sent to Minnesota from New York - not on the orphan train per se, but rather to live with a specific family and work on their farm.

So, he wasn't one of those children who got onto a stage at one stop to be examined by potential foster families, but when the topic of orphan trains came up during a conversation today, I started to wonder how the program was organized, and whether there was any compensation for the families who took children in from the trains.

Start with The American Experience or The Orphan Train Movement for an introduction to the orphan train program founded by the Children's Aid Society in 1853 (who knew it started that early?). Once the children arrived in the Midwest, "they would be placed in homes for free but they would serve as an extra pair of hands to help with chores around the farm. They wouldn't be indentured. In fact, older children placed by The Children's Aid Society were to be paid for their labors." The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America offers a collection of resources ranging from census information to archival records that includes where the children came from, lists of riders by state, vital record information, and links to other countries that had similar programs to relocate children.

I just wanted the basics. To anyone interested in digging deeper, I would suggest some titles of books I came across and direct them to academic and historical databases through their library.

11.28.2007

nationalatlas.gov

National Atlas is just a cool, highly interactive site that I came across. I don't have any burning information needs about the United States right now, but it is neat to generate maps using their Map Maker tool. Now, if only someone would ask me what parts of the country have the highest incidents of avian botulism in the wildlife population....

The real trick is recalling this site when I need it.

Webisodes

What are these webisodes you speak of?

People are talking about the webisodes they watch, but I've only noticed them coming up in conversations during the last month or so, and usually right after talk about the Writer's strike. As one would guess, the term is a portmanteau (thank you wikipedia) formed using the words 'web' and 'episode,' and just means that is airs on the Internet rather than network television. I assumed that they would be amateurish, and that I didn't need to watch any (since I just realized that I haven't watched any television for a couple of months now), but while poking around I learned that Battlestar Galactica has a series of webisodes to fill in the gap between seasons 2 and 3. Yay! The Office: the accountants is a webisode series, but I think I'm the only one left on the planet who isn't a fan.

It would be fun to produce a webisode series with the teens at work..something along the lines of Unshelved is the only thing I can think of right now - which is why I'd encourage them think of something. The other option -- using my cats as actors. Doubt that would create a following (not even if I used these viral video marketing tips to get some buzz), but what's worse, I would be a confirmed crazy cat lady.

Just an aside, webisodes should not be confused with video blogs. There are a few vlogs that I check in on. I've been watching the excellent Brotherhood 2.0 this year, and I've started checking in on Ask a Gay Guy, and FREAK-TV just for fun too.

11.27.2007

Funeral homes and libraries

For those of you who know me (I write that as if I have more than one dear reader), I have a slight preoccupation with death. And, this article about funeral homes caught my eye the other day. It is interesting to me only because the businesses of death (and birth, for that matter) will always have work, but it never really occurred to me that they would be so organized about it as to have quarterly reports and associations for funeral directors. The death industry didn't seem to me to be one where you have to stay current with the literature and the trends!

Libraries are different than they were 10 years ago - we have chat reference, interactive storytimes based on the latest research, coffee shops, and librarians who rove rather than wait for patrons to come to them. We don't shush, we create spaces for teens and the 55+ crowd who need different things from us, and have become much more accessible particularly in online services. And we stay current with the literature, or at least the blogosphere.

Yet, I think most people know what libraries do at their basic level and don't give it much thought beyond "hey, maybe I can get that book at the library." I know I don't think about funeral homes until I need one, and I certainly don't wonder what they're doing to better their services. I don't even know how they market themselves. Libraries participate in community collaboratives, market themselves during patron interactions, and engage the community in conversation at every level possible. But maybe those efforts don't need to be transparent to everyone. Maybe people just need to know that they had a positive experience at their library, got what they needed, and know that they'll go back again. I'd certainly use the same funeral home we used for my dad again. They were good to us.

But, for my own sanity, I'm not going to explore the funeral home industry any further. I'll stick to my own industry.

11.23.2007

"Bitch, listen to me!"

These words to me during an Instant Message reference transaction today...only he didn't take time to use punctuation. Oh, how I do love my job.

One of my colleagues was helping me answer his (what-I-soon-discovered-was-not-a -legitimate) question, so I was able to chat with her about his use casual use of the word bitch. Her daughter and friends use the word bitch so casually they think it doesn't mean anything. Unshelved (one of my favorite comic strips) recently announced the winners of their second Pimp My Bookcart contest. You've heard examples in your surroundings, too.

I started to wonder. As each generation prescribes their own meanings to what previous generations considered tremendously insulting words, do the newer generations know what the words mean to those previous generations? (God, I feel O-L-D today). I'm not judging any generation right now, I'm simply wondering (and not able to find articles about this).

And, I'm not talking about people like Don Imus who are old enough to know what they're saying, but about the 20-somethings, maybe teens and possibly kids of today and whether they know the history of words they may be using quite casually.

Example: "Man, I am sooooo whipped!!" These words just came out of my mouth one day while warming up for orchestra in high school. The teacher looked stunned, then casually said "um, on who?" I had no idea why she was so stunned, I was simply announcing to the world that I had a severe crush. Well. Today I finally understand why she was so shocked by my choice of words. Oh.

Now, in general, I don't have a problem with new use of certain words, but I admit it. I cannot and will not say the N-word. And I get uncomfortable when I heard others say it. One of the best books I listened to this year was A Day of Tears, by Julius Lester, about the largest slave auction in history. It is told from the perspectives of many different slaves, the master of the plantation, his estranged wife and children, the auctioneer, the purchasers. It is a finely crafted work of historical fiction, and it is very heavy on the N-bomb. The word was used accurately and non-gratuitously within its historical context, and I have had and continue to have tremendous admiration and respect for Julius Lester. But I hated hearing it.

And I hated being addressed as 'bitch.'

11.20.2007

Cinderelly Cinderelly

Aaahhh, if only mice existed for the sole purpose of braiding Cinderella's hair for the ball. And, if they were always that cute.

Mice, and other relatives in the Cricetidae Family hold important roles in ecosystems (they disperse seeds) and have some positive economic importance for humans (they're pets and, um, model organisms in laboratories). But they are not welcome at my house. They could chew on my wiring, spread disease, smell bad, and freak me out.

My cats enjoy them. They're both mousers, but they see the mice as playthings rather than prey. Tiki has brought one to me in bed, and brought another to the couch to play with as she would her glitter poms. Sam might pick one up after Tiki loses interest, and run around the house with his ears back in a moment of extreme glory. This is not cool.

My options for ridding my home of mice, short of calling an exterminator, include snap traps, zapper traps, or glue boards. I'm not touching the poison due to the cats, and I'm not messing around with home-remedies, although I will block their point of entry with steel wool pads. Currently, I'm giving Safe Kill a go. I will also consider the University of Kentucky Entomology Department's advice to "think like a mouse," and understand their nesting patterns and food requirements as I plan my attack.

I should also check the foundation for cracks to prevent their entry in the first place. I'll add foam and/or caulk, as well as pure peppermint extract, to my winterizing shopping list.

It's fico-in' freezing!

People talk about aaaallllll the winterizing that needs to be done, and how long it takes - but does that include more than putting plastic over the windows and turning off the outside water?

Short answer: yes.
Winterizing means preparing for subfreezing temperatures, including provisions for times when you may not be able to restore heat. Google results returned mostly insurance information. Winter Hazard Awareness had some pretty good information, including a tip to drive carefully on the driveways. (Claims come from people not being able to stop on their icy driveways before their garage door finished opening). The Purdue University complied an extensive disaster and management resource list for winter storms.

My list is not so comprehensive...

In the Fall
  • Drain all plumbing (not just the outside pipes)
  • Invite a professional inspect the furnace in the fall to make sure it is up for the hard work it must do during the winter
  • Prepare any vehicles for winter driving conditions with a maintenance checkup and a supply of survival kit goodies ranging from blankets and hand/foot warmer packs to salt and shovels. (I have used the mats to get out of snow drifts before, though).

In the Winter
  • Watch for ice dams on the room and snow buildup around the gas meters.
  • Watch for mold, asbestos, lead poisoning and other air quality concerns
  • Call 511 for winter travel conditions, and don't travel with less than half a tank of gas (I always thought a quarter a tank...)
  • If you are stranded, try to stay warm without fuel, and make sure your exhaust pipe is clear.
  • Consider a AAA Membership (okay . that's my mother's tip).
  • Don't open the freezer during power outages. Save the food!

In the Spring
  • Drain the outdoor pipes again
  • Prepare for flooding (not in Minneapolis as much!)

In the Summer

11.19.2007

Codes Codes Codes

Like I want to know anything about codes, but I got a question about them today and felt completely ignorant. All I could do was direct her to the huge book of city codes, and find some state codes online. I don't want to write about her specific needs, so I'll delve into my own experience with codes.

When we bought our house, the inspector said that the height of the deck off the ground was within the city code limit to not have railings, but that we should have railings anyway. We ignored him. Two years later, we got a letter from our home insurance agent saying they would not renew our policy unless we had a railing put around the deck. When we had a contractor come out, he too said that the deck did not need railings because the height of the deck did not require railings according to the city codes.

Now, their job requires them to know the codes, but what if the average person wanted to know how high a deck can get before you need railings?

Step 1: Know that each city determines their own codes, and that you have to comply.
Step 2: Go to your city web site, and search the codes. Do it online, so that you can using the search function in your browser, which should be Firefox or Opera.
Step 3: Trust the professionals, and leave it to them. That's my vote. I am not a do-it-yourselfer.

After a quick search, I realized that the city I live in (Minneapolis) has very detailed codes, and the city I work in does not. They publish their codes using a different publishing service, (not Municode), which I thought was odd, but I stopped caring after trying to read through the codes.

Can you blame me? Take this, from the Minneapolis codes, for example:
244.540.
Shades, drapes.Every window of every room let to another for sleeping purposes and the windows of bath and toilet rooms used in conjunction with such sleeping rooms shall be supplied with shades, draw drapes, or other devices or materials which when properly used will afford privacy to the occupant of the room. However, upon written agreement of the owner and the occupant, separate from other lease agreement, said shades, drapes or devices need not be provided.

In library school I got into the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, and even grooved on those rules. But it ends there.

Last summer we had the new deck built. It would have been cheaper to shop for a new insurance company, but I really love having the railings. And they meet the codes.

11.18.2007

F*C*

...that's fico...

What exactly factors into your credit report? Word of the Fair Credit Reporting Act spread pretty quickly that you could and should get a free credit report each year, and that you could actually get more than one per year if you stagger them across the three nationwide biggies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

BusinessWeek outlines the Anatomy of a Credit Score, and CNNMoney provides some tips on improving credit scores, but (I'm a bullet point girl) I found what I was looking for at MyFico.com, which makes sense, since the site is a division of Fair Isaac Corp, who created the FICO credit formula.

So, I still don't know the specifics of the formula, or my FICO number, but today I learned that:
  • the ratio between your balance and your credit limit is an important number, not necessarily having a high credit limit;
  • inquiries about loans show up on your credit report and too many in a short period of time can negatively influence the score;
  • one should avoid new credit applications for about 18 months before purchasing something big like a car that requires a loan (your rate is affected); and
  • I don't like being the money person in my household, and neither does my husband. But I knew that already.

I'm a genius!

cash advance

Wooo hoooo! I knew it all along. Ha!

In all seriousness, it is important to make websites and blogs easily accessible to people using assistive technology, as Target recently learned.

Dig a little deeper now

I've been hearing about Google Universal for awhile now - so I decided to figure out exactly what all the hoopla is about. Well, if you've been noticing your search results grouped into their subcategories (like news, books, video, blogs)...that is what the hoopla is all about.

Search Engine Land offered a great introduction to the new google search strategy. (New to Google, that is).
ResourceShelf talks about this in relation to library resources, and compares Google Universal to the other major general search engines.

Gary Price over at the Resource Shelf is right when he says that most people just want the results, and often do not spend time to check their resources. Then he said that "resource selection can be and should be a key role for the info professional." Oh, yeah. That's me.

So, is that his way of creating job security?, or is this true? I enjoy working with teens on resource selection for our library's web site, but I do have veto power and use it to tell them why a certain site doesn't meet my/our criteria. Still. The job of a librarian is important, but nothing secret is going on. We're not (as Stephen Colbert said) hiding anything. Oh well.

It's strange, though. I realized I had been disregarding the results that were grouped into (maps, books, news, etc.,) because they looked like sponsored results. I didn't take the time to read through them, but now that I know what the sorting does, I'll pay more attention.


11.14.2007

Sugar highs

Question: What happens to a person during an extreme sugar high?

A quick search using regular search engines and trusted medical sites (expectedly) returned results pertaining to diabetes, pregnancy, stroke victims and heart disease. But what happens when an adult who isn't suffering from these conditions consumes too much sugar in one sitting? Someone who otherwise enjoys regular blood sugar levels? Negative side effects from too much sugar tend to have an impact if one consumes too much sugar over time, but even if you don't suffer from a degenerative disease, there may be consequences from consuming too much sugar at once, according to this outline of the minerals the body requires to digest sugar. A related article about the body's experience after drinking a Coke suggests that one should prepare for a crash after consuming too much sugar.

Yet, that is not enough for my specific question. What happens if you eat too many truffles?

Jack Boulware asked that exact same question in a lifestyle segment of American Way Magazine, and got his answer.

“What happens if you eat too many truffles?” I ask. “You die of bliss!” Czarnecki announces, refilling our glasses. He then goes on to say that truffles are always emitting gas and heat, and a few minutes after you start eating, it will hit your stomach and release the gas.

No eating too many truffles. I've got your back!

11.13.2007

Guilty pleasure: I read People Magazine

Hello, my name is Katherine, and I'm a stargazer. I love the celebrities. I watch the red carpet ceremonies, and the special features on DVDs.

The previous post got me to thinking about celebrities, and if there are expectations that "everybody" knows who so-and-so is. Time tells me that these 100 people were the most influential in 2007. Is Time's list descriptive or prescriptive? Does it describe who people know the most, or is it a checklist to make sure you do know them? Time's readers tell me these are the 100 that should be on the list. I only know 4 of the top 10, but think it is cool that blogger PerezHilton was #16 on the list, while Paris Hilton was #100.

Obviously, a lot of which celebrities we know is generational. I had seen this kid's image plastered on every single teen magazine in the library, but, until I asked one of my teen volunteers, had no idea what his name was or why he was famous. I suspect that my knowing his name and filmography ups my cred with the teenage demographic. Ha! At the other end of the spectrum, a coworker was astounded when I had no idea who The Andrews Sisters were. Oh well. More of it has to do with our interests, and where our experiences and conversations take us. And that's fine.

I visited the Gallup site and found that they conduct favorability polls. I am not a statistician or economist or any other kind of number person - but I found these numbers interesting.
  • Hilary's numbers are 50/50 from 1994-present, except for a brief period in 1998 when her numbers were 60/40.
  • In 2007, 59% had not heard of Dennis Kucinich, and 1% had not heard of Oprah Winfrey. In the same year 19% had not heard of Jennifer Hudson, and 50% had not heard of Mike Huckabee.
  • The candidacy of now-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (former First Lady of Argentina) during her race was basically unopposed. Gallup polled Argentines, and found that 2/3 are satisfied with their standard of living, and 47% believe the economy is getting better. However, 60% do not trust elections, and more than half believe Argentina is not a safe place to express political views. In my limited experience with Argentines, this is true.
There's another side to this, of course. Do we know more about celebrities than we do about current history? For some, yes. That's another post.

Have you no sense of decency?

Mr. Welch: You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
Senator McCarthy:
I know this hurts you, Mr. Welch.

Mr Welch:
I'll say it hurts!
from The Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954*


I was watching a bit of Angels in America earlier today, heard the above quoted, and got to thinking about speeches - their level of fame, how often they're quoted, and how many can recite the lines, but don't understand the political and social context in which the speech was delivered.

Someone asked for *the famous speech* that President Reagan delivered for Veteran's Day. Huh? When we told her we were able to find two separate transcripts, she told us again that it was a famous speech.

Oh! Okay!!

Actually, a closer look led me to deduce that the second one was simply mislabeled, but still... What constitutes fame in any discipline varies greatly, and is highly subjective. When it comes to historical speeches, I suspect that the level of fame corresponds with the number of times the stock footage is used on CNN or The History Channel. However, I suppose there are some speeches that are so powerful that you remember them, and the social or political context in which they were given. I Have a Dream would be one, I hope.

American Rhetoric
provides transcripts of historical speeches, and provides audio when available. History Matters is another source for primary documents, including audio recordings and transcripts of speeches.

*While reading a little bit about the hearings, I learned that Roy Cohn (portrayed by Al Pacino in Angels in America) was a real person, did prosecute the Rosenbergs, and did defend McCarthy.




11.12.2007

Employee benefits

Does everybody pay attention to the benefits package portion of new employee orientation? And remember everything? During this season of open enrollment and spending down flexible spending accounts, keeping track of employee benefits and all the procedures appears to be effortless. For me? NO! I am lucky if I remember to glance at my paystub from time to time.

This is another one of those things that nobody talks about (because, well, it's boring), but everyone seems to know how to do it. I should take advantage of flexible spending accounts, pay closer attention to my benefit package, (or at least make an attempt to understand it), and take the damn quiz during open enrollment to save on copays. But I don't. I'm/We're lazy, I think.

Marabou

Everyone seemed to know what marabou slides are today. If you, like me, had seen them but never knew the name -- here you go. Wikipedia didn't offer much in the way of help in identifying what marabou meant when applied to lingerie...but I learned today that it is a kind of stork, a Swedish brand of chocolate, and a historical term for a multiracial person living in Haiti.

11.11.2007

Nicknames

I could spell my name since I was 2 or 3, but in first grade, as I was formally learning to spell, I was joyfully spelling my name outloud as I was walking up the driveway after school and made the connection between the first three letters of my name (k-a-t) and the spelling of my favorite pet (c-a-t). It was totally wild, and I have been Kat ever since.

That you can get Kat from Katherine is pretty obvious, but my mother still calls me Trink from time to time. My father went by his middle name with family and friends, but by his first name in business settings. And, I've never figured out how my father-in-law got the name that he did from his family. Presumably issues like this arise in geneaology searches - I don't get into that - but the nickname question came up during a recent conversation with a friend who's not sure of someone's name. I tried to find some sources for not-so-common nicknames for her, but even with 'advanced' techniques in various search engines, I came up short.

This is what I did come across.
  • I love cruising through Popular Baby Names from the Social Security Administration. That's the tool I used to name my secondlife avatar. I'm a nerd. Sadly, no helpful nickname information.
  • Behind the Name gives some brief information about the history of first names.
  • Family History 101, and several other sites, provide lists of common nicknames...but not the two I was looking for!

Not so big government sites

The Census Bureau released this summary of facts about veterans in the United States in honor of Veteran's Day in the United States, and that got me to thinking about other government sites, and whether they are the go-to sites for many people. (Do most people seek this stuff out? Not in my circle...). I decided to cruise around the government sites this afternoon - not for *fun* exactly, but because I never do - and that one of the points of this blog. So. Here are some facts and tools I stumbled across:

There are so many sites for specific issues, like education, health, drought, and legislation. But what I didn't know before today is that you can comment on some open dockets. How very 2.0 of them. Ha!

11.10.2007

Murphy's lawyer must be rich

Murphy's Law (or Sod's law, if you're British) states that if anything bad can happen it will. Well, if I had my druthers, we'd let sleeping dogs lie. Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill, people. If you can't make heads of tails of what the head honcho is saying, then it is time to bite the bullet and snuggle up with a dictionary of idioms for some real R & R. You'll be able to shoot the breeze until you're blue in the face. But don't get your wires crossed at the eleventh hour, or beat around the bush. And don't bite off more than you can chew, but remember, idioms are a piece of cake! Break a leg!

Every language has its idiomatic phrases and unique expressions. I notice when talking with people around the world for whom English is not their first language, that 'hang out' is not a commonly known phrase. What phrases have you noticed are difficult or not commonly known by others?

Resources:
Cambridge Dictionaries Online
Dave's ESL Cafe
Urban Dictionary
LingoZ

Every time you go away...

...you take a piece of meat with you!

Members of the Fiction-L mailing list compiled this awesome list of Butchered Title Requests, which is exactly what I'm talking about when I say 'Oranges and Peaches.' I love it! (Thanks, D!) Along these same lines, misheard lyrics are pretty entertaining (at least for awhile). Who hasn't misheard something at one point or another?

The joys of public service

Some things from Emily Post that I wish were common knowledge, or at least valued and practiced. Bad day, I guess.
  • Lack of consideration for those who in any capacity serve you, is always an evidence of ill-breeding, as well as of inexcusable selfishness.
  • Consideration for the rights and feelings of others is not merely a rule for behavior in public but the very foundation upon which social life is built.
  • Never do anything that is unpleasant to others.

11.08.2007

I just want it to work

I try to catch myself when I make sweeping statements that contain "always" or begin with "everybody," but EVERYBODY seems to know how how their car works. Always. Not me. It's my fault, too. When I first started driving my parents' station wagon in high school I would simply say "Dad! The car made a funny noise!" and leave the car in his skilled hands. I've watched somebody change my tire, but have never done it myself. Sure, there are some things I do myself, like fill the gas, check the tire pressure, get regular oil changes every 5,000 miles or so, and fill the windshield wiper fluid. I added oil once. But I think it stops there.

Within the last few years, I have had many problems with my car, so I have learned about transmissions, breaks, fuel systems, alternators and engines. And possible reasons for the car not starting. With each new problem I experienced a very painful learning curve that looked something like coming up against a brick wall with the lacking knowledge on the other side of the wall and me not wanting to have to jump the wall to get to the information. I go into baby mode for a minute when the car acts up, but now I have AAA, and all is fine.

CarCare is a great web site for explaining the inner workings of my 2800-lb-headache. It is apparently common knowledge that you don't have to follow the service providers recommendations of changing oil every 3,000 miles, but that isn't an interesting debate to me. There's arguments supporting both sides, but Consumer Reports provides a good blurb on car myths. Nordic Group actually gives me this 3,000 mile fact to consider with my Saturn, though. Oh, great. Basically, it makes most sense to me to consult the owners manual whenever possible.

While I am doing more to understand my car during low-stress periods, I will always be a 'do it for me' type (as opposed to a 'do it yourself' type) when it comes to the car.

11.07.2007

Common Knowledge

Why does the concept of common knowledge intrigue me, anyway? A friend and I met at the mall earlier tonight and passed a poster with an image of Winston Churchill on a standee. The image was labeled "Winston Churchill." My friend questioned whether he really needed to be identified. "Doesn't everybody know who Winston Churchill is?" Well, not necessarily, yet it is difficult to imagine scenarios in which people haven't seen a likeness of Winston Churchill beyond being too young to have taken WWII history in school yet. If you didn't pay attention, or don't watch the History Channel, or if your reading or news consumption doesn't bring you down the path of history, it is possible to not know what Winston Churchill looks like.

Yet, the assumption that everyone should know certain facts is a bit frustrating to me despite my expectation that most people would be able to identify Winston Churchill. At the reference desk, I have mild fear over questions that I don't know enough about to begin the search with a good (i.e., professional) starting place. Sure, Google can get me going on just about anything, but that approach is time-consuming and embarrassing. (I simply don't find myself in situations that require in-depth knowledge of reference sources very often, print or otherwise. I do my best to create opportunities to deepen my knowledge, but I am more apt to remember a specific or unique feature of a reference source or database if it is linked to a specific information need. Incidentally, this blog is one way for me to force myself to fine-tune my search strategies.) Mostly, I worry that I don't have enough of what I assume to be common knowledge, and I continuously strive to be someone who knows (at least) a little about a lot.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy includes a (not surprisingly) rather philosophical article on the phenomenon of Common Knowledge. (I love that it is presented as a 'phenomenon.') Common knowledge is a phenomenon which underwrites much of social life. In order to communicate or otherwise coordinate their behavior successfully, individuals typically require mutual or common understandings or background knowledge. So, maybe I shouldn't worry about whether I have the background knowledge tucked away in my brain for every single reference question I get. Maybe using Google or Dogpile is a fine way to find common keywords, and I should ease up.

I still don't understand why there was a picture of Winston Churchill in the mall in the first place, but hey. Whatever.

School board elections

When voting for school board officials or questions that affect school districts in Minnesota, you need to vote at your local school. The Secretary of State Pollfinder also indicates that you need to vote at the schools, but only after you go through the steps to find your regular polling place. To find your polling place for school district elections, you need to contact the school district that you live in. Minnesota also resolved to hold school elections in even-numbered years beginning in 2008. For people without kids in the schools, this difference can cause some confusion. Possibly confusing for those *with* kids in the schools, too!