Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wow! I Stumbled Upon Something!

Recently I was in my home town library in San Marcos, TX, looking for an audio book to listen to on my drive back to my 2nd place in Huntsville. I came across a selection with an engaging cover showing a dog, a Southwest setting, and a pun. The word mystery was also included. That was enough for me. A mystery with a dog as a character? That was enough for me! The punny title was Thereby Hangs a Tail. I decided to give it a try.

Thus I found myself driving home the next day, alternately chuckling and laughing out loud. Chet, the canine half of this detective team, is also the narrator. He is very smart, incredibly brave, and completely devoted to his master, Bernie. But he is a DOG. He understands a great deal of what the humans say, but has trouble with idioms. For instance when a friend tells Bernie, "You look like something the cat drug in," Chet is mystified. How can that be? There are no cats around...Bernie is so big...

Coupled with the narration from a dog's mind, there is an engaging mystery about a kidnapping, murder, and some corrupt lawmen. Needless to say Chet and Bernie close the case, like always. The series that has four books so far. Along the way I felt like I was picking up some real insights into how a dog thinks.

Back in San Marcos this week, I picked up another book in the series, The Dog Who Knew Too Much. But I felt a little guilty for reading these light books when I could instead be reading some great YA titles. Tonight I decided to learn a bit more about the author, Spencer Quinn. That's when I realized I had stumbled onto something. Spencer Quinn is a pen name for YA author Peter Abrahams. He is well known and recognized for his YA mysteries including Reality Check and Into the Dark. He also writes under his real name for younger readers, with books like Quacky Baseball. I have to confess I have not read his books for young readers, but now I can feel a bit virtuous for enjoying books by an author known and loved by youngsters.

The Chet and Bernie books are tons of fun. There is enough "adult material" to satisfy adult readers, but I would have them in my high school libraries as well. Give Chet and Bernie a try and I do recommend the audio, read by Jim Frangione. You'll be doggone glad you did!

Monday, January 16, 2012

My love affair with mindmaps

I love mindmaps! My fondness for them started years ago when we called them writing webs, story webs, etc. and they were either distributed on memo sheets (remember them?) or teachers had students draw them. They were and still are great ways to organize thoughts. Then in the '90s I got excited about Inspiration software. I still think it is a great product, as is Webspiration. However, in hard times it is challenging to find funds for subscription software. Fortunately there are great alternatives that do not involve spending extra money:
  • Microsoft Office Tools have become so sophisticated that it is easy to use them to make mindmaps. If you use Open Office (also free), it has these tools too.
  • There are lots of free online mindmapping resources. Just do a Google search and see!I hesitate to give a list because there are so many, but I just came across a blog that is devoted completely to mindmapping:The Mindmapping Software Blog:
  • Here is another good source if you are looking around for software to try: Adrian Bruce's How to Create Mindmaps Using Free Software:
  • Remember to search using both spellings, mindmap and mind map, and also graphic organizers.
BUT WAIT! You say...In these hard times I don't have enough computers for all my students to make mindmaps, nor do I have the time to book the lab when I have so much else to do! Well, this week I have been thinking about teachers and librarians in that situation. My concern led me to take a step back and look for hand-drawn mindmaps. Wow! I discovered that they have been continuing in popularity and even becoming an art form while I have been unaware of all this creativity! To me, having students do maps by hand is good for lots of reasons. It teaches them the same organizational skills as the online tools, it encourages them to be even more creative without the canned graphics, and it improves motor skills. Here are some sites that got me so excited about doing mindmaps by hand. I believe you could just show some examples (depending on the ages of the students) and let them go. Evaluating and sharing their creations will be even more fun than those made by computer. Here are some sites for ideas:
I know that after my revisiting the land of hand-drawn mind maps, I will be using them in my classes. Happy Mappy Days!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why I Love Instagram

For starters, I love my iPhone. Anybody that knows me knows that. Instagram is an app originated for use with the iPhone though I hear it is or will be available for the Android as well. Also, I have a longstanding interest in photography. In a previous life I took some leisure courses in composition and 1070's era camera techniques. Several cameras later I ran out of time to continue nurturing my hobby. In recent years I came back to photography with a bit of a schtick, taking pictures of my Nancy Pearl Action Figure wherever I go. This is a lot of fun and caused me to start looking for shots where Nancy could be a fun focal point. Yes, some people thought this was a little weird, and one colleague even calls it...creepy. She has her own issues as well, though.

Anyway, several months ago I downloaded Instagram at the behest of a virtual friend from the iVote community, another phone app social networking group who like opinion polls. There I found a nice group of other iVote friends with whom I immediately became friends. Gradually I became hooked. Why do I like it so much?
  • I travel the world virtually several times a day. Bruno Nunez lives in Rio. Irish_Blue is, of course, from Ireland. Photojournalist is from Dominican Republic. Jsui is a law student in Boston, and somehow I feel a bit motherly toward her. I regularly communicate with these and more "friends" from Hawaii, all over the continental US, Canada, Amsterdam, and other places all over the world. Far too many Americans think the only place in the world to be happy is the USA. I revel in sights of people enjoying life and their pursuits of happiness across this wide world. 
  • I see a wide range of photographic skills and styles. Some people like using editing filters and other apps to enhance their pictures. I am just starting to get into that. Others just point, shoot, and share. These pictures can have immediacy and candor that is quite striking. Several of my "friends" are teenagers and a couple of these are already experimenting with editing and composition. They might even be setting the stage for future careers, or if not certainly for lifelong avocations.
  • I get to see an amazing variety as far as the pictures' subject matter. Mac_cactus ALWAYS shares stunning shots of cactus. He has over 6000 followers and follows no one. M_gardenfav always posts pictures of plants. Mikeguevin takes stunning sky shots and landscapes. Alex D likes architecture, as do many other members. Tobaccio is into macro photography, especially focusing on liquids. Neimanji treates us to daily pictures of her amazingly compliant beagle who poses with great aplomb, always with a neutral background or setting. Her shots rival Wegman's! Bruno regales us with narratives that go along with pictures of Brazil and also of his world travels. Goldfrapp is a New Yorker and shares Big Apple shots.  Fellow librarians will want to follow Buffy Hamilton.  Lately she has been doing nature shots. Another active librarian is  KarinLibrarian, my colleague and teen lit aficionado.
  • The biggest reason I love Instagram is that it causes me to look at the world in a different way. Instead of just walking by something that catches my eye, I now stop and take a picture. All I am using at this time is my iPhone camera. Because of Instagram, I now look at the world more closely and through different eyes. This is the most powerful aspect of Instagram, and the main reason I love it. It has changed the way I see the world.
PS I am including a shot I took the other day at the Houston Zoo. I was walking through a tunnel in the new African Forest section and passed under a hole through which the sky was visible. Before Instagram I would have just looked up and walked on. Instead I stopped and took the picture.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Attention Dog Lovers! Here's a Great Lighthearted Mystery Series for Grownups!

Browsing the shelves at my local public library, I came across an audiobook that sounded fun--Thereby Hangs a Tail: A Chet and Bernie Adventure by Spencer Quinn.  Little did I know I was about to become a fan of a new series. Chet, canine half of the detective team, narrates. Bernie, his softhearted but tough human companion, joins in to get the job done. Chet's take on the case, on humans, and on the world, is hilarious. I haven't laughed this much at a book since Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear. Sadly, Fforde has not added to the Nursery Crimes series since. I am so happy that there are already several other titles in this series so I have somewhere to turn when I finish this one. I'm just hoping my library has all of them. This book had me laughing out loud on my most recent drive between my two hometowns. Now I can't wait to make the drive--and listen--again. If you liked Hank the Cowdog, or even if you never read these kids' books, you will like this series. If you want a fun read or listen, check out these books. And get this: Chet has his own blog:
Do yourself a treat and enjoy Chet and Bernie!

PS Jasper Fforde has a great website too:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Writing Full Circle

Back in the 1990's and even early 2000's I was an avid computer user, but still could not compose and write online. I had to write a piece in longhand and then key it in, often revising as I went. This served me well. I wrote my entire dissertation this way. On one memorable day I got very inspired and literally wrote for hours, running all the ink out of my pen. I expect this would always be THE WAY for me to write something important. Then at some point I realized I was composing online. I no longer needed to write out on paper first, and I dropped the step. Yesterday I was writing a thank-you note, and I wanted it to be just right because it was for very special hospitality on the part of wonderfully welcoming people. I had bought a nice card that seemed to hit the right note. I decided that I wanted to be sure I knew what I was going to say before I put pen to card, so I composed the note online and revised. THEN I copied that onto the card without any cross-outs. After I finished, I realized I have completed a circle. Now I have to write on computer before I feel good about penning something important. Interesting.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Are You making New Year's Resolutions? I have ONE and It's Important!

I follow Daily Infographic, and this is a great posting:
I am taking the advice offered and only making ONE resolution. I will accompany it with several things I HOPE I will do. Here is my one single resolution: SIT LESS--BE LESS SEDENTARY. This resolve actually is triggered by another recent Daily Infographic called Sitting is Killing You: It hit me hard right before the holidays that I sit way too much, and I blogged about it then. This chart made me realize how very sedentary I have become. In fact I have to admit to being downright lazy. It's a nasty habit, I fear, and one that could shorten my life. The resolution chart's advice is to make the goal measurable, specific, and realistic so I am setting a bench line of 4 exercise days a week as opposed to my old 3, which I wasn't hitting anyway. Beyond that, though, I want to work on a habit to get up and move around more when I am working at home or in office. So when you see me in my office, nag me to get up and do a flight of stairs or something!

Here are two HOPES:
1. Be more regular with blog entries. Not setting a number but just putting out the intention for myself.
2. Organize my life--finances, home responsibilities, health maintenance, etc. Again no bench mark.

My final hope is that I make progress on these things! If you made resolutions, I wish you well with them too!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! My 3 Fave Apps of the Year

I might as well do it. I might as well start the year off with a blog entry. I started this blog because of a New Year's Resolution back in 2007. Since then I have had ups and downs, never quite reaching and maintaining the level of activity I resolve to attain. Last year I did well in the early months but then dropped off sharply as job duties eclipsed all other activities. But I am hoping to make THIS they year when I hit my stride and keep it going!

For a starting-off entry I asked myself what are some applications that I have found to be compelling and even addictive in the past year. Here are several. If you have not tried any of these, I offer them up for your consideration:
  • Dropbox: Why oh why did I wait so long to try this? I have been a constant user for several months now and don't know how I managed without it. I have the convenience of getting my files anywhere at any time, plus the security of knowing they are stored one more place for security--in the cloud. For some reason it gives me a huge charge to pull up my MS Office docs on my iPhone.
  • Instagram--This is my new favorite iPhone app. It combines social networking with love of photographers. I follow a mix of sincere amateurs like myself and professionals who share amazing pictures. We comment on one another's submissions. I am on this site several times a day. As far as I can tell it is strictly an iPhone app. It has reawakened my interest in photographer and refreshed the way I see the world. That's a lot for a free app!
  • Pininterest--Like a lot of folks, I find this site addictive. I have two boards that are active right now, and add to one or both almost daily. There are tons of great sites out there, and here are my two. I confess to being a bit proud of them:
I keep thinking there are some others I really like, but these are the standouts. What about you? What apps or sites have changed how you think or do things this past year?