Monday, March 24, 2008

Raising the bar on dorkdom

I'm discovering new and varied ways to enjoy being a nerd, now that I'm in library school. Because I know you all revel in dorkiness, in the way I do, I thought I'd share some of my latest, greatest achievements with you.

Exhibit A:
I'm in this class about databases. We had to get together in a group and build a database, developing ways to describe things one might not usually think to spend time "classifying." My group decided our database would be about produce, and we spent weeks deciding things like whether "potatoes" and "sweet potatoes" were different enough to merit separate records, and if so, how could we quantify that which made them different enough so that we could apply the same standards to other produce. When we had created our produce data storing masterpiece, we traded empty databases with another team, the idea being that we'd each try and sort some data into the other's structure to see how well it held up.

When it came time to trade, I was really looking forward to seeing what our trade group had decided to classify. The rules of the assignment said we could do anything that wasn't "overly bibliographic in nature." In other words, you silly librarians to be, don't reinvent the wheel and organize your book collections. They'd made their database about--squeal!--TSHIRTS!! So Friday night, after a week of working, I "treated" myself to, yes, you are understanding me correctly, **entering data about my tshirts into a database!** I had fun doing it!! Organizing and T-shirts combined? What could be better? Except maybe getting graded for thinking of ways the experience of organizing t-shirts into a database could be improved!

Exhibit B:
I'm spending the day working on a midterm for my database class. (I do have another class, but it's not really expanding the horizons of my nerdiness in the same fashion.) Here is an *actual answer* I'm going to turn in on my midterm. (It's worth noting that my teacher a) seems to have a good sense of humor and b) seems to appreciate a "real world analogy.")

I'm writing about three ways one can evaluate the "closeness" between a search term and some search results. There is a fiendish amount of math involved in this process, but I treat the math the way I sometimes (oh, my nerd street cred is going to drop if I write this) treat the songs in LOTR. I see them and I skip right over them:
The second model is the Probabilistic Model. In this model, each term in the search query is weighted. The IRS returns documents that have the highest score, given the prevalence of each of the weighted terms in the document. (It's not an exact metaphor, but I think of this like the points for each letter on Scrabble tiles. Words with lots of vowels—like low weighted search terms—will clear your tray but not get you a big score. Pull off “quixotic” however, and you'll get a higher “status value.” The equations in the book make my head spin and my eyes water, but Scrabble I can wrap my head around.)
That's right. I busted out a Scrabble metaphor on the LAST question of my midterm. Who else has been this nerdy today. Come on, fess up. Let's hear the story.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Rabble being roused

I walk on Sundays with a group of former ILL-ers. Usually at some point in the walk, Sarah and I trade notes on what we're reading. We're both big fans of the YA genre, and we keep each other up-to-date on what we should be reading. (Or what we've read, as Sarah described a book to me today, I asked her, "Have I read that one?") We had a guest walker today, who was around for this conversation and asked why it is we liked YA stuff so much. And we both took stabs at answering the question.

At home, getting caught up on my blog reading, I found a link to this post. I'm not familiar with this guy, so it could be that he's just generally cranky for the sake of stirring up interesting controversy. He makes the claim that adults who read kidlit should "grow up." And a number of good folks commented back to say, in various forms, "go jump in a lake." (Both his point and the comments are much more sophisticated, but I'm summing up.)

Two points I found particularly resonant, in an "I wish I'd said that!" way are
this from Rachel, whoever she might be:
I think children's literature is still invested in "meaning" in a way that it is no longer fashionable for contemporary adult literature to be. That's how I understand Philip Pullman's famous and much-maligned statement about there being some issues too big to deal with in adult books. I don't think that adult books are intrinsically unable to deal with the big issues, I just think that post-theory literary world finds such issues embarrassingly unsophisticated. I do not, and so I read fairy tales.

What a great quote from Phillip Pullman!

And this from Christina, another wise stranger:

I find myself annoyed with adult literature sometimes (or at least contemporary adult lit-- give me Jane Austen any day). It can be so self-important, so egocentric, and so pretentious in its superfluous description, its deep psyche-scouring penetration. It's irritating, to put it bluntly.

I don't find the same to be true of children's or YA books. Out of necessity towards the audience, there's no room for all of that artery-clogging junk. In a way, I think that leaves a much wider scope of interpretation, in addition to being quite refreshing.

I *just* read The Giver... anyone who thinks that THAT is a book for (just) kids needs to read it again.

In addition to her Jane Austen plug, she captures some of what I was trying to explain to our guest walker. I sometimes find that adult writers are too invested in showing off their vocabulary, or their, oh I don't know, depth or something. I finished a long book this week about wealthy intellectuals living in Manhattan scorning others for their lack of wittiness and poor fashion sense, while wrecking their relationships with each other in various fashions. It was 16 discs of audio book!! And, like Christina above, I followed that with Lois Lowry's 3 disc "The Messenger," and felt I learned a whole lot more about the world and good and evil and the nature of human beings from the kid lit thank you very much.

Anyway, if you want to get riled up, check out the aggravating post. Oh, and then you can enjoy this comic. Are you reading xkcd yet?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Garden Pictures

I was worried that I hadn't seen any freesia or grape hyacinth yet this year. The hyacinths are out at the library, so I feared I had somehow harmed the bulbs the previous tenants had left. But this morning, I found a few little ghs and a lone freesia, so I'm hopeful more are on their way.

And this is pretty sunlight on our otherwise very bland agapanthas.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Geek Cops

Like most public libraries, we have a patron or two here that occasionally require more than just the help of librarians. Luckily, we're located right next door to the local police department, and we're in a town that has pretty low crime rate, so when we call for backup, as it were, we usually get help very quickly.

So today, I'm in the kids room, and I see one of our regular patrons involved in some sort of altercation with our pay phone. He's slamming the receiver repeatedly, and he's on "the list," (those individuals with whom we no longer engage in the dance of public service.) I call my supervisor, who comes up, assesses, and calls the police.

A few minutes later, I see the full force of our local police department in action. I'm watching through the panorama of windows in our kids room; it's like great television. First, from stage left, comes a cop in full gear, striding purposefully. He looks like he's ready to rumble. Then, following behind, like synchronized swimmers, two more police officers. I know they are police officers only because their polo shirts say "POLICE" in jaunty blue letters. They are in shorts. And they are RIDING SEGWAYS!! Rather than feeling relieved someone was here to handle the phone slammer, I had to laugh out loud at how silly they seemed.

They scooted around in peppy circles while waiting for the patron to finish his phone conversation. Was there anyone on the other end of that call? Hard to know.

I suppose, especially for here, it's good that our cops look more nerdy than threatening. I can see the advantages of it. But it's hard to imagine them segwaying down the road after someone who'd snatched a purse or something.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Mindful Application of Technology

It's the most wonderful time of the year (for snacks.)

You may have noticed it's Cadbury Mini Egg season again. Hooray! And, as always, Cadbury Mini Egg season (or CME season) overlaps with GSC season. That's right. The Girl Scouts are out with their cookies. Nathan brought some home from work with him on Friday, and we got to discussing the old cookie names vs. new cookie names. Seems Nathan has always known them as "Do-si-dos" but when I was in my cookie peddling days, we called them "Peanut Butter Sandwiches." And they were "Peanut Butter Patties," not "Tagalongs." Anyhow, we started to do some research on the internets, and uncovered this marvelous site.

The Girl Scout Cookie Locater!!

When we put in our zip code, it took us to the NorCal Cookie Finder, which, when we put in our street address, produced a Google map with (no really, it was incredible) little cookie icons indicating the nearest supermarkets where one could procure cookies! Even had the times when the cookie booths would be staffed! It's truly a great time to be alive.