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.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fedora 10

For several years now, I've used PCLinuxOS, a Linux distribution, on my home machine (an HP Pavilion). But PCLOS is mostly based on the KDE desktop environment. I generally prefer the Gnome desktop, but installed Gnome too (KDE and Gnome coexist just fine), and was quite happy for a long time.

A recent series of updates made my system very unreliable, though: my wireless started winking out, and there were strange delays, once per session, when my screen would go unresponsive. Eventually, I have no doubt that the good people over at PCLinuxOS forum will iron things out through a series of updates. But I got restless, and popped in a Fedora 10 disk I got in the mail (from my about to expire LinuxFormat subscription). Then I completely reformatted my hard drive, and installed the new software. That whole process took about half an hour.

Fedora -- an offshoot of Red Hat -- is very well documented. I quickly got online (a great little pop-up wireless tool), and found several long FAQs. No stranger to Red Hat's approach to things, I started following instructions to add the ability to use my nVidia graphic card, load up Firefox with plugins to handle Java, Flash, Windows and Apple video codecs, and more. That took another half hour or so, but it didn't require much brainwork -- I just cut and pasted from a Firefox window to a terminal window, and let "yum" (a software management tool) do its thing. See this post-installation guide for tips.

I'd backed up my home folder right beforehand on a Western Digital "My Book" (500 GB). It was a piece of cake to plug it in, and drag back all my files (including about 9 hours of music). I quickly copied over all my old mail files, too, made sure I could sync my new Palm, and use my own for-pay application, Notecase Pro. Oh, and set up the printer. No problems.

As I write this, Fedora is downloading a host of little improvements and updates, and that's gone on for over an hour, but it doesn't stop me from doing anything else. And here's the amazing thing: all of this is absolutely free. I can pop in a CD, freely downloadable from the web, completely reformat an old computer, and get state of the art programs, graphic effects, and a smooth computing experience. I've had a pleasant evening of fiddling around, and to show for it, got a new, tidier computer that thus far, performs very well indeed.

Congratulations to the programmers at Red Hat/Fedora.

I've been using Ubuntu at work, still, but Fedora is an excellent alternative. Thus far, I can recommend it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Palm Centro

I've been a Palm user for a long time -- since the very second version of the device. I got pretty good at Graffiti, which I tended to use more than the onscreen keyboard. My third Palm was a T|X, which at first I liked quite a lot. Very clear, colorful, and large. I do a lot of writing on mine, or did.

But I wound up being pretty unhappy with it. The digitizer got out of whack, and short of replacement there seemed no fix for it. The screen also got scratched up quite a bit, although I took reasonably good care of it.

Over time, I also got irritated by having to carry both it and a cell phone.

Enter the Palm Centro. The library has a Verizon plan which allows for regular upgrades of phones. The Centro was just $49. I was able to get it to sync with PCLinuxOS and Ubuntu very easily (and with my assistant's Windows PC). All of my contacts, memos, calendar, etc. came over lickety-split. I particularly appreciate that it used the same USB synch cable as my T|X.

I like it as a phone. It continues to work well as a Palm. The smaller size isn't really a limitation, and the built-in keyboard is much faster and less error prone than graffiti was.

I'm finding that I do more texting lately, which isn't part of the library plan, so I have to pay for that piece of it. Nor are we paying, at present, for email/data, although I really don't see the Palm as the best tool for that.

On the whole though, the Centro seems to do just what it's supposed to do: provide a low cost entry into the functionality of the smart phone. It's easy to use, handy, reliable, and integrates well with my other devices. I haven't tried the bluetooth keyboard with it yet (which I got for my Nokia internet tablet long ago), but don't anticipate any problems with it. I also like that it's quite easy to access all my data even when I'm on the phone -- just put the call on hold, toggle to speaker phone, or do both phone and Palm stuff at the same time.

Recommended.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

End of "Harvey"

Tonight was our last performance, and it was fun. So strange that all these hours of memorizing and rehearsing come to less than a handful of performances, then a cast party, then it's done.

It was, I think, our best performance tonight. It's good to hear the audience laugh. And it was a good respite from too many other things to think about -- tugs on my consciousness that will now resume.

Thank you, my fellow actors and stage crew. Thank you, generous audience.

Curtain.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Long Emergency

Jim Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, has a pungent posting entitled "Clusterfuck Nation," available by clicking the title of this entry. Bottom line: he argues that as a nation, and perhaps as a global economy, we are in a period of contraction. Kunstler fingers oil dependency, which he calls the vision of "Happy Motoring," as one of the big things we have to eliminate. Our easy credit economy is gone, and will not return, he believes.

But I liked his ending: "My hope for the year, at least for my own society, is that we will transition away from being a nation of complacent, distracted, over-fed clowns, to become a purposeful and responsible people willing to put their shoulders to the wheel to get some things done."

Planning for budget cuts

Since our failed election, since our projected drop in revenue next year, I've been engaged in discussions with board and staff about how best to respond. We've put together a framework for dealing with the times, and I'm proud of it.

First point: the library is in better shape than many. No debt. Money in the bank -- the "rainy day fund" everybody talks about but few set aside. A balanced budget. A history of planning ahead -- as evidenced by our RFID/self-check/automated materials handling. No greedy, short-sighted and foolish investments that gambled away our future.

Second point: an eye to the realities of public finance. When people vote against sufficient funding for a certain level of service, then you can't provide those services. You must, instead, restructure your operations to make them sustainable and logical within existing resources.

Third point: rather than come back year after year with different strategies for cost-containment, I'm urging the adoption of a sequence of steps. If things get worse, we, and the public, will know what it means.

Those steps are as follows (all subject to change as revenue projections are updated, of course):

* 2009 -- freeze hiring, restructure around attrition. Close satellite libraries not in population centers where there is shopping. That leaves us with our regional libraries. Lots of smaller cuts and deferred projects. No more Shakespeare festival, no more Page to Stage programming outreach to schools. Slight reduction in purchasing of new materials. Get one or two more years out of public computers, and replace older technology on a schedule.

* 2009-2010 -- in August (when we find out what our 2010 revenues will be, and assuming continuing decline), reduce library evening hours by 8 hours a week, probably Wednesday and Thursday nights (our slowest).

* 2010-2011 -- again based on financial projections, close all evenings, going to 6 eight-hour days, probably from 10-6 each day.

* 2011-on. Start closing whole days of the week, saving weekends for last. At this point, we're dismantling the whole system, taking it back to its status of 20 years ago, when Douglas County had less than a fourth of its current population.

The strategy is based on what we know of library use, and our statistics tell us a lot. It is a thoughtful reduction of service based on a reduction in the main thing we spend money on -- our staff. But this kind of advance notice means that we can look after that asset as long as possible. It is my profound hope that we can reduce staffing to match our hours through attrition; layoffs should be the last step to balance our budget. But as we've learned everywhere else in the economy, sometimes, last steps are necessary.

Along the way, we'll also be looking at gearing up our Foundation and volunteer efforts. But if the whole economy is failing, fundraising is not likely to be sufficient to prevent decline. And volunteers, while extraordinarily valuable, are not a long term replacement for professional services in any field.

As I said after our November 2008 defeat, "we will suffer with our community." But now that we have a strategy for dealing with suffering, it's important to start planning for success. More about that in other postings.

Harvey

Last night was opening night for the Parker Arts Council production of "Harvey," by Mary Chase. It's a wonderful play, one of my favorites. I was fortunate enough to land the part of Elwood P. Dowd. The rest of the cast is amazing:

Mark Como, director and cab driver, has an eye for great bits of physical humor. And he has assembled a fabulous team.

Sarah Como, Assistant Director, is not only an efficient stage manager, she also put her finger on something I'd never seen in any production of Harvey. Elwood's first appearance is when he says, "Excuse me a moment. I have to answer the phone." But Sarah is the only one to spot the clear stage directions: the phone doesn't ring until after Elwood says he'll answer it. The point is that Harvey (who is in constant conversation with Elwood) gets "advance notice." A brilliant insight.

Shelley Cullen as Nurse Kelley. A sassier nurse you will not find, with a wonderful smile. She gives me a smooch, too.

Mary Ann Evans as Ethel Chauvenet. Mary Ann absolutely nails the slightly off-kilter "Aunt Ethel," with spot-on high couture costuming and an alternating deadpan comedy and looks of mounting horror.

Mary Beth Gudewicz as Myrtle Mae Simmons. Hard to believe that we used to name people "Myrtle." Mary Beth is an always elegant presence, and her Myrtle Mae as the scheming and slightly date-desperate young woman is hilarious.

Theresa Lewis as Veta Louise Simmons. Theresa is the star of the show, carrying most of the dialog, and describing the essential story arc. Being in plays is weird in this way: I wind up having genuine feelings about fictitious relationships. Theresa now seems like a beloved sibling to me. Elwood puts his relationship with his sister before everything else, and ultimately, that trust is justified. Veta gets big laughs, and works hard to deserve them.

Rick Reid as Mr. Wilson. Rick is great, alternately tough guy and leering suitor, with a genuine admiration for another character -- Dr. Chumley.

Clayton Russel as Dr. Chumley. Even the cast is divided about this. I think he's the villain of the piece, the guy who has a formula to kill you spiritually. But as villains go, he's pretty fun to watch, especially when he reveals his deepest fantasy -- involving Akron.

Marilyn Spittler as Betty Chumley. Marilyn has an utterly engaging, slightly ditzy character that you just can't help but like. Endearing.

Doug "the Doug" Tisdale is our Dr. Sanderson. I was in another play with Doug, and once again find him a consistently sharp and generous actor, who enjoys himself so much on the stage it's all he can do not to burst out laughing.

Doug Tisdale Sr. as Judge Gaffney. Our highest energy performer, the Judge frames the issues in surprising ways. A joy to watch.

Elwood has lots of great lines that really do seem to be about presence, about awareness, about kindness and courtesy. Rick described Elwood as a bodhisattva -- a nearly enlightened being who hangs around to help others attain enlightenment. Doug Sr. made a case that Elwood has a kind of Christ-like aspect.

I've gone through several takes on the character. First, I thought Elwood was a sage. Then, I thought he was more of a gentle and equable drunk. Finally, I concluded that he was enchanted -- but was alert enough to the unseen even before his bewitchment to genuinely enjoy his enchantment. Or maybe he's the one who enchanted Harvey.

I like Elwood better than almost any character in fiction. And I have the deepest affection for my fellow cast members, who are adorable and fascinating.

We have three more shows: tonight, Saturday, February 7, 2009, and next Friday and Saturday. All shows are at 7 p.m. at the Parker Mainstreet Center 19650 E. Mainstreet, Parker, CO, 80138. Tickets are $15, with (I think) breaks for seniors and students.