A Very Chomper Christmas

Ophelia is hoping for lots of balls for Christmas.

As usual, I’m spending Christmas in Dallas with my family.  This year, Ophelia will be joining us for the first time.  Although she’s probably around 3 years old, I imagine this is probably her first real Christmas, given her rather sketchy past.  Because I am a weird person who talks to dogs, I have been explaining to her what I’m doing as I wrap presents, and telling her about our family Christmas traditions.  So far, she seems like she’s on board with this, although sometimes she gets a little grumpy about being around some of the other family dogs.  Of course, the real test will be when everyone comes over for Christmas Eve dinner tonight and Christmas tomorrow.

However, I am very happy to say that Ophelia seems to be getting along with her Auntie Bella (ie my parents’ 2-year-old black Lab).  In the morning when we get up, Bella comes to greet us, and Ophelia wags her tail so hard she can’t walk straight.  Then they go outside and run in the yard together, and sometimes work on “projects,” like chasing squirrels or checking out random things in the yard that appear to be very interesting to them.  Ophelia even tried to get some crazy fun playtime going with Bella, who is herself a champion player, but unfortunately, Bella didn’t really get that Ophelia wanted to play.  Dogs are supposed to speak this universal language, but I don’t think chomping is part of that standard language.  Ophelia means it in fun, but it freaked Bella out, so thus far, no playing has been accomplished.

In any case, I’ve been very happy to see how much more comfortable Ophelia is here compared to when we came for Thanksgiving.  She still likes to spend most of her time in her crate, but she’s been coming out more and more to check out what’s going on with the family.  There are some gifts for her under the Christmas tree, so hopefully she will enjoy them.  So, from me and Ophelia, a very happy Christmas to you and yours!

Link Roundup: Open Science

German scientists, being all science-y with beakers and chemicals

If you’re an American taxpayer, you are funding the research of scientists around the countryIn return, you’re getting cures for your illnesses, more accurate weather reports, and tons of other stuff that comes about as a result of the US research endeavor.  This is nothing new.

What is new is the fact that you, sitting there at your computer, can get access to a lot of this science.  Some of it, you can read for free by accessing it from an open access content source like PubMed Central or Public Library of Science (PLoS). More often, though, this work is published in a scientific journal that costs a lot.  You can buy access to these articles for usually around $30 a pop, which is more than I usually pay for a book, much less a single article.  Probably most people aren’t going to pay that.  The bigger question is, should people even be asked to pay that?  If I’ve already paid for this research with my tax dollars, am I not entitled to read the results of that research?

This is the question that drives the concept of open access.  Large federal funders like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation require that you do make your work open access if you’re getting funding from them.  As a librarian, I’m very much in favor of open access.  I think that making knowledge freely available betters society and creates more opportunities for researchers to collaborate on projects that will further the greater good.  Also, because I’m perhaps a bit idealistic, I have a little bit of problem with publishers making millions off of articles that were entirely funded by my tax money, but that’s for another post.

(By the way, lest you think that open access is going to put publishers out of business, you don’t have to worry for them.  If I’m an author whose NIH grant funding means that my article has to be made freely available online, the publisher is just going to charge me, the author, to publish my work in their journal.  These open access fees often come to several thousands of dollars, so the publishers are still making a pretty penny.)

I assume if you’re here it’s because you like reading and learning and perhaps you’d like to read and learn more about this, so with that in mind, here is a list of articles that I have found of interest lately on the concept of open science.  The federal funding issue is one part of this; as you will see, these links deal with the concept of openness in science more broadly.  Enjoy!

  • Shrimp on treadmills, laundry-folding robots, and the problem of ridiculing research
    You’ve proabably heard of the Ig Nobel Awards, which, um, “honor” scientists doing “improbable” research.  In other words, they make fun of people who are working on what sound like really stupid research projects, like making a bra that converts into a gas mask or figuring out the minimum air density of wasabi necessary to wake a sleeping person, thereby facilitating the invention of a wasabi-spraying fire alarm (I know I’d rather be wakened by being doused in wasabi than having to hear some shrill alarm, right?).  It’s easy to laugh at these projects, except as Liz Borkowski points out in this article, even experiments that sound absurd can have practical applications.  When Congress people start mocking scientific studies that they don’t understand under the guise of protecting the taxpayers from silly spending, we risk losing out on important government funding that supports a great deal of the very important research that goes on in the US today.
  • U.S. Says Details Of Flu Experiments Should Stay Secret (or opt for the official NIH Press Statement on the NSABB Review of H5N1 Research)
    As we all know from watching movies like Contagion, bird flu is the terrifying pandemic that will eventually kill us all.  Some researchers have done some research into the likelihood of this situation by studying what sorts of genetic changes to the virus would make it easier for the illness to pass between humans (right now, you’ve got to get it from a bird).  Now, the US government would like the researchers to kindly keep quiet about their research because of fears that bioterrorists could use this knowledge to weaponize the virus.  I can see the point of their concerns, but the scientific community argues that this knowledge needs to be shared so that others can build upon this initial research, hopefully getting us closer to finding a cure or learning how to prevent the spread of the disease.  I can see both sides, but at least for now, the researchers are respecting the request, although the journal Science seems to be considering moving forward with publishing one of the articles.
  • Acceptance of CC-NC has sold readers and authors seriously short
    Open science expert Peter Murray-Rust discusses why licensing open access articles in PubMed Central as CC-NC rather than CC-BY is “a disaster.”  CC stands for Creative Commons, which is an organization dedicated to creating the legal and technical infrastructure necessary to facilitate sharing and openness on the Internet.  There are a number of different CC licenses one may apply to their work that specify what others can and cannot do with that work.  I won’t get into the technical details of what all of these different licenses do, but Murray-Rust nicely explains why the difference is important.  With authors paying thousands of dollars for their work to be “open access,” it’s important that the access is really as open as we might expect.

Image info: Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Human Genome – What It Means to You (If You Want to Know, That Is)

DNA double helix*

Lately I’ve had the great honor to work with a researcher who is involved in the development of what will likely develop into a major weapon against disease: personalized medicine. My extremely simplistic explanation of what that means goes like this: many diseases, particularly cancers, are genetically based.  That is, mutations on a certain gene can cause you to be predisposed to develop a certain kind of cancer.  For example, genetic researchers have identified BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, breast cancer suppressor genes that prevent tumor development.  Genetic mutations in these two genes have been linked to the development of breast and ovarian cancer.

The practical application of this is that which gene is affected, and the way it is affected, can influence the way that you respond to medications and treatments for the condition.  That is, if you had a mutation on BRCA-1 as opposed to BRCA-2, you might respond better to Drug A than Drug B.  This science is very preliminary, but we’re learning more and more about how genetic factors relate to which treatments will be effective and which diagnostic tests will be accurate.  The researcher I know has told me that we’re a good ten years away from this becoming a part of regular medical practice, but at some point, it’s theoretically possible that you could receive targeted drugs designed to treat your specific illness.  Incidentally, Steve Jobs had his pancreatic cancer sequenced, but it was too late for him.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how the human genome really works, but we have a lot of data.  This is part of the reason that it’s so exciting for me as a librarian to be involved in data curation.  In library school, I took a class in the biomedical engineering department called Medical Knowledge Representation.  For me, what it really boiled down to is this: right now, we have a lot of data, but we don’t quite know how to tease out real knowledge from that.  We can look at two different patients and see that one responds well to a given treatment and the other does not.  We have their tissue samples and their genetic info, but at this point, we haven’t quite got the know-how to get to the correlations between the genetic factors and the treatment successes.  In a way, the answers are there, but we don’t quite know how to read them yet.  As a librarian, I can help scientists preserve their data in a way that will facilitate it being used in ways that will aid in the discovery of cancer cures, once we have a greater understanding of how exactly the human genome works.  That’s pretty awesome.

As I’ve said, we’re still several steps away from having personalized cancer cures. However, there is a lot we do know, and there’s a lot that anyone with 99 bucks to spare can find out about his or her own genetic secrets, through a service called 23andMe.  It goes a little something like this: you spit in a tube and mail it back with your $99, and then in 6 to 8 weeks, you get to learn all about your genome.  You can find out more about your genetic ancestry and learn what percentage Neanderthal you are.  You can learn which diseases you’re at risk for out of a list of 116, including Alzheimer’s, a handful of cancers, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (aka Mad Cow Disease), and even the dreaded Restless Leg Syndrome.  You can find out whether you’re likely to respond to 20 different drugs for everything from hypertension to depression.  You can find out what eye color you’re likely to have, in case you don’t have a mirror, I suppose.

I’ve looked at what the site can offer, and I guess at this point in time, I’m unsure whether I’d want this service.  I’ve known about 23andMe for awhile, but I came across some marketing they’re doing for the holiday season, I guess – 23 reasons to give their service as a gift.  My question is, would I want this as a gift?  Okay, so doing this can tell me that I’m at increased risk for, say, breast cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.  However, at this point in time, as far as I know, there’s absolutely nothing that I can gain from this information.  We haven’t come far enough that I could say, aha, I’m going to develop breast cancer – here’s what I can do to stop it!  Plus, just because I have the gene doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to develop the disease – it might happen tomorrow, in ten years, or never.  So would I really want to know?  And also, would you want to give someone the gift of knowing that they could develop some horrific disease at any time?

I’m not in any way trying to downplay the importance of 23andMe.  For one thing, the samples they get from their subscribers get incorporated into research on the human genome, so in some ways, you’re adding to the scientific endeavor of curing human ills if you pony up the $99 for this, in addition to getting some good info for yourself.  There are some practical applications to this, like knowing you are likely to respond to caffeine or, more importantly, certain prescription medications.  However, would I want this as an unsolicited gift?  Probably not.  Do I want to know myself about my chances for developing whatever disease?  Honestly?  I don’t really think so.  Unless this warning came with some sort of practical advice – my god, you’re going to get Mad Cow Disease unless you start eating an orange every day! – I just see this as something else to worry about pointlessly.  And I already have plenty of those things.

Whether you want to know or not, of course, chances are good personalized medicine will be part of your future, given the trends in research right now.  Remember, you heard it here first. 🙂

*By Spiffistan (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Quick Sips: Lillet Blanc

I’ve decided my blog should have a new feature, which I will call Quick Sips, in which I briefly review or tell about a tasty adult beverage.  Tonight: Lillet Blanc.

Lillet Blanc: if it’s good enough for James Bond and
Hannibal Lecter, it’s good enough for me.

Lillet (prounounced lee-lay) Blanc is a French concoction that blends Bordeaux white wines (including Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, and Semillon) with citrus liqueurs.  The result is an aperitif (in other words, a beverage meant to be drunk before a meal) that is light, slightly sweet, a little bit herbaceous, and very tasty.  It’s best served very cold and is one of the few wines you can, and in fact should, serve over ice.  It goes against all my instincts to do this, but yes, I am sipping a glass of it now with three ice cubes in it, and quite enjoying it. If anything, I wish it was colder – I popped mine in the freezer as soon as I brought it home and evidently didn’t wait long enough.  Although the bottle is beautiful and I’d love to have it out on my bar, this will take up permanent residence in the freezer for practical purposes.

Although perfectly lovely on its own, Lillet Blanc also serves as an ingredient in some well-known drinks, the most notable of which is the Vesper.  First described in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel Casino Royale (it also appears in the movie), the Vesper is named after Vesper Lynd, who is my favorite Bond girl because she’s super smart and played by the gorgeous Eva Green in the movie.  It’s made according to these specifications from Monsieur Bond: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”  Dr. Hannibal Lecter prefers to keep it simple: his favorite drink is Lillet Blanc on the rocks with a slice of orange.

I picked up my Lillet Blanc from the liqueur aisle of BevMo (where they also carried Lillet Rouge, a version made with red Bordeaux wines that I may try later) for $17.99.  Not bad for something that’s probably going to last quite a long time in my freezer.

Mushroom Ragu from My Past

Dinner for one: homemade mushroom ragu inspired by a meal from my past.

There used to be this restaurant called Paris Vendome in Dallas’s West Village, back in the early 2000s.  This was back in the days after I’d been to France for the first time and knew I was in love with it, but I hadn’t actually gone to live there yet.  At the end of 2004, after I knew that I’d be going to live in Caen the following February, I used to go out to Paris Vendome by myself and have tasty meals and imagine I was already in France.  I can’t remember if they had escargot (it’s always a big thing for me to find a restaurant that has really good, authentic escargot, and I haven’t found one in LA yet), but what I do remember was this fantastic wild mushroom ragu that I often got for my main course.

I’d completely forgotten about this tasty meal until I was making some mushroom ragu tonight.  Mine doesn’t live up to my memory of what I had at Paris Vendome, but it was still pretty good and relatively easy.  I had previously found a recipe online and had picked up all of the ingredients, but then before I had a chance to make it, I lost the recipe and was too lazy to find it again.  So armed with the ingredients I knew I would need and some general knowledge of cooking, I set about making my own mushroom ragu. While most mushroom ragus would call for cream, this one is slightly healthier in that it uses a roux (a thickener made  with melted butter and flour) to give it its creaminess instead.  Note that I say slightly healthier. 🙂

In case you want to play along at home, here’s the recipe.  Like I said, it’s not as good as what I remember, but I may try this again and do some tweaking.  Even as is, it was pretty tasty, in my humble opinion.  I had it with a Vacqueryas that was nice but turned out being way fruitier than what I would have gone for.  Wish I would have had a nice syrah instead.

Also, here’s a good kitchen tip for you.  Get a nice medium coarseness microplane grater and a block of parmesan for whenever you want parmesan on something.  This is way better than that creepy powdered stuff you get in the little tube, and it really doesn’t take that much longer just to pull out the grater and quickly grade a little of the fresh on whatever you’re eating.  Fresh parmesan lasts practically forever.  I just keep mine in a tupperware container in the fridge and it takes like two seconds to add a nice gourmet touch to your meal.

Mushroom Ragu
(serves about four)

24 ounces mushrooms such as baby bella, portabella, or button, sliced (I used a combo of baby bella and white button)
2 shallots, minced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs sage, roughly chopped
5 Tbs salted butter, divided
2 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs flour
1 cup red wine
1 cup beef or veggie broth (beef broth would be richer, but obviously if you want this to be a vegetarian meal, you could go with the veggie)

  1. Melt half the butter in a large pot over medium high.  Add all the mushrooms and the olive oil and cook for a couple minutes until the mushrooms start to shrink and get softer.  Add the shallots, garlic, and sage, and cook, stirring occasionally.  The mushrooms should start to release some juices and get softer.
  2. In a medium pan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat.  Once the butter has completely melted, whisk in the flour.  You need to move quickly in this next part – you should have already measured out your liquids and be ready to go, or else you could burn your roux.  Whisk in the wine and broth until it’s well incorporated with the roux.
  3. Carefully pour the sauce into the mushroom mixture.  Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The sauce should thicken and reduce by about half.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve over rigatoni and top with fresh grated parmesan cheese.  Pretend you are in Paris, and enjoy.

Teaching a Chomper About Love

This is a pic from Saturday morning cuddle time.  Ophelia is as skeptical about
this activity as she looks in this picture, but she keeps jumping up on the bed
almost every day, so I believe in my heart that she will eventually get the hang of it. 🙂

This is Ophelia, my sweet Formosan Mountain Dog.  I call her The Chomper because, when she gets excited, she does this mouth-snapping thing that I can really only describe as, well, chomping. Anyone who knows the least about me is probably well aware that I am a dog lover.  I adore dogs.  I think they are awesome and I just can’t imagine life without them.

My best friend has said that when he dies, he would like to be reincarnated as a Federer dog.  To be sure, if you get adopted by a Federer, I think it’s fair to say you’ve won the dog lottery.  We know how to treat dogs right.  So when the time was right for me to get a dog, I wanted one that would appreciate the awesomeness of being a Federer dog.  I have extended family members (non-Federers, for the record) who have spent thousands of dollars on purebred dogs.  I guess if that’s your thing, go for it, but for me, I can’t imagine paying that kind of money on a dog when there are many, many dogs that have had a rough time and need some love.  Ophelia is definitely in that category.

My sweet girl is a refugee from Taiwan. She has a plate in her hip because her former owner abused her and broke her femur.  She also has a huge scar under her chin from god knows what abuse, and there is reason to believe she either had puppies or wasn’t spayed within an appropriate time frame.  This girl has been through some terrible things.  I hope I never hear all the details of what she went through, because it just breaks my heart to think of this beautiful, smart, sweet girl being subjected to abuse.

Not surprisingly, after this kind of treatment, my little girl is scarred, both physically and emotionally.  It’s been a tougher road than I expected.  She’s reserved, shy, and not the affectionate creature I’d become used to in a family with mostly Labrador Retrievers (aka the outgoing cheerleaders of the dog world).  There are some nights when she hides under my desk and doesn’t want to come out for anything.

But then there are other times when I can see that she is learning what it means to be loved, which is a feeling that I don’t think she’s probably had much of in her three years.  Although she had an awesome foster mom, she wasn’t the only dog in that house, and I think being with me is the first time Ophelia has ever had the undivided, loving attention of a human.  At first, I don’t think she knew quite what to do with that attention.  Now, I think she’s slowly learning what love is.

Starting recently, every night, I give Ophelia a long massage.  I don’t think she’s had much experience with loving touch.  At first, she seemed bewildered, but each night, I see her get more comfortable with this.  And in some strange way, I get more comfortable with it, too.  I’m not typically an emotional person, but having this girl around here has really changed me.  I feel kind of like a mom now, in a strange way.  🙂  I feel so happy when I come home and my little chomper is wagging her tail and making funny little noises to let me know how pleased she is.  To know that I can bring such joy to a beautiful, smart dog who had previously known nothing but violence and fear – well, I can’t think of anything better than that!  If any dog in LA was going to win the Federer dog lottery, I can’t think of one more deserving than my sweet Ophelia.

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

I took this picture on the bus in Denver when I was there for a conference.
I’m not sure why, but the steps in the title made me think of these girls with their
matching shoes.  For the record, they were wearing matching shirts, too,
but it was too difficult to take that picture surreptitiously.

The Lao-Tzu quote in my title is perhaps trite, but it’s true.  I have a lot of ideas, but a lot of them never really make it into reality.  I have good intentions, but translating that to the real world is often impractical or just more time-consuming than this working, single girl can commit to.  So it is with great pleasure that I can report back that I have been sticking to my challenge thus far.  Not only that, I am loving it.

Now, I admittedly got a slow start, although through no fault of my own.  I played host to some unexpected company this weekend, and I had to invoke exception number five: watching TV in a social setting is permitted. In other words, I can watch if I get invited to go to a movie, have a friend over and he or she would like to watch TV, or go to someone else’s house and he or she suggests we watch TV.  In those situations, I wouldn’t be reading a book anyway (I think the person I’m with might find that a bit rude).  It only makes sense to cut the TV when reading is the alternative activity.

So it really wasn’t until yesterday that I got a chance to begin my challenge.  As it happened, I was home sick yesterday, so it was both an opportunity and a test.  Sure, I wasn’t feeling so great, obviously, and there was my TV and my Netflix account and my DVD collection and whatnot, all right there and within easy reach.  However, to my credit, I did not give in.

Instead, I picked up the book I was reading at the time – The Truth About Kent State: A Challenge to the American Conscience – and ended up finishing it before too long (I’ll report back on this later).  I did the crossword I still had left from Sunday’s paper.  Then I started another book I have checked out from the library – What a Blessing She Had Chloroform: The Medical and Social Response to the Pain of Childbirth from 1800 to the Present.  I got a little less than halfway through.  I kept thinking to myself, oh man, can I do it?  Can I finish this whole book today?  Ultimately I got too tired and realized I’d have to call it a night, but I felt the day had gone well.  I’d stuck to my plan.

As I was compulsively adding more books to my list of the books I want to check out, it occurred to me that I could probably get through them all in a not-unreasonable amount of time if I were to continue this challenge even after I finish all the books I have in my house.  I’ll never run out of books I want to read – I’m a librarian and a knowledge junkie.  There are probably a few movies I want to see now and then, a show I’d like to follow, but on the whole, I don’t have much use for TV.  It’s obviously very premature to say this, but maybe I’ll make this a permanent thing.  At the very least, I would like to commit to not wasting time on TV anymore, such as by watching stuff I’ve already seen.  Sorry, Arrested Development, but I’m looking at you, among others.  It’s time I spend a little more of my energy on something I consider actually worthwhile.

So, because some of you have asked, I’ve compiled a list of the books that are on my to-read list.  Again, these are the books that I have here in my home that I haven’t read yet.  There are a couple that I didn’t manage to put on there because I couldn’t find the link or I skimmed over them on the shelf by accident.  As it stands, there are now 45 on the list, but I think there are at least 5 more I don’t have on here.  So it’s a somewhat daunting task, but one I’m up for.

Fun fact: I didn’t put it on this list, because I’m not sure if I’m up for it, but one of the books I have in my collection that I haven’t read yet is the complete, unabridged edition of Les Miserables.  At least I’m not totally insane, and I got the English translation as opposed to the original French.  Even so, that puppy runs 1,222 pages.  And let me tell you, from what I’ve read so far, some of those pages include long, pointless, minute details about extremely minor characters.  When I started reading it the first time, I think I got about 80 pages in and all I’d read so far were details of the life of the priest who helps Jean Valjean the first time around.  If you know anything about the story, you will know that the childhood of this extremely minor character could not be less relevant to the plot on the whole.  So, what I’m trying to say here is, if I somehow manage to finish this tome in addition to the other 50-some odd books on my list, I think I deserve a cookie, at the very least. 🙂

Books Before TV: The Librarian’s Challenge

I had an interesting idea this evening. This probably will not come as a surprise to anyone, but I own tons of books I haven’t read yet.  Beyond the backlog of books I myself own, I also have four already checked out from the library and a list of 70 items that I intend to check out when I have a chance. Clearly, I’ve got a lot of reading to do, yet over and over again, I waste what free time I have on doing stupid things, like watching a bunch of so-so at best movies and TV shows.

The idea is simple: no more TV-watching until I finish every book in this house.

This is just part of my library, to give you a sense of the scale of what we’re talking
about here.  I don’t know how many books this is or how many of them are unread,
but I will count tomorrow and report back.

Here are the stipulations:

  1. This includes books I have not read that are  in the house as of this moment (and the books in my office that I checked out and haven’t brought home yet).  I wouldn’t be buying more books right now anyway, since Christmas is almost here, but if I am given books, they do not count in this challenge. Also, this only includes actual, physical books, not e-books or articles on my iPad.
  2. Both fiction and non-fiction count, but not books one would not normally read cover-to-cover, like a cookbook, dictionary, knitting pattern book, or the like.
  3. The sad fact is that there are some books on my shelf that I probably don’t want to read.  They sounded good at the time, but then I found I couldn’t get into them, so they went back on the shelf in hopes that I would enjoy them more at some later date.  Well, hopefully that date is now, because if not, those suckers are getting donated.  Each book will get two tries.  If I start a book and I’m really not able to get into it, it moves to the back of the line.  After I finish everything else, I try it again.  If I still don’t like it, it gets donated.
  4. There will be no TV-watching of any kind, including movies, TV shows, documentaries, or the like.  Short internet clips, like  Youtube videos under five minutes long or videos of my friends’ adorable children, are permitted.  Also, having the iTunes visualizer on the TV while I’m listening to music and doing the Sunday crossword or cooking is permitted.
  5. Watching TV in a social setting is permitted. In other words, I can watch if I get invited to go to a movie, have a friend over and he or she would like to watch TV, or go to someone else’s house and he or she suggests we watch TV.  In those situations, I wouldn’t be reading a book anyway (I think the person I’m with might find that a bit rude).  It only makes sense to cut the TV when reading is the alternative activity.
  6. There’s no time limit or deadline on this – I continue until I either finish or donate every unread book on my shelf (and return the ones checked out from the library) or I declare defeat, possibly risking having my Awesome Librarian badge revoked.
  7. To be clear, I’m still allowed to do other leisure activities – it doesn’t have to be all reading all the time.  I’m just not allowed to watch TV.

So that’s the challenge.  I was thinking I’d wait till after the holidays and consider this my New Year’s resolution, but you know, I’m thinking why wait?  Why waste another day boring myself with pointless TV?  Starting tomorrow, no more TV for me.

So how about you?  I imagine at least some of you reading this have a similar situation.  It may not be books and TV, but I challenge you to think about what you’d like to get around to doing and what you’ve been wasting your time on instead.  Set a finite goal and commit to avoid wasting time on the other thing.  Come on, you know you want to play along with me!  If you’re doing it, tell me about it in the comments!

By the way, in case you’re curious about my list of books to checkout, it’s saved as an Amazon Wishlist.  To be clear, I don’t want to actually own any of these – just check them out from the library.  So if you are a person who happens to be shopping for me and you stumble upon this, that’s very nice of you, but I don’t need to own these 🙂  It’s almost all non-fiction, but there’s a little fiction toward the end.

“A gift in support of libraries, books, works, ideas.”

I woke up this morning to find a lovely little gem in my Facebook inbox.  My cousin, who shares my love of literature, sent me this fascinating link to a page on the mystery book sculptures of Edinburgh.  In March of this year, someone in the Scottish Poetry Library found this beautiful paper sculpture, made from books, and addressed to the library’s Twitter account, @byleaveswelive.

Photos courtesy of Chrisdonia, poster of the original article at Central Station.

They thought it was pretty cool, obviously, but little did they know that more of these incredible pieces would pop up at various libraries and book venues around Edinburgh over the course of the next several months.  Ten in all were left in various libraries, given “in support of libraries, books, works, ideas.”

Although some speculated as to who the mysterious gift-giver could be, the identity of this incredible artist remains unknown. A longer, typed, note accompanying one of the final pieces reveals that the artist is a woman, but that you won’t find her among the community of well-known book artists, as this was her first foray into art with books.  It’s hard to believe, because the pieces are incredible.  The attention to detail is astounding; the time it must have taken to craft these works must have been extensive.  Just look at these hand-crafted feathers from another piece left in the Scottish Poetry Library.

I love everything about this story.  The mystery artist, identity unknown.  The sculptures left behind in libraries, just waiting to be discovered – some were tucked in rather inconspicuous places and no one is sure how long they sat there before being discovered.  The beauty of the pieces themselves.  The homage the artist has paid to literature, particularly Scottish literature, and even more particularly the work of Ian Rankin.

But what I love most about this is that these items were left in libraries.  Working in a library, it’s easy to sometimes feel like people don’t really appreciate everything that we have on offer.  I’ve been doing a lot of outreach lately, and it’s surprising that so many of the students and faculty I’ve been talking to don’t even know where their library is!  Perhaps this is characteristic of medical libraries (though I suspect it’s true across the boards), but people often seem to think of the library today as a virtual space.  It’s true that technology has allowed the information to go with you practically wherever you go.  I recently wrote an article for the blog of the Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona about tools for accessing PubMed, the sort of go-to resource for biomedical literature, from mobile devices.  Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great that people can get to information wherever and whenever they need it, but at the same time, I feel like people are missing out on a certain something if they never actually come into the library, meet their librarian, and actually put their hands on some books.

So for someone to leave these items as gifts for the library, sort of a thank you for the work of libraries, is quite nice.  I wish someone would do this for my library!  As long as it didn’t involve defacing rare books, of course. 🙂

Life with Ophelia

This is my dog, Ophelia the Formosan Mountain Dog.  We’ve lived together for a little less than a month now, and we’re still getting to know each other.  I love her and think she’s awesome, but I think she’s still trying to figure out if I’m as crazy as I seem or if I’m cool.  I think she’s learning toward thinking I’m cool.

Here are some fun things Ophelia does.

  • When we go on a short walk, she can tell when I’m ready to head home, and she suddenly starts getting very interested in smelling any little thing.  It’s very obvious that she’s trying to drag it out!  I’ll be turning around to head back, and she’s like, “WAIT!  MOM!  I’ve got to smell this!” and then act obsessed with a weed.
  • Once when we were walking through the park, she tried to steal a kid’s tennis ball.  He’d left it sitting there, and his mom was yelling at him, “that dog is going to steal your ball.  You can’t leave your stuff like that.  Look, that dog is taking your ball.”  Of course, I wasn’t actually letting her take the ball, but with the mom going on and on like that, the kid started crying, which upset Ophelia, so we got out of there ASAP.  Hopefully that child learned the lesson that you can’t leave stuff unattended in the middle of LA.
  • Ophelia is a champion chicken bone spotter.  I think she should become a forensic dog or something.  One night, she stole a piece of chicken from a homeless guy who was asleep on the sidewalk.  I was mortified, and after the walk, I went back to take the guy some money, but he was gone.  The next day, I saw the chicken remains and was glad to see it had mostly been bone and it had probably been laying on the sidewalk because he’d discarded it.
  • Ophelia is a chomper.  When she gets excited, she does this weird thing with her mouth that I can only describe as chomping.  This might freak out some people who would think that she’s trying to bite them, but it’s actually a very good sign if she chomps at you, as it means she thinks you’re awesome and would like to play with you.  Chompity-chomp-chomp.