Monday, December 29, 2008

Traveling to the ends of the earth

I took the Amtrak home to my folks for Christmas, for several reasons--caution and curiosity (an increasingly unreliable car and a simple desire to 'see what it's like').

The total amount of traveling that I did was almost double the amount it would have taken to just drive the eight hours home: 2 hours driving from Stanford, KY to Union Terminal in Cincinnati, OH; 10 hours on the Amtrak; 2 hours on the Union Pacific Northwest commuter train to Harvard, IL; almost 1 hour driving along Rte 173 to Rockford, IL. This does not include the number of hours spent waiting here and there. Suffice to say I left Stanford around 5 PM Friday night and got to Rockford around 3:30 PM on Saturday.

Would I have rather spent 8 hours driving in a car with nothing but my thoughts and vast cornfields to keep me company, or reading?

What I brought for reading material: Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, Charles De Lint's The Ivory and the Horn; Laura Miller's The Magician's Nephew: a skeptic's adventurs in Narnia.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas day


The virgin brings forth today
the Word Eternal
and the earth offers a cave
to the Unapproachable
Angels give glory with shepherds
and the magi journey with the star
when for our sakes was born as a new babe
He who is from eternity, God.

~St. Romanos

Monday, December 22, 2008

Encounters of a third kind

I am currently in a house with 6 cats, 2 dogs, and five other humans besides me.

The power struggles between the cats are interesting largely because they are so subtle. A stranger would think all the cats are getting along just fine, but they aren't looking close enough. True, each cat's doing his/her own thing--Pope's on the rug in the living room, Bea's on the table in the dining room, Callie's under the guest bed, Toby's dozing on the in-law's bed, Burt's on the chair in the basement, and Delta is sleeping in the closet downstairs--but they are missing those rare encounters where these seemingly laid-back animals display their ferocious, mostly hidden, natures.

When they move through the house, it's mostly uneventful, or so it seems. Except for the alert ears, the penetrating eyes, the deliberate cold shoulders, the twitching tails, one would think the cats are fine in each other's presence. But then an encounter happens, explosive, shocking, over as quick as it began: a yowl, a BAM-BAM-BAM of a paw against another cat's head, fur on end, fangs bared. Then something is decided (we humans don't know what the outcome was) and the cats return to their docile selves, ignoring each other, going their own way.

Who was the victor? Who gave way? We'll never know.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Popular reading on the internet

You can now search magazines through Google Book Search.

I came across this intriguing title from the June 1872 issue of Popular Science: "On the artificial production of stupidity in schools." And I thought this was a recent problem.

One of the cool things about google digitizing magazines is that it captures the entire magazine, not just the articles (something many expensive databases do not do). This might not seem so awesome today, but think about how curious it is to see ads from fifty, even one hundred years ago. Such primary source material gives you a unique perspective on history.

Read more about it here.

Design paradigm

Sometimes you can do everything you can possibly do, and it still isn't enough.

A student had a problem locating an online article at the library. It was in the 2004 issue of some random journal. A search of our online journal list pulls up this random it looks like we have it. But, there is a indication of the years we have access to, clearly delineated when the user clicks on random journal title. 2004 is not included in those years. Yet said student does not register this.

This is something that I have noticed while helping people, both at the public library and at the university. People do not seem to read what is on the screen in front of them. At first, I assumed this was just laziness on their part (students today tend to give up at the first obstacle they encounter in their searches). Then I started wondering whether there is something wrong with the design of the websites they are looking at: is the layout confusing, the text too weird, the colors off-putting? Does our online journal list fall into any of those categories?

Something to think about next year. I'm supposed to be on break.

Friday, December 19, 2008

One day

A few things I did today, on the last day of work for the year:

  • Looked at Orlando, thinking about its usefulness to the library
  • Ruthlessly cleaned out my email and organized to-do's
  • Gathered signatures for a Christmas card
  • Made faces at a co-worker's baby
  • Ate tons of food at the annual Christmas party
  • Worked on a library resources webpage
  • Surfed flickr for interesting photos to include in above webpage
  • Read some blogposts about libraries
  • Ate a tangerine

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dancing through the countries

A strangely fascinating video of a guy and his travels. What a way to transcend borders. I dare my friend in Greece to do this at the Acropolis.

I stumbled across this in one of Time's Top Ten of Everything 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

The silence of everyday things

I spent the day without my hearing aid, due to an infection that refused to be subdued. I think the last time I went without my hearing aid for a day was 8 or 10 years ago when my ear swelled shut, like a clam jealously guarding its treasure.

It was (and is) a curious experience. You would think that being nearly deaf like me, I would be accustomed to it. And I am, to the extent that I look forward to being swaddled in silence every night. But to be up and about, doing things, with a vociferous cat underfoot, and not hearing any of it, is strange. My brain begins to reach for the sounds that it feels should be there. The rustle of a shirt, the tapping of fingers against the keyboard, the hiss of water shooting out of the faucet, the cat chirping at the birds outside. I find myself rehearsing those sounds in my mind, and, like the person trying too hard to remember the face of a person she treasured, losing my grip on them the harder I try.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A reading list

The idea for this post came from "A Whole New Way with Memes" from the People's Republic of Mortimer.

This list was compiled in the U.K. by the BBC. The average adult has read only 6 of the books on the list.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated.
5) Reprint this list in your own blog. (This list in no way represents the top 100 books. It’s missing the Iliad and Odyssey by Homer. For shame.)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A home for the ages

One of the nice things about looking for houses is getting to indulge my curiosity about nooks and crannies--hidden spots of a house. Every older home I pass, I wonder what its attic or basement is like, where the secret places are--a window-seat, a spot beneath a stairwell, a door that leads to another door.

So when we stepped inside the house I told you about below, it was like walking into a candy store. Never mind that my practical self was already decided (is it unfortunate that my practicality and imagination can co-exist so easily?), I was entranced from the moment we stepped into the cavernous, light-flooded foyer. A grand staircase spiraled up on the left, a broad hallway stretched ahead, populated with numerous doors that opened into other rooms that opened into more rooms with more doors.

A huge chimney anchored the house--almost every room touched it, and the fireplaces dominated those rooms, decked out in gleaming wood finery. Quite breathtaking.

It was a home I would have loved growing up in (I can see my parents rolling their eyes).

Then Jon and I walked out the back door, the realtor locked up, and we turned our backs on it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

House hunting

Jon and I have tentatively started looking for houses.

One thing we have learned : pictures can be deceiving.

The house itself was quite all right, an older home built around a massive central chimney. Its neighbor, however, made Jon and me look at each other as we shared the same thought: No longer interested. The neighboring house was a dumpy building, overgrown with weeds, festooned with junk, and guarded by a fitful junkyard dog who barked whenever a leaf fell from a tree (which is another way of saying "nonstop"). The crowning glory of said house was a large confederate flag emblazoned with the words: "Heritage not hate."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Working anywhere

I worked from home today. It was rather boring, though I was able to watch TLC's What Not to Wear while eating lunch, and pick up around the house when I needed a break. Pope slept at my feet most of the time (now I can see why he goes on wild romps about the house when we're ready for bed).

I hate my car with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. It is becoming unpredictable at the worst possible time.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Originally uploaded by dwain
My friend in Greece has taken (and still is taking) absolutely astoundingly breathtaking pictures from his time in Greece.

I can't get over this one. My heart seizes, I hear the wind blowing, and my legs itch, wanting to explore this beautiful place.

The Book

If anyone at work doubts how much I love the Harry Potter books, they doubt no more starting today. The head of our department came by, holding The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and I gasped, clasping my hands in front of my chest.

Completely involuntary, somewhat embarrassing.