The problem with e-readers

1 05 2010

A dark and gritty future ruled by giant corporations?  Cyberpunk didn’t know the half of it.

When I was playing role-playing games like Cyberpunk or Shadowrun back in college, tech implants and data feeds didn’t have compatibility issues.  You never had to worry about getting a data chip in a particular format because your reader wouldn’t handle a rival format.  Corps owned everything and everyone, but somehow the corp wars were restricted to the big picture, not to the stuff we carried around in our pockets every day, or implanted in our heads and wrists.  Of course, it was a game, and any game that rendered half of your cool equipment inoperable because of compatibility issues would cease being fun pretty quickly.

That’s kind of my point here.  I continue to look forward to a future a little like the one I role-played in college.  No, not the ruling mega-corps, or the totalitarian control  (I’m happy not to be living in Arizona just now), or the rampant poverty and inequity.  I long for the day when they make an e-reader that will work with e-books.  ANY e-books.  I don’t want to have to worry about my Kindle not talking to my Overdrive account.  I don’t want to be denied a particular title because the publisher doesn’t offer it in the format I use.  I want a reader that will load e-books.  Any e-book I want, from whatever source I want, regardless of format.  I want to keep my reading private when I want to, and I want to be able to show off the cover of what I’m reading to anyone who cares to glance over at me.  And I want to KEEP it– I don’t want it disappearing from my reader because the e-book provider decided to yank that edition.  I want to be able to share it, and loan it, and donate it, and pass it on to my heirs.  Why has OWNING a book turned into such an impossible concept?

Am I dreaming of an impossible future?  Probably.  Definitely, as long as we let the big corps set the terms of how it’ll be, since they seem determined to turn book ownership into book leasing.  Why don’t I own an e-reader yet?  Because e-books aren’t where they should be.  Because e-readers, for all their “convenience,” still aren’t convenient to ME; they don’t serve my needs.  Because an old-fashioned library still offers me a lot more choices than any e-reader in existence.


Refreshing my digital presence

1 05 2010

My, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  I’ve allowed my digital presence to get dusty… or at least this corner of it.  Of course, I think half the reason I’m posting right now is that it’s in the mid-70s and I have a serious amount of digging to look forward to, to put in my bee bed (by which I mean flowerbed featuring plants that attract bees, not a… well… do bees sleep? (No.))

I’ve been thinking about that a great deal recently… the increasingly fractured “presence” we have in the world.  One of the celebrities I follow on Twitter recently announced that he was going to be dropping his Twitter presence in favor of Tumblr, the latest in microblogging, because it would allow him to share more with an equally easy-to-access format.

It got me thinking about how much of a sprawl my own “presence” is turning into.  There’s my physical presence, of course– me, my office, my home, my car.  Then we start moving into less personal presences– my phone (land and cel), my mailing address.  But things really blow up when we move into virtual presences: my email addresses (3 that I use regularly, and more that I don’t), my blogs (4 and counting), Facebook, Twitter, chat, IRC (yes, I’m old-fashioned that way), Flickr, YouTube, wishlist, multiple gaming accounts (some with multiple avatars), multiple forum and wiki accounts, online store accounts, online bank accounts… and that’s not even going into the big, muddy digital footprints I leave all over the place when I search the web, both for library and personal use.  (I suspect Amazon has my personal preferences down as “highly eclectic” at this point.)

I’m supposed to manage all of this somehow?  The more I list, the more daunting it seems.  I can understand the desire to move to a site that promises to consolidate at least some of that, but.. I go (online) where my work and my friends are.  I know I’m not likely to abandon Twitter or any of my blogs just because I’ve added something else.  All I’ll be doing is fracturing myself a little bit more.  Help, I want my virtual integrity back!


20 06 2009

We have had a lot of rain lately– my rain gauge measured 3″ on Thursday alone.  On Wednesday, I noticed a cute little mushroom in the lawn:

Cute Little Mushroom

Cute Little Mushroom

On Saturday, just as it was starting to rain again, I glanced out and noticed what I thought was a rabbit sitting by the same grassed-over tree stump.  I grabbed my camera and went out to look…

Big Hulking Mushroom

Big Hulking Mushroom

Underside of Big Hulking Mushroom

Underside of Big Hulking Mushroom

…it was not a rabbit.  See the clover in the lower left corner of the pictures?  Use that as a scale– it gives you a pretty good idea of how much the Cute Little Mushroom grew in the space of three days.  (Lots. Of.  Rain.)

Lots and lots of new/old flowers

15 06 2009
Tulip whimsy!

Tulip whimsy!

Ah, photography. The flowers of spring have faded and gone, but their images remain… and I’ve been a noodlehead and have been forgetting to upload them. 😛 There’s about a month and a half (um… nearly 600 photos?  Eeep!)  of photographic spring frenzy freshly loaded to my Flickr account, if you’d like to take a look!

Simnel Cake

14 06 2009

Ahhh, the Interweb can be a marvelous thing.

I’m reading Nicola Cornick‘s The Confessions of a Duchess, Book 1 in her new “Brides of Fortune” Regency series.  (Read an interview with Nicola about this series at Word Wenches!)  So far, very amusing.  Here’s the premise, in brief, of the series: It is the summer of 1809.  Sir Montague Fortune, the squire of the Yorkshire village of Fortune’s Folly, has had his suit rebuffed by a local young heiress.  In his quest for revenge (and to get his hands on her money), he discovers a dusty piece of medieval law called the “Dames’ Tax” that, though long lapsed, was never repealed: the lord of the manor may levy a tithe upon all unmarried women of the village for one-half of their fortunes.  He revives the tax, simultaneously making Fortune’s Folly the premiere marriage mart of all England and earning him the enmity of every female in the village.  Give half their fortunes to him, or all to a hastily-chosen fortune-hunting husband?  Whichever they decide, if they cannot get him to repeal this ridiculous tax before Christmas (when the levy is due), they are determined to make him pay… one way or another.  The first book follows the story of Laura, the impoverished Dowager Duchess of Cole.

There is a reference about halfway through the book to the cook baking a “simnel cake” for the duchess. (“She says it is a medicinal recipe.”)  I’d never heard the term before– if I had to guess, I would have said the word might be a corruption of “cinnamon,” or that it might be some kind of rum cake (given the sly “medicinal” reference).  This was obviously a prime case of “Librarian, answer thyself!”  I thought it might be amusing to share my search path here (and share a number of handy reference links while I’m at it).

As my computer was handier than my OED (always a good choice when you’re looking for an archaic term), I started at OneLook with the word simnel:  “a fruitcake (sometimes covered with almond paste) eaten at mid-Lent or Easter or Christmas.”  Fruitcake!  Aha, now I was getting somewhere.  The Online Etymology Dictionary told me further that it is a “‘sweet cake,’ c.1200, from O.Fr. simenel ‘fine wheat flour,’ by dissimilation from V.L. *siminellus, a dim. of L. simila ‘fine flour’ (see semolina).”

Well enough, although that didn’t sound very “medicinal.”  Still, many fruitcakes are soaked in rum or brandy… how about a recipe?  When I’ve got a potential recipe stumper, the very first thing I do is to ask Uncle Phaedrus, Finder of Lost Recipes.  Uncle Phaedrus has an archive of nine years’ worth of hard-to-find recipe questions– if the answer’s not in there somewhere, it’s probably not online.  Even better, the archives are fully searchable.  Uncle Phaedrus did not disappoint this time, either.  Searching on simnel again, I found his answer to a question about Mothering Sunday Cake.  His first link, to an article on A Simnel Cake for Mother’s Day, told me all I might wish to know about simnel cake, including a recipe, meaning, and a bit about the surprising (to me) religious origins of Mothering Sunday.  Tadaa!  (As a note, the second and third links were dead (hey, it happens).  But– bonus!– I was able to retrieve the third link on simnel cake anyway, using the fabulous Internet Archive‘s Wayback Machine!)

I think Nicola Cornick’s research was a bit off– although quite rich and obviously special, this cake doesn’t seem “medicinal” in the slightest.  And though the backstory of the cake fits in nicely with the plot point of “medieval traditions revived,” this one seems never to have died out in England.  BBC Food says simnel cake is made traditionally in modern times for Easter.  I would be quite surprised if a Regency woman had never heard of it as a cornerstone of the Mothering Sunday tradition, since the American Mother’s Day traditions that somewhat supplanted it didn’t even exist until nearly a century after the book takes place.  Ah, well, I’m picking nits.  It’s not like the Dames’ Tax is historically accurate either (although yes, there were many taxes in the Middle Ages that we’d now consider quite zany).  The question still netted me a nifty historical recipe and a research process to share.

(Final note– there was, in fact, a link further down the page on OneLook for the phrase simnel cake, but I’d overlooked it until I went back to recreate this search.  Let that be a lesson to you, if you’re in such a hurry to find your answer that you don’t bother to scroll down!  It would have saved me a few steps, as the Wikipedia article on simnel cake looks pretty accurate (although, being Wikipedia, I probably would have double-checked the facts elsewhere anyway), and there’s the lovely link to the BBC Food Glossary that I mentioned above.  But then I wouldn’t have been able to share my beloved Uncle Phaedrus! 😉 )

Public/Private Presences

12 06 2009


The Web 2.0 classes have had me thinking a lot about the topic of privacy and presence on the web, lately. The generations in school now are growing up with an expectation of living their lives in public in a way that would likely appall many of their parents.  I’m from an “in-between” generation– I know what it was to have a social life (well, as much as geeks have social lives) before “social networking,” but I have a very solid digital presence today– multiple email accounts and blogs, Twitter, Flickr, a couple of wikis, an MMORPG (*coughWarcraftcough*), chats, RSS feeds…. yep, got ’em.

Despite all that, I have been fairly diligent in keeping lines drawn between aspects of my life.  Online:offline.  Professional:Private.  Librarian Secret Identity:Superhero… oops. 😉  Seriously, though… even though I interact with the public every day, I consider myself a fairly private person, and I can be downright paranoid about how much of myself I’ll put out on the Web.  I usually sign comments with a nickname instead of my real name, and I’m extremely careful about giving out my email addresses.  If you know me in person, you know what I look like.  If you only know me online, you probably don’t.  I never use pictures of myself as avatars (I may be a bookworm, but I am neither little nor green), and I am deliberately vague about exactly where I live (although now that I think on it, I believe Flickr automatically geotags my photos).  I have a running private joke (not so private now, I suppose) about my “self-portraits” on Flickr– I take pictures of my shadow, or of  a very distorted reflection (say, in a garden gazing ball).  Pictures of me, but not recognizably “me” to someone who doesn’t know me.  Some of this is common-sense Internet safety, but I’ll freely admit that my own paranoia is a factor.

Truthfully, it *shouldn’t* be so much of an issue.  Although it’s true that anything posted to the Web has a good chance of being there forever (no matter how quickly you take it down again), the sheer glut of information on the Web does a pretty good job of protecting most people’s privacy.  Unless you’re a celebrity or someone is actively trying to hack you, your information will likely be of interest only to the people who already know you (or know of you) IRL.  Yes, I’m out there… but the chances of a stranger accidentally wandering across me and discovering– or even caring about– my life story are pretty slim.  I am technically writing for the entire wired world on this blog, but I have a fairly good idea of who my actual audience will be: my colleagues at work (starting with those taking the Web 2.0 classes with me), a few friends who might choose to seek me out here, and possibly some of our local library community, if I choose to keep this blog active.  (Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong.  Or tell me I’m right.  Yes, of course I mean you.  What do you think that comment box is down there for?)  The social borders are shifting, too.  “Kids today” are comfortable living digitally in public not because they are unaware of privacy concerns, but because they have no difficulty recognizing intended audience from context (much in the way you’d recognize your suit-wearing boss was not in “work” mode if you encountered him in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt).  Or, possibly, the lines just aren’t as meaningful to them.

Privacy concerns aside, that still leaves the issue of formerly distinct personas merging into one another on the Web.  Blogging hasn’t been so much of an issue… I have a private blog, and I have this, my (mostly) professional blog.  I’m aware that I could have crossover in my audience, and I keep that in mind when I’m writing, but for the most part, I know who will be reading what.  In the morning, though… my worlds collide.  I’ve had an active Twitter account for nearly a year.  My followers have been, for the most part, friends and family… but now my work colleagues will be able to look at my tweets.  (Not that they couldn’t have at any time in the past, it’s just that, y’know, now I *know* they’ll be there.)  I admit, it makes me a little… nervous.  I don’t act the same way with friends as I do at work.  Looking ahead, we’ll be working on Facebook soon, and that makes me even *more* nervous.  I know I have friends and family who are active on Facebook, but I’ll be creating a presence as a librarian.  Who will I write for?  What tone do I take?  Or do I dodge the question entirely and create yet another alias?

Questions I don’t have answers for… yet.  Stay subscribed, dear Reader.

About the Header

7 06 2009

So.  I have a blog.  I wanted it to be a pretty blog, so I chose a theme that had a picture header.  And then I found out the picture header was customizable, and… well, that was my doom.  But it’s given me a blog topic, so it’s not ALL bad!

The original header was a spectum of paint sample strips.  Pretty, but… generic.  This is MY blog, I want it to say something about me.  Then I remembered a few articles I’d read recently about organizing books by color, and using books as a color design element in interior decoration, and thought, hey, that would be different and cool and quirky!  So, in the time-honored tradition of the interweb, I Googled a few pictures and stole one for my header.  (I was going to give credit.  Really.  But then I had another thought!)

Then I thought, this is pretty… but wouldn’t it be so much more meaningful to have books from my own library as my blog header?  (I really should shut myself down cold when I start thinking; it always leads to trouble.)  I chose green to go with the site theme, and because Glossaria’s avatar is a little green bookworm.  I started pulling books based on the color of the spine… and then I had another thought.  I thought, alright, I can pick *any* green books… but wouldn’t it be nice to have a selection of books that reflected the full range of my interests?  (Ha.  HA HA HA.  HA, I say!)

This would be where I really started getting myself into trouble, for a number of reasons.  To start with, I have a *lot* of interests.  I have even more books, and woefully insufficient shelving.  The books that are actually on shelves are more or less organized.  The books that don’t fit are… not.  Finding the representative titles I had in mind was occasionally more challenging than it should have been.

I also discovered that some subjects are more likely to have green covers than others– gardening, for instance.  Herbalism.  Tea.  Anything on the Celts or Irish.  Many, many green books for these topics.  The history of piracy, on the other hand, tends to black or tan or maroon or leather-brown covers (though you’ll note I did find *one* green spine)– good old-timey piratical colors.  I do not own one single paleography or calligraphy book in green (they’re light blue, red, black, or cream, mostly).  My books on the history of flight are all in shades of blue (for the Great Blue Yonder, perhaps?)  All of my chocolate cookbooks are either dark brown or (inexplicably) pink.  I did find one Bible in green (most are black, white, or red), but it’s a translation I don’t much care for (The Way: The Living Bible— it came out in the 70’s and reads like it, man.)  Some favorite authors had to be left off, because I couldn’t find a title with a green spine.  It made me think a lot about what goes into cover design.  Could there be an unconscious (or even, deliberate?) color association for certain subjects, like the colors of academic hoods?  If there is, it’s not in library science– the hood color is lemon yellow, AACR2 and DDC22 are both green, and my old textbooks are every color of the rainbow.

I did finally come up with the shelf’s worth you see above, but it was a a considerably larger project than I’d originally intended.  All the same, I’m pleased with it.  I have a subtle personal statement permanently attached to my blog, I learned a few new things about my own collection in the process, and I got to experiment with an “outside the box” library organizational system.  While this system could work with single-subject libraries, or with custom covers (covering all one’s reference books in red, for instance), it’s not the answer for my home library, I think.  But it was fun to play with, and I got a cool header out of it.  And… wow.  A much longer blog entry than I’d intended, too.

If you want to know what titles I chose (I’m aware some of them came out a bit fuzzy or got half-chopped to fit the header), there’s a full list under the “About” tab, above.