Contact me

These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Physical therapy

I'll start with a rant, but end with something nice. My health insurance premiums are going up 23% next year. I don't think it's because I'm going to get 23% more value. Just a reminder here to my libertarian friends that the people who reach deepest into our pockets, without our permission, exactly, aren't/isn't always government. Rant over.

That said, after going through the costly and pointless referral process (two doctor visits just to point me to a physical therapist): wow. First visit, Eric (the physical therapist) quickly and thoroughly diagnosed the specific muscle and connective tissues that were causing me so much shoulder pain. Then he explained the problem clearly and succinctly. Then he gave me an excruciating painful and pointed massage, and showed me how to do two exercises that would directly address both pain and my range of motion restrictions. I left, after an hour, with less pain and more motion than I'd had in weeks. I'm doing my exercises, and can feel the improvement.

This is how I think it's supposed to work. Direct examination by a knowledgeable expert, application of that expertise, responsibility on the part of the patient to do what's been advised. And voila - improvement without surgery.

Here's hoping the continued indignities of aging continue to prove tractable.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Matador sign waving technique

Today I was up at another rally by Lone Tree, and if I do say so myself, have perfected a Say Yes to Libraries sign waving maneuver that you just can't take your eyes off. Suzanne captured it on her little camera, and somehow wound up putting it on the UK Youtube (??!). Click the title of this entry to see my inimitable approach to driver distraction.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Freemind on the Acer Aspire One


There are men who spend the day moving all their tools around the basement or garage. Puttering.

I don't do that. But I did spend much of my afternoon puttering around on the new Acer Aspire One. I didn't actually accomplish anything. But I now have all the tools I need arranged more intelligently than before. That's what puttering is all about: the illusion of work.

First up: after adding a couple of programs I use often (Thunderbird, Notecase Pro, JPilot), I was irritated that there was no utility to add those programs to the default Acer desktop. The built-in email took forever to load, although it ran well enough afterward. Thunderbird is world's better; replacing the old with the new should have been (in the delightful British idiom) a "doddle." But there doesn't appear to be any way to do that at all. (In passing, though, the built-in message client is wonderful. It talks to Yahoo, AIM, Google, and does a webcam.)

So I found some marvelously clear instructions on an Acer forum that talked about how to wipe out the default desktop and replace it with a more normal and flexible Linux/Xfce desktop. I followed the instructions, and by God, it worked. I was able to set up some desktop icons, add a second virtual desktop, and change the background.

In case anybody wonders, here's the software I use most, now set up as desktop icons: Thunderbird/Firefox/IM. Freemind/Notecase Pro/Openoffice Writer. JPilot (Contacts, Calendar, To Do), Thunar (file manager). For the rest of the software world, I dive into menus.

So then I tackled the task of adding Freemind to the computer. Freemind is a wonderful brainstorming, thinking, and presentation tool, a mind mapper. My first attempts -- downloading it directly from the Freemind site -- bombed. Today, puttering (while wife and son were off at Denver's Museum of Nature and Science), I managed to get it up and running.

Here's how. (Assumptions: you're running the Linux version of the Acer Aspire One. You've set up the Xfce right-click menu, as described here.)

Steps: first, go to eric.lavar.de/comp/linux/rpm/noarch/ in your browser.

Second, start downloading the rpms to install 8.1 I worked through that, then the plugins, then the help, then the calendar, etc. Whenever you get a dependency failure, go back and download the one it suggests. I did have to do some digging to find the fedora 8 rpm batik file, which is the only one that didn't appear on the URL cited above -- and I'm still not sure that I have the ability to export to a pdf, which is what I was after. (Red Hat/Fedora dependencies really are far more complex and roundabout than Debian/Ubuntu. But after looking at trying to install Ubuntu here, I decided that I really like the 10-12 second boot up time of the Acer under Linpus Lite.)

Here's the good news. Downloading straight from the website does give you what you need to do comprehensive mind mapping on the Acer Aspire. It fits well on the screen. And once you grasp the power of mind mapping, it's hard to give it up.

One of the reasons I bought the Acer was to get a machine that could do presentations using Freemind. I haven't tested the projection side of this yet, but at least the software side is working.

Linux continues to be a remarkably stable, powerful, cost-effective approach to computing. But it remains a little out of reach to the casual user. The combination operating system of Fedora 8/Linpus Lite/Acer is not, alas, as easy as it should be. But again, once you get it set up, it's fast, powerful, and cheap cheap cheap.

So I puttered around for a couple of hours on a lovely autumn afternoon. And now I have a little computer that is just about as powerful as a big one, for a fraction of the weight, size, and price. And it has all the tools I need to do the stuff I want to do on a computer. Cool.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rotary meeting on literacy

With several others, I spoke today at a Rotary District 5450 conference about literacy.

There are a few bits of data worth reporting.

According to the 2008 Report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy:

* the US is now the only 1st world country whose current generation (adults coming of age) is less well educated than the previous generation. (Please read this again. Out loud.)

* 1 in 3 young adults drop out of high school.

* low literacy is correlated with family poverty.

* low literacy is correlated with imprisonment: 56% of current inmates are illiterate (I bet that's low).

* 20 million Americans (about 10% of the total) scored "below basic" in literacy skills. I bet it's twice that.

Also: there is a 90% probability that if a child reads poorly in 1st grade (meaning mainly that the child does not recognize letters), he or she will still read poorly in 4th grade, when children become fluent -- or don't.

* 3rd grade reading scores are the best predictors of the prison population (Iafolla, 2003, "School to prison pipeline").

I won't recapitulate everything I heard and said, but I've been left with this thought: if Rotary really wants to make a difference in literacy, it won't be by launching a host of new initiatives, however innovative. The single most powerful thing it can do is to advocate for strong school and public libraries.

Here's the irony: right here in Colorado, the Library Research Service first proved that strong school libraries are the single best predictors of academic performance. (Start here.)

The LRS also found that the average age of the school library book (copyright date) is 15 years. That would be 1993. Good thing nothing has happened since then, eh?

On the public library side, we have Return on Investment studies, studies that show our value in growing and maintaining literacy skills. (See LRS again.)

Nonetheless, in 2006, the average per capita expenditures for libraries was less than $30 per year. (Source.) But the annual cost of incarceration ranges from $14,000 in Oklahoma in 2006, to over $44,000 in Connecticut. The Denver Post said 2005 stats pegged the average at about $23,000.

You see where I'm going? Supporting your local library is many, many times cheaper than warehousing human beings.

I think it really is time for a general awakening in America that we've actually worked out solutions to some pressing problems. But we don't apply them -- we don't fund the answers we know will do the job.

Problem: illiteracy. Answer: libraries. Is this really so hard to grasp?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Library Camp of the West

Last Friday I went to an "unconference." (Click entry title to see the website/wiki.) Here's the main thing I wanted to observe. At the beginning, some 130-150 people file into a room and shout out topics they want to talk about. Then they schedule the rooms on the spot. The whole thing took about 40 minutes.

Having planned plenty of conferences starting 9 months in advance, I wonder if the unconference approach isn't just as good, with a lot less cost on all kinds of levels.

I felt that much of the energy, vision, and organizational support came from the Millennial generation librarians, and it was purely a pleasure to see and be a part of it. Well done!

Now, of course, we see what comes of it. But what comes of any conference? A chance to listen, a chance to talk, a chance to connect with some interesting people.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Say Yes cards

I got the first mailer from the campaign a couple days ago, and my wife got hers today. Just in time -- the mail ballots from the County Clerks will be going out today, too. Here's how I understand it: 70% of the voters requested mail ballots this time. 70% of THEM will vote within 72 hours. The election will be over by next week -- and we'll just have to wait three more weeks to find out how it ends.

As noted earlier, I am deeply grateful for the many people who put their hearts into this effort this time. I was very pleased, too, to see the ringing endorsement given to us, and the school district, by the Douglas County News Press. Their heading: invest in your community.

Acupuncture

Yesterday, went to an acupuncturist for the first time. I had two reasons. First, I've been interested in Chinese medicine for some time, and never tried it. The flow of "chi" through the body is something I'm inclined to accept, having seen some demonstrations by a tai chi master that I found incontrovertible.

Second, over the past 4-6 months, I've had growing pain in my right shoulder. I suspect it's the same problem I had in my left arm some years ago -- nodules, fatty deposits, "growths" that sometimes grow up tight against a nerve. Last time, I had to pay a surgeon to slice me open and dig them out. I was hoping to find a less invasive and expensive course.

Well, it doesn't seem to have worked. I'm in as much or more pain now than before. But the experience of acupuncture was not in the least uncomfortable, and left me feeling better, more energized, more balanced, than I've been in awhile.

Clearly, it doesn't do all things for all people, but I can well imagine that I would try it again. But probably not for my shoulder -- it's back to Western medicine for the MRI, etc.

I betcha all this goes back to swimming in Lake Michigan and the super solvents dumped there by Johnson Motor. They were called "PCBs." I hear there's a book called "Lake Effect" that talks about this very issue.

At any rate, I still think there's something to acupuncture, and I found the general experience quite positive.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

John McCain's Vegetable Friends

My son sent me this, and this is why I think the next generations have a better fix on politics than mine. Click the title of this entry for the Youtube video.

Stunt marketing

My good friend Meg Truhler just called to "report in." She came up with an idea to promote the library mill levy. She's dragging a floor lamp, rocking chair, afghan, library sign, and big honking Harry Potter book to some key intersections in Castle Rock, just as folks are driving out of town in the morning. She waves her sign and people honk at her, thumbs up.

I'm touched that she does this. I also think it's brilliant -- just the sort of stunt that people remember. Here's a nice lady spending her own time to conjure up support for the library she loves. And it was cold this morning!

Podcast for library science class

A couple weeks ago, Beth Wrenn-Estes interviewed me about intellectual freedom for the online library science class she's teaching for San Jose State University.

There are two podcasts. The first can be found here, and the second, here.

I'm never quite as articulate in these as I'd like, but I'm sure there's a lesson in that, too. But it was fun to talk to Beth, who used to work for the Douglas County Libraries, and now, with her husband Mark, will be moving to California.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

YES to Libraries!

I can't believe I haven't already put this up. The campaign website for YES to Libraries! is up and running. Click the title of this entry for the link -- or look over on the right side of this blog. This is about 5A - the library funding measure being voted on by Douglas County this fall.

And since the mail ballots will be going out this week, that means just about now. Do hop over to the site, read up, and if you can, volunteer or donate to the cause.

Eat out ... for the library

This is a brilliant fundraiser for the library campaign. To quote the YourHub article, "Brainchild of Warren Lynge, chairperson of the library committee, three local restaurants are now getting into the act by offering 'A Night Out for the Library.' The restaurants have agreed to direct 20% of each party's check to help fund the campaign. Choose La Dolce Vita on October 14, Celtic Crossing on October 16, or Jimmy's Steakhouse on October 23. Simply make a reservation, and you will be making a 20% contribution to the campaign efforts when your bill arrives."

I've said it before: the library doesn't belong to library board, to director, to staff -- it belongs to the community. If this isn't proof, I'll eat my hat. If they serve hat at any of these fine restaurants.

Fellow blogger: Karin Piper

One of the delights of working in libraries is the pleasure of meeting so many other book-loving people. An example is Parker's Karin Piper, a Swedish-American mom with a serious addiction ... to books. You can read her marvelous, high-energy, chatty, passionate writings here, or click the title of this entry..

Signs and campaigns

My wife and I spent this fine, fall, Sunday morning sticking library campaign signs around Castle Rock -- one of a couple of teams. It's not easy work. The ground around Castle Rock is often like concrete.

A lot of these signs, despite our efforts to put them in areas that did not infringe on private property, will be collected then thrown away by various sign police. I'm not sure I know why. Seeing things from cars is one of the few ways to let people know what's on the ballot.

We also wandered around Oktoberfest yesterday handing out postcards and buttons. Most people were quite friendly, some enthusiastically supportive. But when I got into longer conversations, I was amazed all over again that BAD information is far more likely to get around than good. For instance, there are those who didn't support us last time because they didn't want to pay for an arts center in Lone Tree (a city to the north of Castle Rock). But we never asked anyone to. And now, both Lone Tree AND Parker have secured funds, and begun design on their art centers, while poor Castle Rock has neither public transportation linking it to the Denver metro area (the only community in Douglas County that chose not to pay for it), nor any likelihood of getting an arts center in the foreseeable future, despite thriving art and theater groups -- who now wonder if they should be focusing their efforts on other communities.

Over the past 18 years, I've put a lot of time into local community efforts, and the library makes countless contributions to Castle Rock, as we do in all our communities. It was particularly disheartening to me that Castle Rock, my home town, was responsible for our narrow defeat last year.

At least, this year, we've made a much stronger effort to get out the word. As I have said in several talks, there's a wonderful western tradition of the barnraising. The whole county paid for the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. They showed up with their tax dollars. Now, they need their own barns. And Castle Rock residents did not show up last year.

Elections don't just decide funding -- they decide what kind of communities are going to exist, what sort of quality of life will prevail. I hope Castle Rock decides that libraries fall into the institutions deserving of their support.

Spinning Stars quilt



Here it is, one of the smaller quilts, and mounted high on one of our walls. And I'm sorry you can't see much of the detail -- very mandala like, with fascinating textures.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Quilting display

My grandmother LaRue was a quilter, and quilts always feel warmer than any other kind of blanket. Yesterday I was one of the many judges of a magnificent quilting display at the Philip S. Miller Library. I highly recommend visiting it -- many are breathtaking. Look for my first choice: "Spinning Stars."

Wall Street bail-out

Representative Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, 9th District, Toledo, is my new hero, and a spectacularly clear speaker about the recent travesty. Click on the title of this entry to see her talk to Congress. This phrase captures it all: the bail-out represents the privatization of gain for the few, and the socialization of loss to the many.

I think and write a lot about comparisons between the public and private sectors. Let's be frank about the bail-out: it seems to represent a complete failure, through unregulated greed, of our private sector, "free market" financial system. After fending off regulation, Wall Street now "can't afford to fail," so requires the immediate support of government. Can you spell "hypocrisy?"

Incidentally, see this piece about how the Swedish government handled a similar crisis by doing much as Rep. Kaptur suggests: require government ownership of properties in the bail-out, so the people get paid back.

Oh, and one last thing. The Douglas County Libraries, in the past two decades, has had no financial scandals of any kind. Just about within that period, we've had the Savings and Loan bail-out AND the Wall Street bail-out.

Private sector Wall Street, or public sector local library. Who can you trust?