Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wolf delisting, cont.

Here's an editorial from the New West blog. The comments display the levels of animosity and distrust on both sides of the issue (and, frankly, both seem a bit reduced from what I remember in the 1990's).

Both sides seem to choose inappropriate targets for their idea of 'balance,' though. I see no reason why wolf delisting has to wait until wolves inhabit their entire historical range, if the danger of extinction is now negligible. On the other hand, those "glory days" of high elk populations used to be accompanied by a whole lot of hand-wringing and dire predictions of devastated grasslands due to overgrazing. More is not always merrier.

Electronic books

Here's a subject that bears watching - more attempts at creating an e-book that people might actually want to use. No matter how useful a one-volume library might be, no one want to stare at a low-resolution screen for hours, or have to recharge their book every few hours, or hold something heavier and clumsier than a textbook.

I find it reassuring to know that books won't disappear any time soon, certainly not until traditionalists like myself are satisfied with the replacement. But I'll find it hard to let go of that affection I feel for a book as an object. I like the individualism of a book, that each book is its own entity. Magazines and journals lack that; no matter how fascinating an article might be, it doesn't have a personality in the same way that my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did. Those of us who think of books as friends, and not just objects, will find such adjustments very difficult.

But then, music buyers probably thought the same of their beloved LP's, with their distinctive cover art and self-contained collection of songs. That hasn't stopped MP3 downloading from taking over the music distribution enterprise. So I imagine it won't be long before most younger people read something like the preceding paragraph, roll their eyes, and wonder what that touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo was supposed to be about. I'll have no right to judge them for it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Only an archivist ...

I like this post just for the last line:

"I wonder when the oldest post-it note still attached to a document was first used?"

The bookstore of the (near) future?

So, Ann Arbor has a new Border's "concept store," their attempt to reinvent themselves and reinvigorate their business before Amazon buries them. Grand Opening was this weekend, with music, readings, long-distance book signings, and all manner of other hoopla.

So what's different? Mainly, Border's is trying to mate the bricks & mortar store with the internet by providing web services. The music section has been drastically reduced; not too many CD's to buy. But there is a kiosk, with multiple workstations, for selecting songs or albums for approximately $1 per song. You can download the tunes to your MP3 player, or, if you're a semi-Luddite, burn your own CD. A few packaged CD's are still available for the complete Luddite.

Similarly, you can pay to listen to an audio book. The book is offered in medium-sized chunks so that you don't have to commit to reading/hearing it all at once. I didn't get the price for this service, but I won't be using an audio book except when I'm in the car anyway.

Publish your own book! $300 for the basic package, $500 for the premium, which includes editing help from a real live human being, and you can have your book professionally bound and sold at Border's. There have always been vanity presses, but the nifty thing here is that, a) it's cheaper because you don't have to print a lot of books; and b) your book will show up in online searches.

Similar offerings: join Family Tree Maker or and search your genealogy at Border's. Plan your travel or your next meal with special sections devoted to these activities. Print your digital photos. Buy your MP3 player or other electronic gadget in the bookstore.

Aside from the emphasis on e-this 'n' that, it's still a bookstore. There are slightly fewer books, so that more of them can be placed on the shelf with the cover showing (and if separating themselves from Barnes & Noble is the goal, that's not the direction to go). The salesman I talked to thought I looked skeptical as he gave the spiel (with honest enthusiasm, it seemed). Not skeptical, just curious, I replied. Success, ultimately, will depend not on what people are able to do, but what they like doing. Is downloading music at the bookstore going to be preferable to doing it at home? Do I need Border's to research my genealogy? A lot of cool ideas fail because, as it turns out, few people had a burning desire to do things the cool way; how long has the video phone been technologically feasible? On the other hand, digital photography swept away film in just a few years. So we'll see how much of this stuff ends up exciting the consumers who are supposed to pay for it.

As for myself - I watched Margaret Atwood, on a large tv screen, sign her name on a tablet in Toronto, push a button, and cause a pen in Ann Arbor to replicate her signature on a book cover. Then I wandered back to the "buy one, get one half price" table and purchased The Handmaid's Tale and Slaughterhouse Five in nice, quality paperback editions. They feel nice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Me wants


Wolf delisting

The Rocky Mountains' wolves have been removed from the Endangered Species List, a decision which will not pass without controversy. There's no doubt that, by the standards established in 1995, wolf reintroduction has been a howling success. There are doubts that this can continue once Montana, Idaho, and especially Wyoming get to enact their own management plans. Keeping wolf populations to the rock-bottom minimum allowed by the Feds is not likely to sustain a healthy population. On the other hand, the wolves have demonstrated that they can replace heavy losses each year, if they're allowed the habitat to roam in. This will be interesting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Important update

This year's Rainier Queen is none other than Crystal Cassidy, a woman who can skate from Old Faithful to Madison and think it's too early to quit. Congratulations to Crystal!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Block ice, block 'M'

Block ice M
Three of these appeared outside the Michigan Union tonight.

[Edit] Here's the culprit

Now you're thinking

From comments left at Slacktivist:

The stupidest thing I've read/heard all week was __________________.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gets $30,000 a speech to tell audiences that he and President Bush the Lesser are very similar to Lincoln.

Posted by: Chris_C | Feb 21, 2008 at 09:00 AM

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gets $30,000 a speech to tell audiences that he and President Bush the Lesser are very similar to Lincoln.

Let us raise funds at once to send them both to performances of Our American Cousin.

Posted by: Jesurgislac | Feb 21, 2008 at 09:05 AM

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gunga Ga Lunga!

Today is the opening ceremonies of the Yellowstone Olympics, held every winter at the end of February. I wonder who the Rainier Queen is this year?

Internet control

Here's a story about the difficulties of controlling information in the internet age. A judge has order an ISP to shut down access to a site devoted to posting leaked documents by anyone who cares to leak a document. The ISP has complied, but the site is still operating on other servers in other countries.

We're still getting used to how fast - and thoroughly - information can escape nowadays, but it's interesting to contrast that with George Orwell's vision of 1984, where information technology was a key mechanism of control. The ability to spy on people is just as great as he imagined, but the government monopoly? Uh-uh. It turns out you can't run a bureaucracy - even a Ministry of Truth - without extensive means of communication and it's not so easy to maintain control of those if your workers wish to use them for other purposes.

I first realized this in 1991, when the Russian military attempted a coup d'etat against Mikhail Gorbachev. They imprisoned Gorbachev easily enough, but were finally defeated by a popular uprising against the plotters. Even the USSR couldn't operate without telephones, copy machines, and fax machines, all of which were used to keep the world informed of what was going on and make sure we saw those photos of Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

An "unnerving coincidence"

Online dealer supplied two campus shooters

The money quote:
I’m shaking. I can’t believe somebody would order from us again and do this.

Why not? I can't see anything illogical about it at all ....

[Edit: Greg Laden's Blog has a good take on this same story. The dealer routinely deals with police to help solve gun crimes; he hopes one day that one of his guns will do some good.]

Friday, February 15, 2008

Just for fun

I stumbled across this in our dentistry library yesterday:

Infection: The board game

The object of the game is to cure all of your diseases. The first person to cure all of his diseases, or the last player living, wins. A player dies [is out of the game] when he has five RED diseases."
And in case you weren't sure:

is a game which is meant to be enjoyable"

Got that? Go spread the ... er, news.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Students discover that research is fun

From The Shifted Librarian, I learn about this article by Paul Waelchli. It turns out that thousands of people playing fantasy football are finding that, to do well, they need to acquire large amounts of information and that what they are doing is "research." Most importantly, they are learning some of the finer points of information-seeking behavior,* namely how to evaluate their sources. So aside from the the obvious questions of "What do I need to know?" and "Where can I find the information," they also learn to ask themselves, "Is this source reliable? Is it up to date? Is this bit of information more important than some other?"

In the library world, you can hear a constant lament that students don't know how to discriminate between reliable and unreliable sources, or even that they need to try. This could be a neat way to illustrate and teach a more sophisticated research strategy.

* Yes, we have to have convoluted language for these things.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The bear climbed over the ... uh, ice ....

As the climate changes, we should see more of this sort of thing:

"Grizzly found in polar bear country"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Archives and history

I find myself frequently wondering how the Bush Administration will fare, historically. I like to think that, 150 years from now, all of my own opinions will be vindicated and stand as the accepted wisdom. A pleasant reverie, however unlikely. But it’s an interesting question, simply because Bush has firmly entrenched himself in his own private reverie – the expectation that ”History” will justify his actions and his contemporary critics will be shown up for short-sighted cowards. A pleasant reverie, however unlikely.

Which makes it so interesting that this Administration has been relentlessly hostile to preserving records. Bush & Co. have put an enormous amount of work into controlling the information that the public receives and have had more success than an American government should. But they also seem to believe that, if they can leave office without a paper trail, future historians will have no choice to but to repeat their press conferences. The Gospel According to Tony Snow.

To that end, the Administration has deleted their email records, even going so far as to eliminate the automatic archiving system and erase the routine data backups that should have documented White House activities. Which all seems suspiciously consistent with the mysterious destruction of the CIA’s waterboarding video. Or the use of secret, non-governmental email accounts for government business. Or concealing who visited the White House and who took part in important policy discussions.

Okay, I can go on and on about this Administration’s corruption. And the fact that this obsessive desire to conceal information fits hand in glove with their obsession with acquiring information will receive future comment. But the question I want to raise right now is – will it work? That they will never be held accountable for their actions, in any legal sense of the term, is a foregone conclusion. There’ll be no impeachment and the lesson of the Nixon resignation is that Americans can’t bring themselves to toss an ex-president in jail. Bush and Cheney will walk. But do they have any chance to win history’s verdict?

Obviously, they don’t believe the truth will ever be on their side, or they might be less afraid to preserve it. So they refuse to testify at all. And I suspect this will play out, in the future, exactly like invoking the 5th Amendment does in a criminal case: you don’t pay legal penalties, but everyone walks away knowing that you’re guilty. And what will they have to defend themselves with? You don’t write history based on press releases; you go for the primary documents. Would-be Bush defenders won’t have much to work with and what they do have will have the odor of cherry-picking about them. Against that, we already have inside accounts from Richard Clark and Paul O’Neill. More will surely come, with varying degrees of authority and credibility. Even if there’s some chance that the truth would save Bush’s reputation, the evidence just won’t be there. In destroying the chance to be found guilty, he’s sacrificed his only chance to be exonerated, because "History: will be forced to listen to his enemies.