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.



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.


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.


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.


"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.'


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


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:
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.



...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.


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!


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.


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.


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.



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!


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?

Cambridge Dictionaries Online
Dave's ESL Cafe
Urban Dictionary

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.


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.


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!

Pregnancy and fish don't mix

I knew about not eating raw fish, but what about cooked fish? With my expectant cousin arriving last weekend, I had to stop and ask myself what I could and could not prepare for dinner. The FDA and EPA warn against eating fish that contain high mercury levels, such as swordfish, shark and mackerel. Mercury consumption is risky to the development of the central nervous system in unborn babies and very young children. They do recommend that pregnant women should aim to consume about 12 oz per week of fish that contain lower levels of mercury, such as shrimp, salmon and canned tuna. Fish is an important part of a balanced diet. It contains many proteins and nutrients. WebMD posts an article stressing the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in particular to developing brains, and that fish should not be eliminated all together.

Of course it turned out that the smells of fish were bothersome as well, which doesn't surprise me. I loved how she referred to her heightened sense of smell as "super sniffer".


Female pattern baldness does exist

Women can and do experience thinning hair as early as in their 20s. Common causes include diet, hormones and genetics. Because of the range of causes for women, it can be more difficult to diagnose the causes, but there are some tests that can be done, as well as some considerations to take. There are some treatment options, including Women's Rogaine (containing minoxidil) but development of these types of products aren't exactly at the top of the drug company priority lists.

This topic probably doesn't fall into the 'apparently common knowledge' category, but a topic of increasing interest to me.

Rabbis don't "bless" foods to make them Kosher

Kosher means "proper" and "fit for use." If a food is kosher, it means that it meets the standards of the Jewish law of Kashrut. It doesn't refer to a style of cooking, or mean the food is vegetarian, or that it has been blessed by a rabbi. It does refer to the ingredients of the food, and the method of preparation and serving (down to the utensils used). At first glance, it doesn't seem that complicated. The law is clear about what animals are kosher, and which are not. However, when you don't control the ingredients (manufactured foods, or eating in restaurants, for example), it could become trickier. Many organizations certify that the ingredients and preparation of the food meets the standards, and they have developed a mostly standardized way of labeling the packaging. Also, when you get down to beverages like wine and food additives like gelatin, it seems to become a bit more complicated as well. To an outsider, terms such as fleishik, milchik and pareve may not be a common part of vocabulary. Luckily there are a few glossaries online!

An article covering the basics can be found at the Judaisim 101 site.

No Drano in the garbage disposal

Crap. As I'm preparing dinner last Sunday night for out of town guests, my potato peelings clog the garbage disposal. I do my best to scrape out the peelings, but the show must go on. I drain the pasta in the bathroom sink, and scoop the potatoes out of the boiling water, rather than drain them. Dinner's fine. Lovely, in fact. Company leaves, but I'm still left with a sink that I can't use. So. My husband convinces me that I should pour some Drano down the drain and let it do its work. I'm hesitant, but can't think of anything else to do since the plunging and the scooping didn't help. (No Internet access, therefore no way to research possible fixes). Half an hour later, I have a sink full of hazardous smelly liquid that won't drain. Grrrrr.

When I had Internet access again I learned that, indeed, Drano was not such a hot idea. I also learned that Drano and plunger is an equally bad combination.

Are disposals really that great? Does my house need one in order to resell some day? I'm tempted to dispose of my disposal and compost, but am not ready to make the leap. I could have used lemon, been regularly cleaning with ice cubes all along, or found a professional. After Roto-Rooter came today, I learned that I could have removed the clog by opening the trap and removing the peelings. The T-shaped trap is actually supposed to clog so that the homeowner can remove the clog before it gets into the line. I'm not happy with how I had to learn about this, but now I know!

Oranges and Peaches

There's a common story told in introductory reference classes. A patron comes to the reference desk and asks for a book called "Oranges and Peaches." The librarian has never heard of the book before, but does a quick search in the catalog. Nothing. A quick search on Amazon offers some possibilities, but, no. Nothing. Rather than send the patron away, the librarian probes the patron for more information about the book.

L: Can you tell me what the book is about?
P: No idea.
L: Hmmm. How did you hear about it?
P: My professor assigned it. I have to read it for class.
L: Which class are you taking?
P: Biology.

L: Could it be Darwin's Origin of Species?

This blog is about all that stuff that is apparently common knowledge that I don't know, or managed to forget. Without fail, a new bit of 'common knowledge' presents itself to me on a daily basis. Hopefully, without huge embarrassment to myself. I expect to have frequent postings. We'll see how it goes.

Update 12/28/2007: I learned tonight that the oranges and peaches reference came from a hilarious movie called Party Girl, which I have actually seen. Parker Posey plays an eccentric young woman who starts to work as a librarian out of necessity. In one scene, a patron approaches her and asks for "Origin of Species," at which time Mary directs that patron to books about oranges and peaches. I really need to see that movie again.