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Showing posts from June, 2008

Book review: "Your Inner Fish"

I just finished "Your Inner Fish: a journey into the 3.5-billion year history of the human body," by Neil Shubin. Shubin is provost of the fabulous Field Museum, as well as professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago, and a clear, lively writer. His thesis is this: it is possible to trace a common blueprint for life from human beings all the way back to primitive multi-cellular organisms. As Shubin writes,

A subset of these multicellular animals have a body plan like ours, with a front and a back, a top and a bottom, and a left and a right....

A subset of multicellular animals that have ... a body plan like ours....also have skulls and backbones...

A subset of multicellular animals that have ... skulls and backbones ... also have hands and feet ...

A subset of multicellular animals that have ... hands and feet also have a three-boned middle ear ...

A subset of multicellular animals that have ... a three-boned middle ear also have a bipedal gait and enormous brains.

Shubin m…

Private sales, public elections

Another intelligent patron emailed me today. It's very much in keeping with my previous post. He cited what seems to be today's myth: the Internet has made libraries obsolete. Never mind that no one reads whole books on the computer, and certainly not children's books. I focused on, really, the idea of "need" again. I wrote, " every conceivable measure -- library visits, library reference questions, children's storytimes attended, adults attending programs and meetings, and of course, the plain number of items checked out -- library use [in Douglas County] is increasing at least three times faster than our population. That is not the profile of an obsolete institution. That looks, in fact, like a successful business facing extraordinary demand. In the private sector, demand equals sales. In the public sector, our costs do not include profits, so our 'sale' is conducted via elections."

I grew up reading, and greatly admiring, Ayn Rand. Bu…

Want versus need

A week or so ago, the library sent out the first letter in its public information campaign about a potential mill levy question on the 2008 ballot. Since then, I've gotten maybe a dozen responses. About a third of them were positive and often included offers to help. About two thirds were either critical or negative. When people gave their names or emails, I contacted them to answer their questions, or at least let them know that I heard their concerns.

But one response, an anonymous letter, voiced a frank enough concern that got me to thinking: how do we (taxpayers) know that the library actually needs more money?

Let's begin with the basics: the list of human needs is actually pretty small. We need air, water, food, shelter. Once the basics are taken care of, we start to move up the list of more abstract "needs" -- intimacy, productivity, recreation, etc.

What does that mean in the public sector? What do we "need?" Often, police and fire are defined as &quo…

My DNA results

Well, the genographic site had the results of my DNA analysis up yesterday, and I may be no wiser than before. This was the attempt to trace my paternal line: son to father to grandfather, and so on. The sad news: no evidence of anything but the typical European markers, so no evidence for a Cherokee heritage. On the other hand, the alleged ancestor was my father's MOTHER'S father -- by definition outside the link of father to son. But if I go to the maternal line, I still wouldn't catch him. I may need a different kind of DNA analysis after all.

Lakoff's "Political Mind"

I'm reading, "The political mind : why you can't understand 21st-century politics with an 18th-century brain," by George Lakoff. I haven't gotten real far yet, but I find the notion of taking brain research into account in politics an eminently reasonable suggestion.

Reading over breakfast today, I saw that Lakoff says we construct our world view of "frames" and "scripts." The example was a hospital: a place where you go when you're ill, and follow a script of admission, etc..

I find myself thinking about how to describe the modern library -- and wonder if some of the negative reaction we get to the new circ-desk-free model -- is about that "frame." To date, we've set it up as "information seekers" who appeal to the figures behind the desk.

A better frame might be this: seekers for MEANING who find guides on their quest. I like the narrative of explorer better than supplicant, of a quest for meaning rather than informa…

Men's facial hair

It was a long time ago -- late spring of 1985 or 1986 -- when I was preparing to do what I did every summer: shave my beard. But my wife, Suzanne, asked me not to. She liked me better with a beard, she said. So I kept it -- right up until several years ago, when I shaved it for a play I was in (Greater Tuna, and again for Wizard of Oz).

Last month, I trimmed back my beard, basically just removing sideburns. It was a sort of funky look, and I liked it. Yesterday, based on my son's digital photograph of the new line, I trimmed it back further to the more common goatee. (Although now I kind of regret it.)

It's a weird thing. On the one hand, it's genuinely if oddly refreshing to drag a razor across your face, then splash it with cold water and cologne. It might also be cooler.

On the other hand, the first couple of times you shave previously unshaved skin it is distinctly painful, and subsequent shavings tend to nick previously painful spots again, leading to unsightly globules …

New Douglas County Libraries website

We were the first website in Douglas County -- and one of the first websites in Colorado (back in 1996). Today, we went live with our latest version based on Drupal, the open source content management system. (Click the heading to take a look at our website today.)

I have two distinct feelings about it. First, it represents a tremendous amount of profound intellectual labor, and I'm very proud of my staff for producing it. Second, its complexity shows. We still haven't quite figured out how to enfold all that rich content in a simple and elegant wrapper.

But the tool is open source -- that's progress. And by design, it reaches out to the community, allowing them to add their own content (although some of those modules are still under development). The library website continues its evolution from static portal to dynamic community conversation.

My newspaper columns moved around on the new site, too, and I think I've adjusted all the references now to the new location. I&…

Ubuntu upgrade - 8.04

Today, I hit Upgrade in the Update Manager, and less than an hour later, while I continued to work, my work computer went up to the latest Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) version. I got asked one question (about overwriting a configuration file) then had to shut down all running applications while it did a 5 minutes cleanup. Then, it asked me to confirm reboot.

It came back up and ... no problems. Clean, fast, stable, kept all my settings, all my old stuff works.

Ubuntu is a marvelous package: Linux-based operating system, and a host of free programs that are capable and powerful. Recommended.

Incidentally, there's also a program called Wubi that installs Ubuntu on your Windows system -- you can try it that way, without compromising your Windows system at all. Link: