Wednesday, September 30, 2009
by: Allan Turner
There'll be no carhops on roller skates. And if you're hankering for a burger and fries, forget it. But if it's food for the mind you crave — books, music or movies — staffers at some of the Houston Public Library's most congested branches will be happy to deliver your order right to your car.
The library's new curbside service, HPL To Go, is being tested at the Looscan Neighborhood Library and the McGovern-Stella Link Library. If trials go well, the service will be extended to other “parking challenged” branches.
HPL To Go joins Info Quest, a program that allows users to text message queries to reference librarians, as the latest additions to the public library's growing roster of services designed to engage 21st century library patrons.
Other recently added services include the HPL Mobile Express — a van loaded with computers that visits under-served neighborhoods — and Info 24/7, which allows users to query reference librarians via the Internet.
Library Executive Director Rhea Brown said she has challenged library workers to find ways to remain relevant in the iPhone era.
“The library is no different from any other business organization,” she said. “For you and I in society, technology is the way of the world.”
Brown said the library, whose 41 locations drew more than 5 million visitors in the last fiscal year, relies on surveys and focus groups to guide improvement efforts. The curb service project grew out of complaints from customers weary of searching for scarce library parking.
“The parking lots are small and their business is very large,” neighborhood library chief Regina Stemmer said of the test sites. Puzzled for a solution, Stemmer said her “eureka moment” came as she spied a card advertising a food delivery service while dining with friends at an area restaurant. What works for chicken fried steaks, she concluded, might work for books.
Cruise in and phone
In HPL To Go, library patrons first reserve books or other materials via the Internet. When notified by e-mail that the items are ready for pickup, users simply cruise to the library, cell phone a librarian and supply library card numbers, the names of items desired and descriptions of their cars.
In many cases, Stemmer said, a book can be in a patron's hands in a single day.
HPL launched its second new program, Info Quest, in late July, allowing patrons to text questions to reference librarians and receive responses in a matter of minutes.
Patricia Bustamante, who oversees the program as director of the library's electronic services, cited a study revealing more than 260 million cell phones are in use in the United States, the overwhelming number of them capable of texting.
In 2008, she said, 63 percent of Americans 18-27 years old sent text messages from their cell phones; 31 percent of 28- to 39-year-olds texted.
With the Info Quest system, reference librarians across the nation stand ready to answer a user's question — provided, of course, it can be adequately answered in a brief response.
Those services join the library's most dramatic new media effort, a van that takes 13 personal computers and 15 laptops to under served Houston neighborhoods.
The van teams, reserved by churches, nursing homes, community centers and other neighborhood institutions, teach residents basic computer and resume writing skills, said Roosevelt Weeks, deputy director of library administration.
From: Houston Chronicle
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
As you browse the web, it's easy to forget how many people visit the same pages and look for the same information. Whether you're researching advice on heart disease prevention or looking for museums to visit in New York City, many others have done the same and could have added their knowledge along the way.
What if everyone, from a local expert to a renowned doctor, had an easy way of sharing their insights with you about any page on the web? What if you could add your own insights for others who are passing through?
Now you can. Today, we're launching Google Sidewiki, which allows you to contribute helpful information next to any webpage. Google Sidewiki appears as a browser sidebar, where you can read and write entries along the side of the page.
In developing Sidewiki, we wanted to make sure that you'll see the most relevant entries first. We worked hard from the beginning to figure out which ones should appear on top and how to best order them. So instead of displaying the most recent entries first, we rank Sidewiki entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from you and other users, previous entries made by the same author and many other signals we developed. If you're curious, you can read more on our Google Research Blog about the infrastructure we use for ranking all entries in real-time.
Under the hood, we have even more technology that will take your entry about the current page and show it next to webpages that contain the same snippet of text. For example, an entry on a speech by President Obama will appear on all webpages that include the same quote. We also bring in relevant posts from blogs and other sources that talk about the current page so that you can discover their insights more easily, right next to the page they refer to.
We're releasing Google Sidewiki as a feature of Google Toolbar (for Firefox and Internet Explorer) and we're working on making it available in Google Chrome and elsewhere too. We also have the first version of our API available today to let anyone work freely with the content that's created in Sidewiki.
We've been testing Sidewiki with several experts and news organizations for a while and are happy to hear their positive responses. We hope you'll try it for yourself, follow our Twitter feed, and let us know what you think!
If you're ready to start exploring the web with Google Sidewiki, visit google.com/sidewiki to download Google Toolbar with Sidewiki and contribute your own entries alongside pages on the web.
Posted by Sundar Pichai, VP Product Management and Michal Cierniak, Engineering Lead for Google Sidewiki
From: Google blog (where you can also check out a video introducing Google Sidewiki)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Nothing about Diane Norris indicates a freedom fighter is at work. As assistant director of youth services at the Orland Park Public Library, Norris helps to oversee the section containing children's books and juvenile literature. It's a quiet comfortable environment on the building's ground level, where most of the noise comes from kids still unwise to the ways of library etiquette.
"Controversial" is not the word that comes to mind describing the place and her job.
But if you need help finding "And Tango Makes Three" or "King & King" - two books for children that have been asked to be pulled from libraries throughout the country for their gay overtones - Norris will help. Happily.
"I would never tell someone what they can or cannot read," she said. "Information is free. People should be allowed to read whatever they want. I am not going to be the one taking it away from them. It is important for anyone to have the information they need or want."
Saturday is the start of Banned Books Week, started 27 years ago by Chicago's American Library Association. Throughout this week, small township libraries with a few shelves to huge urban libraries with tens of thousands of titles will be setting up displays of books that have been banned or challenged throughout the years for various reasons.
Among the works that will be showcased because they were considered naughty, offensive or sacrilegious at one time or another are "The Catcher in the Rye," "Of Mice and Men," "Huckleberry Finn" and, yes, the Bible.
Behind the in-your-face celebration will be the staunchest defenders of your right to get your hands on material that has disparaged religions, put races in unflattering lights or told the stories of homosexual couples raising kids - your local librarians.
If you're looking for a defender of the First Amendment, you can find it with them. They won't be waving a flag or shouting "USA!" repeatedly to prove the point, either.
At the small Homer Township Public Library, director Sheree Kozel-LaHa will be putting in a cage for all to see some books that have made waves through the years.
For Kozel-LaHa, access to anything, even if it might be in bad taste, is a big deal. Her message is clear: If you have an objection to a book, quit reading it and move on to something else. She'll even help you find something more agreeable to your tastes.
"It is a core American value to be able to think, read and express ourselves," she said. "There is freedom to choose. We don't want to circumvent that."
Her stance comes despite just one objection made about a book at her library. A local woman believed S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders," a classic story about battling high schoolers, sent the wrong message to the community. The book stayed on the shelves.
Some libraries might've taken the chicken way out and "recataloged" the book or hidden it behind a counter.
"I would have a problem with doing that - philosophically and personally," Kozel-LaHa said. "We are supposed to be the one place where that doesn't happen."
The notion of banning books might seem like a quaint idea, something the squares of another era did, but it's not.
In Round Rock, Texas, the teen book "TTYL" was pulled from school libraries last year. This summer, parents organized a "keep our libraries clean" crusade in West Bend, Wis.
Oak Lawn was ground zero in 1980 for a national movement to get the sex-ed book "Show Me" removed from the library.
"We still get repeated challenges today for 'To Kill a Mockingbird,'" said Debra Caldwell-Stone, acting director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.
For the third consecutive year, "And Tango Makes Three" topped the list of books that have been asked to be pulled, Caldwell-Stone said. The book is the true story of two male penguins at New York's Central Park Zoo who develop an especially close relationship and raise a chick together.
The words "gay" or "homosexual" are never used in the story, but it's apparent that someone who has a problem with same-sex couples would object.
At the Tinley Park Public Library, Richard Wolff keeps two copies of the book. Anyone can get their hands on one of them within minutes of walking through the doors.
"Who is it for me to say what you should read or what anyone should read or view?" said Wolff, the library's administrator. "It is not to say you should not read something because it might be controversial. It's not the role of a library. I'm not a radical, but it's my profession and it's something I take seriously."
Wolff could recall only one challenge to a book in his 14 years at the library. A patron thought a children's book contained a reference to suicide. After Wolff reviewed the book, it stayed.
"It's not our job to censor," he said. "Here the thought is it's the parent's job to decide what their child reads."
Spoken like a true freedom fighter.
from: Southtown Star
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Is there any human invention more duplicitous than the personal computer? These machines were manufactured and initially marketed as devices to help us at work. We were told they would perform amazing feats of office derring-do - adding up rows of numbers effortlessly, turning our musings into beautiful magazine-quality documents, and letting us collaborate with one another across continents.
Boy, that turned out well, didn’t it? Sure, you could use your PC to analyze stats for the annual sales report due in two days. But hey, look at this — someone wants to be your friend on Facebook! And wait a second: A zany couple decided to start off their wedding by dancing down the aisle, and lucky for everyone, they posted the video on YouTube. And did you hear what that ignorant congressman just said about health care? Now you’ve got no choice but to spend the next five minutes crafting an impassioned tweet to express your outrage.
And so it goes: You get to your PC every morning with hours of productive time ahead of you. Next thing you know, it’s 5 p.m. and you’ve frittered the day away on Digg, Hulu, Wikipedia and your fantasy football league. And no wonder — how can anyone expect to get anything done when you’re plying your trade on one of the most distracting machines ever invented? With so much available on your PC — your friends, blogs, games and even TV shows — working in a modern office can often seem as rattling as working on the floor of a Las Vegas casino.
During the last few weeks, I've been using a slate of programs to tame these digital distractions. The apps break down into three broad categories. The most innocuous simply try to monitor my online habits in an effort to shame me into working more productively. Others reduce visual bells and whistles on my desktop as a way to keep me focused.
And then there are the apps that really mean business - they let me actively block various parts of the Internet so that when my mind strays, I'm prohibited from giving in to my shiftless ways. It’s the digital equivalent of dieting by locking up the refrigerator and throwing away the key.
The first category is epitomized by a program called RescueTime, which keeps track of everything that happens on your computer, and then reports your habits in a series of charts and graphs. I found the software's analysis tremendously illuminating. I learned, for instance, that during a typical month I spend more than 70 hours surfing the Web, much of it on news and social-networking sites.
By comparison, I spend only about half as much time in Microsoft Word, which, as a writer, is where I do my work. Seeing these stats knocked me over; clearly, I wasn’t using my time very wisely. (RescueTime offers a free limited version; an upgraded plan with deeper usage stats costs $8 a month.)
So what to do? Over the years, several friends have suggested that I might stay more focused by ditching Word in favor of a so-called minimalist writing tool. These programs, like Hog Bay Software’s WriteRoom for the Mac ($24.95) or the free Dark Room for Windows, essentially take your computer back two decades in time. Each presents you with a full-screen, monochrome window absent of taskbars and menus; the experience is that of typing on an old-fashioned dedicated word processor, with every other function of a modern PC hidden from view.
But the procrastinator's mind is not so quickly deceived. I found that I could easily switch from working in Dark Room to wasting time in a Web browser — and that was a problem.
Time for stronger medicine: I loaded up LeechBlock, a free add-on for Firefox whose main function is to save you from yourself. LeechBlock works like a stern nanny: You tell it which Web sites to keep you away from, and at the appointed hour, it stops you cold. Try to go to Facebook and you get back a warning to go back to work.
The software is quite flexible. You can let it block out different sites at different times of the day, or set a maximum daily or hourly limit for certain sites. For instance, I asked LeechBlock to restrict my time on Twitter and Facebook to no more than five minutes an hour, and on news sites to no more than 10 minutes an hour. This gave me a little bit of time to goof off, but not enough that I’d lose sight of my larger purpose.
But LeechBlock suffers a crucial limitation: if you really want to get around it, all you have to do is load up another browser. One Mac app that has found a way to solve this problem is called Freedom, which blocks all of your computer’s networking functions for a pre-determined number of minutes. In other words, once you set it, you’ve got no Web, no instant messaging, no e-mail — and the only way to undo Freedom’s block before the time runs out is to restart your machine.
I wish I could say that using these digital nannies has revolutionized the way I work. They didn’t, really. Though blocking time-sucking Web sites did keep me from goofing off on my computer, I found that my brain quickly compensated by wasting time in other ways: As I’m writing this paragraph, for example, I’m also eating a peach. But not just eating it without thinking — I’ve been using a paring knife to try to cut perfectly cubical pieces to pop into my mouth.
Perhaps this kind of unconscious fidgeting — whether online or off — is inevitable. The mind is a restless place, and creative pursuits like writing seem unsustainable in long bursts; perhaps the mind just needs frequent breaks.
But I did notice that net-blocking software was helpful in getting me to at least consider all the ways that I was wasting my time. When LeechBlock threw up a roadblock in my path, it gave me pause; when I went around it, I was at least conscious that it wasn’t the right thing to do. Sometimes a little shame is all you need.
From: the NYTimes
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I took a brief jaunt yesterday afternoon to the Mid-Manhattan branch to talk to New Yorkers who were enjoying the free coffee and donuts the Library was handing out in celebration. Here’s what they had to say:
[go here to check out the video]
From: the New Yorker
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
By: Ruth McCann
A mysterious cardboard box arrived Thursday morning at D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose. It was labeled: "Oprah's Book Club Selection #63. Do not open until September 18." Politics and Prose co-owner Carla Cohen had no idea what #63 would turn out to be, but she had ordered 40 copies anyway. It was Oprah, after all.
The book turns out to be Uwem Akpan's "Say You're One of Them," according to information unintentionally leaked Thursday from a book distribution company. The 2008 short-story collection, recently released in paperback by Little, Brown, is the first book from Akpan, a Nigerian-born Jesuit priest who teaches in Zimbabwe. And it's the first time Oprah Winfrey has selected a volume of short fiction.
Winfrey's picks are hush-hush in a big-time, spy-level way. Execs at book companies sign affidavits affirming they won't breathe a word about the chosen title, and publishing companies send off the books in discreet boxes tagged with fake ISBN numbers.
When a secrecy-shrouded book arrives at Politics and Prose, the management resists the urge to pry, Cohen says. They didn't put out Dan Brown's latest early, and they didn't start selling Edward M. Kennedy's book early. And Winfrey's new shipment was kept sealed, Cohen said.
Bloggers and the like had begin putting their money on "Say You're One of Them" after Winfrey dropped her fans a clue in late August, tweeting: "Tune in Friday, September 18 to find out what my new book club pick is -- never made a selection like 'this.' "
After Thursday's leak, Angela DePaul, a spokeswoman for "The Oprah Winfrey Show," simply said: "We don't comment on advance speculation. Oprah announces her book club selections on her show and shares her reasons for choosing the books at that time."
So we won't know the reason behind the choice till Friday at tea time (the talk show airs locally on WJLA at 4). And perhaps we'll never know whether the resurrection of the book club was ratings-driven (Winfrey's Nielsen ratings dropped 7 percent last season).
But we do know that this is the first Oprah's Book Club pick in a while; it has been nearly a year to the day since Winfrey chose David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," a first novel that achieved instantaneous success after the announcement.
Ever since Oprah's Book Club kicked off in 1996 with Jacqueline Mitchard's novel "The Deep End of the Ocean," the seal of Oprah-approval has virtually guaranteed overnight renown for authors such as Wally Lamb, Wroblewski and James Frey, whom Winfrey famously confronted on-air after his supposed memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," turned out to be more fictional than not.
While not familiar with "Say You're One of Them," Cohen was immediately enthused about its selection. "I think anything that calls attention to a book is a good thing!"
She estimates that sales for Akpan's book, which received the 2009 PEN/Beyond Margins Award, will double almost immediately. "Say You're One of Them" has been selling about five copies a month at Politics and Prose -- pretty good stats for a short-story collection, she says.
"Say You're One of Them" features five stories set in different African countries, each focusing on a different set of children, each in a different (often violent, often scary) situation. In The Post, Susan Straight described Akpan's stories as being suffused with "compassion and art." The New York Times' Janet Maslin praised Akpan's deft handling of detail and dialect, and the Guardian called the book "brave" and "terrifying."
Mitchard credits Winfrey with the fact that she's able to make a living as a writer, saying she went from "total obscurity to being a sort of well-known writer in a couple of weeks."
Mitchard recalls that Winfrey called in 1996 simply to say that she'd enjoyed her book, but that she wouldn't mention it on the show, since fiction was bad for ratings. Two weeks later, Mitchard says, the show decided to give the book club a whirl and picked Mitchard.
The day the show aired, there were 4,000 hold requests for the book at the New York Public Library, says Mitchard, who released her 15th novel this week.
Author and teacher Lamb is one of the few authors to have two books chosen -- "She's Come Undone" and "I Know This Much Is True." He recalls getting a late-night call in 1997 to say that "She's Come Undone" had been selected. Lamb had just returned from the funeral of a former student and explained to Winfrey that he couldn't quite handle the news.
"And she was very sympathetic," Lamb says. But before getting off the phone, Winfrey quietly suggested that Lamb get in touch with his publishers. "She said . . . 'If this thing goes the way it's been going . . . they're going to have to start printing copies this weekend,' " he recalls.
A former high school English teacher, Lamb says he admires the variety of books that Winfrey has chosen (the picks also include more canonical works by authors such as Tolstoy, William Faulkner and Toni Morrison). And Lamb reiterates that a single nod from Winfrey can guarantee an entire career for a struggling writer.
"My first novel came out in 1992, and occasionally I would walk through the mall with my kids," Lamb says, "and I would say, 'Kids, go into the bookstore, and I'll give 50 cents to the first one who finds my novel on the shelf.' And it was kind of demoralizing because they'd be in there for about 20 minutes and they wouldn't find it, and they'd run out and say, 'Dad? We can't find it. Can we have the money?' That was before Oprah."
From: the Washington Post
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
by Robert Matthews
Just how good are the books that win literary awards ? The great and the good who judge such things may roll their eyes at so vulgar an issue as entertainment value, but those of us tired of lobbing "literary triumphs" into the recycling bin can find it hard to avoid thinking that less laudable influences are at work. Such as the author's name, for instance.
One of the books shortlisted for this year's £10,000 Royal Society Science Book Prize, to be announced next Tuesday, considers precisely this issue. In The Drunkard's Walk, a brazenly entertaining study of randomness, Dr Leonard Mlodinow describes an experiment in which leading publishers and agents were sent the texts of award-winning works disguised as the efforts of unknown authors. All but one rejected them – despite the fact that the texts included works by VS Naipaul, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Stanley Middleton, a Booker Prize winner.
Dr Mlodinow argues that this shows how expectations influence experience: people expect unknowns to produce forgettable works, and then set about confirming their belief. Not that he can take much comfort from his theory: like most of the six authors shortlisted for the general prize, he's not exactly a household name.
The two that come closest to achieving that status are Professor Richard Holmes, the award-winning biographer, and Dr Ben Goldacre, who has a regular newspaper column debunking dodgy medical claims. Each in their way has written a worthy winner (see reviews below), but Dr Goldacre may have scuppered his chances by including the ultimate literary vulgarity: humour. In a recent interview, Fay Weldon – who has sat on countless judging panels, including that of the Science Book Prize – declared that if you want to win prizes, "you have to take out all the jokes".
Prof Holmes shouldn't get his hopes up, though. "I've judged enough prizes in my time," added Miss Weldon, "to know the most boring book wins." His own entry on the shortlist, The Age of Wonder, is a huge work in every sense, but never boring. Even the judges have described it as "a truly enthralling read".
If Dr Mlodinow's theory is correct, the judges for the Royal Society prize will be swayed by academic credentials: the more letters after an author's name, the less concern people have about the soundness of the book. Indeed, since its inception in 1988, the prize has been awarded to academics twice as often as to professional science writers.
Yet over recent years, the numbers of academics and scribblers who have won the prize have evened up. So perhaps the judging panel of this prize is different from most, and will go for a book that combines solid science with great entertainment value. If so, Dr Goldacre's searing analysis of medical charlatanry should emerge the winner on Tuesday night.
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
Scientists would have us believe that we're living in the golden age of discovery, yet Richard Holmes makes a case that the true golden age was the 18th century, when scientists were pushing back boundaries in heaven and on earth. His astonishingly wide-ranging narrative focuses on the lives of the naturalist Joseph Banks, the astronomer William Herschel and the chemist Humphrey Davy, each a driving-force of scientific revolutions that reverberate to this day. Holmes conveys the vibrancy of intellectual life during the 18th century, when knowledge was pursued for its own sake, rather than for the next research grant.
Published by Harperpress, £25; T price £23, plus £1.25 p&p
Hailed as one of the great biographers of our age, Professor Richard Holmes has won many awards for his studies of the Romantic era.
Bad science by Ben Goldacre
Don't let the title put you off: this is a hugely entertaining crash course in protecting yourself from potentially life-threatening medical twaddle, from "detox" devices to vaccine scares. A practising doctor, Ben Goldacre shines a light into the darkest reaches of the medical world, where pill-pushing chancers and suspect scientists lurk to relieve us of nothing but our money. This brave and brilliant book should win the prize if only to show solidarity against such bullying shysters.
Published by Fourth Estate, £12.99; T price £11.99 plus £1.25 p&p.
Graduating with a First in medicine from Oxford, Dr Goldacre carried out research in cognitive neuroscience before working full-time in the NHS in London.
The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
Taking its title from the random meanderings of the inebriated, this is a sobering study of the manifestations of probability on our lives. And as Mlodinow makes clear, these extend far beyond card games and lotteries. Living in our uncertain world makes understanding the laws of chance a vital life-skill – and one which most of us lack. Mlodinow puts us straight via a host of fascinating anecdotes and examples, some of which will change the way you see the world forever, and may even explain why some people make it in life, and others don't. A valuable antidote for the nonsense spouted by everyone from financial advisers to wine buffs.
(Penguin, £9.99) Published by Allen Lane, Penguin Press, £9.99; T price £9.99, plus p&p 99p
A theoretical physicist turned author and occasional TV script-writer, Dr Mlodinow now lectures on randomness at the California Institute of Technology.
What the Nose Knows by Avery Gilbert
We humans can recognise around 10,000 different smells, with the blind being even more sensitive, and smokers substantially less. Or at least, that's what we believe: in reality, those are among the many myths and exploded by Gilbert in this wide-ranging review. But he does more than merely debunk: he shows how, for example, scent has the ability to influence us even when we can't consciously detect it. Oddly, however, there's nothing on one of the great mysteries of scent science: how air fresheners work.
Published by Crown Publishers, £16.99; T price £14.99 plus £1.25 p&p
A psychologist and scent scientist, Dr Gilbert has carried out pioneering research into the sense of smell, and now runs his own scent consultancy.
Your inner fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor by Neil Shubin
P&P 99pNext time you get a bout of the hiccups, you can blame the fact that you're descended from a tadpole. According to Neil Shubin, hiccups are the result of circuitry in our brains left over from when we needed to switch from gill to lung breathing – like tadpoles. And that's not all: from haemorrhoids to hernias, our bodies suffer from a host of ailments linked to our evolutionary ties to fish. Shubin shows that, contrary to what creationists would have us believe, our bodies aren't miracles of intelligent design, but creaky lash-ups that are just good enough. Though he occasionally gets bogged down in too much detail, Shubin does a grand job of undermining creationism without hectoring his readers.
Published by Allen Lane, Penguin Press, £9.99 T price £9.99 plus 99p P&P
Professor Shubin is a paleontologist at the University of Chicago. Among his mentors was the late Stephen Jay Gould, doyen of natural history essayists.
Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant
It sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown novel: fragments of what appears to be a 2,000-year-old computer are found in the wreckage of an ancient ship, sparking a race by rival boffins to find out what the computer is for. Yet this is not fiction. Since its discovery off the coast of Crete in 1901, the astonishing Antikythera mechanism, with its intricate array of gears and dials, has mesmerised scientists. What would the Ancient Greeks have done with such a device, whose complexity was not surpassed for another thousand years? Jo Marchant does justice to the complex story, serving up a first-rate detective story.
Published by William Heinemann, £8.99; T price, £8.99 plus 99p p&p.
After earning a PhD in medical microbiology, Jo Marchant became a science journalist, and is currently a consultant to New Scientist.
Robert Matthews is visiting reader in science at Aston University, Birmingham
Judging Panel: Chairman: Sir Tim Hunt FRS, Nobel laureate and scientist with Cancer Research UK; Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist at Astrium Ltd; Dr Phillip Ball, author; Deborah Cohen, editor at BBC Radio Science Unit; Danny Wallace, author, comedian and presenter.
From: the Telegraph
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
by: Alison Flood
If you disagree with a point in Po Bronson's new book about parenting, NurtureShock, then don't bother returning it or giving it a one-star review on Amazon: you can tell Bronson directly, thanks to an online experiment that will allow readers to add their own footnotes to the pages of a digital version of the book.
As of next week, readers of Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, will be able to go online and make notes on three chapters of the book. Covering the topics of why 98% of children lie, why too much praise for children is a bad idea, and how important an extra hour of sleep is, the three chapters will be posted on PoBronson.com, Nurtureshock.com and Twelvebooks.com, where readers will be able to highlight sections of the text, and add their own footnotes to their selections.
"I'm interested in building community around books, facilitating discussion. This is an experiment to see what happens," said novelist and journalist Bronson, whose book, NurtureShock, was published in the US last week by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group USA, with UK publication lined up for next year. "Our book already has 70 pages of sources, and 7,000 words of footnotes, that we've put in there."
Caroline Vanderlip, chief executive of SharedBook, the American company enabling the exercise, agreed with Bronson. "We believe that the community can enrich the original, similar to how footnotes or marginalia have enriched books for years," she said. "The difference here is that it's collaborative annotation, rather than from one source."
Interested collaborators will then be able to buy a PDF of the three chapters complete with their new footnotes. "We think the level of comments could be as engaging as the original," said Vanderlip. "Because our system supports annotation in a very detailed, contextual way, we have found that users do not abuse the system. But we have the means to delete anything that might be offensive." Bronson said he saw the project as having a "'wisdom of crowds'/Wikipedia-like community moderation".
Philip Jones, managing editor of theBookseller.com, said that publishers were all looking at ways of making books "more communal". "It's the whole idea of having a conversation around a book, no longer reading in isolation and building a community of readers," he said. "[The Bronson experiment is] another innovation from publishers who are seeking ways to reach out to readers in the digital age. It works for Amazon who have created a whole new platform for getting feedback on books in their comments. There is nowhere else you can get that feedback, and I know authors use it."
At Penguin, digital publisher Jeremy Ettinghausen said that readers were increasingly "wanting to discuss and comment and tag things, and as an initiative which allows people to indulge that, this is welcome". "I'm looking forward to a version when people can read the same book at the same time and all comment together," he said. "We are always thinking about how we can develop communities around particular books or categories, and there will be a time when we'll be able to integrate those communities and conversations with content."
"Enhanced ebooks will almost certainly be the way forward, and as the quality of ereaders improves, there will be a multitude of ways in which we can do this," added Hodder & Stoughton's Isobel Akenhead, pointing to "director's cut" editions of books – with commentary from the author about why and how the text might have changed, as well as user commentaries, which she said would work particularly well for reference books such as recipe books
From: the Guardian
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
by: Alison Flood
The latest in comic book warfare pits two unlikely heroines against each other: JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. The bestselling authors are set to go head-to-head at the end of the year, when graphic novel biographies of each writer are lined up for publication.
Dressed in a purple off-the-shoulder dress and a golden necklace, Rowling's comic persona is somewhat more glamorous than that of Meyer, who sports a grey v-neck jumper. Whether this will prove more enticing to readers of the comics, which are scheduled for release in December and November respectively by US publisher Bluewater Productions, remains to be seen.
The Rowling graphic biography will follow her "rags to riches story", said Bluewater, from her middle-class upbringing, to her time in Portugal teaching English and her "meteoric rise" to bestsellerdom. Author Adam Gragg said Rowling was "a remarkable and multi-dimensional woman". "Learning about who she is and how she struggled to become a success was a truly enlightening experience," he said. "Twelve publishers turned her down. If it weren't for the daughter of a British publisher who liked Rowling's first chapter of Philosopher's Stone, we might never have met Harry Potter."
Meyer's story, meanwhile, will be narrated by a vampire "in a very fun, respectful and unique way", according to Bluewater president Darren G Davis.
The publisher is currently in the process of selecting two other prominent female authors for its comic book series, and said it was deliberating between Toni Morrison, Ayn Rand, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Beatrix Potter and Virginia Woolf. The books are being published as part of its Female Force series, which has already featured biographies of Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton.
From: the Guardian
Sunday, September 13, 2009
What frugal person doesn't like libraries? They're like a video store, only better. Which is why we're horrified to learn that thanks to the economic meltdown and the state of Pennsylvania's inability to pass its budget, the Philadelphia Free Library is closing on October 2nd. They'll be ending all services and programs, and closing all of the buildings. They want all of the books back, too.
Most American libraries receive funding from multiple sources; usually a combination of municipal, state, private, and sometimes federal funds. Depending on the particular mix of funding sources, and whether a library system levies its own taxes or depends on a changing budget line item, a late budget can be catastrophic. That's what's happening in Philadelphia - without their regular aid, they can no longer function.
Meanwhile, if you live in Pennsylvania or just really love libraries, you can contact state legislators about the budget situation. Or open your own rogue library on your front lawn.
All Free Library of Philadelphia Branch, Regional and Central Libraries Closed Effective Close of Business October 2, 2009 [Free Library of Philadelphia]
Saturday, September 12, 2009
To say they are diverse may be understatement. There are Geordies banging spoons, Tawang lamas blowing conch shell trumpets and Tongan tribesman playing nose flutes. And then there is the Assamese woodworm feasting on a window frame in the dead of night.
The British Library revealed it has made its vast archive of world and traditional music available to everyone, free of charge, on the internet.
That amounts to roughly 28,000 recordings and, although no one has yet sat down and formally timed it, about 2,000 hours of singing, speaking, yelling, chanting, blowing, banging, tinkling and many other verbs associated with what is a uniquely rich sound archive.
"It is recordings from around the world and right from the beginnings of recorded history," said the library's curator of world and traditional music, Janet Topp Fargion. "This project is really exciting. One of the difficulties, working as an archivist, is people's perception that things are given to libraries and then are never seen again – we want these recordings to be accessible."
Much of the British archive was obtained by the library in 2000-01 in a lottery-funded project.
"These were recordings that were under people's desks and in people's attics and now we're really excited because we're able to put them out to a much wider audience," said Fargion. "These are unpublished and often raw recordings and there are people fluffing the words and discussing the songs so they give you a real sense of the store of traditional music that people carry around with them in their heads."
The archive includes many folk songs, and troop songs. Other clips might provide a lunchtime pick-me-up for workers trapped in offices, such as a boisterous pub version of It's a Long Way to Tipperary recorded at the Boldon Lad in Newcastle in 1979, complete with banjos and spoons and beery refrains.
Fargion said the cheering news was that, in Britain at least, traditions are still alive and well. "You do hear doom and gloom about traditions but I think we're seeing a bit of a revival of interest in traditional music, especially among younger people."
The recordings go back more than 100 years, with the earliest recordings being the wax cylinders on which British anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon recorded Aboriginal singing on his trip to the Torres Strait islands off Australia in 1898.
There are also recordings which were published but are little heard such as the Decca West African yellow label recordings, recorded between 1948 and 1961, which include calypso from Sierra Leone, quickstep from Ghana and the not easily categorisable - Ma Felreh and her Susu Jolly Group, possibly from Togo, performing Kingsway Bairie.
And then there is the downright peculiar. Someone, for example, has recorded an Assamese woodworm as it chews away at a window frame at 4am with crickets chirruping away in the background. "It is not easy to record a woodworm," said Fargion.
From: the Guardian
Note: to hear clips of some of the recordings from the archive, such as the Assamese woodworm, go to the article.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
It's Not How Long You Make It, Is It?
by: Roger Sutton
A tangential question that came up when we were discussing digital review copies made me pull out my calculator. How much longer are books getting?
I compared fiction for ages 12 and up reviewed in the Magazine in the September issues of 2009, 1999, 1989 and 1979 (October issue; we were on a different schedule then).
Average number of pages in books for teens reviewed in 1979: 151
Now, part of this is the current preponderance of fantasy, which has always tended to run longer--the longest book reviewed in the '79 issue was Robert Westall's (fabulous) Devil on the Road, at 245pp. But when I took fantasy and sf out of the 2009 sample, I still came up with 280 pp. average for realistic YA fiction, almost twice as long as it was thirty years ago.
The success of Harry Potter must take some of the heat for this; another factor could be that YA has gotten older: there is much more published for older high school students than there was even ten years ago. Plus, realistic YA seems more character-driven than it used to be in the old problem novel days, and while this has given the genre undeniable depths, it may also have encouraged a certain amount of yammering on. And people are also blaming the nexus of word-processing, larger lists, and smaller editorial staffs combining to mean less pruning. What else? I suppose we have to consider the possibility that the current crop of Horn Book editors and reviewers likes longer books, but surely you know us better than that.
From: Read Roger
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
By: Clive Thompson
As the school year begins, be ready to hear pundits fretting once again about how kids today can't write—and technology is to blame. Facebook encourages narcissistic blabbering, video and PowerPoint have replaced carefully crafted essays, and texting has dehydrated language into "bleak, bald, sad shorthand" (as University College of London English professor John Sutherland has moaned). An age of illiteracy is at hand, right?
Andrea Lunsford isn't so sure. Lunsford is a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, where she has organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.
The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.
It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.
But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it's over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn't serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn't find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.
Of course, good teaching is always going to be crucial, as is the mastering of formal academic prose. But it's also becoming clear that online media are pushing literacy into cool directions. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis—from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs—has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.
We think of writing as either good or bad. What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.
From: Wired Magazine
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Maybe you haven’t heard the bad news yet, but “Reading Rainbow” is dead.
(Celebrity deaths always happen in 6,439s, you guys!)
Last Friday, the beloved LeVar Burton vehicle ended its twenty-six-year run, after the producers couldn’t find the funds to renew the broadcasting rights. (There’s an excellent article at NPR about how “Reading Rainbow” was a casualty of an ongoing shift in the philosophy of children’s educational programming from the “whys” to the “hows” of reading.)
Granted, I haven’t seen the show since the days of L.A. Lights and Freezy Freakies, but I still remember fondly the deep jealousy I felt watching all the (clearly inferior) kids my age (whose parents had obviously bribed their way on to television) over-emote their opinions on books I’d never read.
I also remember being confused that LeVar Burton looked a lot like that guy on “Roots.” Later, I learned what an actor was.
I remember being confused by the end of the (absolutely incredible) opening segment: a young man reads by a river in the woods. Suddenly, he turns into a… cartoon… Thomas Jefferson-esque… beachcomber, who appears to be pulling a ship downriver with a piece of string. (Wait—for real, though—is that supposed to be a toy boat, or is this Thomas Jefferson-esque beachcomber just incredibly strong as a result of reading a lot? The use of perspective is a bit amateurish.)
Oh, yes, and I remember learning to love books.
Youth was such a bittersweet time.
In any case, we’re going to go ahead and open up the comments section for anyone interested in sharing his or her fondest remembrances of the show that may or may not have helped define a generation of booknerds, and that probably has something to do with the existence of this blog.
I’ll start: Remember the episode set in a crayon factory? That was pretty nuts.
Now you go:
From: the New Yorker
Cushing Academy embraces a digital future.
by: David Abel
ASHBURNHAM - There are rolling hills and ivy-covered brick buildings. There are small classrooms, high-tech labs, and well-manicured fields. There’s even a clock tower with a massive bell that rings for special events.
Cushing Academy has all the hallmarks of a New England prep school, with one exception.
This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks - the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.
“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’
Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a “learning center,’’ though that is only one of the names in contention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.
And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature.
Those who don’t have access to the electronic readers will be expected to do their research and peruse many assigned texts on their computers.
“Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we’re building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books,’’ said Tracy, whose office shelves remain lined with books. “We see this as a model for the 21st-century school.’’
Not everyone on campus is sold on Tracy’s vision.
They worry about an environment where students can no longer browse rows of voluptuous books, replete with glossy photographs, intricate maps, and pages dog-eared by generations of students. They worry students will be less likely to focus on long works when their devices are constantly interrupting them with e-mail and instant messages. They also worry about a world where sweat-stained literature is deemed as perishable as all the glib posts on Facebook or Twitter.
Liz Vezina, a librarian at Cushing for 17 years, said she never imagined working as the director of a library without any books.
“It makes me sad,’’ said Vezina, who hosts a book club on campus dubbed the Off-line Readers and has made a career of introducing students to books. “I’m going to miss them. I love books. I’ve grown up with them, and there’s something lost when they’re virtual. There’s a sensual side to them - the smell, the feel, the physicality of a book is something really special.’’
Alexander Coyle, chairman of the history department, is a self-described “gadget freak’’ who enjoys reading on Amazon’s Kindle, but he has always seen libraries and their hallowed content as “secular cathedrals.’’
“I wouldn’t want to ever get rid of any of my books at home,’’ he said. “I like the feel of them too much. A lot us are wondering how this changes the dignity of the library, and why we can’t move to increase digital resources while keeping the books.’’
Tracy and other administrators said the books took up too much space and that there was nowhere else on campus to stock them. So they decided to give their collection - aside from a few hundred children’s books and valuable antiquarian works - to local schools and libraries.
“We see the gain as greater than the loss,’’ said Gisele Zangari, chairwoman of the math department, who like other teachers has plans for all her students to do their class reading on electronic books by next year. “This is the start of a new era.’’
Cushing is one of the first schools in the country to abandon its books.
“I’m not aware of any other library that has done this,’’ said Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association, a Chicago-based organization that represents the nation’s libraries.
He said the move raises at least two concerns: Many of the books on electronic readers and the Internet aren’t free and it may become more difficult for students to happen on books with the serendipity made possible by physical browsing. There’s also the question of the durability of electronic readers.
“Unless every student has a Kindle and an unlimited budget, I don’t see how that need is going to be met,’’ Fiels said. “Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power. When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book.’’
William Powers, author of a forthcoming book based on a paper he published at Harvard called “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal,’’ called the changes at Cushing “radical’’ and “a tremendous loss for students.’’
“There are modes of learning and thinking that at the moment are only available from actual books,’’ he said. “There is a kind of deep-dive, meditative reading that’s almost impossible to do on a screen. Without books, students are more likely to do the grazing or quick reading that screens enable, rather than be by themselves with the author’s ideas.’’
Yet students at Cushing say they look forward to the new equipment, and the brave new world they’re ushering in.
Tia Alliy, a 16-year-old junior, said she visits the library nearly every day, but only once looked for a book in the stacks. She’s not alone. School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.
“When you hear the word ‘library,’ you think of books,’’ Alliy said. “But very few students actually read them. And the more we use e-books, the fewer books we have to carry around.’’
Jemmel Billingslea, an 18-year-old senior, thought about the prospect of a school without books. It didn’t bother him.
“It’s a little strange,’’ he said. “But this is the future.’’
From: the Boston Globe
Thursday, September 3, 2009
by: Denise James
It's called "The Tool Library," and people stop by to borrow hammers, saws, and even power tools.
It's located at 46th and Woodland.
We have hand tools and everything up to larger power tools," said Eric Rivera of the Tool Library.
The shelves are stocked with 1,600 tools that were donated or purchased with grant money. Members pay $20 per year to borrow whatever they like.
So far, there are 400 members.
The tools are used for everything from light handy work to full scale renovation. Just two weeks ago, volunteers used 100 loaner tools to build a playground at 47th & Sansom.
Alyce Miller borrowed a tree trimmer to cut back high branches. A 40 foot ladder is next on her list to shore up bricks on her 3 story rowhome.
"I'm a tool user. That's why I'm so thankful I can come around here and get their tools. A lot of tools I don't have in my home," Miller said.
The West Philadelphia Tool Library is one of about 20 to 30 across the country. The oldest dates back about 30 years.
Members love the financial flexibility borrowing tools affords them.
"I have a big old house we renovated, so I don't have to buy every tool that you need to use once. It's been convenient and they have so many tools in here," said member Gloria Prusakowski.
The 8 foot ladder and pipe wrench Prusakowski borrowed were among the half dozen borrowed tools she's used this year that could cost hundreds to buy or rent.
"You might need a large expensive tool once and you don't want to drop $300 for that. So the idea you can use it once for what you need then someone else in the community can use it," she said.
The library also offers how to books, classes and advice. It's a tool cooperative
From: ABC Action News
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
by: Alison Flood
Teenage fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series have sent Wuthering Heights – the favourite novel of the books' hero and heroine – soaring to the top of the classics bestseller charts.
A new edition of the novel, repackaged in a similar style to Meyer's Twilight books – black cover, white flower, tagline "love never dies" – was released in May this year, and has already sold more than 10,000 copies in the UK, nearly twice as many as the traditional Penguin Classic edition, making it Waterstone's bestselling classic.
"Love the Twilight books? Then you'll adore Wuthering Heights, one of the greatest love stories ever told," gushes the book chain's synopsis of Emily Brontë's novel. "Cathy and Heathcliff, childhood friends, are cruelly separated by class, fate and the actions of others. But uniting them is something even stronger: an all-consuming passion that sweeps away everything that comes between them. Even death!"
Meyer's human heroine Bella and her vampire hero Edward cite the 1847 novel as their favourite book; Bella even quotes Cathy speaking about Heathcliff, saying of Edward that "if all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger".
Just as Cathy is torn between Edgar and Heathcliff, so is Bella the centre of a love triangle between Edward and Jacob the werewolf.
"Wuthering Heights is of course a steady seller, but it's usually Pride and Prejudice, or whichever classic has recently been adapted for film or TV that is at the top. I don't think a vampire's recommendation has ever sent a book to number one before," said Waterstone's classics buyer Simon Robertson.
The novel might be flying off the shelves, but readers posting reviews on Waterstone's website weren't entirely impressed by Brontë's writing. Giving it just one star, Hayley Mears wrote that "I was really disappointed when reading this book, it's made to believe to be one of the greatest love stories ever told and I found only five pages out of the whole book about there love and the rest filled with bitterness and pain and other peoples stories". Another reviewer wondered if the book was "in old english or mordern understandable english?" "if so i want it but it sounds like it's just the original version with a different cover," she wrote.
From: the Guardian
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
by: Owen Good
In a public library, a dude sitting at a monitor with his hands in his lap, covered by a newspaper, implicitly means bad things. Fear not, he’s only sneaked in an Xbox to steal the free WiFi and play Halo.
The tumblelog teendrama picked this up: the writer’s pal spied the multiplayer shenanigans in the New York Public Library. The guy pictured brought in a monitor, Xbox, wireless router, what looks like a Turtle Beach Ear Force gaming headset (I have one), and an external hard drive. His controller is concealed by yesterday’s New York Post.
“He proceeded to play Quake/Halo/Call of Duty, some nerd fighter game, while yelling out instructions to his ‘teammates’,” says the photographer.
Small wonder then, that it “took him 20 minutes to set it all up. Took him 2 minutes to get kicked out.”