Saturday, March 17, 2007

Snow-day randomness

It’s been awhile since I’ve added to this blog. A lot of my recent efforts have been fictional—I do intend to present these, but not as a part of this blog. Hence, the more “serious” musings on culture have taken a back seat as of late.
Speaking of such things—today it is snowing where I am, after having an 81-degree day two days ago. I can’t express in words how this truly sucks. I did not have to work today (off for Spring Break, ironically enough), so I have been trapped in my home with two psychotic cats, a box of Thin Mints, and a bottle of Smoking Loon cabernet sauvignon.
Such a predicament usually drives my mind into bizarre directions, not all of them useful or purposeful. With all of the major problems in the world today—terrorism, war, poverty, illness, to name a few—I have been pondering the seemingly small but potentially deadly and completely random evils of the world. The impact of these evils is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent with nothing to do. Here is the list I have come up with so far:

1. iPod earbuds
2. The Girl Scouts and their diabolical cookies
3. Don Henley (and anything to do with the Eagles)
4. Boolean search engines
5. Lite beer

Not a huge list—I’m sure that some of you could think of others. Here is my explanation of this list:

1. iPod earbuds: Maybe I am the only one with this problem—but I cannot walk anywhere with my iPod without adjusting my earbuds approximately 97 times. No matter how much slack the wires connecting the earbuds to the iPod actually have, it always feels like they’re being torn out when I make any sudden moves. I do not understand how people jog or do upper body workouts with these damn things. And those stupid little black pieces of fabric that are supposed to cover them—they get lost all the time. If you try to put the earbuds in without this flimsy piece of fabric, it feels like you are sticking a knife in your ear. Add that to the hearing loss that is supposed to accompany excessive use of earbuds, and the clever way the wires get tangled within seconds after taking them out of your ears—and you’ve got a pretty good conspiracy theory.
2. Girl scout cookies: A friend of mine recently told me about 2 arrests in the school system she works in—one was a special ed teacher busted for using coke and heroin. The other was an administrator who supposedly locked himself in his office naked and started doing crystal meth. (Geez, whatever happened to sneaking a hit off of a joint in the bathroom?)
In any event—in the category of less serious but still potentially deadly addictions, I add Girl Scout cookies. Girl Scout cookies are pure evil—I don’t know how else to describe it. They are pushed on you by family and friends with a daughter or a niece, or some pre-pubescent female who needs to sell cookies to earn a “merit badge”. For the most part, you don’t see Girl Scouts going door to door anymore. It’s a shame really, because I could actually avoid them that way—most of the time I am not home, or good at pretending not to be home. This was a survival skill learned when the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses started cruising our neighborhood. One of my pet peeves in the world is door-to-door religion sales. I have an unreasonable amount of anger when I see the fake and condescending smiles of missionaries, so it is better for both parties if I avoid them altogether.
But back to the Girl Scouts—unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are not allowed to spread their literature in the workplace, there is always someone in the office with the order form for Girl Scout cookies. If it doesn’t happen at work, they wait outside of the local grocery stores. This is an immediate gratification scenario—you don’t have to wait for the boxes to come in—they’re right there in front of you. And me, the helpless enraged addict that I am, always walk away with 3 boxes—those peanut butter Tagalog things, the Samoas, and most deadly of all—Thin Mints. I could eat an entire box in one sitting. I did that today, in fact. Shiva, my big black cat who looks like a ferret, came down to watch me. I yelled at him, “Why are you just sitting there, dammit? Stop me!” But Shiva let me down—for a cat that will jump up and grab almost anything out of my hands, he was content to sit there and sniff at the cookie box. I’m betting he gets a commission from the cookie distributors.
Incidentally, I learned that the Girl Scouts as an organization make very little money from their cookies. For the 5 bucks per box (or whatever it is now) that you pay, they usually see less than 1 dollar of the profits. Pretty crappy return on effort, if you ask me.

3.Don Henley : When I was in college, my friend Liz and I came up with the theory that the Eagles as a group are responsible for most of the minor evils in the world, although we also suspected them of causing international terrorist crises as well (this was about 10 years before Sept. 11).
Why Don Henley and/or the Eagles, you may ask? It’s hard to give a rational answer. Like any complex social science problem, it’s a matter of how you interpret the data. What we discovered is that every major thing that went wrong—whether it was the car breaking down, doing poorly on an exam, breaking up with one’s latest boyfriend, or whatever—was always preceding by hearing an Eagles song, usually the dreaded “Hotel California”. You may say it was a coincidence, but it was too common of a coincidence for our tastes. Soon this rumor was rampant on what was then the Montclair State College campus, and you would hear people bring it up at random on the student quad. Many of them tested the theory and found it to be true. Everything really hit rock bottom when Don Henley actually came to a local mall to promote his Walden Woods charity. Liz and I had at least 4 major crises apiece that week, which did not abate until Mr. Henley took off for somewhere else out of state. This led to the modified theory of Eagles-evilness:

1. Hearing any Eagles song is usually a precursor to bad luck, or can at least be considered an inauspicious omen.
2. Hearing songs by individual Eagles is also inauspicious, although there is a sliding scale of evilness. From most evil to least evil: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Joe Walsh. In fact, it is suspected that Joe Walsh is not really evil at all.
3. There is an antidote against the evilness of Eagles songs—namely, any Beatles song, or song produced by an individual Beatle, with George being the most auspicious, and Ringo being the least, but still effective nonetheless. I always kept a Beatles tape in my car, just in case we were ambushed by an Eagles song while scanning the radio dial. Led Zeppelin songs also work.

I worked in a public library in Northern Morris County for a few months, and discussed this theory with a young woman who was a library page. She liked the Eagles, and was even trying to learn to play Hotel California on her guitar. I warned her that this was a grave mistake, which she just laughed off. The next day, she was out driving, got into an accident, and broke her arm. Coincidence? Maybe. Liz and I don’t think so.
We have not corroborated our theory of evilness with Mojo Nixon’s. After hearing “Don Henley must die,” we assumed that he may have figured this out too, but maybe he just thinks they suck, or at the very least, are overrated.

Having said all of this, I have to admit to actually liking a couple of Don Henley’s songs. We all have an evil streak in us somewhere…

4. Boolean search engines: You will have to indulge me on this one. I am a librarian by trade, specifically a cataloging librarian. (For those of you who know the stereotype of professional catalogers, you will no doubt develop your own theory of how screwed up I must be.)
As a professional cataloger, the fact that Boolean could be the basis of a modern search engine irks me to no end. Good catalogers strive to make material accessible to the public through good description and subject access. That can be cancelled out by a few lousy prepositions. “Not” is a huge culprit. If you go into a Boolean-based default catalog search, you run into the “not” conundrum. God help you if you want to search for a title that has the word “not” in it. “Not without my daughter” is a good one. Try this in any SirsiDynix Unicorn catalog (usually called iBistro or iLink)—you will get 99,000 hits, none of them what you are looking for. This is because the “not” operator cancels out the rest of your search, and from the system’s perspective, you may as well have done a keyword search on a blank search box. I migrated a consortium of 37 libraries to a Sirsi Unicorn system. I remember talking to our sales rep about the catalog. I wanted to search “The Sound and the Fury” as an example title. “Oh no,” she told me, “That’s a bad example. You’d have to search just the words ‘sound’ and ‘fury’ to get the correct result set. Or, you’d have to search the whole title in quotes.”

Sirsi insisted that they do this because they “are creating a search engine for the public, not for librarians.” Sounds like the opposite to me. If you don’t know Boolean logic, you’ll never find a damn thing in the catalog. In an era of natural language searching and Google, this is just plain laziness on the vendor’s part. Google does have a Boolean option, but it’s usually in the advanced search, not the default. Hence, it leads to a greater evil in my opinion—the loss of access to relevant information. Maybe it’s meant to give reference librarians job security. But, as it turns out, most of them don’t know how to use it, either.
This rant comes in the wake of the news that SirsiDynix is no longer developing either the Unicorn or Horizon products, and they’re focusing a on a new platform code-named “Rome.” According to Sirsi’s release, forwarded to me by a former colleague, “Rome” is based on the Unicorn system. The release says it is because of the “quality, stability, and reliability” of the Unicorn platform. Which says to me that their company is sunk, and anyone on any Sirsi system should start working on their RFP for a non-Sirsi system now.

I hate to be so negative about this—I used to be the one who tried to put a positive spin on this system for the libraries I used to work for. I like all of the folks at SirsiDynix, but it is clear that some of the key decision makers are not living in the real world. Maybe working off of the Unicorn platform is the cheapest thing to do, and they are looking at the bottom line. But it’s a case of penny wise and pound foolish. I worked extensively with Unicorn’s last 2 or 3 releases, including the much touted GL3.1, which was supposed to solve all library consortia system issues, and apparently cure cancer and bring world peace in the bargain. All sarcasm aside, GL3.1 was not what it promised at all—it had a better interface, but beyond that, all it did was piss off circulation staff because it kept freezing in the middle of transactions. Some knowledgeable folks outside of Sirsi told us that this was a very stable release of Unicorn, but these were folks who apparently did not use the Reports module, which was totally f**ked up. To make this increasingly long story short—Unicorn is buggier that a wheat field during a plague of locusts. They did fix a few things, but they broke countless other things. They also promised a “fix” for the Boolean problem, but is has never worked—implementing the fix crashed the quick search feature on the catalog.
So—I consider it a great evil that a company that has 40% of the library automation market share has decided to move ahead with outdated technology, which will further drive users away from libraries using these technologies.

5. Lite beer : Yes, time to get away from the trauma of my last job, and move onto something else with less significance. I suppose lite beer is a boon for those who want to go out, have several beers, and not get wasted as quickly. Personally, if I was going to go out to drink lite beer, I’d stick to soda, because that at least has flavor. God bless the makers of Guinness, and save me from Anheuser-Busch.

Now that I’ve had a chance to complain—I will provide a list of top 5 redemptions of this Earthly life. But that'll have to wait til the next post.


Anonymous said...

Too funny Brigid!!
You are right on point about the little white I pod ear sets. Girl scout cookies are evil. I waited as long as I could without having any..Poof! Last I polished off half a box of Samoa's(I am not sure if that is how you spell it, but I am not gonna look at the box in fear of eating more!) So keep up the blogging. Great Stuff.

Anonymous said...

Your comments about Unicorn really worry me Brigid, and I agree -- the decision to abandon work on a 21st century ILS (Horizon 8) and continue to bolt on new features to a legacy system is just plain weird.

My other major worry is that Unicorn lacks some of the core functionality that our library needs in its day-to-day operations (e.g. Edifact EDI).

I'm sure there's a valid reason why SirsiDynix have made this decision but it feels to me like they probably just flipped a coin to decide which system got the axe!

Brigid N. Burke said...

Hi, Dave--

It's really hard to know what the folks at SirsiDynix are thinking. I know they have new financial backing, and just axed their CEO. If Vista Equity hopes to make money on these folks, I think they're going in the wrong direction. I don't have a whole lot of experience with Horizon, but my impression is that it is a superior product to Unicorn. Unicorn was state of the art in 1992, and has been going steadily downhill ever since. They just can't keep up with the new technology. I don't know if you've ever seen Andrew Pace's presentation on the future of the ILS--he talks about the code monoliths, where vendors just keep adding code to their existing products to do more things, rather than re-evaluate their functionality as a whole. So, instead of any real innovation--it's like taking a Ugo, dropping an SUV frame on top of it, and calling it an SUV.

I've heard from Baker & Taylor VPs that Unicorn handles EDI poorly now, so I don't imagine they're going to make any progress on the Acquisitions front, other than cosmetic changes.

I've moved on to a Voyager library, and I can't say I miss Unicorn.

Cheers, Brigid

Unknown said...

I feel very honored to be mentioned in your blog- It is my first and only time ever mentioned in a blog.

Anyway even though Henley is getting older his evil aura is still strong.

Luckily, I rarely listen to the radio anymore- thanks to my ipod (of course, I listen to WFMU, but two of my favorite DJs there also believe in the evilness of Henley & Co.)

Here is a recent example of the evil that the dreaded "H" song still causes-

Just last month, Shawn and I were at the Florham Park diner and some generic lite FM station was on playing the "H" song- I got a little tense, since there were no Beatles on hand and no Beatles songs were played after. Well, the next day was full of mishaps.
1) First of all the food at the diner upset my stomach.
2) The next day we went to Monclair only to discover that one of our favorite stores went out of business, and our favorite restaurant also went out of business. Then we tried to go to another restaurant and it wasn't open.
3) Also, that same day, Shawn's car started making a strange sound that he never has heard before or since.
However, despite those mishaps, went into a store and lo and behold heard "Yellow Submarine"- even though it is a Ringo song- it did the trick and the rest of the day went smoothly and Shawn's car hasn't made that sound since.

I'm very glad you have alerted people to evil power of Henley- now people know how to prevent an "attack".

Was it a coincidence that the Eagles last tour was called "When Hell freezes over" - I think not-

Anonymous said...

93 BB et al,

As far as SIRSI is concerned -

from a "lame-man's" point of view -

I feel that as they used to say in ye olden days - "we have all been called to ROME"

("ROME" is the new SIRSI product thingee...)

What the hell were their PR people thinking! ROME collapsed by over extending itself - come on guys! Thumbs down. Is this to distract us from ROOMS? Oy Vey..

Anyway - had to chime -

93 93/93

Frater P

(running away from SIRSI this summer! hooray!)

Brigid N. Burke said...

Hey Frater P.-- 93 -- I was just wondering what was up with you!
Sounds like you'll be moving to TLC this summer? Good for you! I was showing Aquabrowser in my evening class today. Not perfect, but a whole lot better than iBistro.
Good point about Rome--I was thinking Christians to the lions, but your analogy is frighteningly..well...prophetic? I guess time will tell.

93 93/93

Brigid N. Burke said...

I should add to this post the recent news that SirsiDynix has announced that they are moving to facted browsing for searches. Hooray if it's true, but honestly I'll believe it when I see it.

Someone at Sirsi also confirmed for me that "Rome" is actually GL3.1 repackaged with a few Horizon features. Apparently the new version of Horizon is about 3 years late, and it won't be ready for another few years, so Sirsi bailed on development. Now they're going to push the Horizon customers to Unicorn. I wonder how that will affect development. It's better for them to focus on ONE product rather than several, but if they continue to add to the code monolith (with a nod to Andrew Pace), I don't think they're going to come out with a better product.

Of course--this is the conundrum all over proprietary ILS land...