Sunday, September 30, 2012

30th Anniversary Banned Books Week (September 30 - October 6)

30th Anniversary of Banned Books Week
30th Anniversary of Banned Books Week
The 30th anniversary of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week is graced by Honorary Chairs Bill and Judith Moyers, award-winning journalists and staunch defenders of the freedom to read. Bill Moyers draws an interesting distinction between censhorship and lies: “Censorship is the enemy of truth, even more than a lie. A lie can be exposed; censorship can prevent us from knowing the difference.” Watch Moyers discuss his love of reading and libraries in this video essay commemorating the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week. For information on frequently challenged books, see the ALA's Banned & challenged books page.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Spectacular Saturn

NASA JPL Caltech Space Science Institute
Saturn by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Every planet in our solar system has its unique traits, but no planet looks as stunning as Saturn, with its prominent rings that imbue the planet with that classic sci-fi/space-age countenance. The photo above, taken by the Cassini spacecraft from an unusual angle, gives the planet the look of an old-fashioned black and white photo of a Hollywood movie star - the angles, shadows, and lighting make for a very artistic image.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hug a Vegetarian Day!

Two happy cows
Two Happy Cows (Wikimedia Commons)
What do Ed Asner, Nelly, and Mr. Spock have in common? Well, according to the Happy Cow website, they're all vegetarian! See their webpage for a comprehensive and very interesting list of famous historical and contemporary vegetarians. And while today is Hug a Vegetarian Day, World Vegetarian Day falls on October 1. Also check out Wikipedia's well-written article on vegetarianism and its history.
Btw, Snoopy's observing the holiday by hugging his favorite vegetarian!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What is the Internet Really Doing to Us?

www Image by theLibraryLander
Image by theLibraryLander

Is it making us smarter or dumber? Maybe a little of both, according to an article in Der Spiegel. Overall, children's IQ levels are increasing around the world, but their language facility (especially vocabulary) is diminishing, which would make sense since younger people read less in the traditional sense. Not surprisingly, there appears to be a generational gap in the kind of skills young and old have acquired since the arrival of the internet. In a new book by scientist James R. Flynn, "Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century," it is claimed that young people solve visual and logical problems quickly, whereas older people do better linguistically. And though today's children may never be able to learn language the way older people have, their IQ levels are exceeding that of their elders. Of course, the use of IQ tests has always been controversial, particularly when accounting for cultural differences. But, the article also cites a best-selling book by German psychiatrist Manfred Spitzer, called "Digital Dementia" which argues that children are becoming dumber because of their constant exposure to digital media. I guess our brains are just changing for both better and for worse. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Beverly Hillbillies at 50

Granny and Uncle Jed Wikimedia Commons
Granny and Uncle Jed
Wikimedia Commons

Here's another 50th anniversary of a 60's show that I remember watching and enjoying growing up, mostly in syndication. A classic fish out of water sitcom that you couldn't help but smile over, no matter how lowbrow it was deemed. It ran for almost ten seasons and clearly struck a chord since it was one of the top twenty most watched programs on television. The theme song, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" is also one of the most recognized and memorized of TV music. Among the cast, Granny was a great foil to Jethro and sometimes Uncle Jed - a wacky but lovable family that anyone can relate to on some level. Have a look at the very first episode of the Beverly Hillbillies:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

eXtremely Cool!

eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, view of a small area of the constellation Fornax NASA
NASA's eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, view of a small area of the constellation Fornax
Amazing to think that every one of these points of light from Hubble's eXtreme Deep Field image is a galaxy - thousands of them going back more than 13 billion light years, almost to the beginning of the universe! NASA explains how the image was taken and what exactly we can learn of objects found so far into the depths of the night sky. Mind-boggling, to say the least.

Monday, September 24, 2012


irony mark
The Irony Mark

 No, I'm not swearing! It just happens to be National Punctuation Day. It's a fairly new holiday, created in 2004 by Jeffrey Rubin, who wanted to encourage the proper usage of punctuation. And to the end, the New Yorker Magazine promotes a contest to see who can create the best new punctuation mark. See if you agree with their assessment of the winner. Also, in honor of this year's election, the National Punctuation Day website is holding its own election to see who can create the most highly punctuated paragraph. The contest also requires entrants to persuade the judges which punctuation mark should be the official punctuation mark of the President of the United States. Personally, my vote goes to the Irony Mark, probably the most appropriate mark of politics!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Jetsons 50th Anniversary

It's hard to believe it's been 50 years since the cartoon future world of the Jetsons premiered on September 23, 1962. And fittingly, it came two years after the Flintstones first appeared. Both shows appeal to our sense of time and space, though each maintains a firmly contemporary sensibility. Basically, each show is about twentieth century family life but with the trappings of the paleolithic and futuristic environments. The initial run of the Jetsons only had 24 episodes and it was not until much later in 1985 that new episodes were produced. Very odd considering the tremendous interest in space and the future during the 60's. Smithsonian Magazine online publishes a blog called Paleofuture which recently explored the effect of the Jetsons on our lives and why the show matters to so many. The show had it all from flying cars to video phones, robot maids to meals in a pill. It was a benign future and one which we could all look forward to without fear. Techcrunch recently lamented the lack of flying cars in our present day and notes that we are at the halfway point from the date the Jetsons premiered and the future date the show depicted (2062). We should be zipping around in flying cars any day now - EEP OPP ORK  AH-AH!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Grand and Glorious Day!

Autumn Day Wikimedia Commons
Autumn Day (Wikimedia Commons)
Today is World Hobbit Day (Bilbo and Frodo's mutual birthday) and the first day of Autumn. Two good reasons to celebrate! Wired Magazine has a very nice appreciation of The Hobbit's 75th anniversary of publication.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Eh, What's Up Doc?

Looney Tunes characters Wikimedia Commons
Looney Tunes characters (Wikimedia Commons)
Today is Chuck Jones's 100th Birth Anniversary - that's what's up! What a talent he was and how much laughter he gave the world. Almost everyone has some memory of growing up with the zany cast of cartoon characters Jones either animated or directed: Bugs Bunny,  Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester and PepĂ© Le Pew. Not to mention Marvin the Martian, the Grinch, and Sniffles the Mouse. Various websites and publications are paying homage to Jones' 100th, notably Wired, Animation Magazine, Comics Alliance, Legacy.  And they all express a common theme of childhood memories growing up with these looney characters that influenced and affected each of us. Who hasn't memorized the various scenarios and quotes the cartoons gave us, having embedded these into our subconscious? Jones' grandson, Craig Kausen, gave an interview last year in anticipation of his grandfather's 100th birthday, in which he reminisces about his work and life.  And now, don't forget to watch one of my favorites, Sniffles the Mouse trying to stay awake for Christmas:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lyric Videos

"Turn Me On" by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj
I didn't realize this was actually a trend, since music artists have often included lyrics in their videos in the past. But more artists are now releasing lyric versions of their hits, in addition to the more typically visual ones. It's a welcome trend though, because the focus is on the music and its essential meaning. And in many instances, you really hear the voice coming through when it's reinforced by the lyrics. A case in point is Nicki Minaj's performance on David Guetta's video, "Turn Me on"  (embedded above). I was never that aware of Minaj's talent until I saw/heard this video highlighted on an NPR post by Mark Blankenship. Minaj's mega-flamboyant public persona overshadows her voice talents, but the lyric video showcases it brilliantly. And her voice truly packs a punch, though with smoother layers in between the wilder staccato notes. Another example in the NPR post is Madonna's "Girl Gone Wild" which probably would not have appealed to me presented in the typically raucous visual format for which she's known. But I actually liked the song after watching the lyric video, probably more than if I had only heard the standalone music - reading the lyrics along with the music brought out elements of the song that I might not have noticed. The lyric video trend has also been noted in other publications, in particular a USC college website. It's a nice alternative to those who want to hear the music more than watch the video, but with the visual enhancement of lyrics added.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fighting e-diversion

Kitty with Laptop
Kitty with Laptop (Wikimedia Commons)
E-diversion - a strange but compelling term I came across today in reading an NYT article about the Postal Service's efforts to increase their volume of business. (It's in the last paragraph of the article.) It was used in a statement by the agency as follows, “Given our financial situation, continued e-diversion, and increased competition from alternative delivery services, this is one example of how the Postal Service is pursuing innovations and new products to increase the value of mail and retain our business customers.” Although no one likes junk mail, I'm all for helping and encouraging the Postal Service get back to a more competitive level. To that end, they have to counter the level of "e-diversion" that engulfs every person's life. It would be healthy if we could go on internet fasts on a regular basis and just do things the non-e and non-i way. Send greeting cards, call people, meet people face-to-face, whatever, just turn off devices of all manner. This is a hard thing to do, as Slate reporter James Sturm discovered, but if people decide to try it together, it might succeed in developing more real social interaction. The internet for all its universality, has in many ways made us much more insular and provincial, with little tolerance for differences. If we had to be in same room with each other, as opposed to on the same network, we might learn more about the world. I realize it's a forlorn hope, but we can hope...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Astrology of Car Ownership

2013 Honda Accord
2013 Honda Accord
What car a person drives is actually a better predictor of personality than astrology; it's astonishing how much information about drivers can be gleaned just from the make and models they purchase. NYT recently reviewed the 2013 Honda Accord, which is interesting on different levels; first, just as a good review, but also as a smart analysis of the Accord buyer. I think I fit the profile of a Honda Accord owner almost to a T, so I can well believe that owners of other models probably reflect their choices as well. Since cars come in various prices, styles, and colors, it's very easy to gather demographic data on their owners and draw some accurate conclusions.  Especially with their color choices!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Today is the 225th Anniversary of the US Constitution

US Constitution
U.S. Constitution
September 17, 1787 was the date the U.S. Constitution was adopted; it was later ratified and went into effect on
March 4, 1789. To read and understand this powerful and enduring document is a worthy goal of every citizen; and Cornell University Law School has made this easier by hosting on their website an annotated version prepared by the Congressional Research Service. In 2004, Congress renamed Citizenship Day to "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day" and in the process created a new holiday and preserved an old one. Test your knowledge of the history and creation of the Constitution by taking this fun quiz. Also, take a look at HowStuffWorks' webpage on 10 Things You Didn't Know About the U.S. Constitution.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 20 Most-Watched Ted Talks

TED Talks
TED Talks
If you never knew before, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It's been around since 1984 as a conference, but it's their video talks that have garnered the most attention in recent years. The nice thing about the talks is that they're not just short sound bites of info, but real explorations of ideas that deserve to be considered. To get a sense of the caliber of the speakers and concepts, take a look at the list of their 20 most viewed Ted Talks.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Don't Rush, Look Before You Flush!"

Star Toilet Paper
Star Toilet Paper

This is definitely in the category of what will they think of next? Well, we know libraries in many places are in dire straits, but soliciting ads to place on toilet paper - really? A library in New York is doing just that and hoping to attract advertising revenue for its coffers. I have to admit, though, that the company that sells these printed rolls of TP came up with a pretty clever idea. At least this graffiti isn't on bathroom walls!

Friday, September 14, 2012

A River of Books

River of Books
River of Books
An amazing art installation in Melbourne, Australia, as part of the Light in Winter event. The seasons are reversed, of course, in the southern hemisphere, so winter is just now passing into spring there. And, Melbourne is doing as New York did not long ago with their Literature vs Traffic installation. But, Melbourne's efforts overshadowed NY's; and other cities have also installed this temporary artwork. It's a stunning display, but you have to wonder if this brief, vivid statement is worth the huge effort! Hopefully, people are struck by the grandiosity of the written word spread out in such stark relief over the pavement.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rockport Hummerbird Celebration, September 13 - 16

This has got to be the most hummingbirds ever to congregate in one place! Rockport, TX residents are very lucky to have these visitors to their feeders - no wonder they hold their annual Hummerbird Celebration there. During the Fall migration, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds gather along the Texas coast on their way to Mexico and Central America where they winter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hubble Space Telescope's Top 100

A rose made of galaxies
A rose made of galaxies
If you've never seen these, they're simply the most amazing space images ever. Also, take a look at the Hubble Projects page which includes the Hidden Treasures archive.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New York City

New York City
Photo by Dmitry Avdeev, from Wikimedia Commons
Beautiful photo of Mid-town Manhattan as seen from Weehawken, NJ, July 5, 2011. Designated as Wikipedia Picture of the Day, 9/11/12.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Milk Eggs Vodka

Milk Eggs Vodka
Milk Eggs Vodka
“Milk Eggs Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found” By Bill Keaggy. HOW Books, 2007.

What an idea for a book! This falls into the category of, why didn't I come up with this first? The book came out in 2007, but I've only just come across it recently. Bill Keaggy, from St. Louis and a collector of odd things, compiled his collection of lists people have thrown out and turned them into a short book. Grocery lists mostly, but just whatever scraps of writings that have been discarded by unwary people, form a sort of sociological excavation that he gleefully examines. He briefly explores the history of list-making and reveals that the oldest grocery list can be traced back to a Roman Fort in England around A.D. 80. This list included these items - pork, bread, wine, and oil - all eerily similar to any modern day grocery list! Most of the book, though, is simply Keaggy riffing lists that he picks up and trying to extrapolate the lives of the list-makers. Sometimes these riffs are clever, sometimes just silly, but pretty entertaining all around, as the samples on his website demonstrate. The actual lists are scanned and presented on each page with his speculations about them. He notes that people are possessive of their lists and will go out of their way to conceal them. And when you think of it, shopping lists, errand lists, etc., are very personal little windows into people's lives. I tend to destroy my lists too, being careful never to leave them behind in a grocery cart, but it never occurred to me why I do this. Apparently, I'm not alone!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The 5 Second Rule - Real or Baloney?

I, EncycloPetey [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A Dagwood Sandwich before falling on floor
I , EncycloPetey via Wikimedia Commons
Weirdly enough, there have actually been studies done to test whether the 5 second rule is true or not; whether you can safely eat something dropped to the ground if done within that time frame. And now, in response to a recent question, Dr. Weil himself explores this topic by discussing some details of a 2007 study done at Clemson University. A few years ago, NYT also looked at this study with similar detail and determined that the sooner you pick up food fallen on the floor, the less bacteria you ingest, but there's no guarantee it won't make you sick. I guess that's somewhat comforting, though still not appealing to me.  And other studies suggest it's simply baloney to think you can escape the bugs within 5 seconds, that the real issue is where you drop your food.
(Now, why is it always bologna sandwiches that fall on the floor?!)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Mindset List

By Camazine [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Camazine, via Wikimedia Commons
According to Beloit College's Mindset List for 2016, "For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead."  The Mindset List is compiled and published annually by Ron Nief, Public Affairs Director Emeritus, and Tom McBride, Professor of English and Keefer Professor of Humanities, both associated with Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. They have been compiling a list every year since 1998 ( first for the class of 2002) with information which is unique to that generation of entering college freshmen. For the class of 2002, for example, "Kansas, Boston, Chicago, America, and Alabama are all places—not music groups." The lists are simply fun and mind-boggling at the same time since they illustrate how quickly the information technology era shapes each new generation. And they make the rest of us feel real old!

Friday, September 7, 2012


Google is celebrating Star Trek's 46th anniversary today, so in honor of that auspicious occasion, I thought I'd post some websites with the best sci-fi quotes. There's a top 7 list of most memorable quotes floating around, possibly first posted on Nokia, but also picked up by Inktank. Weirdmedia has compiled a huge list of their top 100 sci-fi quotes. Everyone's got their list, even Psychology Today, with their own top 10. And, who could ever forget one of the most memorable lines ever uttered in a sci-fi show, "Never fear, Smith is here!" 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bing it On!

Bing it on
Bing it On!
No typo there, Bing is challenging Google to a search-off with a side-by-side comparison of their search results. It's a blind test because the results for each search engine display randomly on the right and left and you have to choose which you find most relevant. I tried it and found I'm a Googler at heart. Of course, which results you pick is sometimes just personal preference, but I somehow picked Google's results over Bing's most often.  A couple of times my choice was a draw, but when I picked the winner, it was always Google. A CNET writer found the results interesting when he took the test, but a Betanews writer found it a turn-off. So, what does this mean? I guess maybe Bing still has some work to do, but I still visit the page every day to see the daily images, which are dear to my heart. For a great archive of Bing images, I recommend istartedsomething's website. Take a look at my results below (click the image to see my search queries).

My Bing it On test results
My Bing it On test results (click to see larger image with my search queries)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Google's Sense of Humor

Felix the Cat
Felix the Cat
This item may be best discussed on April Fool's Day, but by the time it rolls around, I'll forget about it or something else will displace it. So, this is as good a time as any to post this Wiki page about Google's hoaxes and easter eggs. You can tell this topic is near and dear to people's hearts as this page is mega-comprehensive! And on another somewhat related subject, how about some funny 404 pages? Something to do when the internet just seems stale and tired.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And Now, Something for Bibliophiles...

Super Bowl winner and Honorary Chair of Library Card Sign-up Month Troy Polamalu
Super Bowl winner and Honorary Chair of Library Card Sign-up Month Troy Polamalu
...and sports fans alike. September is also Library Card Sign-up Month. If you don't have one, run, don't walk to your nearest library and sign up! It's the best value around - figure it out for yourself.  Pittsburgh Steelers All-World safety Troy Polamalu is a strong promoter of education having recently returned to college to complete his degree in history.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mycophiles Rejoice!

This is plate 305 from James Sowerby's Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushrooms
September is National Mushroom Month and time to indulge in one's favorite fungi.  According to the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture, "Pennsylvania leads the United States in mushroom production, with an annual production of more than 425 million pounds, valuing more than $330.7 million per year."  Here's a highly rated mushroom recipe by chef Michael Chiarello, which has only a few ingredients, but is very flavorful. September becomes more savory for mushroom fans of the world!

Illustration at right is Plate 305 from James Sowerby's Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushrooms.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Middle Earth News

Crater Tolkien on Mercury
Crater Tolkien on Mercury
Thirty-nine years ago, Middle Earth lost its most illustrious creator. Our own world lost a literary legend, but J.R.R. Tolkien's work lives on forever on the bookshelves and in the hearts of every Middle Earth enthusiast. Next year on the fortieth anniversary, there will be much more discussion of his life and work, but it is fitting to mark the current anniversary because he has just been memorialized on the planet Mercury. Last month, the International Astronomical Union conferred this honor upon Tolkien, along with eight other artists renowned worldwide. Now Tolkien's good name will be recognized throughout the galaxy; somewhere the Valar are smiling.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Happy Meteorological Fall!

Old Farmer's Almanac 1793 cover
The Old Farmer's Almanac
the 1818 Farmers' Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Sept. 1 is Meteorological Fall. Although it doesn't feel as though Fall has really arrived since the trees still have their greenery, it's still a hint that the season will change in a few short weeks. Astronomical Fall, which is marked by the Autumn equinox, is more widely regarded as the beginning of the true Fall season; certainly it'll be colder then. But there's still something more mathematically fitting about starting anything at the beginning of the month. This is the time of year I look forward to receiving my copies of the Old Farmer's Almanac as well as the Farmers' Almanac - I enjoy reading them both. Each one contains similar content, mostly weather and astronomical information for planting, as well as household and personal advice. I always wondered which was the real Farmers' Almanac and it really depends on the where one is from I suppose. The Old Farmer's Almanac is the oldest publication since it began in 1792 and has been continuously published ever since. It is headquartered in New England which gives it a Yankee sensibility. The Farmers' Almanac has been around since 1818, no spring chicken either! It is published in New Jersey, which maybe has a less regional feel to it. But they're both useful, nostalgic, and comforting to read; they've been around for all these decades and hopefully will continue dispensing their wit and wisdom for decades to come.