Friday, December 31, 2004

Friends and relations send salutations

A belated Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Blessed Solstice, and Powerful Voodoo Day to one and all. At least I'm still on time to wish you a very happy new year.

A quick fill-in: yes, the snow was a pain in the rear. It was that wet, icy, heavy, evil stuff I remember from DC, not the powdery, picturesque, genial, Lake Wobegon stuff we're supposed to get in the Midwest. I missed my flight due to detours around downed power lines, but the folks at Southwest managed to get me on the next one.

There was a woman on a cell phone talking about her mother's health problems. She was very upset, and I didn't say anything because I didn't know what to say. I wish I'd offered her some small kindness. Ma'am, whoever, wherever you are, I'm sorry.

On a happier note, I actually did Christmas shopping in the airport. (Columbus has a Bath and Body Works in the terminal, and my sister-in-law likes their Holiday Noel fragrance.) This goes right next to the year I got on TV for doing all my shopping on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Diamonds in the snow sparkle

The students are gone and the library is quiet. It’s maybe not a good sign in a customer service industry, but every librarian I know does adore the feeling of a peaceful, deserted, after hours library. And little white flakes are drifting past the windows, making me wonder how long I’m going to sit in the airport tomorrow.

So I thought I’d share with you my success story of the year.

A lot of problems on student computers are the result of “spyware” (that class of invasive commercial software too purposeful to be a virus but too damaging to be left alone). Standard operating procedure for these is to (a) go through Add/Remove Programs and round up the usual suspects, (b) install Spybot Search and Destroy and let it take out the stubborn ones, and (c) if necessary and the user can pinpoint when the problem started, roll the system back using a Restore Point. (The next step, whenever possible, is to install a more spyware resistant browser like Firefox.)

I was working with a student on one of these problems recently, and it wasn’t going well. It was time to consider the dreaded step D: reload your operating system. When I asked if she still had her system disks, she actually produced a Ziploc bag of manuals, CDs, and a RAM upgrade which was purchased two years ago and never installed.

“You know, installing RAM really isn’t that hard,” I said. “It can only go in one kind of slot, it goes next to something that looks just like it, and there isn’t any configuration to worry about. The only trick is that you’ll probably have to push it in a little harder than you think you should. Don’t worry, you won’t break it.”

And I went back to the spyware problem, which was solved with a system restore, and we talked about some of the bells and whistles of Firefox. Positive encounter; it’s always nice to support someone who wants to learn.

A few hours later I got a thank you email, which said in part:

Oh, and I put that memory chip in and I can actually see the difference in the speed of the computer!

Now a thank you note will always brighten my day. And I knew that this is a smart young woman, who’s probably capable of anything she puts her mind to. But I never, ever would have bet that she would have installed that RAM herself, on the same day.

She actually opened the case and made a physical change to her computer. This is a huge step for most users. And I told her she could do it, and know she knows she can.

I was so happy I did a little chair dance in my office. I’m doing one now.

Teacher says every time a newbie learns something, a computer geek gets his wings.

Yours,
Clarence

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Take another little piece of my heart, now, Buddy

On Saturday's Morning Edition, Scott Simon made a pretty good case that DC's baseball deal is in trouble because neither MLB nor DC politicians can make a good case in soundbite form.

A good case but a wrong one.

You see, all year I've been saying that I'd believe in the "Nationals" when I saw them take the field on opening day. (And whining that they should still call them the Greys.) I wasn't going to let Bud Selig or the DC government jerk me around again. Not me, jack. Don't believe the hype!

Then I got behind on my Christmas shopping. I had to consider my options... something my family would like, something I could order easily online.

So I started investigating ticket prices. What could be better than good seats for the first season of the new team?

StupidStupidStupid!

One day after I went to the website, the deal was "on hold." People were talking about refunding ticket purchases. I had to face the malls today.

Baseball fans of the DC area, please accept my heartfelt apologies. Don't blame the mayor who can't get his ducks in a row. Don't blame the rampagingly broken system of MLB greed.

I broke the deal. It was the Librarian, on the Internet, with a simple wish of Christmas cheer.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

The lyric is "until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."

There is no "shining star." There is no "highest bow." It is not a happy song.

Get it right.

That is all.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I am not Tiger Woods

According to the Internet, however:

I am Lando Calrissian.
I am Captain Kirk.
I am Angel (which is a surpise).
I am Chef.
I am Gonzo
I am Casey (which is no surprise at all).

I am Thailand.
I am Love in the Time of Cholera.
I am Georgia.

And apparently, I am a lace bra.

Well, whaddya know?

Monday, December 06, 2004

If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
alive as you and me.
Says I “ but Joe, you’re ten years dead!”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.


Many readers of this blog know that my love for language comes from my parents. In specific, my mother has a love for the folksy turn of phrase, which I have inherited. Mom taught me at an early age exactly the right way to describe just how angry I was Thursday night,

I could chew nails and spit nickels.

Two thousand of them, to be precise.

"In Salt Lake, Joe, great God" says I,
him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead."


This is all Neil Gaiman’s fault. He’s the one who got me riled up. It was on his blog that I heard about the Alabama state representative who wants to purge from any Alabama state-supported public or academic library anything, fiction or nonfiction, which suggests that homosexuality is normal or acceptable.

I hit the roof. This is the most repugnant, reprehensible idea I have heard in a long time. It’s morally offensive; it’s ignorant; it’s even bad politics.

It put me immediately in mind of The Commissar Vanishes, a museum exhibit which documented Stalin’s massive doctoring of the photographic record of the Soviet Union. Pulled from opened archives, the exhibit showed series of photos in which people were added and moved as their fortunes rose in later years. And they were, literally, blotted out as they fell from favor.

”The copper bosses, they framed you, Joe!
They shot you, Joe,” says I!
“Takes more than guns to kill a man.
Says Joe “I did not die.”
Says Joe “I did not die.”


Now I know that any given yahoo could get elected to any given statehouse, if they find the right district and the right opponent to beat. Caligula’s horse is far from the least qualified legislator of history. But it’s not often I hear somebody who got the whole history of Western Civ wrong.

But then, I was brought up in a Catholic tradition which says you love the sinner and worry about the plank in your own eye. (I will admit that I’m having a great deal of trouble extending Christian charity to the Alabama representative.) I was raised in a Thomistic tradition which says that questioning your own ideas is the best way to make them strong. I am of an ethnic tradition which reminds me that we’re only three generations away from “No Irish Need Apply,” and we never, ever let The Man hang that sign again, about anyone.

And I was raised, and educated, and trained, and chose, to believe that libraries are one of the sacred spaces of education, and that education is the most powerful weapon of democracy.

I guess I was a little torqued.

And standing there, just as big as life,
smiling with his eyes,
says he “What they forgot to kill
went on to organize!
Went on to organize!”


And finally, I got off my ass.

My American Library Association membership expired back in August. I’d just been delinquent about sending in my check. Most people don’t know how active ALA is in fighting for freedom to read issues. We’re even beginning to learn how to fight those battles effectively (which is kind of a nice switch from some of the knee-jerk shrillness of the mid-90s). But I got on the website, and I made sure to join the Intellectual Freedom Round Table and make a donation to the ALA’s legal fund.

Well, that does my professional bit, but it wasn’t quite satisfying enough. Anger does tend to make me suggestible, and Mr. Gaiman was kind enough to provide a link, so... it seems I’ve a member of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Yes, I know. It seems a little… niche.

It’s the niches we have to defend. These things which people think aren’t “real”, don’t “count”, don’t have anyone over 14 to defend them… that’s what we have to stand up for. Not to mention that there’s real interesting storytelling being done in graphic formats.

When I was a kid, the two comic books coming into the house were G.I. Joe and X-Men. G.I. Joe lived in a world where terrorists were nice enough to scare absolutely everybody, and leave their bases in plain sight where we could blow them up. The X-Men lived under a repressive political regime which was undoubtedly a McCarthyist reference, but also had some parallels to the backlash against the gay rights movement. On November 4th, it appeared that about half the country would define one of these as a dangerous idea. Didn’t hurt me none.

Besides, I think the parties will be more fun than the ACLU.

From San Diego on up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
where workers strike and organize,”
says he “you’ll find Joe Hill!”
says he “you’ll find Joe Hill!”


It’s not like I donated a ton of money. It’s not like I’m doing enough. But I made the membership list of each of those organizations go up by one. I backed up what I believe with some cash. And I hope these organizations will keep me informed about ways that I can be active… actually write my government, call my legislators, put my feet in the street and participate in the democracy that happens every day that’s not election day.

If you can read this blog, you can find out who your elected representatives are. And you can send them a few responsible emails, just to tell them what your concerns are, and remind them that you’re keeping an eye on them.

(Side note: my Congressman is the joker who invented the phrase “freedom fries.” Yet we agree about the PATRIOT Act being frighteningly broad. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t written to him.)

And it doesn’t even matter to me which side of which issue you’re on. This is how we do democracy. With debate and discussion, we can differ, we can compromise, we can progress.

Banning books? That’s Uncle Joe’s way, not ours.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
alive as you and me.
Says I “ but Joe, you’re ten years dead!”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.


(I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night was written by Alfred Hayes and set to music by Earl Robinson. The lyrics quoted here are as they are sung by Utah Phillips on Fellow Workers. Used without any intent to infringe copyright, and Joe Hill would tell you so, by God.)