Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Saturday, May 03, 2003
End of an era
Posted by Lis Riba at 4:20 PM

The Old Man of the Mountain, a natural rock formation in New Hampshire that's the official state symbol (it appears on the state emblem, license plates, road signs, and was on the state quarter), fell down last night. The Old Man was believed to symbolize the state's independent nature, and represent its motto: Live Free or Die. The Old Man is now dead. What does that say about our liberties?

Here are a pair of photos, before and after. Personally, I'm glad that Ian and I had the chance to stop and see it on our honeymoon. I'm sure it will be missed. It'll probably be the subject of loads of essays in the New England press over the next month. I wonder what lasting effects it will have on the New Hampshire psyche, given its omnipresence within the state.

An appropriate comic strip for today
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:00 PM

Adam@Home, May 2, 2003

As much as I love schooling and education (I already see other courses and programs I'd like to take in the future) I will be very glad to be done with homework for a while.

Unemployment uptick
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:45 PM

Just a quick tidbit with a couple links explaining how current unemployment numbers are calculated, and why the number of jobless is actually much higher than the official 6% figure. Take a look at Wampum, who does some excellent number crunching with explanation, and the Economic Policy Institute's monthly Job Picture. Slate says Bush's record in job creation decimation can only be compared to Herbert Hoover's.

I am so glad I got this job, and my best wishes go out to all my friends (and strangers) currently looking for work. I could go on about how Bush is completely mismanaging the economy, making a bad situation worse (as described by Nathan Newman, It's Still the Economy, among others that I've read but don't have time to find at this moment). I forget who first said it, but "this isn't your father's recession -- it's your grandfather's recession." And that ties into this article in the Nation about the hard-right's grandiose plans to roll back the twentieth century. And if that doesn't scare you, read this Michael Tomasky piece on the Democrats' ineffective responses to the latest outrages from the GOP. The Democratic candidates for President will be debating tonight after Shabbos in South Carolina. Could be interesting. (Could also be too late for most newspaper deadlines; check your local TV listings and/or keep an eye on the blogosphere. Wyethwire is promising to cover it well.) There's lots more I'd like to write about (I intended a brief post with only the unemployment figures, this all just poured out of me like a spigot) but I'll have to continue holding that for a later time.

I now return to my incredibly overscheduled homework assignment.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Ganders and swan
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:25 PM

BTW, for anybody out there whom I owe email or phonecalls to, allow me to apologize here. I'm feeling insanely busy at the moment. My final project is due <gasp> on Monday night (with a presentation on it the following Monday) but until that's done, I don't know if I'll have time to breathe.

A little too cold to eat lunch outside today. The last several days I sat on the bench beside the pool and watched the birds. Today, I went out there, but came back in after half-a-sandwich. I found out a bit more about the swans. They're rentals -- apparently, office parks like this one can rent swans for six months. What an intriguing practice.

Anyway, the reason why I've only ever seen one swan swimming about is because they've got a nest with four eggs! The guy who was telling me about this says that they may hatch as early as next week. Geese have goslings; ducks have ducklings; what are baby swans called?

But at any rate, over the last couple days, I've gotten to see a lot of the male swan. I consider geese to be fairly aggressive birds, but they've got nothing on swans. I've watched this swan chase away other birds who weren't doing anything more than swimming somewhere the swan didn't like. Ian and I went for a walk around the pond last night, and the swan kept triangulating towards us. And up close, swans have beady little eyes. They really look mean and nasty...
Impressive what a good PR campaign can do for a bird.

BTW, Simmons College has just announced its commencement speaker for this year: Amy Tan. The only other name I recognize among the other honorary degree recipients is David Macaulay. There are no tickets for commencement, so if anybody reading this decides they want to attend and see these luminaries (along with watching me get my Master's), the more the merrier.

And then three buses showed up at once!
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:00 AM

Okay, I simply don't have the time for the long essayish posts I prefer, so I'm going to try writing many short posts on single topics, which will hopefully be quicker.

So, last Monday was my first day on the job, after nearly one year of unemployment. And the year off wasn't pickiness on my part -- this actually was the first offer I received. Fortunately, I'm really enjoying myself here -- I like the products, the people, the tasks I've been assigned to do, and I think I'll really be able to shine here.

Anyway, over the weekend, a former coworker emailed me about a taxonomist position that just opened up. Last summer, I had an informational interview with a corporate library. One of the employees was looking to switch disciplines (to a different type of library) and the manager expressed interest in hiring me when he left. Well, she just emailed me, telling me it looks like she'll have an opening real soon now, and asking whether I'm still available.

Isn't life just perverse that way?

Tuesday, April 29, 2003
A few of my favorite things
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:30 PM

So, yesterday I attended It's Not Just Google Anymore: Blogs and the Latest in Search Engines, an all-day program on blogging and search engines by NEASIST. It was marvelous!

All throughout the day, I was thinking of people who I wished could've been there, people who would've benefitted or been enlightened by what was discussed. This includes my husband, several professors at Simmons, former colleagues involved in community research... They all would've been enlightened. Although NEASIST promised to put the slides online, those alone won't do it justice. I really wish somebody had been running a camera the whole day to record it all...

Let me start off by saying that Jessamyn West (of Librarian.net) is amazingly cool. I love her site and have contributed numerous links to her over the last year (look for all the times she says thanks lis). So, naturally, I was dying to meet her.
I didn't recognize her during the mingling before the program, but introduced myself during the first break. Oh, wow. I don't know how I came across to her, but I thought she and I just clicked. Not only did she feel like the kind of person with whom I could stay up all night chatting about everything under the sun, but I really wanted to! I hope I have more chances to get together with her.

Anyway, on to the program itself:

Jenny Levine of The Shifted Librarian spoke first, explaining blogs and blogging to the audience, along with their history and possible library applications. She mentioned the notion of blogs as filters to prevent information overload, "if you can find a blogger you can trust." Both she and Jessamyn pointed out 9/11 as a turniing point for blogs, when so many people had a need to find out information and share their experience that (in Jenny's words) "the true promise of the web arrived" and (as Jessamyn said) "it turned everyone into a miniature researcher."

Then came Steven Cohen of LibraryStuff to explain RSS feeds and aggregators. Some really cool stuff; I learned a lot and got a lot of ideas (always dangerous). At one point, he loaded The World as a Blog, which is a flash site that shows recent Blog posts on a world map. During Jenny's talk, she demonstrated how easy it was to make a blog post. As Steve was talking, her post appeared on the screen -- talk about feedback!

At another point, as he was explaining aggregators, he brought his own aggregator screen up for everyone to watch. As usual, feeds were listed on the left, bolded ones indicating those with unread messages. He had well over a screen's worth of blogs, but as I skimmed thru the list, I noticed Riba Rambles -- he reads my site! -- and it was bold, meaning he hadn't read my latest post. He actually reads my blog! That's so cool! (In a geeky, possibly-insecure manner)
For a moment, I thought wouldn't it be cool if he opened my feed and showed my blog to the whole audience of librarians. Then I tried to remember what my most recent entry had been -- which was the unread post they'd all get to see? I briefly thought it might've been the one where I found an error in a journal article, which would've been nice to show the world. Then I remembered that, no, my most recent post was the one in which I bitch about homework. Not something I necessarily wanted everyone to see (especially since there were classmates in the audience). At that point, I started feeling relieved that I hadn't introduced myself to him before his panel and hoped he wouldn't choose mine as an example.
He didn't, but I did introduce myself to him after his talk was over.

Then, after lunch, came Jessamyn's talk. While the first two were more practically oriented -- what is blogging/RSS and where/how does one use it? Jessamyn's was a bit more... philosophical. She talked about the blogosphere and group blogs as collaborative information systems, filled with "microcontent." Talking about the notion that democracies require an informed populace in order to thrive, she quoted Cass Sunstein as saying that the Internet is polarizing people to be like each other, more like themselves -- what Ian and I have often referred to as the echo chamber effect -- and said that we all have to learn to look outside our niche to truly understand the world. I think I took most of my notes on her talk, particularly because she gives good quote. A few gems:

  • "The act of questioning changes the question."
  • "The value of the search is what you learn along the way." (And it's possibly more valuable than the actual answer)
  • "Internet is really hell on the gullible."
  • And, in response to an audience question on the trustworthiness of information obtained from blogs, and whether writers were the authorities they claimed to be, "You never really know. But then you never really did. This is how you should approach all information."

I took fewer notes during the search engine talks, partly because I already knew much of it, and partly because I started to get really tired after lunch.

Greg Notess (of Search Engine Showdown) talked about the current state of the search engine business, then he and Ran Hock showed some little-known and nifty tricks (need a calculator? try AllTheWeb!), along with features other search engines have that beat Google's. For example: Google only indexes the first 110K of a file, so if your terms are at the end of a long file, you may do better with AllTheWeb which spiders the entire page content. Google limits its link search (search for pages linking to a particular site) by PageRank, so if you want more exhaustivity, again AllTheWeb may be preferable. AltaVista is the only engine to support truncation, NEAR operators, and case sensitivity. He posted tables of features by search engines that were really handy. [HotBot can search Flash files, and has a better multiple-engine search than many of the meta-search engines.

One of the big laugh lines occured when Greg asked who in the audience has ever used MSN Search. Now, I was sitting in the third row, so couldn't see everyone, but I noticed a fair number of hands in the air, mine included. Then he asked who had ever used it intentionally. Every hand I saw dropped. [Fine, maybe librarians just have weird senses of humor.]

I had to leave the conference immediately for class, but it was well worth my time.

And, that was my conference.

Speaking of time, lunch break is now over. I've got more things I want to post about, but I think those'll have to wait until this evening.

Sunday, April 27, 2003
To do or not to do
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:20 PM

Silly question, but does anybody else out there experiece the irrational thought/belief that "So long as I don't actually do the work, there's no way I can do it wrong." I'm feeling paralyzed out of a fear of making a mistake, even though I logically know that not getting it done would be even worse. <sigh>

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