Saturday, December 6, 2008

Me 'n my iPhone

I was in Wal Mart when I missed my iPhone. I knew with 95% certainty that it was on the table by my chair at home. But there was that 5% that was working on me. Going to Wal Mart is a strain on my system in and of itself. I can walk in feeling great but always leave needing a nap--the place just seems to sap my energy. And today I was not even feeling great when I entered. I forced myself to finish shopping and make the two other stops I needed before going home. By the time I opened my front door, my anxiety was way over what it should have been. And yes, there was Idella iPhone, resting peacefully by the lounger. I pounced on it and found a nice long text from my daughter. Ahhhhhh...exhaling felt lovely. Now I am in the chair and settling down for a nap, dog on floor, kitty on couch, and iPhone nestled in my pocket. Do I love the thing too much? Yes. I know it can be replaced but it is so much more than a phone. It is my lifeline to all my friends and family, my texting buddy. my picture repository, my alarm clock, my friendly little entertainment center and, OK, my status symbol. I am guilty of something even more insidious than technolust, I fear...dare I say...technolove? I wonder if anybody else has similar attachment to a favorite gizmo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Whackamole and Wild Dogs

I was talking with an acquaintance today about a mutual project. She said she wanted to tackle it "just as soon as things calm down" for her. I was reminded how often I say the same thing. Problem is, things never calm down, do they? Sometimes I feel like my life is an ongoing whackamole game. Just as soon as I pound down one head with the mallet, another pops up. In a previous life, when going through a divorce, I spent a lot of time at ChuckECheeze with my daughter since it was safe, cheap, and fun for her. That's when I started my love/hate relationship with whackamole. Yes, I did pretend the popup heads were my ex's noggin. It gave me a bit of satisfaction to smack them down, and I got pretty darn good at the game. Just now I went looking around for information on whackamole (or whack-a-mole) and discovered that lots of people make this same comparison of the game to a busy schedule. Here is a business blog with some tips about dealing with this problem that are relevant for anybody: http://www.cmoe.com/blog/whack-a-mole-management.htm

In the spirit of do-as-I-say-not-do-as-I-do, I have actually given presentations on the topic of time management, and here is a link to one of these:
http://forwhomthebelltold.pbwiki.com/21st+Century+Time+Saving

Lately I fear my stress has been ratcheted up, caussing a more dire mental image to haunt my thoughts. Ever since I took my latest job, I have had the feeling that I am being pursued by a pack of wild dogs. These are very big bad snarling dogs with slathering muzzles and sharp pointed fangs, and they are after me as I run down a dirt road. Sometimes they fade back into the woods a bit and I gain some distance on them, but other times they are literally nipping at my heels. These dogs are my unfinished (unstarted?) projects and obligations. I have even given them names. One is named Belltones, after a column that I love to write but whose deadlines I seem to crowd more and more. Another is named 591, the number of a class I teach. Other dogs have names such as: Grant (I am administrator of an IMLS grant), Cohort (I am working on starting up some cohort groups), TCEA (presentation coming up), TLA (another prez), and those that hound me every day such as Email, Budget, Travel Study, TExES (I help students review for this standardized test) and Blog (yes, this blog is one of those wild dogs). Blog dog always runs back in the pack. I cannot even pay attention to him unless I have dealt with some of the others, much as I would like to. Today was a good day. I subdued Belltones by finishing a column, so he will not come to the front of the pack for up to six weeks. I also pacified email and TExES. Thus I was able to give Blog a bit of attention. No, I am NOT caught up everywhere but I did make some progress.

Postscript: Here is the one thing that I find most useful in keeping the worry dogs at bay: Tadalist. This free online service allows me to keep to-do lists that are essential for reminding me what I need to do, when deadlines are set, etc. The URL is: http://www.tadalist.com
This plus Google Calendar are my online saviors. The other reminder and assistant I cannot live without is my department secretary. Thanks Rebecca for all you do!

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: http://bit.ly/xraz
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, bit.ly, 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


Class:
000 Computer Science, Information & General Works


Contains:
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 Spacefem.com

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: http://www.myspace.com/emilyherring
And here is Ben's site. He is an outstanding artist as well as musician:
http://www.myspace.com/benjamindewey
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!
http://www.myspace.com/grayart

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Site Sharing From Student Assignments AGAIN

Once again I am sharing noteworthy sites gleaned from students in my Internet for Librarians class.
  • National Register of Historic Places Hispanic Heritage Month...I included this, one of many good sites about Hispanic heritage, because I never realized what a wealth of information is out there via National Register of Historic Places/National Park Services to teach history via historical sites. http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/feature/hispanic/
  • Here's a nice easy way to chat with a group without downloading anything--Chatmaker: http://www.chatmaker.net/
  • This is a great online newsletter maker! It starts out free and then has paid upgrades. If a student wanted to use it for an assignment, it would be a fun and free option: http://letterpop.com
  • Be Funky! Here is a fun sight with all kinds of fun things to do with a computer. Great for projects, etc. http://www.befunky.com/
  • Finally, here is one more site. It is not actually from a student. It is from a Tweet! This person picked me up to follow and I in turn went to his site: Fantas'tic' Blog Nice job! http://fantastictechnology.blogspot.com/
I know I have said this before, but it is inspiring to see all the great resources we have to use and share. Kudos to all I visited!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tonight's Debate--My Current Events Report

Tonight I did four things while watching:
  • Texted with my daughter in Oregon
  • Texted with my friend Debbie in Austin
  • Twittered with my tweets
  • Participated with live chat with Austin American Statesman newspaper readers.
Again I just have to mention how much interacting in these ways while watching adds to the experience of watching something like a presidential debate. The new dimension was the live chat and it was very well moderated by Alberta Phillips. Not sure what her title is, but she did a nice job of moving things along. The thing that was interesting about this experience was that there were people from both sides of the fence. The tone was generally quite courteous, and it was interesting to get comments from McCain and Obama backers both. What did I think? Well, most of the participants favored Obama, and the online polls they put up during the chat were in his favor also. But I would say this one thing for sure...from that group, not one single mind was changed. We all went in with our opinions and left with them intact. As they said just now on MSNBC, the big winner is...JOE THE PLUMBER.

I am grateful for the chances to vent to my tweets and also interact with people from all sides via live chat with Austinites.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Singing Praises to My Tweets

Tonight I watched the debate, the "Town Hall" with Tom Brokaw. I started to go downtown and watch at party headquarters, but opted for my recliner. I was afraid that they might not watch on my favorite channel! Yes, I get worked up about politics. This goes back to my early memories of my dad being our county's party chairman and my family working in the polls, doing everything from sharpening pencils (me) to counting votes (Dad, with witnesses). Anyway, even though I stayed home I was not alone. I was in constant contact with a number of smart, funny, and observant folks, my Tweets! I will admit that those participating in our exchange were like minded. I am sure there were similar discussions going on elsewhere in the Twitterverse that were very different from mine. And that is well and good. I just felt like mentioning that tonight for me was a striking example of how Twitter can be a rewarding The comments were a mix of serious and funny, and being able to exchange impressions with the immediacy that Twitter offers, gave an added dimension to the experience. Also, if I had been at the debate party, while I would have been in good company, making comments out loud would have caused us to miss other things that were said. Many of the nuances of the contest that we mentioned are now talking points for the talking TV heads. But we were there discussing it right when it was happening! So...thanks Tweets, you ruled tonight!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lucky Me, Grading Papers

I DO love to grade papers! I learn so much from my students. Already today, after opening up just one Annotated Bibliography assignment, I have some links to share:
  • Nature Songs: Nature Recordings and Photography: http://www.naturesongs.com/ I could spend way too much time at this site. The files are OK for educational use, as is clearly stated in the Terms of Use. I started out with the sounds and thought they would be my favorites, but just now looked at his photography. There are some truly delightful shots, which make me think he must be the absolute soul of patience. I tried to learn more about Doug Von Gausig but did not succeed in finding a satisfying bio. Clearly he is a photographer and nature lover who also sells photographic and sound equipment and sound CD's. I wish he offered more about himself than the fact he lives in Arizona, but cannot fault his work. Some of his photos of birds catch them in mid-song or other activity and are well worth a visit to his site.
  • Big Huge Labs: http://bighugelabs.com/flickr/ Actually this site is NOT new to me but it has been ages since I used it, and do not think I have previously mentioned it here. This site is great for playing around with your Flickr images. You can do fun things with them such as make personalized name badges (new since I last visited), make mosaics, make magazine covers, etc. It is one of the reasons I stick with Flickr. My problem is finding enough time to "play around" with images at all.
  • Project Gutenburg: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page Again NOT a new site...but when were you last over there? Again it has been ages for me. While I may not have visited lately, plenty of other teachers have. That is clear from the top 100 downloads from yesterday. Lots were for class assignments, I feel sure.
  • Here is a great article about Internet safety. This is, of course, a current focus of mine, and I am very grateful to the student who selected it for one of her journal readings. The title is Online Safety Summit Emphasizes Community Collaboration, and it can be found at EdWeek at this URL: http://tinyurl.com/3h8o6v
  • So here's to you, Rio Grande Valley students, great job on work so far!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We Should All Be Angry About This

SPOILER: The last part of this entry is POLITICAL!!

This past Sunday, some of you may have received a FREE DVD in your newspaper. I don't know about everybody else, but I love to read the Sunday paper and once and a while receive a freebie. I fondly remember getting those cute little boxes of cereal or a small sample of a household cleaner product. Certainly we know that curious kids are likely to be the first to try out such freebies. This past Sunday, if you live in a "swing state," you very likely got a DVD, along with a leaflet describing it as a "must see," distributed by an outfit called "The Clarion Fund." More about them in a minute.

Since Texas is not a swing state (alas, I wish this were not so), I did not get the lagniappe. But my daughter who lives in Portland, Oregon did find one. Actually she found on the front porch of the group home where she works, which is inhabited by girls between the ages of 13 and 18. These youngsters could just as easily have found it, and would have been quick to pop it in the house player. When she figured out what it was, she was incensed, so much that she called me and, voice quivering with anger, described it to me. The DVD is entitled "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," and is quite a diatribe against all Muslims, filled with fear and hate. You can find countless articles and blog entries about this video and its nefarious distribution via newspapers and direct mailouts, as well as watch segments on YouTube. To make things worse, on Monday after the item was distributed in Dayton, Ohio, there was an incident at a mosque, where a 10 year old girl was directly sprayed in the face (through an open window by an unidentified man) with a toxic gas that also affected other children and several adults. Police there do not want to call this a "hate crime" but far too many others see the obvious connection.

So far I think this my account is relatively non-political in that this is a blog about technology and I think we must teach our patrons, whether they are teachers, parents, or students, to be very aware that everything they see on a screen or read in print is not automatically true. For this same reason I think secondary students should be able to see the scurrilous Martin Luther King site called "Martin Luther King: A Historical Examination"--http://www.martinlutherking.org/
As usual, this insidious hate site came up #3 on a Google search for me just now. Visiting the site of the wacky Holocaust denier, Arthur Butz, is also a good lesson in web site evaluation.

SPOILER...SO NOW FOR THE POLITICS: I cannot conclude without pointing out that the timing of this distribution, so near our Presidential election, is far from coincidental. Also, you do not have to look very hard at Clarion Fund to see some reasons for concern. Like the Martin Luther King hate site, they stress that their goal is to "educate," and that they want to do so with video production. Their home page lists college outreach as a prime goal. The videos are NOT what any fair-minded person would want to see used in an educational institution at any level, unless it was to study bias, propaganda, and hate sites. And here's another thing...who do we see on the Board of Directors? This takes a bit of searching. As with many hate sites, Clarion Fund's gives NO names for authors or webmasters, or for those in leadership roles. However, delving just a bit more, you will find none other that "Rev" John Hagee, John McCain's fire-breathing preacher supporter whose endorsement pretty much resulted cessation of the right wing's over-the-top criticisms for Obama's association with his pastor since McCain had been sucking up to his own crazy preacher friend. Here is one link: http://tinyurl.com/4shnqn

The one bright side to this sorry story is that without exception, subscribers and US Mail recipients of this scurrilous DVD have reacted with outrage. Many copies have been mailed back to the distributor, and countless letters to the editor have been written. As a proud mother, I cannot resist sharing the missive my own daughter wrote to her local paper, Portland's The Oregonian. Her response is more measured and reasonable than I fear mine might be had I received the "gift." Here it is:

"I am a supporter of free speech, and I have a soft spot for the ACLU. So, I do not attempt to suggest that inclusion of the "Obsession" DVD in last Sunday's Oregonian is anything less that perfectly legal. The law however, does not account for incidents of sheer tastelessness. As a transplanted Texan, you can be sure I know that. You can also be sure that I will not be purchasing another Oregonian for quite some time. 'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...can't get fooled again.'"

No, her letter did not get printed, but I think that was due to the large volume of messages sent to The Oregonian, including one, I am proud to say, FROM A LIBRARIAN.

Enough! We must no longer put up with the politics of fear and hate. We must speak out loudly and forcefully against candidates and their supporters who continue to try to cram this bunk down our throats. We must remember the oft-quoted poem most often credited to Pastor Martin Niemöller and yes, I referred to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came...

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."
If I have offended anybody, then frankly I will count that as a success. People who support this kind of skulduggery deserve to have their cages rattled now and then.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick Fixes Do Not Work: Case in Point=Filtering

Quick fixes are very inviting. Wouldn't it be great if you could solve complex problems with simple and speedy one-stop measures? Here are some that have failed for me:
  • That diet where you consume large quantities of noxious cabbage soup.
  • The book that promised toilet training in three days.
  • Blocking the hole my dog made in the cyclone fence with a golf putter and a couple of broom sticks.
  • I am not a golfer, but Dad is watching the Ryder Cup. Just plugged on a TV commercial was something called "15 Minute Golf"...somehow I wonder about that too.
On a larger scale I can think of other quick fixes:
  • Preemptive war
  • FEMA trailers
  • Enron economics
  • Fixing schools with standardized tests
  • Making kids readers with AR
But the allure of the quick fix is very hard to resist. That brings me to a prime example:
INTERNET FILTERING IN SCHOOLS!
I wish I could say that identifying filters as quick fixes was my idea, but it is not. Last week Nancy Willard posted about a recent presentation she had made. When Nancy talks, I listen. The main them was that Internet filtering is a quick fix and that, like other quickies, it simply does not work. Here are some comments she shared with me and gave me permission to cite:

I think you will like my definition of technology "quick fix" because I
found a way to distinguish quick fixes from technology protections. By
nature, a quick fix is trying to stop intentional behavior of the user,
whereas technology protections guard against attacks from the outside and
accidental behavior. There is no technology that can effectively keep
teens in electronically fenced play yards. And the sooner we realize this,
the better.

A specific technology can function as both - depending on the age of the
user and use of the technology. Filtering software can function as a
pretty effective technology protection for younger children but is a
woefully inadequate quick fix when used with a teen. Digital
identification will be a valuable addition to allow adults more security
when engaging in electronic commerce, but is a woefully deficient approach
to address concerns of teens on social networking sites.

Her words made me remember a panel discussion presented at last spring's TLA (Texas Library Association) Conference. Nancy was on that panel, and so was Spring Branch ISD Media Coordinator, Dr. Barry Bishop. He is putting into practice what both he and Nancy preach, commonsense filtering. This is a paraphrase, but in essence he said, "We decided not to make filtering all about keeping out a large number of Internet sites that might or might not be problematical. Instead, we are allowing in as much as we possibly can, and then just blocking those sites which really are 'bad.'" Hmmmm you might say, that sounds like a lot of work. Well, it likely is more work, especially at the outset. That is because it is NOT the quick fix approach.

And think about the positives! Teachers in that district have participated in the "21 Things" training for Web 2.0 and are moving ahead with exciting new projects that engage kids and make them less likely to try so hard to circumvent the filters. This means that teachers need to be trained, something that I suspect is least likely to be happening in the schools with the tightest filters. How do I know this? I learn this from my MLS students. Those who accept filters as "the only way to keep kids safe" are those who have the least familiarity with new and exciting Internet resources and activities.

I am aware that many teachers, librarians, administrators, and others that work with kids are doing great things with Web 2.0 resources. I see their listserv postings, I follow them on Twitter, I read their blogs and wikis, and I attend their presentations at conferences. But I keep wondering about the many schools and districts where nothing has changed since the filters were set years ago. Again, I know there are many out there, because so many of my students describe their situations that way. These are the folks I worry about, both adults and children. I am presently on a campaign to offer information in print that can be used to help people who are seeking resources to help bolster their efforts to loosen filters. And without a doubt two of the leaders to whom I turn are Nancy Willard and Barry Bishop.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is the way I like to write...

Remember the Mulberry Bush song? It has been running through my head all day. I am "blessed" with an ongoing sound track in my cranium, often playing songs from way back and not ones that I particularly like. Anyway, I have been thinking
"This is the way I like to write, like to write, like to write.
This is the way I like to write so early in the morning."

Yesterday morning when I lost power, one of my first thoughts was...HOW WILL I WRITE??? To my credit it did not take me long to come up with...duh...pen...and...paper. After all it was good enough for me for many years. In fact it took me a very long time to reach the point where I was writing directly to computer. My entire dissertation was written in 1999-2000, entirely in longhand and then transcribed to computer. This entry was also handwritten up to this point, where I left off yesterday.

Resuming on computer...the thing I have been mulling over is how others are writing these days. Does anyone out there still write by hand when doing formal or serious writing? My transition was not a specific decision, but really an evolution. As I recall, I started out slowly, writing short memos directly online and then gradually composing longer and longer pieces. Eventually, without consciously making a transition, I realized that I was no longer using pen and paper. I am not sure if this change is reflected in my writing. I type very fast, and thus write a lot faster than I used to. Do I write shorter sentences? Do I include less in the way of description? I really don't know. I am curious how others feel about longhand vs. online writing, how it has impacted their own work, and how they now write.

After the Storm

Date: September 14
Place: My office

I am transcribing from a handwritten entry I wrote yesterday...here goes:

I am stting in front of my west fancing front window and writing with...DRUMROLL...pen and legal pad! It is September 13, 2008 and thanks to Hurricane Ike I am without power. I probably have close to three power hours left on combined computers but am hoarding that for dark time. I'm hungry but holding off on that too. It seems to me that I should use the rest of today's daylight for things that make good use of it.

Right now I have to reflect a bit. I am very, very lucky. Two houses on my block have very big oak trees on them. All I have is branches down and none of those are on my house. A neighbor told me that one of the few deaths reported so far was on the south side of my little town. If true, it is another tree on house incident, a bit ironic in view of the fact that many people came here to escape the storm.

My original thought is to talk about my feelings on being unplugged. Bottome line: I MISS MY GIZMOS! Like everyone else, I am in the dark with no expectation for relief any time soon. The big issue for me is my cell phone. To my irritation, my old iPhone car charger does not work with my new iPhone. Thus this afternoon I was out scouting for power. Nothing downtown. Nothing on campus. Discouraging! Finally I headed north for one last idea. Maybe, maybe that truck stop north of town would have power...Yesssss! The restaurant was out of food but they nicely let me plug in and charge while I bonded with truckers and stranded travelers. Truckers were worried about their loads. One lady had sheltered in town with a sister but they inded up in an argument so she left. She was cheerfully chugging coffee and reviewing her options. Me, I headed home to count my blessings. My phone is charged. I am safe and dry, and all I am facing is yard cleanup. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost so much.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike Thoughts

I am sitting on my beloved back porch, listening to my little fountain, and enjoying a day off since my university closed campus until Monday if the earliest due to the approaching storm. Many of our students commute and of course that will be impossible between now and Sunday. The word is that we will re-open Monday, and I hope that is true because it will mean that things are going pretty well. Also, several of our campus buildings are already filling up with evacuees. My town is a major stopping point for folks heading away from harm's way during hurricane threats. As I contemplate what the upcoming hours may bring, I find myself with some random thoughts:
  • Last night on the news, a reporter stopped a woman who was strolling down the nearly deserted beach in Galveston. She had a little one in a stroller and two tots in tow. He said a bit incredulously, "Ma'am, why are you still here? You should be leaving! Aren't you concerned about the storm?" She replied, "Oh no, we aren't worried. The Lord is going to push this storm further on up the coast. He will take care of us. We will be fine." The reporter said "But what about your children? Aren't you worried about them?" Her reply was "Of course I am concerned for my children but we don't want to get out in all that traffic. If things are really bad tomorrow, we may leave then." This made me angry then and I am still thinking now about those little ones! I wish I knew that these folks left. By now I don't think they CAN get off the island. The bridges will be impassible soon if they are not already. It is OK to be an idiot in America, and we tend to prove this regularly. But the children have no say in this! I am having trouble getting them out of my mind.
  • I was on the road early yesterday morning for a doctor's appointment and came home up Interstate 45, a major evacuation route. Traffic was bumper to bumper but moving and orderly. It is clear that things are unfolding in a much more orderly fashion than they did in the wake of Hurricane Rita. It is heartening to see that people can and do learn from past mistakes! Now if we can also see this happen in the coming election, my whole world view will improve!
  • I am thinking very much about my students and former students, many of whom I know are displaced. My prayers are for them. I know that many suffered from Hurricane Rita, several losing homes and others with damage. Since SHSU LS Department has for years taught courses throughout South Texas, we have many folks to be thinking about.
  • As for me, I am selfishly thinking about power. If anything were to happen to me beyond some heavy rain and maybe winds knocking down limbs, etc., it will be power loss. My plan is to use this down time to write. But what if my power goes? I am keeping all three computers charged up...but what will I do if my gizmos all run down? I could be forced to pick up a pen and legal pad. Since I transitioned years ago from writing in longhand to writing online, I will have to readjust!

More on Filtering

I really appreciate Doug Johnson's comment on my recent post on this topic. My reason for trying to get names of people who are speaking out "loudly" is that I hope to provide some reputable and authoritative names and sites that might help others whose voices must perhaps be a bit more muted due to job security concerns. And again, let me hasten to say that my concern is NOT with frivolous, bandwidth wasting "surfing" rights but rather with access to all the wonderful Web 2.0 resources and informational sites that are still off limits to far too many folks. A good part of my concern stems from living in a very conservative area in a conservative state, and seeing my own friends and students fight for access every day. Doug is so right though...this is NOT a "battle" to be won by a few people with loud voices, but by everyone doing what he/she can to move things along. Sometimes that has to be with baby steps, I know, after my years in public schools. My one wish would be for a few more names to share with the librarian who is trying to build a case and wants to provide some documentation. My listserv query yielded none, which may have been due to my wording being a bit off, or (and this is my concern) due to the fact that people cannot come up with any more names! If that is the case, then my list is needed more than I thought. I am going to do some searching on my own, but would still love any suggestions. Maybe I need to change the name from Filtering Heroes to something else. I will try to come up with a better title.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Uh When I Said Heroes I Meant...

Regarding my previous posting and the title "Filtering Heroes..." I did post to LM_NET and TLC and asked for names of other people who could be resources for educators seeking increased Internet access, and I got chastised a little via private email. I do appreciate the fact that this person did not post publicly. The gist of the complaint was that I was oversimplifying and not taking account the problems in districts related to bandwidth issues. Further, labeling these people "heroes" was said to be inappropriate, and that many hard-working individuals have to put into place some constraints due to needing to keep resources available for appropriate use. So let me clarify: First, I am not talking about bandwidth issues. I am talking about the kinds of filtering that keep out perfectly innocent and even extremely valuable Web 2.0 resources. Second, about the use of the word "heroes." I was going for a catchy monniker. I was not trying to say that tech folks who apply reasonable filters are "bad guys" and that those who oppose filters are literallly "heroes." Guess I may rethink my label...anyway, the last thing I wanted to do was cause any sort of bad feelins! As I said to the person who emailed me, mea culpa! I hope my words were not widely misinterpreted.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Heroes! Filter Fighters!

Last spring I got to meet a cyberfriend and also one of my heroes, Nancy Willard, who came to Texas for our annual library association conference. She speaks out for Internet safety and also for commonsense filtering in K-12 schools. Since I also care deeply about these issues, and since we have communicated for several years online, getting to talk to her in person over coffee was one of the high points of TLA for me last year. Then just yesterday I got an email from another of my heroes, Doug Johnson. He is so generous in his praise for others, and was kind enough to take time and send me a message about a recent article of mine about filtering. Since yesterday I have really been thinking about the importance of communication between like-minded individuals, and how the Internet has played a major part enabling this. I feel fortunate to learn so much from others via listservs like LM_Net and EDTECH, via email, and now from my tweets on Twitter. So hooray for heroes!

One thing Nancy Willard said at her TLA presentation was that she has made up her mind to speak out strenuously for commonsense filtering since she knows that many times teachers, whose jobs are on the line, may not feel that they can express themselves quite so freely. That statement galvanized me! It made me think that I could and should do the same. That led to my article in the September/October issue of Multimedia&Internet@School called "I'm Mad and I'm Not Gonna Take It Anymore" about draconian filtering still all to common in schools. In the next issue I will have an article called "Everybody Else is Doing It," which seeks to give people ideas for seeking access based on the fact that so many districts and schools have already jumped on the bandwagon using great Web 2.0 resources.

Today while I was working on an upcoming presentation about filtering, I got to thinking that it might be helpful to offer a list of some people whose presentations and writings can be used by educators in the trenches as they try to get access so kids can benefit from the many great Web 2.0 resources available online. Thus I am starting my heroes list: MA Bell's List of Commonsense Filtering Heroes. I will start off with three names and a bit about each person and will add more in the near future. Maybe readers have suggestions?
  • Nancy Willard, director of the Center For Save and Responsible Internet Use, is the first person that comes to my mind when I think about advocates for sensible filters in schools. She is a lawyer as well as an educator and thus has a two-pronged approach which adds additional import to her contributions. Her many articles on this topic are easily found in databases, blogs, and other sites located by doing a simple search using her name. Also, you can find online information at many sites, foremost being her own: http://www.csriu.org/ Also listed there are her two books on the topic.
  • Doug Johnson, Director of Media and Technology in the Mankato Schools, MN, is a wonderful presenter and author as well as educator, with a long history or leadership in librarianship and technology. He has a plethora of presentations and articles about filtering and access, and also addresses the topic frequently in his Blue Skunk Blog: http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/ For more great information, visit his website at http://www.doug-johnson.com/
  • Dr. Barry Bishop, Director of Library Information Services, Spring Branch, TX, is a True Texas Hero! Take a look at the wonderful district website he maintains. This site should be in everybody's tag collection: http://library.springbranchisd.com/library-resources/ Last year he took part in a panel discussion at TLA about student access and filtering. His commonsense approach should be adopted by so many other administrators. Seeing his excellent resources should show other leaders the way to move beyond overly restrictive filters.
I know there are many more leaders, and my goal is to add to this list and post a more complete one somewhere for ready reference if someone is looking for experts who champion reasonable filters. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Stuff White People Like Quiz

The SWPL guy was on Conan tonight, and inspired me to take the quiz. Results are interesting. It seems I am pretty multicultural! Or something. Who knew?

You are 22% white and nerdy.
How White and Nerdy Are You?

Happy Birthday to Me!


Thanks so much to my wonderful daughter who immortalized me with this greeting. I am the hapless voter in the last seconds of the video. And beware...I am, as we say in Texas, fixin' to post an entry with a political slant. I think it is appropriate in view of current candidates' views about the 1st Amendment and what that means to librarians and educators.

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For Whom The Bell Told

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Report:: Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale


I picked up the audio version of this book for listening during a drive last week. It is not the first book I have read about the Galveston Hurricane, and certainly not the first time I have heard the story. This event is something you hear about repeatedly as a Texan, and especially as a resident of the Gulf Coast. I wondered how much it could add to existing books for young readers about the storm, which include The Silent Storm and Summer of the Storm. And for older readers, Isaac's Storm sets the mark in my opinion. Dark Water Rising indeed earns a place as an excellent choice for learning about the event, blending fact and fiction into a compelling story. Though I didn't think about it when I selected the book, this is certainly a timely choice as Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast. None of us from that region has forgotten Katrina or Rita, and the waiting game is again upon us.

As an aside, back in the early 1970's I was teaching 7th grade reading in Spring Branch, a Houston area school district. I had one of those stand-out classes, where the students are especially responsive and come together to comprise a very special group. We were studying folklore and I wanted to dramatize the fact that the oral tradition is an ongoing and vital force. Somehow I was able to gain permission and schedule a bus in order to take the kids to a nearby retirement home to visit with residents. Armed with pens and notebooks, the students interviewed willing residents. Coming out of that experience were two amazing encounters. We met a former Pinkerton detective and a survivor of the Galveston Hurricane. I remember how awed we all were by the history these two shared. Sadly I did not take a tape recorder or save the students' accounts this experience. I wonder sometimes if any of those kids remember the singular good fortune we had in meeting people with such memorable accounts to share. Another thing I did for all my classes was bring in guest speakers who were well up in years and who had special stories to share. While busing kids somewhere to visit oldsters would be well nigh impossible with today's constraints, I like to think that if I were still in the classroom I would continue bringing in guests. Video is great and live cams are super, but nothing takes the place of face to face encounters.

As Gustav approaches, I pray for all in harm's way.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Unsolicited advice

Don't listen to me on this...listen to one of my favorite columnists, Kathleen Parker. I like her partly because I only agree with her about half the time, thus keeping her interesting. Some other writers either make me mad 99% of the time, or have me nodding the same. Anyway, stop what you are doing and go read what she has to say in her piece called "A midsummer's notion: Make time for nothingness."

Here's a link, but I read it OFF PAPER while already taking her advice: http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/1135336.html

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reset Computer to Previous Date...What About Life???

A student of mine emailed me that he was calling Dell about a computer problem. I expected, correctly, that they would take him through the steps to reset to a previous date. It worked and he is happily back on course. Every time I do this or recommend it to someone, I cannot help thinking...wouldn't it be nice if we could do that in life? Frankly I wish right now I could just go back to 8 AM today. I lost an entire day stubbornly trying to complete a transaction that just wasn't going to get done in one day. As a result I have little to show for today and mounting frustration as I am behind on so may fronts. Going beyond that simple little adjustment, my imagination can wander down all sorts of paths...what about you?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Taking Sides is Hard for Me!

I am one of those people who has a hard time distinguising right from left. I remember being terrified of fouling up my driving test because of this, but discovered that the old Ford Fairlane that was my very uncool ride had little labels over the turn indicator lights saying "Left" and "Right." Those saved me from a humiliating mistake in that task but did not keep me from backing over the barrier in parallel parking. Anyway, thanks to my daughter's preschool teacher, I am now tons better at Left/Right. I was volunteering one day when she taught the kids the trick about holding up your left hand and making an "L" from with your hand up and thumb out. Wow! I thought! Why didn't anybody tell me about that years ago? It seems I am not alone! There is an article on this topic in today's Houston Chronicle, and it references a site called Neuroscience for Kids. And I can understand lots of the stuff there too!

Here is the link to the article: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/main/5905777.html

Here is the link to the Neuroscience page: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/neurok.html
Once at the page, click on Experiments and scroll down. You will find a link for "sidedness" with interesting information and even a little test you can take.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Setting my sites on...

Here are some great sites I picked up today from my students as I graded assignments:
  • Who2, which offers quick biography information. It also tells "Arrivals and Departures," or what famous people died or were born on the day you are searching. http://www.who2.com/
  • Here is a useful site for teachers and/or students to use if they want to ask permission to use material and respect copyright--separate templates for educators and students. It is a Landmark Project page: http://landmark-project.com/permission1.php
  • Holy Bookworms! Superheroes Reading Clubs! http://tinyurl.com/5cber5
  • This Mexico site is worth visiting just for the stunning portal, but info is great also: http://tinyurl.com/39untn
  • Here is a site NOT to use. It would be good to share with teachers as an example of inaccurate and biased "science" sites: http://www.christiananswers.net/kids/vidclips.html and of courses you would want to explore the rest of the site.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Viva la Compagnie

For some reason this song and lyrics came to my mind this evening. I think I sang it in school at some point, probably in elementary school music class:

VIVA L`AMOUR

Let every good fellow now join in a song.
Viva la compagnie!
Success to each other and pass it along.
Viva la compagnie!

Cho: Viva la, viva la, viva l`amour
Viva la, viva la, viva l`amour
Viva l`amour, viva l`amour,
Viva la compagnie.

A friend on the left and a friend on the right.
In love and good fellowship, let us unite.

Now wider and wider our circle expands
We sing to our comrades in far away lands.
(http://www.lyricsbay.com/u/unknownlyrics/unknownvivalamourlyrics.html)

This song is about being connected with others. That is just what I was missing today. The Internet was down on my campus all day. That cut me off from students. While on campus I could access BlackBoard instructional software, but I could not receive emails. Further, I could not send messages to students or use our Yahoo Groups site for students and alumni. I was concerned about our many students in South Texas/Rio Grande Valley but could not access the Internet to check on them personally or to check weather sites for the status of Hurricane Dolly. I realized how much I do rely on the net for communication. Being without is isolating and frustrating.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Houston Proud! HPL Central Library!

I staged a great escape yesterday. Instead of dutifully reporting to my office, I picked up one of my favorite traveling companions, Dr. Holly Weimar, and we headed for Houston. Our destination was supposed to be the newly renovated downtown library. On the way, I realized to my horror that I had left my Nancy Pearl action figure at home! I could not visit the library without one. I had recently seen her at Cactus Music and so we went by there first. Then on to the library by way of Whole Foods for a quick lunch. By the way, Houston area folks, if you were as sad as I was to hear of Cactus Music closing down, cheer up! The store is back in a new location, and very easy to reach not that far from their old digs.

After lunch, with Nancy in tow, we moved on to the library and had a great experience. They did an outstanding job of renovating. The floors are a lively orange/red color and springy. They feel like they are made of recycled tires, something like some walking tracks. Everything is new, new, new! There are computers everywhere. On the first floor there is someone standing at the entrance to welcome you. Our greeter was a library assistant, easily spotted as are all staff members, who wear bright red shirts. After she learned we wanted to see EVERYTHING she cheerfully waved us on. If we needed direction she would have provided it.

We had a great time on the first floor, where there are many computers, great displays, and fiction/biography sections. Also, on the left as you enter you will find the extensive music collection. Clearly this floor is first stop for most patrons. I was interested to notice that information desks were labeled CUSTOMER SERVICE and were very much out in the open and approachable. In fact, all librarians' desks were more like islands with space all around rather than the bastions of remembered days.

The 2nd and 3rd floors offered reference, and also the main stacks other than fiction/biography. Again you saw many computers and the same style of desks and counters from which patrons can receive help. Of course as you climb, the view out the windows improves.

The fourth floor is the one that has gotten a great deal of attention in newspapers and on TV broadcasts. On one side you find the children's area with wonderful shelves, furniture, and displays. There are also areas for electronics. One boy was using a wii for batting practice. This was fun to watch. In another area on the other side of the room, a gaggle of girls with a mom or two were enjoying Playstation karaoke. I did not take pictures in this area due to privacy concerns, but encourage anyone who can do so to go visit. I might add that visitors can walk through and take a look around, but then must leave unless they are with a child. This is, of course, for children's security and privacy.

The other side of the fourth floor is the teen room. This was the area I was most eager to see, and I was not disappointed. The electronics area is fantastic, with the sound pods which I show in a pic and a great area for playing games. There are also books, of course, and new, shiny, wonderful books at that. Snack and drink machines are also available with a sink nearby. The kids were in another room for a program when we were there, so we got to look around at our leisure. Otherwise we would again have had a VERY short visit, because Director Sandy Farmer made it clear that this was THEIR area and not to be intruded upon. One other neat feature was that the librarians' desks here were off to the side and behind beaded curtains. Thus the adults had the aura of being there/not there. Very clever!

All in all, I was very impressed and pleased to see my old friend back up and open again, and in such fine fettle. My one question was, where is the geometric mouse? Not to worry, the wonderful Claus Oldenburg sculpture has just been moved down to the corner of Smith and McKinney, which is actually a more prominent spot. It is newly painted and spiffy. My daughter and I were regulars at the HPL downtown back in the '80's, even though it meant a drive in from Spring Branch. She will be wanting to visit again when she is in town, especially for the music section.

I am again uploading pictures to flickr, this time of our visit and the great facility. Clicking on this entry title will take you to the pictures, and clicking there on detail will reveal my comments. Also, here is the link to HPL: http://www.hpl.lib.tx.us/
Want to see the mouse?? www.houstontx.gov/municipalart/pdf/geometricmouse.pdf

Fixin' to Read

When I visit a library or books store, I have a similar reaction to when I visit a dessert bar...I want everything! As my mother used to say, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, or bookshelf as the case may be. Yesterday I treated myself to visiting the newly renovated Houston Public Library Central Branch in downtown Houston (http://www.hpl.lib.tx.us/). What a wonderful trip that was! I plan to devote another entry to the facility itself. But while I was there, I got the bright idea to take pictures with my iPhone of books that I picked up and wanted to take. I no longer have an HPL card, and am leaving town in a week anyway, but these are books that were on display and called out to me. I have uploaded the pictures of the covers to a my flickr site, with the group called "Fixin' to Read." If you are from Texas, you know that is how we say "planning" or "intending" to do something. The actual act could occur in several seconds, several days, or never. But it is something you are considering at least.

To see covers and brief comments, click on this blog entry title and get to my flickr page. Once there, if you click on "detail" you get the comments I made about each title. If you have read one of the books, I would love your comments!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reading about Mt. Everest Climbs is a Timely Topic

In today's Houston Chronicle there is a writeup about an astronaut who tried to reach the summit of Mt. Everest but failed to complete the climb. Not long ago it was all over the news that the Olympic Torch made its way to the top of Everest. Meanwhile, I just finished listening to an audio book, High Crimes, about the shady side of Mt. Everest's ever-increasing magnetism. Then the other dayI was visiting with friend and lit prof Dr. Rosemary Chance about the book and she mentioned that it would go along great with Into Thin Air and Peak. I have not read either, but I am sure that Into Thin Air goes into the dark side of Everest. Sadly, the lower slopes are now crowded with crooks, prostitutes, drug dealers, and scammers as well as climbers. Some guides and guiding companies make the climb sound like a walk in the park, and more and more people are attempting the feat of summiting with less and less experience, preparation, and physical fitness. The result is, among other things, a mounting body count as people make mistakes and fall, get lost, or just physically overextend and lose their lives.

The author of High Crimes has an ax to grind. The group that he and some others pulled together to comprise a Connecticut state climbing expedition turned out to be an assortment of incompatible individuals, some with less than laudable intentions. In fact, by the end of their time together, he and some others came to fear for their lives at the hands of certain group members who did not like them. His story is very convincing, and I took time to track down some of the online presences of people he termed troublemakers. His descriptions were accurate at least about their Internet claims. Reading this book as an exercise in sorting out fact vs. opinion would be a great lesson for that and also for bias with high school students. Beyond that, just learning about what is happening at Everest would probably elicit surprise and concern from environmentally conscious readers. I know it changed my views about Everest and made me wonder about recent exploits, including the Chinese ascent which smacks of a political statement at least as much as an Olympic feat.

At the same time I feel regret for Astronaut Scott Parazynski who clearly made an unselfish decision to turn back, and at the same time a wise decision. Another astronaut, Karl Henize, lost his life on the mountain.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Remembering Rebecca

Losing a student is never easy. In some ways it is analogous to a parent losing a child...it just seems to fly in the face of your natural expectations. Our program lost a wonderful young woman this week. As her professor in several classes, I knew her as a hardworking, diligent student who was very active in class discussion. Then she joined my travel study group last summer. One of my greatest rewards of teaching this class is that I get to know trippers in a totally new way. I learned that Rebecca was funny and energetic, full of life, good natured, and a joy to be with. She was an organizer and invaluable resource when we were in New York City, since she had grown up nearby. If it had not been for Rebecca, we would not have gone to Yankee Stadium for a game, which turned out to be a high point of the trip. She and my daughter are exactly the same age. Too young to be leaving family and friends! In her case, this loss is compounded by the fact that she leaves behind a new baby daughter who will not get to know her, to hear her sing, to have fun with her. As I write this, her funeral is taking place. I just wanted her to know I was thinking of her at this very time.

Question o'day

Piggybacking someone else's query...James Lerman just asked this on EDTECH...what is the opposite of linear thinking? I thought I would toss this out as a question here. Whatever the opposite is, it is what I do. My thinking is very often, uh, scattered at best...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Still More Great Links

Grading again on back porch with dog and cat napping nearby. Birds are in full voice right now. Here are some great links that I picked up today from students' explorations and reports thereof:
  • Five Minute Videos: http://www.5min.com/This site is self descriptive...There are some nifty iPhone things I want to view later. You would need to supervise students or download because some may be not so great, such as "How to Spy on Your Neighbor." Still, I really like this site
  • Twitter Fan Wiki: http://twitter.pbwiki.com/ Gotta love this one! It is a wiki where you can learn more about Twitter. Some pages grouped by subjects are linked here. I will return to this one also.
  • Edfucational Wikis: http://educationalwikis.wikispaces.com/Examples+of+educational+wikis Yep, an educational wiki about educational wikis. Great links here!
  • Hip Librarians Book Blog: http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com/ This one sounds familiar but I did not have it tagged already, and some of you may not have seen it. It is current and active and looks very promising to me.
  • Hey Jude: http://heyjude.wordpress.com/ Students of mine, take a look here. She talks about a lot of the things WE talk about in classes! Lots of musings about Web 2.0 tools.
I would like to add kudos to my MLS students at Sam Houston State University who keep coming up with new links to me. I love to collect and share resources and hope that some of these will be useful to readers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Goodies from Students

Here I am grading again and enjoying a lovely Mother's Day all by myself. My daughter is at home in Portland, OR, but we talked and she is planning a visit in early June. In my honor (so she said) she paid off her library fine today. How much? I ask...$80.00. Ah well, she is using the library. I took a ride on my new toy, an electric bike that I named PeeWee. Here is the link to the distributor: http://www.rmartinbikes.com/
Mine is the E500 at the bottom of the page only mine is red, and yes, it does look like the bike in "PeeWee's Big Adventure." It is getting me up the steep hills in my neighborhood, and I plan to use it to run errands and go to work. Take that Big Oil!

Anyway, as always, I picked up some good links from students today:

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Learning from Students Again--Web 2.0 School Sites

My MLS students had to explore a number of Web 2.0 sites in order to do an assigment somewhat similar to 23 Things. Here are some good sites I picked up from their submissions:
I think it is great to visit these and a growing number of school sites that show creative ideas for using Web 2.0 resources. Further, I hope that people who are currently blocked by filters will take note of these and similar sites. Show them to the powers that be in your schools and districts. Ask them why so many other educators and students have access, while yours are being blocked. Maybe this is one tool that can help others gain access.

MySpace Musings

I am again happily staying at home and grading work from my MLS students. As always, I learn from them as I go through submissions. I am going to make a few comments and also share sites as I progress. One thing students were required to do was explore MySpace. Comments below are my musings on their findings.
  • One student just shared that, in the process of looking at MySpace for an assignment, she found some pages that belonged to her own 4th & 5th grade students, who were obviously lying about their ages and also were giving out private information. So she presented a general lesson on netiquette and online safety and, without singling out students, discussed safety and privacy. She got positive feedback from both students and parents. Now here is where I want to rant...naturally due to filters she had to do this search at home. What on earth is the sense of blocking librarians, counselors, principals and other professionals from getting to any site immediately from their offices or schools? EVERY SCHOOL SHOULD HAVE IMMEDIATE FILTER OVERRIDE POWER ON CAMPUS, vested in several people. This bit about blocking access to everyone is DANGEROUS instead of enhancing safety.
  • About MySpace--I am not saying that we should open it for general school use, but rather that all educators should know about it and be acquainted with its strengths and weaknesses. Not allowing educators to gain access to any website they need to see goes beyond paternalism and into the realm of insult. The assignment my students did (working from home of course) called upon them to find one inappropriate MySpace site, and one "good" site. More than anything I wanted them to explore this environment and see its possibilities rather than just have opinions based of media hype. Most of my students admit they have never even visited MySpace or FaceBook before.
  • Here is a very good MySpace page from Florida, Ask a Librarian: http://www.myspace.com/askalibrarianfl
  • Here is another great library MySpace, from Denver Public Library: http://room132.com/

Sunday, April 27, 2008

OMG I Am Gonna Get Smarter!!!

Since having recently acquired two appurtenances disseminated by Apple, a MacBook Pro and an iPhone, I have noticed an upward trend in my intellect! Now I perceive a scholarly endeavor supports the veracity of this phenomenon!

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89408933


Texas translation: Hey ya'll, I am fixin' t'git smarter with m' new stuff.Publish Post

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I Am So Lucky!

I just came back to my porch after turning off the sprinkler. I looked down at my surroundings and saw the following:
  • Two comfy lounge chairs
  • My dog Ringo who goes where I go
  • Kindle
  • Zippy the Flip Cam
  • Idella the iPhone
  • Maxine the MacBookPro
  • My bike
I am a very lucky person. But I am thinking...which of these do I treasure the most? Ringo, of course! But after that...what I am getting at is which gadgets do I/you value the most? Can I put them in some kind of hierarchy? Can you? Which can you least imagine getting along without?

Vote in my Poll!

For fun I am asking people what they think I should name my Kindle. I am wavering between Grendal and Gwin as explained in my earlier post about my new gizmo. I am stepping out a bit here also, and allowing people to tell me that I am silly to name my gadgets.

Getting to know Zippy the Flip Cam

Wow! This is one cool tool! My Flip Cam seemed to practically jump out of its no nonsense box. It came with a cute little pouch and two cords. Documentation was negligible but who needs to read up on this thing? It is ready to go, intuitive, and everything about it says HURRY UP! HOOK ME UP! USE ME! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR??? All I had to do was slip in a couple of AA batteries and turn it over in my hands a couple of times to look at the obvious and intuitive controls. When you slide the lever down, the USB connector hops right out and seems eager to connect with the nearest computer. What am I going to do, alone in the house on a Friday evening, to satisfy my little friend's hunger for action? What else? I film my very best friend, Ringo Bell, my trusty canine companion. I daresay every time I have gotten a new camera in recent years, the first thing I have done is to turn it on one pet or another. Sorry Nancy Pearl.

All that happened last night. Now I am sitting on my back porch, soaking up the springtime green sights and smells, and playing again with Zippy. The name came to me a few minutes ago. It seems to epitomize my camera's eager and peppy demeanor. Did I mention Zippy is orange and white? Yep, since orange and blue are SHSU colors, we all got orange cams. Or at least I did...don't know if other people asked for other colors or not. I just satisfied Zippy's urge to sync with Maxine, my MacBookPro. Ok I know this sounds suggestive but I cannot help it. Installing the software and viewing my first effort was done in minutes. In fact here I am blogging about it just 20 minutes after I first sat down out here. I am attaching the video, an obvious first effort, but enough to prove it works, and easily at that.
video

NOTE: I just got an email about the sound on this being really loud. This was not evident on my Mac but very much on my PC. I will study up myself, but does anyone know if you can adjust the sound before you record? Sorry about the loudness...if you want to see, you may want to turn down your sound first.

Getting to know my Kindle

I think I will name her Grendel. I always rooted for Grendel in the Beowulf stories, and for some reason thought the monster should be a she. I also thought of Gwin, the ferret in the Ink series, but like the complete rhyming quality of Grendel. Anyway, I just got my hands on a long-awaited Kindle yesterday. Our department ordered several back in November, and we have waited all this time for their arrival. As I have done with other new acquisitions, I want to chronicle my first impressions of my new friend.

First off, when opening her, I had an almost MAC feeling. The packaging reminded me a little of the unpacking of my iPhone. There was the heavy duty box with the cute little clasp, and the packaging inside of the unit, cords, and brief documentation booklet. Oh and the cover! It was lovingly covered in a sexy little translucent sleeve. The only difference was that the Kindle was nestled in rather ugly gray egg-cartonish cardboard rather than soft, cushy Styrofoam. I wonder about the comparative biodegradability (is that a word?) of the two presentations. Anyway, I lifted it out gently and felt a little thrill as I carefully peeled off the plastic coverings. Lots of people say Kindles are ugly and complain about the color. I was not put off by Grendel's pure whiteness, personally. I liked the weight and the feel of the back cover which is non-skid material and a bit friendly to the touch. So far so good!

I determined to be a good girl and read the instruction book. No problem--there is not much there to read. The real user guide is appropriately housed in the unit, ready to be your first reading experience. I spent some time going through the guide and getting a feel for handling the gizmo.

Here are some early impressions
  • The appearance of the displays is very appealing. It does look more like book pages than any other portable reader I have seen, because of the ink-like print and the matte finish screen.
  • Adjusting text size is nice so I don't have to wear my cheater glasses to see small print.
  • One early problem I have noted that is still persisting is that it is awfully easy to hit a page forward button by mistake. One review I read last night points out that there is no really obvious way to hold the Kindle and let your hands rest. I tried using the unit with and without the cover and found that the problem exists either way.
  • Another issue with handling was that I tended to hold it in such a way that left bottom corner was digging into my left hand. It made me wish all corners were more rounded. As with the button problem, this may be something that goes away as I get more used to holding it.
  • The keyboard has very small symbols. It took me a while to figure out which one stood for home page, something that I wanted to know very early on.
  • Actual reading from the device is fun and comfortable. I am pleased with this, which of course is the raison d'etre for the device in the first place.
After early exploring I do have questions. My goal for the next day or so is to find answers for them:
  • First off I wanted to download blogs. In my mind I can download someone's entire blog history and then subscribe for future updates. I can find how to go to Amazon and subscribe there, but it seems to be fee based, with a small fee attached to using them for RSS. I don't want to have to pay for reading blogs that are free in other formats. This is top of my question list.
  • A colleague, Dr. Frank Hoffmann, wants to know about archiving. His question is, once you download a book from Amazon, can you then save it as well to a computer and then to a CD? From what I read, the answer is not clear. I do know that Amazon helpfully offers to keep all your files for you at your profile site. I am thinking that is their remedy for this question.
  • Somewhat related to my blog question, I want to know what can I download from where, and get for free? I am stingy! Hoping to figure out more about that today.
As I said, this entry is just to record first impressions. This evening or tomorrow I want to post an update describing how I am getting along with my new friend after spending more time with her, and what answers I have found to my questions. Overall, my first speed date with Grendel was enchanting. I am looking forward to getting to know her (OK now I am thinking maybe Grendel is a HE) better!

PS OK Grendel IS a guy...I just reviewed and remembered this in (where else?) Wikipedia. I also looked up Gwin, and reminded myself that he was a martin, not a ferret. So my memory is hazy. Big deal. Anybody that knows me is aware of that! And as a TOTAL ASIDE I read again about the plans for an Inkheart movie. It is supposed to come out in October of this year. Cannot wait! In my opinion, the Inkheart series beats the heck out of HP for fantasy reading. There is still a chance I may change the name of my buddy from Grendel to Gwin...

Here are some questions:
  1. About blogs...does a blog have to be listed with Amazon for you to subscribe? I know you can also browse to blogs which is likely what I will do, but wondering.
  2. Is there a way to move stuff from your Kindle to a computer, as in backing up a book? I know Amazon helpfully saves for you, but wondering about alternative.