Friday, November 28, 2008

Playing Around With Great Results

This afternoon I treated myself to some playing around online time. This is a luxury I seldom seem to be able to enjoy lately. I love looking around, letting one site lead to another, and thus finding exciting things that I can use or share with colleagues and students. The agent of my serendipity was Twitter, and this was my method: First I went to Search and looked for "school librarians." Then I visited pages that looked like they might belong to school librarians that I would enjoy following. I clicked on their icons and went to their pages, and often from there to their blogs. Sometimes the blogs then led me to other great sites. Here are some new-to-me discoveries:
Here is hoping that some of these sites are as interesting to you as they were to me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I have a very bad habit of postponing blogging about really good books because I doubt I can do justice. But I promised I would write about this one tonight. Yesterday, driving to my dad's house for Thanksgiving, I finished listening to Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. I picked it up because of the name Doctorow on the cover. "Wow!" I thought, "First Mel Brooks' son writes a book (World War Z by Max Brooks) and now E.L. Doctorow's son!" However, Wikipedia says there is probably not a connection between the two. BUT I am more than glad I listened to the book. It is a heck of a story and makes you think also. Marcus Yarrow, narrator, gets scooped up by Homeland Security guards along with three friends in the panic filled moments after terrorists blow up the Oakland Bridge in San Francisco. They are taken to a secret offshore prison site and subjected to harsh grilling even though they are obviously just innocent high schoolers. Marcus, in particular, is singled out for excessive cruelty because he keeps demanding a lawyer and insisting that his rights are being violated. When they are finally freed, three of the four friends are traumatized and haunted by the fact that their fourth companion, who had been injured in the melee, is nowhere to be found. In the days and weeks that follow, Marcus vows to take down the out-of-control DHS (Department of Homeland Security). His weapon is technology. The excesses in violations of privacy and fear tactics that are put into place after the 2nd major terror attack on America are not hard to believe in view of what has happened in the wake of 911. In this story, the president is never named, but references are made to him being elected a third time and running for the fourth, clearly predicting what life might be like if the Bush regime were to remain in power past the second term. I do not thinkI would have enjoyed this book nearly as much if I had read it prior to this November's election. Now, with a change in administration, I have some hope that our society can pull back from excessive fearmongering and assaults on our constitutional rights. Still, the things described are far too close to our present reality to seem overly far-fetched.

Along with the suspense and an inevitable but very sweetly depicted teen romance, there are lots of things to think about. The technology Doctorow describes, with ubiquitous cameras, gait recognition devices, RFIDs in everything from credit cards to BART passes, online snooping, phone taps, and other devices that track and control all citizens effectively turns San Francisco into a police state within days after the attack. Marcus and friends quickly realize that their computers are useless, and turn to reconfigured Xboxes to build an underground that goes to war with the DHS. One thing this book did for me was change my views about hackers and hacking. Now I realize that people who tinker with devices and try to see what they can do with them are pioneers as often as destructive bad actors. Without hackers, we would never know whether security technology really works or not. Sad to say, all too often it does not work, and people have a false sense of security about the effectiveness thereof. Really, did you ever think removing your shoes at the airport made us safer? Another thing this book makes you think about is intellectual property. Doctorow joins the chorus who call for more freedom to use, adapt, mashup, and otherwise participate in shared creativity, certainly a trend today. And he practices what he preaches: This book is FREE at Creative Commons, Gutenberg, and the author's own website. If you want to learn a heck of a lot while getting caught up in a riveting story, all for free, here is one link, the one to his site where you can download the entire book:
And while you are there, look around! Unless you are a geek to the level of Doctorow/Marcus, you will find lots to learn, both from this website and from the book itself. In fact I may just have to blog about that in another entry. And before I sign off, here is a sad shame: No kid can get to this book at school, at least at the site I just shared. No librarian can show it. Look at the URL. Are we making ourselves safer by blocking this and other sites that kids should be able to use? Oh wait! I just used a new-to-me URL shortener,, not because the address was long but to get rid of THE WORD in the actual URL. So at least this blog might get past some filters. But then if you try to bring up the site...probably won't work for you. Aruggh. That. is. not. what. filters. are. for.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Unable to resist: Dewey Decimal Quiz

Mary Ann Bell's Dewey Decimal Section:

041 [Unassigned]

Mary Ann Bell's birthday: 9/5/1946 = 95+1946 = 2041

000 Computer Science, Information & General Works

Encyclopedias, magazines, journals and books with quotations.

What it says about you:
You are very informative and up to date. You're working on living in the here and now, not the past. You go through a lot of changes. When you make a decision you can be very sure of yourself, maybe even stubborn, but your friends appreciate your honesty and resolve.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dissing a Popular Book

Normally I blog about books I like and recommend, but here I go with a discussion of one I do NOT care for. I am doing this even though I know the book I am criticizing is one that is enormously popular right now. When I read, I like to share my comments and reactions, and just now finished a column by Stephen Abram called “Promoting Reading Using This 2.0 Stuff” in which he reminds us that reading is a social activity. So true! When I finish a particularly good book, I usually want to talk about it with somebody. Even if I do NOT like a book I tend to want to see if others agree with my judgment. Since almost all my close friends and family are avid readers, there are lots of opportunities to share. My favorite book buddy right now is my 96 year old dad. Often I pick up something because I think he will like it and then we both read and discuss. My daughter is also a reader and we often find ourselves reading out loud to one another, even over the phone.

As Stephen Abrams points out, blogging is a natural way to share discussion about books and reading, and while most of my comments in this blog are about technology, I do still like to cast nay or yea votes about books I read. Actually I almost never write about a book I did NOT like, since I seldom finish something that does not bring me back again and again. But I recently made an exception. Channeling my dog Ringo and also Cracker, the Best Dog in Viet Nam, I have to pronounce The Shack pretty “arf arful.” The reason I persisted and (thankfully) just finished the book is because a relative has been very taken with it and wants to discuss it with me. I might add that my dad reports liking it also, as does his caregiver. Not me. A lot of people criticize this book for its “theology,” and it is certainly Christianity lite. People are wanting to elevate this little tale to a level that deserves study and deep discussion about the nature of the Trinity. Some have called it “today’s Pilgrim’s Progress.” Oh please. Bunyan may be hard to read today, but in his time he certainly had mastery of the English language that caused his book to endure. He did not use the same adjectives over…and over… and over. He did not write dialogue that would make one think of an eighth grader with minimal skill.

I would like to add that I am not particularly put off by the quirky rendition of the trinity offered in this book, but it does not resonate with me either. I am not offended by the book on religious terms from any standpoint. It is fine with me if people want to take flights of fancy with any religion. I don’t think humans have a lock on Truth or even a tenuous grip. Here is what turned me off: THE ABYSMAL WRITING. Word choice, description, and especially dialogue, are all horrendous. I just never was able to get past that deficiency. I even took to making notes on my Kindle to tag especially irritating locutions. Here are some comments I recorded: “’thingy’…he actually used the word ‘thingy’…aruggh,” and “smirked—he just smirked at God? I don’t think so!” and so on. I am also irked by the promotion of what he called “The Missy Project.” As one critic pointed out, the project is not to help people grieving the loss of a loved one, or maybe to help find missing children. No! It is to help sell more books so everyone can have the experience of reading this tale. I know someone who reads this may be a Shack fan—my understanding is that the are legion. Feel free to take me to task! I am going to stick to my view. Nothing written this badly could be that good.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thoughts November 4, 2008

eeNOTE: I wrote this last night but did not post until I contacted my daughter and asked if she was OK with it. She is very gratified and wants to share with her friends. A couple of my other friends also told me to go ahead with it, so here goes...

I told myself that if Obama won tonight I would do something I have been putting off for years. It is not easy living in a place where you feel outnumbered and alone, and that is how I felt for many years teaching in a very conservative Texas county. Recently I moved to my new home town where I can breathe easier. I found it a lot less difficult on a university campus to admit I was a lifelong Democrat and that I opposed the Iraq war. It is not easy to be a Democrat in my old home county. Gosh, it's just about as bad as coming out and saying you are gay. And speaking of gay, well, that is what this piece is about. No I am not talking about myself, but rather about my beautiful, smart, talented daughter. My friends know she is gay and so does our family. But I don't talk about it publicly. And why is that? Well, it is a personal thing. I have never felt that one's orientation was something that called for public discussion.

So why talk about it tonight? The reason is that I am hoping that tonight a few halting steps toward tolerance were taken. And maybe I can do a little by saying how proud I am of my daughter. She is one of the most courageous people I know. After earning a degree in Music Composition from University of North Texas, she moved from our beloved state to live in Oregon where she could feel more accepted, striking out on her own with just a few acquaintances there. Though it was hard to see her move so far away, I grew happy to see her there because I realized she was safer in Portland OR, than she was in Texas circa turn of the millennium. I am also proud of her friends. There is Megan, who is on full scholarship in Bozeman Montana, working on a master's degree in creative writing. There is Dexter, another accomplished writer and musician who toured the country last year reading her stories, and Renee, with her hard-earned English degree, and Haley, and Vanessa, and Tamara, and too many others to name. There are her fellow musicians like Ben, who do not judge people by the narrow parameters set by small minded people who would put God in a box, label Him neatly, and never consider that His priorities are not the same as theirs. So now I am publicly sharing my pride in Emily and all her amazing friends. Let's work to make our country a place where everybody can feel save and proud and confident in every region, state, and town.

To educators I offer this plea. You know who the kids are in your school that are struggling with their sexuality. They may not have come to terms with their selfhood, but they know that they are different. In your heart you know that being different, for whatever reason, IS NOT A CHOICE. No one wakes up and says, gee! I think I will map out a life that puts me in a hated minority! I think it is so tempting to take a path that will make my life infinitely harder, possibly lose my own family, and decrease my civil rights. Please also remember those kids who are not gay, but socially inept, or too precocious for their peers, or not physically attractive, or just plain eccentric. Defend those books on your school and classroom library shelves that can help them, whether they are about penguins or tomboys. Welcome these youngsters in your classrooms and libraries. Don't turn your head in the hallway or cafeteria when they are singled out, ridiculed, and harassed. Let your library or classroom be a safe haven, but more than that, work to make your whole school a safe haven for all students, regardless of race, RELIGION, appearance, sexual orientation, or any other thing that separates and isolates youngsters.

Oh and, if you have read this far, thanks for hearing me out! I cannot resist sharing a couple of web sites. First, here is Emily's MySpace. If you have never visited MySpace, you should know that it started for musicians and artists. Emily's first song, "Has Country Gone to Hell," has been on Neil Young's Songs of the Times list for over two years, having reached #1 on a number of occasions. Of course if things get better in Iraq and in our country, the song may be less relevant, but I think she would settle gladly for that trade-off. Here is the URL:
And here is Ben's site. He is an outstanding artist as well as musician:
And just as one more example of the amazingly talented people who use MySpace in a constructive way, here are another of her friend's pages. He is also both an artist and a musician. Take a look at that incredible guitar!