Friday, December 12, 2008


Regardless of whether you work in a government building, a private institution, or a corporate office, all of these buildings will likely have one thing in common—a crummy HVAC system.

I am thinking about this as I sit in the library where I work. Several hours ago the Head of the Reference Department came striding around, looking at thermostats, asking if it was too hot. I went out of my office a few minutes ago to see the nighttime reference librarian wearing his coat.

In my previous job, I worked in a government building, one that was recently renovated and expanded. Before I was sucked into the black hole of administration, I was one of the union shop stewards. Almost daily I got complaints about the air quality—either it was too cold to work, or too hot to work. I spent more time filling out forms for OSHA and talking to facilities people about the HVAC system in the building. In my current job, I had to talk to our facilities staff about the HVAC for an archival grant application. Hence, I learned something about how these systems work. For the uncomfortable, here are a few things you should know:

1. Large HVAC systems have only two temperatures: f**king hot and f**king cold. There is no in-between.

2. HVAC systems are set up in “zones”, so that the temperature can be controlled in smaller areas. The main thing to remember is that the zones will never be the same temperature. So, if it is f**king hot in one zone, it will be f**king cold in the other.

3. Most people think they can raise or lower the temperature by messing with the thermostat. Most thermostats are “placebo” thermostats. They are only there to make you think you can do something about the temperature. They are not actually attached to anything that turns the heat on or off.

4. If you are too hot in the winter, or too cold in the summer, don’t EVER call facilities to complain. Facilities staff are not interested in your petty comfort concerns, and will punish you by turning off the heat in winter or the A/C in summer, and will ignore any pleas to turn it back on for weeks.

5. There is a myth that a new building means a new working HVAC system. In fact, everyone knows that the contract for the HVAC system will go to the lowest bidder in any new construction or renovation. Therefore, things like working temperature zones and humidity control are considered to be “luxuries” and struck from the installation requirements.

6. This doesn’t have to do with the HVAC per se—but it is a fact of Murphy’s law that a person who is always cold will inevitably share an office with a person who is always warm. Let the comfort wars begin.

So, bring a sweater, get a space heater or fan(if the fire marshal will let you), and try to ignore the fact that the HVAC vents are brimming with mold on account of the fact that they haven’t been cleaned in 40 years. And pray that Spring comes soon, when you might at least break even with the comfortable temperature outdoors.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two topics: My impending "retirement", and the Found Footage Festival

The insanity that is my life right now should be winding down by the end of next week, but not before a spectacular flurry of activity. Finals are next week, I’m in a race to get a really tedious digitization RFP out before we close down for winter break, and I’m meeting no less than 3 sets of friends over the next 4 days. And fucking forget about Christmas—if it wasn’t for the incessant presence of holiday music and décor everywhere, I wouldn’t even know there was a holiday. I don’t have time for it.

In the middle of all this, next week, I am going to the VALE OLE workshop in New Brunswick for 2 days. The purpose is to help design a new integrated library system for New Jersey's academic libraries (i.e., VALE). From what participants in this week’s version of the workshop said, it pretty much sounds like a waste of my time. They want to discuss library departmental “workflows”. Give me a break. It’s true that the traditional workflow is probably different now, but that’s the wrong focus for a meeting like this. Most of our tech tasks have nothing to do with the ILS. Besides, integrated library systems, even the open source ones, aren’t structured for consortia. (Earth to programmers: policy matrices DON’T WORK for more than 3 libraries, and even that is dubious). They’re always designed with the ideal assumption that everyone will work together and agree on everything, when the reality is that any given library in the group is likely to storm the consortia office fully armed before they will submit to have the same loan period or fine structure as another library. Additionally, you have the libraries with really bizarre policies that were apparently created by a deranged person (“we lend DVDs for 1 week with a $1.00 fine, but if it’s a full moon and a Thursday we lend them for 8 and half days with a 50 cent fine rate”). And they will be indignant if the system doesn’t accommodate this. I am assured that VALE will not work this way. Just wait.

Anyway, all of that is boring, and I’m increasingly becoming a malcontent in this field, so you don’t really want to hear all of that. I am “retiring” after 7 years of teaching at Rutgers University in the MLIS program this week, the first step in getting away from Library and Information Science altogether. I had an earlier post on this blog on the future of cataloging, which was picked up by 2 major cataloging blogs—I think I have had more views on that post than any other. If you’ve read that one, I have more confirmation that cataloging as a profession is dying a slow, painful death on life support: I have heard that the Library of Congress has cut their cataloging staff nationally by some absurd number—54,000 to 4,000 is the figure I was given. I’m hoping I misheard that one, but it doesn’t look good in any case. Time will tell.

Moving on to stranger things—last week I got my copies of the Found Footage Festival DVDs. Currently there are 3 volumes, with a new volume due out after next summer’s show. Found Footage Festival was created by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, two guys from Wisconsin who are now in New York. They collect old VHS tapes from estate sales, old warehouses, garage sales, etc., and then put what they consider to be the “best” of this junk together for a live show.

Some of the items featured on these DVDs—a McDonald’s custodian training video, a video by Corey Haim attempting to show everyone how he was “clean” after rehab (it was more of a case for putting him back in, actually), 2 religious “showdowns” comparing the truly fucked-up styles of two sets of television preachers, Jack Rebney (world’s angriest RV salesman), How to Seduce Women Through Hypnosis (an attempt to legitimize rape for the truly pathetic male, though the woman in this is pretty dim as well), and a variety of public access television shows and godawful music videos.

Besides the hypnosis thing, the most disturbing videos on these collections were the “Potpourri” on Volume 1 (Joe and Nick actually apologize to the audience before and after showing it), and “Disrobics” on Volume 3 (enough said about that). Nonetheless, if you like or are at least curious about the bizarre and trashy underbelly of American culture, these are amazingly funny to watch. On the downside, you will probably have the songs of Jan Terri or Harvey Sid Fisher stuck in your head. Not to mention the images from the videos that go with their songs.

Overall, these were a worthy purchase. I stayed with my friend’s teenage son and daughter last week, and showed them the DVDs. Mind you, these kids are good at locating the most bizarre videos on YouTube (I get at least 1 to my e-mail every week from one of them). They both laughed so hard that they almost couldn’t breathe. And of course, my friend Liz and her fiancé are “Found Footage groupies” by their own admission. They are looking forward to next summer’s new show, and I will probably go with them.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


The Thanksgiving holiday is just about over. I have been off since Wednesday, and even though I've had plenty to do, it's been a surreal few days. It goes without saying that the Christmas season is now upon us. I have barely given it a thought. I am not having a Christmas tree this year, nor am I getting involved with the usual level of hoopla, because I am going to London soon after Christmas. No sense putting up a Christmas tree and leaving my cats with a large and dangerous cat toy while I'm away.

My London plans may be changing--I'm not certain yet, but I may end up shortening my stay due to some uncertain circumstances. That's been the surreal part of this week--lots of uncertain circumstances. Everyone I talk to has been having surprises, and not good ones. I look at possibly changing my London plans as the lower end of the surprise scale--I have many friends and acquaintances right now that are dealing with much more serious uncertainties. Even when I stopped off at one of my usual breakfast haunts in Hackettstown, the waitress I know there told me that her husband was fired from his job that week--and told he could reapply if he wanted to in the Spring. Of course, this means no health benefits for her or her husband all Winter long, and if he does get re-hired, it will probably be at minimum wage; he was at the top of his pay scale for his job. There is a lot of this kind of thing going on. At the moment, I am grateful to be employed and to have a house. It's not going to be a great Christmas for a lot of people, and while this does happen to people every year, it does make things a bit sadder (Christmas or not) because these people are my friends. Certainly it's a sobering reminder that life can change at any moment.

I picked up a friend from the airport today, and we were discussing the recent attacks on Americans and British citizens in Mumbai. A mutual friend of ours from Orissa had friends staying in the hotel. The mutual friend had received a text message from that friend, saying she was hiding under the bed, and that "they were coming." They lost contact with her after that, and suspect she is now dead. The growing amount of Islamic fundamentalist attacks is frightening for many reasons. Fundamentalism in any of the religions is a reaction against modernity. While there have been a few cases of Hindu fundamentalism, it is really a monotheistic phenomenon, at least as it is appearing in the world today. We tend to hear about Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism in particular. Both types of fundamentalism have a number of things in common. One is that they believe modernity is bad (though many are not opposed to the use of technology like television and the Internet). Another is that they believe there is one strict interpretation of "God's law", and that God has a specific plan that humanity must follow, and of course they know what it is. Christian fundamentalists derive their document from a literalist interpretation of the Bible (known as Biblical inerrancy). Islamic fundamentalists are working with a strict interpretation of the Qur'an and the Shar'ia law. In both cases, there is a good vs. evil dualism--either you are on God's side (i.e., you accept their worldview), or you are not. If you are not, you are in league with "Satan", and they have the right to try to force you into the right way of believing. For some of them, that means the right to kill you. Islamic fundamentalists hate modern Western countries, because they see their pluralistic influence as being directly opposed to the law of God.

Monotheistic fundamentalism is a dangerous thing. Since there is only one God, and one "right way" for those types of believers, there is no ground for conversation. Globalization has put us in a unique position--on the one hand, secularism puts religion aside, or at least into its own category. It's not the primary social mover with regard to education, law, or politics. Fundamentalists believe that religion should be central--in particular, their interpretation of religion. No one has successfully figured out how to marry these two entirely different worldviews. In fact, looking at it, it just seems well nigh impossible. Adherents of both views frequently live side by side in today's world. The results are not pretty.

This topic will be the discussion of my lecture this week at university, and reminds me of a topic I discussed a couple of weeks ago: theodicy. Theodicy has to do with "the problem of evil", which includes the issue of human suffering. Going back to monotheistic dualisms (paradoxical, I know), we discussed the idea of "Satan". Technically, Satan is not a being, it is a role. In the Bible, "satan" or "shaitan" (Hebrew letters Shin, Teth, Nun) was the role played by an angel that obstructed a human. The Greek equivalent term is "diabolos", the root of the word "Devil", which means "to throw an obstruction in one's path". While we think of obstructions as causing us suffering, that is not necessarily the case. I think of the stories of friends who were stuck in traffic behind a car accident, missed their train, and consequently their job interview or other business in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Certainly these people were grateful by the end of the day to have been obstructed.

I could not help but to notice the similarity between the Hebrew word "Satan" and the word "Saturn". I don't know if they are etymologically similar (the Greek equivalent of Saturn is Kronos, or "time"; the Sanskrit equivalent is "Shani") but they are similar in meaning if you look at both Eastern and Western astrology. The role of Saturn is that of taskmaster--it limits us when we try to move ahead, according to that view. The Vedic astrologer that I visit once a year lamented recently that my mother is in "Shani dasha", or a very long phase of life ruled by Saturn, and consequently full of suffering and limitations. And yet Shani is not viewed as "evil"--Shani is supposed to disabuse you of any illusions you have about life or your identity. It fosters discipline, and keeps us from being lazy and selfish. Similar to "satan", "Shani" is not a being--it is a description of a particular state of things. Even with Hindus performing Shani puja, they are not worshipping Saturn--they are seeking to understand the "Shani" qualities in themselves and their lives.

Whatever you may believe, it is certainly a fact that suffering occurs in life. Like a lot of things, it seems to be cyclical--there are periods of expansiveness, and periods of restriction. I can only hope that those who have been hit by the latest string of sufferings will come through relatively unscathed, perhaps in a better position than they were before.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Things That Don't Go Together

Only 5 more weeks until I head back to London! I can hardly wait. I'll be there for almost 2 weeks instead of 4 days. I'm sure time will fly, too, as I still have a lot to accomplish between now and then. If anyone in London who reads this wants to catch up with me while I'm there, you can e-mail me at I probably won't be back in London until at least May after that, unless something big comes up (defined as: something for which I want to drop everything and high-tail it across the pond). I know there are no UK John Foxx shows coming up in 2009--in fact, I believe he's coming here to tour with Vincent Gallo, so I'll be hanging around the States for that event...

Which brings me to the topic of this post: things that don't go together, and other odd things I've observed over the last month.


The Unexpected

Since I mentioned the John Foxx/Vincent Gallo match-up already, I'll talk about that first. When John asked me if I'd heard of Vincent Gallo, my dim, fuzzy mind at that point recalled the name, maybe something about him being an actor, did not recall him as a musician. So, after the show, a friend pointed me to Vincent Gallo's MySpace, where you can hear some of his music:

Vincent Gallo's MySpace Page

Regardless of what you may think of Gallo's musical offerings (and I realize that what he has on his page is a different project from what he's doing with John), you do have to admit that Gallo and Foxx are a highly--UNEXPECTED combination. Especially if you consider that they are recording an acoustic album together. One of the wonderful things about John Foxx is that he defies categorization--when I'm asked what his music is like, it's hard to pin down. I consider that one of the hallmarks of originality. With regards to this project--I must say that I am anxious to see the fruits of that creative collaboration. I can't even imagine what that's going to be like, and I'm curious as hell.

The same friend sent me another Vincent Gallo link:

Vincent Gallo Merchandise--Personal Services

It's funny how he posts this in such a way that you are not sure if he's kidding or not. Nonetheless, it occurred to me that any woman looking to get his sperm at a discount could hire him for escort services, and get him drunk enough to get knocked up that way. I'm not suggesting I have any interest in this--it just seems to be a glaring pricing loophole.

Another entry in the unexpected category came from the Religion news service this morning:

Michael Jackson Converts to Islam

I feel sorry for the Muslims. They get enough bad press. You have to wonder what the sheiks were thinking during his conversion ceremony.

A bit lower on the intellectual scale, we have this (with thanks to Nothing To Do With Arbroath):

Three-Quarters of Brits Unable to Name Great Britain's Three Countries

This is only unexpected because there seems to be this assumption that Brits are smarter than Americans. I'm not sure where this conception comes from, because frankly, people are stupid everywhere. Perhaps it is because Britain is older, and they have the benefit of the European community right in their back yard. But that rides on the erroneous assumption that people will take advantage of cultural and educational opportunities if they are right in front of them.

What's interesting about this article is how similar it is to the "American's can't identify their States on a map" articles. While there is no excuse for that either, you could argue that Americans have 50 states to identify, whereas the United Kingdom is only made up of 3 countries (sort of 4, if you count Northern Ireland). I am reminded of a the time I was at the University of Reading (UK, not Pennsylvania), and talking with a young man--mind you, he was doing his course in American Studies--who, when the American Independence Day was mentioned in conversation, wanted to know who Americans won their independence from. (And yes, he left a dangling preposition at the end of the sentence). None of this really proves anything about collective intelligence--but I don't want to go down the road of what I think about education these days in general, so...

Moving on to:

The Twisted

Another Arbroath link:

Breaking Bad News With Baby Animals

I have an aversion to the overly-cutesy and gushingly precious, especially when it comes to greeting cards, so I loved this when I saw it. On another tangent to this, there is the Cute Fuzzy Animals As Evil genre. A good example of this is Happy Kitty Bunny Pony, a graphical book with all kinds of cute kitties, doggies, etc.--and the author points out that all they really want to do is eat you or trample you to death painfully.

That's all I have for now--for those of you following bbfiction, I have about 4 things posted (7 posts total), and I'm working on 2 others right now, one will probably be posted by next week, the other is part of a larger story compilation I'm working on called Dasa Mahavidyas, so I may not post that one. I'm trying to disengage myself from a tangled plotline for the former story, hence the delay. I used to complain of writer's block, now I can't seem to stop writing. I could have worse problems...

Monday, November 17, 2008


No less than 3 friends called or e-mailed this week to tell me about various difficulties besieging them. Other friends had similar issues, that I’d heard about through the grapevine. What is unusual is not the fact that they have difficulties—everyone does at one time or another. The interesting part is how similar things happen in “clumps”. In short, there appears to be a pattern.

I’m an observer by nature, and I can’t help but wonder what these patterns mean, if anything. There are more general patterns that are harder to pin down—the sense that things are being shaken up, or the sense that things are stuck and slowing down, in a more “global” sense. Other patterns are more specific—they may be events and other “symbols” tied together. For instance—I was out with a friend over the weekend, and while chatting over lunch, we noticed that a drinking glass she received was perfectly cracked in the middle, but did not break or leak. In the course of 24 hours, I learned from several friends about cracked relationships, cracked-up cars, and emotional crack-ups at work. No one was completely broken from any of these things, but everyone was “cracked” in some fashion.

Perhaps this is the way my mind organizes experiences in an attempt to find meaning in them. I have the belief that people and experiences are connected in some unconscious way that we will never fully understand, but that we may be able to find meaningful patterns if we look for them.

On the other hand—sometimes the point of the pattern is to show us that there is no pattern, or may as well not be one. My guru’s visits to New York from India are a good example of this. It’s almost guaranteed that no matter what is planned for the day, it will be completely screwed up by the time I leave. And yet, everything still happens at these times that needs to happen. Amma did say once, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” As humans, we would like to find order in uncertainty, so we are great believers in causality. While you can generally find logical causes for things, sometimes you just can’t analyze and evaluate experiences in that way, so you just accept it. It lies somewhere between faith and reason—or maybe outside of both. In the end, I’ve learned it’s better to observe the pattern, and not to discount it, but not to place too much meaning on it, either.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Recently I had a discussion with my Religion students about the concept of a myth. Myths are metaphors for intangible, un-expressible experiences that impact us profoundly. In preparing these discussions, I considered the late, great Joseph Campbell’s views on myth. In one of his discussions with Bill Moyers, Campbell states that modern society does not have myths—the only mythmakers are artists, which includes musicians, poets, filmmakers, and others who work with metaphorical images. He proposes that things change too rapidly in this day and age for society to create new myths.

I was thinking about this the other day, and it occurs to me that myths are actually everywhere, though they are less socially organized and more individualized. We succeed or fail in life with respect to our myths. A myth could have to do with the profound mystery of existence, or it could be as mundane as believing that one has to focus on something practical like business or finance to succeed in life. Unconsciously, we stick to the script of the myth. This can help us through troubled times, and it can also wreak havoc, especially when we assume that our myths are the same as everyone else’s. There may be similarities, but we all have our own spin on the story.

Cultures that still have shamans as part of their religion see the shaman as the interpreter of their social myths. After all, the shaman has seen the Mystery firsthand. It also follows that the magic of the magician is nothing more than a rewriting of the script. You identify the story that you’re telling yourself, and then you change it. Artists of all types are like shamans, because they are expressing and reinterpreting myths all the time through images; they do so because they have touched on the Mystery. This is also the key to psychotherapy; the therapist helps you identify your myths, to see what lies you might be telling yourself that keep you from progressing in your life.

This is not to say that myths are lies; they are only lies inasmuch as what we perceive and interpret as reality has an illusory quality. This is also not to say that we have total control over everything. I spoke to a Muslim man once who expressed it best—if I raise one leg, I cannot also raise the other leg at the same time without falling down. We have inherent limitations. At the same time, we have more control than we often believe that we do. Probably 80% of what we tell ourselves is bullshit. The idea of using “affirmations” to change our thinking is based on the idea that we can change our stories. The problem with affirmations is that we never believe them. They are too weak to effect any real change.

Matthew Arnold wrote an essay called “Hellenism vs. Hebraism” in which he talks about the conundrum of the Victorians and the disintegration of their cultural myths. In essence, he points out that society will force its myths on you if you don’t create your own. In order to effect real change, people have to be aware of the stories they’re telling themselves—and how seriously they take those stories. In the end, they’re just stories—they’re theories and interpretations of life. If you take them too seriously, you risk being totally shattered if something comes along to challenge that story.

When I was first married to my now ex-husband, he was very into the works of Carlos Catstaneda. He firmly believed that Don Juan (the shaman in these stories) was pointing out that the day to day world we live in was unreal, and that the reality we should be focusing on is entirely hidden. He would use this as a justification for avoiding things like getting a job, or any of the mundane realities of shared living. I was fortunate enough to find and buy for him the one book he’d missed in Castaneda’s series, “The Power of Silence.” He sat home and read it cover to cover, and it totally shattered him. In that book, Don Juan tells Carlos that this “other reality” was no more real than the one he came from.

Those challenges are always good ones—if we’ve gotten ourselves on the wrong track by taking the story too seriously, it needs to be torn apart. Truth is sometimes painful. But that is how we tear down, reinvent, or re-establish our myths. In short, that is how we grow as human beings.

Friday, November 07, 2008

New fiction blog at Wordpress

Today I have rolled out a new blog featuring my short fictional works:

As many of you know, I have been writing for a number of years. My hellish work schedule has made it difficult to keep up, but I keep plugging along. Check out the blog, and be sure to read the introduction before delving into the first story.

I will continue to maintain this blog for my other random ramblings. Eventually I may migrate this blog to Wordpress, but the thought of more XML exports just makes me nauseated, so I'll put that off for awhile.

I hope you enjoy the new blog as much as this one (assuming that you do read this because you like to, not because you're doing penance), and your thoughts are always welcome.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What's in a Name

There has been much talk about names, particularly the changing of names, among my friends this past week. I have personally changed names just enough times that people from my past look at my name and say, "Who"? I don't look enough like I did when I was a child for people to make the connection. I consider this a blessing.

Recently one of my blog postings about my profession was picked up by another library blog. I was a bit amused to see myself referred to as "Ms. Nischala", as I use the name "Brigid Nischala" on this blog. Similarly, when I co-wrote an article for Weird NJ with editor Mark Sceurman, he billed me as "Brigid Nischala Burke."

Only my Hindu friends ever call me "Nischala", as it is the Sanskrit name given to me by Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. It's not part of my legal name, but I use it after all the trouble she took to give it to me. Like most things in my life, there is a story attached to the name. Since I've had a number of friends ask me about the story, I'll relay it for you here.

I met Mata Amritanandamayi (or Amma, as she is often called) in New York City in 2002. My friend and former colleague Sulekha had been pressuring me to see Amma when she arrived on her summer tour. As a religion postgrad who spent a lot of time studying new religious movements, I'm pretty skeptical of claims to holiness or guru status. However, some of my own personal experiences made me curious enough about Amma to at least see what she was about. She had the marks of a genuine guru, particularly humility and charity. She usually brushes off any claims to greatness, and in spite of what news reports say, she does not own a single thing except the clothes on her back. By all appearances at least, she had potential.

So, with this and other things in mind, I went to meet her, and was more than impressed. I'm not going to delve into my experiences with her here, but it should suffice to say that I have no doubts about her credibility. I received a mantra from her that November in Michigan, and during her tour the following July, I asked her for a name.

The naming process is something that Westerners usually go through, as most Indian devotees already go through their own traditional naming process. The name is supposed to reflect the greatest potential divine quality seen in the person by the guru. It doesn't mean the person always acts according to the quality of the name, but they will have the most success if they develop that quality.

Amma never seems to handle the naming process the same way with each person. For some devotees, she just looks at them and a name immediately comes to her lips; for others, a book is consulted. After asking her for a name, I went to talk to the person in charge of the "naming" line--if you've ever been to one of these programs, you know it can be utter chaos with lines everywhere. Whether or not there is a naming line depends on whether or not Amma intends to give names that day. As it turned out, I was one of 5 people allowed to be on the naming line.

I waited almost 3 hours before Amma started giving names. There was one woman in front of me. Two brahmacharis behind Amma opened a book of Sanskrit names to a particular page, and held the book out to her. Amma was still receiving those who came for her darshan. She glanced over her shoulder, looked at the woman, and pointed to a name in the book. The brahmacharis then wrote the name on a slip of paper. A few minutes later, Amma took the slip of paper and held it to her ajna chakra ("third eye"), and handed it back without looking at the woman. One of the brahmacharis then gave the woman the slip of paper, told her what the name was, and what it meant. Then it was my turn.

Once again, the brahmacharis opened the book, and held it to Amma. She glanced at the book, and then at me. "No, no, no!" she exclaimed, pushing the book away. She then turned to the brahmacharis and started talking very fast in Malayalam, counting something off on her fingers, and pointing at me. She then smiled at me, and went back to giving her darshan. The two men were now frantically turning the pages of the book, and wrote down at least 5 different names on slips of paper. They held the slips out to Amma, who waited a good 20 minutes before she would look at them. In between "darshans", she would look at me, smile, and stroke my face.

Finally she glanced at the papers, and said, more softly this time, "No, no"--and then began to explain something to them again. Towards the end of her explanation, she started to say "Nischala, Nischala, Nischala", and pointing at me very directly. She saw me looking at her, smiled broadly, put her hands on my face, and said, "Nischala!" So, the brahmacharis wrote down the name. One of them said, "Nischala--it means--not moving."

So, I left with this name, not before I spoke to Upasana, the devotee who was running the naming line. "What was THAT about?" she asked me. She then explained that Amma was not satisfied with the names presented to her--the name had to have certain qualities, and she came up with Nischala on her own.

After talking to other Hindu friends much better versed in Sanskrit names than myself, I found out that Nischala means "stillness" (literally not moving--the opposite of chanchala, which is restlessness). It's one of the 1,000 names of the goddess Kali. It appears to be a good fit for a name, as I function best when I remain still and not get caught up in the pressures of life. That doesn't mean that I avoid life, but rather than getting dizzy on the wheel of ups and downs, I prefer to watch movement from the center. When I don't do this, I have trouble.

I've been restless all day today, so perhaps I should take a page from my own book here...

Monday, October 20, 2008

John Foxx and Louis Gordon at Cargo, 10/16/08 (Yes, I really made it...)

Well, I’m finally back from London after a trip that was too short. As I mentioned in my earlier posting, I really wanted to go to the John Foxx/Louis Gordon show in London. I finally just took the plunge and went, in spite of having to re-arrange my life for that week (not an easy feat this semester). It was well worth it.
Cargo is a very small venue, just the size I like for a show, actually. They started letting people in for the show around 8:00, and there was a VJ set for the first hour that was pretty intense, though the video loop starting to get tiring after about the 10th time. John and Louis finally came on a little after 9:00, and they were absolutely spectacular. The setlist follows:
Walk This Way
A Million Cars
The Man Who Dies Every Day
No-one Driving
Burning Car
Shadow Man

The Garden
Broken Furniture
Young Savage
My Sex
Shifting City

I had grabbed quite a few pictures at this show, which I’ve posted to Flickr. John is a really amazing performer. While the whole show was brilliant, there were a few things that stood out—“Underpass”, “The Garden”, “Burning Car”. I was thrilled that he did 2 Ultravox tunes, “Young Savage” and “My Sex”; the former had a few mistakes, but it didn’t really take away from the song. The only annoying part of the show was one video loop of this woman wearing what looked like a feather boa spreading her arms behind her—my friend Sherri had commented on that as well. It was too repetitive. The rest of the video was fine without that particular film loop.

After the show I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with John. Sherri said it was for about 20 minutes. I didn’t notice how much time had elapsed, as I think I was mostly delirious from little food and sleep at that point. I certainly looked tired in the pictures! But I did learn from John that he is working on an album with Vincent Gallo (!?) in New York, and should be doing a few gigs in New York, Boston, and Detroit, though he wasn’t sure when. I am definitely looking forward to that!
Overall, I met a lot of really cool people, finally hooked up with Ms. Sherri after chatting with her online forever, and had a great time at the show. 4 days in London went way too fast, and I can’t believe I went to work today. But not to worry, back to London again in about 9 weeks...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New York City, Open Spaces, and EATB at RCMH

I'm home today, on a day that can be accurately described as "blustery". I expect to see Piglet fly by at any moment.

I've been thinking about going for a walk all day, but I haven't wanted to drive anywhere. It's silly, really--I live in the country. All I have to do is walk outside to experience the Fall weather. Lots of New Yorkers drive to where I live to experience Autumn In The Country. Which can make things less enjoyable for those of us who live here, but tourism keeps taxes down, so we put up with it.

This morning I woke up in New York City. I went to see Echo & the Bunnymen at Radio City Music Hall last night. Given previous concert experiences, I decided it was better if I did not try to run frantically to the last train to New Jersey at 12:30, and got a hotel room just off Times Square instead. It turned out to be a blessing.

First, let me tell you about the show. It was absolutely magnificent. The stage set was beautiful, they had images from the Bunnymen's early years projected on two screens to the left and right of stage, and the band sounded amazing. Unfortunately, I was ill through most of the show. I was out drinking at the pre-show meetup with some other Bunnymen fans, and then my friend Chris and I wandered off to another bar before going to the show. The place we ended up going to was a bit more upscale, and they mostly served wine and hard liquor. I drink red wine all the time, but certain varieties really screw up my head. Unfortunately, I ended up drinking one of those varieties of wine, and felt horribly sick through the show. I ended up leaving during the Ocean Rain set--I thought I was going to pass out. I was very glad to not be getting on a train--and then driving home for 40 minutes.

The show had 2 parts--the first part of the show was a mixture of their more well-known tunes, the second half of the show was the entire Ocean Rain album, complete with live orchestra. I read some complaints about the sound on the forum, but it sounded incredible to me--Ian McCulloch's voice was flawless, and Will Seargent was playing in top form. The drums were amazing as well. Here is the setlist for the first half:

Lips Like Sugar
Bring on the Dancing Horses
I Think I Need It Too
The Disease
All That Jazz
Back of Love
All My Colours
People are Strange
Nothing Lasts Forever/Walk On the Wild Side/In The Midnight Hour
The Cutter

So, I woke up in a hotel on 51st Street this morning. As I was leaving for the subway, I was struck by how quiet New York is at 7:00 in the morning, and how the streets are relatively empty. Times Square is a veritable zoo during the day, and more so at night--now there were only a few people here and there. The wind was blowing, and it occurred to me that New Yorkers have a wonderful Autumn all their own. The subway station was nearly empty, save 2 or 3 other people, and even Penn Station, which is almost always busy, was very quiet in its busy-ness.

New York is not for the claustrophobic. I've been to many big cities, and there is nothing anywhere like the densely populated spaces of New York. I am reminded of a J.G. Ballard short story that I read once--I think it was called "The Concentration City". The main character goes to the far reaches of the vast city to see if there is free space to test a flying machine. Even reading the story makes me claustrophobic--the idea that all space is occupied in all directions and has to be paid for. I love New York City, but I couldn't live there on account of that lack of space. I am physically exhausted by the time I come home. However, my experience walking around in an emptier city this morning made me realize that there IS space in New York City, if you know when to look for it. It's ironic in a way (see my earlier post on "quiet spaces")--I can find quiet space in New York City, but not in the country.

Riding home on the train this morning, I was looking at the portion of the Meadowlands that the train passes through en route to Newark Broad Street. I know way more about the Meadowlands than I want to, as my current funded digital project revolves around digitizing materials related to the history of the area and the commissions designed to keep it as a protected estuary. Looking at the herons sitting on top of wood and other debris in the water, I couldn't help but notice that nature in an urban area always manages to look polluted. The masses of green algae would not look out of place on a pond near my house, but it looks like a polluted mess in the industrial wastelands of East Jersey. I'm continually amazed at how different East and West (and South) Jersey are from each other.

Only 2 more weeks til I go to London. And I will NOT be drinking red wine before the John Foxx show.

Friday, September 26, 2008

John Foxx/Louis Gordon at Cargo in London: Update

OK--I've been home resting today, as I've been exhausted. I checked my MySpace bulletins. From John Foxx's page, there was an update about John's recent Japan show, and the upcoming London and Venice shows. As it turns out, both The Garden and Young Savage are on the setlist. I would give my right tit to hear John perform Young Savage live. (Sorry to be graphic, it's just a fact).

So, I have plowed a hole in my schedule for that week by postponing my midterm, and I'm going to the London Cargo show. I am still dazed--as though I will wake up tomorrow and realize it was a dream, I didn't spend $700 on a plane ticket, but I somehow don't care. In case you were wondering--yes, I have my show ticket as well. The Intertubes are just grand.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Devilish things

It's Saturday morning. I was awakened by a large black cat doing this. It is so cold in my house--I finally broke down and turned on the heat. I hate doing that before October, but this morning was ridiculous. Now that things are warming up and Shiva is sufficiently baffled by the sound of hot water moving through the baseboards, I feel like I can sit down and write.

I've gotten two invites on Facebook to the John Foxx and Louis Gordon show in London, and it just makes me more bummed that I can't go. The music is great, the shows are supposed to be amazing, they're selling limited edition CDs, and John is gorgeous, so I feel like I'm missing a lot. Continental is offering seriously cheap fares to London during October, and I have been really tempted to blow off teaching classes and to stay with Sherri for the weekend to see the show. Alas, he is playing on October 16, which is midterms week. If I bail on that, I'm in trouble. This isn't the first time I've been faced with such a dilemma, and it's times like this that I hate my tendency to be a responsible adult. However, if you are reading this and in the UK, you might want to go; the info is here. Write and tell me about it if you do. If it's really awesome, don't rub it in.

Last night I went out with Liz again, for her birthday. After dinner we watched a 70s horror flick she'd gotten through her Netflix queue called "The Brotherhood of Satan". We agree on our assessment of the film: "What the hell was that ABOUT, anyway?" Like most ill-made horror movies from the 60s and 70s, there's a lot of bad acting, poor uses of tempera paint ("is that supposed to be blood?") and an extremely disjointed plot. In some perverse way, that's what makes these movies appealing; you already know they're going to be bad, but somehow the incredulity that anyone would commit something like it to tape makes you want to watch it. There's a reason why shows like MST3K were so popular. In any event, what I took away from the movie was that apparently all children in small towns between the ages of 6 and 9 are evil. This seems to fit in with the tacky horror movie milieu, and the theory probably carries weight with primary school teachers. There is a website of bad album cover art called Show and Tell Music that features a creepy children's Bible album cover on its home page. Those children are definitely evil.

Show and Tell Music has all kinds of bad album art, but I'm always intrigued by the Christian records. To say that I am not a fan of proselytization is an understatement, but the same perversity that makes me want to watch bad movies also makes me curious about these rather absurd attempts to evangelize. They make Tammy Faye Baker look sophisticated. After looking at them and hearing some of the sound clips, I am convinced that if there are real Satanists, they must be making this albums. No self-respecting Christian who wants to convert people would make albums like these. They either talk about Jesus in a way that sounds creepy and disturbing, or they try to scare the shit out of kids (and adults) with eschatalogical warnings and visions of hell. My favorite one is "Pip Pip the Naughty Chicken", a story written for children by a Seventh Day Adventist. It talks about Pip PIp, a little chicken who wouldn't obey, so he ends up rotting in hell with Satan and all his minions. As the owner of Show and Tell Music put it: "It's cute." I no longer wonder why kids exposed to this type of Christianity have a tendency to become serial killers.

Speaking of evil things, I came across an article in my RSS feeds regarding a black fox that was sighted in a graveyard near Chorley in Lancashire. Black foxes are mentioned in Gaelic folklore, but apparently no one has ever seen one in Britain, at least until now. Like black cats and dogs, they are associated with the devil. Personally, I think the opposite--black creatures are good luck. I have 2 black cats, and I've seen no ill effects on my life (other than one of them peeing outside the litter box). We have a number of Indian students who work with us at the university library that I work at full-time. When they look at my Facebook page and see my black cats, they always ask me how I can live with black cats. Since they are believers in jyotish, I pointed out that black creatures are very auspicious for Shani or Kethu dasha. Plus, they make great "basement cat" pictures. Here is the latest one of those.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Saturday During a Tropical Storm

It's Saturday, and I'm at home while Tropical Storm Hanna is unleashing a ton of rain outside. Frankly, it's no worse than the average thunderstorm, at least not here. And as for the tropical storm wind warnings--I get bigger gales from my ceiling fan. I actually wish there WAS more wind--it would look cooler.

So, while I'm avoiding housework and 2 restless cats, I've been listening to more of John Foxx (mentioned in my earlier Ultravox post). I've been checking out more of his solo work, from "Metamatic" in 1980 to "Tiny Colour Movies" in 2006. Much of what I've heard is pretty sublime, and at the same time, very emotionally distant. I'm particularly liking it, because it goes along so well with some of the fiction I've been writing these days. In any case, I stand by my thought that John Foxx is seriously underrated; obviously he has a core of fans, but why he isn't more well-known as an artist is an absurdity to me. Then again--it seems like the best authors, musicians, and artists remain on the fringes, while a lot of trash ends up selling big (particularly true of music AND books). I don't know what this says about humankind, but it can't be good.

Speaking of absurdities--at work I've been working through cataloging a number of curriculum guides for our university's teacher education program. Maybe I'm out of the loop, but I was totally amazed to see that there are curriculum guides in science, math, social studies, and reading for kindergartners. These kids are 5 YEARS OLD. From what I've been told, this has been practice for quite some time now. The curricula get more and more difficult, classes are more and more structured--even their free time is overly structured. Who the hell ever heard of a "play date"? I hear that phrase often from my friends who are parents, and it makes me cringe. My Mom, who is one of the most paranoid individuals I know, would just turn us loose and tell us to be home by suppertime. We NEVER had schoolwork over the summer, not until high school--and that was just summer reading.

If you think all of this makes our kids smarter or more educated, you're wrong. I routinely deal with undergraduates who can barely put a sentence together. Scholarly research is pretty much non-existent (sorry, the first page of Google hits on your keyword search is not research). Most of them would not pick up a book to read for leisure if their life depended on it. My graduate students are a little better, but as I mentioned in another post, the worst offenders seem to be elementary and high school teachers. It scares me that these people do not have basic language skills.

My friend Liz (who used to teach elementary school kids until she became burned out) theorizes that most kids are burned out by the 6th grade. This is probably true. There seems to be little regard for leisure, spontaneity, or creativity in the education system (or kids' lives in general) today. Whatever happened to unstructured play? How do kids express themselves? I'm not encouraged by the kind of adults they seem to become. D.W. Winnicott is probably rolling over in his grave.

There is the whole issue of "protection" in the same way that the U.S. Patriot Act is an expression of "protection"--imposing limits in the name of safety and security. I don't buy either one. I'm sure there are some cases where kids need to be sheltered a bit more. But when I'm told that things "are worse now" than they were before--nope, don't buy it. We just hear about more things now than we did before.

I don't know what the consequences of building a nation of adults who are barely literate and can't fend for themselves will be, but I also imagine that it can't be good.

Ah well. I continue to marvel at the absurdity of humans. Creation science museums, Westboro Baptist Church, George W. Bush, the fact that the Eagles even exist as a band...the list could go on.

It appears that Shiva is shredding my paperwork upstairs. Enough speculation, back to reality...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Evolutionists Flock to Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain (The Onion)

I saw this today. Apparently the Onion doesn't provide content-embedding code anymore, so here's the link:

Evolutionists flock to Darwin-shaped wall stain

I wonder how they manage to come up with this stuff... :)

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Thanks to Liz, I now have a new musical mini-obssession--Ultravox.

A little background here--I was a teen in the 80s. I heard Ultravox then, and I despised them. I despise Midge Ure. OK--maybe that's not fair--I'm sure Midge Ure is a decent guy. And I liked that other project of his, Visage. But I despise the Midge-Ure- influenced Ultravox. On the sliding scale of "songs that make me want to run screaming from whatever public place I'm in" (1 being a mildly annoying song, 10 being Hotel California), Ultravox's "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" is right up there at number 10.
I have never been a fan, and always ignored them.

Then Liz and I went to dinner the other night, and as always, she's keeping me up to date on what I'm missing or what I've missed musically. I think we were looking at some WFMU "swag" from their marathon, including several mix CDs made by WFMU DJ's. There was a song by Tiger Lily on one of them, which was the precursor to Ultravox. When she mentioned them I inwardly rolled my eyes, but then she showed me this video:

I was totally gobsmacked. I had no idea that they were ever that good. At that time, their singer/songwriter was John Foxx (stage name for Dennis Leigh). I have no idea why that iteration of Ultravox did not gain as much popularity as the Midge Ure one--the pre-Midge-Ure Ultravox was brilliant!

I've gone onto MySpace, and found some of John Foxx's newer material. Quite different, but really good nonetheless. He's not only a musician, he's a graphic artist, digital designer, and lecturer. I can totally relate to a guy who creatively multi-tasks like that.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Grim Outlook for Cataloging

There is a lot of talk these days about the "future of cataloging". For those of you who don't know about cataloging--it's the creation of information about other pieces of information--books, computer files, media, etc. The more hip term for this kind of work these days is "metadata". We do this so that you, the public, can locate this information. If it's described consistently, you will know how to search for it.

I have seen many library science folks argue that "doing metadata" is not the same as "doing cataloging". That's a load of horsesh**t. True, there are different "schemes" outside of the MARC/AACR2 structure that most of us have come to know and love (or hate) in the library world. Virtual objects don't lend themselves to being described by standards written for physical books. But that fact that the schema and tools are new does not change that fact that you are basically describing and classifying data in an organized and consistent fashion. That's still cataloging, folks.

I am not looking forward to teaching cataloging this semester. AACR2 (the "old" cataloging rules) are going to be replaced next year by RDA (the "new" cataloging rules). Logically, I should stop with AACR2 now and start working on teaching RDA. The problem is that there's still nothing to teach. Sure, there are "drafts" of RDA available on the website for the group charged with writing the rules. I have read over these drafts. I have observed two things about them: 1. They look exactly like AACR2 rules re-arranged with slightly different wording, and 2. No one can figure out how they are practically applied. Which means that RDA will come out, and people will continue to do things the way they always have--according to AACR2. They say that RDA will have a "workflow" function that should work the same way as a "wizard" in a Microsoft Office application--it walks you through the process. That's good to hear, but no one knows yet what this looks like, or if it will be as helpful as they say. I do think it's a case of the Emperor's new clothes--a lot of talk about what's new, but nothing's really there.

Given other things happening in the library field today, I do not understand why we would bother rewriting the rules for books. Allow me to explain. In the world of Integrated Library Systems, there are complaints about the fact that most ILSs are designed to inventory books--keep a list, search it, check the book in, check it out, mark it missing, whatever. People need to do other things--they have digital collections, electronic databases, serials products--and they want their ILS to have all of these things, too. It has been generally agreed that Integrated Library Systems are dis-integrating--there is no way they can keep up with and develop all of these separate technologies. So, it has been determined that the best route to go is one of interoperability--different vendors will develop the different pieces, and they should be standardized enough that they can work together relatively seamlessly.

My point is that if ILS vendors and system experts agree that there is no one solution for library data, why do librarians think there is one solution for library data? Why can't they leave AACR2 alone and develop different rules for virtual materials? MARC format may be an issue, since no one uses it but libraries--but with things like MARCXML, or some other form of conversion structure, MARC data ought to be usable on the Web. C'mon folks--there are over 1 billion MARC records out there. You're telling me that no one can develop technology to use these? We've been focused on doing things the other way around. We should also be focused on data interoperability, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel. No standard is going to cover everything; why not develop different standards and make them work together?

I was also disappointed recently by one of the ALA subcommittees, who wrote about the new "IT competencies" for metadata librarians. Two things stood out to me on their list--knowledge of XML and knowledge of Perl scripting. Anyone want to tell me why I should learn either of these things? I don't need to know HTML to author a Web page--just a few HTML basics are enough. I do XML now via cut and paste. And why Perl, the outdated programming language of ILS reporting systems? I also noted that they said a knowledge of cataloging is "helpful but unnecessary". OK, you may not need AACR2 to write digital object metadata, but you still need to understand the principles of cataloging. What I see here is newer techie types coming in, who despise all of the detail of cataloging and don't understand it, and re-writing things to make them more "techie" and supposedly more "user-friendly" for new librarians. To be a cataloger in the future, you apparently need to know Web design, Web protocols, and programming languages in addition to library standards. And I'm betting they're not going to pay you any more than the crappy $50,000 per year salaries they pay now. If I could do even one of those additional things well, I could make at least $80,000 somewhere else besides a library. The writing is on the wall--those of us with cataloging skills can either become underpaid tech-heads or retire. I'm too young to retire, and I refuse to become a tech-head--not because I can't figure out the technology, but because I just don't like doing it. I know that most of the world spends their time working at something they're not crazy about, but I'm not basing my future career on something I'm not crazy about.

So, the future of cataloging looks bleak and confusing. We have a new set of standards and tools being put in place that don't seem very revolutionary, and yet the hype says they are. You will have libraries that will continue to do things the way they always have, in spite of changes, because they will be sucked into this digital maelstrom with the rest of us. If anyone wants career advancement, they will have to deal with administrators who will believe ALA's tripe about competencies, and no one will hire you if you're not a programmer/Web designer. Librarianship will not be about handling books any longer, even though libraries will continue to buy them.

I have dropped out of NJLA and ALA, and this will be my last semester teaching library school. I hope to bail from the field entirely in the next few years. The things I love the most about being a librarian are going away, whether it makes sense or not, and I have no delusions about this, and I do not believe that I am overreacting. 15 years is a good run for a career, and I won't be the first or last person who has to face obsolescence.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Top 8 Things That Keep Me From Relaxing After Work

Today is Friday. Lots of people like to go out on Friday nights, but after a long week, I just want to relax.

My life is stressful. Sure, there are lots of good things going on, and I have a lot to be thankful for. Nonetheless, I am stressed. Fall is coming, which is my favorite time of the year seasonally, but also means that I go from working one job to working 3 jobs--my regular one plus two teaching jobs late at night. I've done most of the prep work for them, but it's still stressful to contemplate. I live with 4 cats; you can guess which of the 5 warm bodies in this house has to pay the bills, deal with paperwork, clean the house and take care of the yard on a weekly basis. The first of these things is particularly stressful when you're broke. And driving--I drive an average of 70 miles a day just going to work. Today I got to drive 135 miles. While none of these things are inherently bad, they do eat up a lot of my time, and I do like to do other things--like have a social life, go out for a beer once in awhile, work on my novel.

So, now I am home for the weekend, and I would like to just chill out--make some dinner, have an Irish coffee, maybe read or watch something decidedly non-educational. Nay, there are other forces at work that conspire against this goal. So, tonight I bring you:

The Top 8 Things That Keep Brigid From Relaxing After Work

1. Motorcycles. I live in the country, near a not-so-major highway. There is nothing that makes you want to rip your hair out like the sound of motorcycles tearing down the highway, loud enough to wake the dead in the cemetery across the street. Even more special is when one of your neighbors has a bike and does this repeatedly up and down your street.

2. The Sound of Children Playing. I was a kid once, and I used to love to run around outside yelling and making lots of noise. My feelings used to get hurt if someone told me to pipe down; now I get it. I know, I should be enchanted by the sounds of kids babbling, running up and down the street, riding their bikes, playing games. Heck, at least they're outside getting some fresh air. But the fact is, I am not a child lover, and the sound of one of the neighborhood girls riding her bike in circles shouting LALALALALALA very loudly and non-stop is only slightly less tolerable than nails on a blackboard. If I say anything, people will think I'm a criminal, because as a female, I'm supposed to love kids. I agree with my friend's son--as an old person, I want to live in a scary old house, have weird habits, and whenever kids play outside, I want to run outside and yell, "You kids get the hell out of here!" And people would accept it because I was an old and cranky person.

3. Loud Music. I love music. I listen to it all the time. I do not assume that the rest of the world around me also wants to hear my music. Music is like religion--it's a matter of private taste. There are only two types of music that I despise: country western music (except Johnny Cash), and rap and/or hip-hop music. My neighbors are fans of both, and just love to play them at Nigel Tufnel's famous "11" volume. If it's before 10pm, they're not violating any noise ordinances, they're just offending my audible sensibilities. I'm not one of those people who can ignore a song when it comes on, no matter how much I want to concentrate on something else. And when it's rap music--you might as well be in my house whacking me repeatedly over the head with a stick.

And speaking of music...

4. Bagpipes. I live very near a church that has an official bagpipe band that rehearses regularly in the cemetery near my house. Between that and the annual fireworks the church likes to shoot off in the cemetery once a year, I think the dead buried there have a lot to be angry about. I should probably move before we have a vengeful zombie invasion. Anyway--I usually like bagpipe music, but these folks--well, they're still just "learning". Part of the problem is that they only know one song, and they play it over and over again. The song is "When the Saints Go Marching In." I told my friend Ann about this, who is part Scottish and likes a lot of Celtic/Pictish sort of cultural activities, and she told me this was impossible. Bagpipes have only one octave, and no bagpiper, no matter how skilled, could hit the notes of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Someone should tell these guys. They rehearse for a couple of hours, and then parade down the street, right in front of my house, creaking out their sad version of "When the Saints Go Marching In", with a drummer behind them who is always out of rhythm. I would laugh if my nerves weren't already fried.

5. The neighbor's dog. My neighbor has a pit bull. He's actually a very sweet dog, and when he gets loose, he'll come charging over if he sees me outside, wanting to be pet. He's a nice dog, but he doesn't always get all the attention he wants/needs. It's hard to know where to draw the line--dogs want attention from you 24/7, and your entire life should be dedicated to rubbing their belly or throwing a stick for them to fetch. (This is also true of cats, in spite of anything anyone else tells you about them). So, I can understand the neighbors putting the dog out in his kennel for awhile to get a break. But when the dog not only barks, but whines and whimpers like he's being taunted by gremlins--and he does this for HOURS--it makes you want to put a Vicodin in his water bowl. I am sure this is why the neighbors have their music up loud and all the air conditioners on in the house--to drown out the sound of the dog. I want to pound on their door and say, "Do something about your dog, dammit!", but that' s more out of futility than rationality. They can't do anything more about it than I can.

6. The basement cats. I live in an old house with a root cellar. It can't be accessed from the inside of the house; I have to walk around to the back of my house and open the iron doors to go down there. I have two cats that live down there, one who was there when I moved in, and one that moved in after I took it to the emergency vet when I found it torn up and bloodied. The latter kitty is just fine now, but likes to go out every day. I can't always let the cats out every day, especially if it is going to rain or if I'm not going to be home. I need to leave the basement door open when I do let them out, so it only happens when I'm home. But basement kitties love to scratch at the living room floor (the ceiling for them), and mewl incessantly and insistently at the sound of my voice.

7. The telephone. I have my telephone set to one and a half rings. That is about all I can reasonably stand. I never answer my phone--9 out of 10 calls are from salespeople trying to sell me new mortgages, satellite TV, or a new warranty on my 180,000 mile car. For some reason, they no longer make cordless phones with volume control, so I can't turn the ringer off or down if I don't want to hear it. So, I'll be dozing off in my bedroom, and suddenly I'm awoken by RRRRINNNGGG!!! Sometimes I actually scream. Even worse, sometimes it is someone whom I might want to talk to, but I'm usually too tired to get up and get the phone. Inevitably the person leaves a long, awkward message, or has an irritated tone in their voice that suggests that they KNOW I'm home and just not picking up, so that I'll feel guilty when they've hung up. But I don't feel guilty. People who do not understand why I don't pick up the phone at 9:00 at night do not realize that it would be worse to talk to me at 9:00 at night. If it's someone I haven't spoken to in awhile, I will feel obliged to have more than a 1-minute conversation with them. Knowing this is not possible, I wait until a time when it is possible. It drives me nuts when people don't get that, and those people often are family members. My friends do seem to get it. That's why they're my friends.

8. Kitty "accidents". My indoor cats have two well-maintained litterboxes. Nonetheless, my little female cat insists on crapping on the floor outside the box, as a protest over the fact that her brother also uses the litterbox (the horror!). She will pee in the box, but not the other. It's my male cat who pees outside the box, and not because he is angry. It's because he's a long cat who steps into a smaller litterbox meant for his sister. The box is hooded, but instead of turning around, he just stands there and pees OUT the hole of the box hood. It's not malicious, just stupid. There is nothing that says "Welcome home, Mom!" like the sight and smell of cat piss and/or shit on your floor when have come in after a long day. Aww, how did you guys KNOW that Mommy wanted to wash and disinfect the bathroom floor when she came home?

Ah well. That felt better. I'm off to watch MST3K reruns. Enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Shiva and The Object

This is my cat, Shiva, with the Object. (Have to get a little Zeppelin in the post somewhere...)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ottawa Sightseeing and ATLA Day 4

This is my last full day in Ottawa, and today was the last day of the conference. Before I talk about the conference, I have to mention the Haunted Walk of Ottawa. The Haunted Walk is one of those walking (duh) tours where the guide shows you places that are allegedly haunted, and also talks about other nearby haunted places. This of course is the perfect tour for me.

The tour started on Rue Sparks. Our tour guide was a young woman named Dana, who did a good job of telling the stories, and also navigating us around the jazz festival that is taking place in town. The first site she discussed was Rue Sparks and the surrounding area itself. The post office on the corner of Sparks and Elgin was the site of an old graveyard where cholera victims were buried. There were few records of the burials, so when the current set of buildings were built, the city moved as many bodies as they could find. Of course, bodies were still turning up in the 1970s, so the chances that there are still more bodies underneath the street is pretty good. She told us about the Chateau Laurier, a castle-like hotel that has a haunted 5th floor (dang, I knew I should have stayed there), the oldest building in Ottawa which used to be a doctor's house, and is now a restaurant (Friday's—no relation to the American chain), the old city hall, the old Normal School, and the old barracks that served as a high school in the early 20th century. She walked us along the Rideau Canal, and told a story about a haunted house in a nearby town, and also about some haunted log cabins near the river. Our final stop on the tour was the Bytown Museum, which is believed to be haunted by an old shopkeeper. The latter is supposed to be scary enough that even the founder of the Haunted Walk was freaked out by his experiences there in the evening. She also told us about the old jail, which is part of the Ghostly Gallows tour given by the same group. The jail is also supposed to be very scary. Dana said that her employers want her to learn that tour so she can give it, but she actually doesn't want to—she's freaked out by the jail every time she goes in there. Naturally, I wanted to visit both the jail AND the Bytown Museum. On the walk, I met a former Ottawa resident named Maria, who was also a veteran of the Canadian military. She pointed out some places to me, and also told me a few stories of her own.

Needless to say I got in late on Friday night, and was not moving too fast on Saturday morning. I went to one ATLA conference session, given by Chris Anderson of Drew University. Chris works in the Methodist Archives, and currently wears many hats with regard to the archives and special collections at Drew. I introduced myself, as I work right across the street (and I'm also a Drew alum who uses their library for research quite frequently). He gave a presentation on the history of lantern slides, including their uses in missionary work among different Protestant denominations. The way that the “magic lanterns” provided special effects was pretty cool, although the lanterns themselves were quite dangerous. Some of the slides contained nitrate, the projectors were very hot, and the projectionist was often in a room made of asbestos. The room would sometimes explode under these conditions, setting fire to the theater and killing the projectionist instantly. It's no wonder that 35mm projectors became a popular replacement in the early twentieth century. A couple of librarians from the Burke Theological Library showed a rotting and ill-organized collection of lantern slides that they were trying to get their hands on to properly preserve. The slides are in the theological school, but do not belong to the library. Another librarian from Yale showed some of the lantern slides from the East depicting life in the Asian countries where the missionaries were working. There was a quick discussion of preserving and handling lantern slides, and also a business meeting for the special collections interest group.

After this presentation, I went to the Bytown Museum, to see for myself if I thought it might be haunted. (We're expecting thunderstorms here tonight, so the Ghostly Gallows tour is out, unfortunately). The museum shows the development of Ottawa around the building of the Rideau Canal by Colonel By. It was originally developed as an outpost during the War of 1812, when the “American threat” faced Canada in the U.S.'s war with Britain. Thus answering the question regarding the last time anyone in the U.S. seriously thought of invading Canada. The museum itself was interesting, and had some real historical rarities from Ottawa history. As to the haunted part—naturally I am not equipped to make a scientific assessment, but if I was to go on my intuition, I would say that something seems to be going on there. When I walk into a place that seems to have paranormal activity, I tend to feel a buzzing in my head and a tight, swirling feeling in my chest. This does not happen in every reputedly haunted place; in fact, it's pretty rare for me to feel it. I did feel it when I examined the first floor of the museum. There is a basement area just outside the main room of the first floor, where there is a mannequin dressed in 19th century clothing, and some old trunks, in what appears to be some kind of display, but there is no description. When I stepped back there, the feeling was very strong, and I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around to see a winding staircase, but it was clearly a leftover from another time, because it didn't go anywhere except into the wall. I heard steps on the staircase, but no one was there. I left that room and went upstairs to the other two floors. I didn't experience anything upstairs at all.

After visiting the Bytown Museum, I went to Darcy McGee's for lunch, and then returned to my room and collapsed. It was raining pretty steadily outside by this point, so I didn't feel like running around town. I've enjoyed Ottawa, but I am looking forward to getting back home.

Friday, June 27, 2008

ATLA in Ottawa (Day 2/3)

Today is actually Day 3 of ATLA—Day 2 was intense, so I never got back to my computer.

The first thing I attended on Thursday was the new member breakfast. I thought it started at 8, it actually began at 7. I had yet another clock alarm mishap. I set the alarm for 6 and turned it on. When I woke up at 7, it said “alarm off”. I am not alarm-clock-setting impaired, yet this has happened to me in two separate locations over the last two weeks. As though the gremlins think I need more sleep or something.

In any case, I did catch the end of the new member breakfast, and did meet a few folks. I then went over to the Plenary Address given by the University Librarian of the University of Ottawa, Leslie Weir. She discussed Scholar's Portal ( which is a large-scale digital collection of holdings from 72 libraries in Canada. They ingest materials from commercial vendors and open access initiatives. They opted for a uniform e-book interface via Ebrary, and the portal's front end is run through a software called Marklogic. The consortium behind Scholar's Portal does not lease materials; they buy the collections outright, which not only eliminates copyright issues, but allows them to check off the collections on their financial asset sheets as something owned. They do some large scale digitization (that was funded largely by Microsoft, but that funding will unfortunately ending), and everything they output is open access. I was impressed with the way the group started small with e-Journals and worked their way up to all types of materials. They are asking that publishers provide materials in XML format, but they have minimal compliance on that at the moment. Hopefully that will change in the future.

I was pleased that Leslie made a point of noting that print is not dead. Current students tend to look only for the electronic versions of books, journals, and other materials, but the scholar's portal setup helps “put the print version in front of their face” as well as the electronic options. A balance is definitely needed, even if digitization is widespread. Some cool features of Scholar's Portal include RefWorks, which allows Canadian students to retain their citations throughout their entire career in Canada (assuming that they go to all Canadian universities and eventually work in one). ODESI (pronounced “odyssey”) is a portal of social science and statistical data that allows researchers who need meaningful statistics but are not statisticians to actually get the numbers they need. They are also adding something called “Discovery Layer Search Capabilities” as an OPAC replacement. University of Toronto should be unveiling this soon, and I plan to look at it when it's up, to see how well the search technology works. Another interesting tidbit—the OLUC (consortium of Canadian libraries on the project) do not really care whether researchers use their home page or catalog—they are just as happy if the info is accessed through Google Scholar, or some other portal. It is good to see someone getting away from the “must-use-our-homepage” model of access.

After the plenary I attended a roundtable discussion of NACO. It turns out that ATLA has its own NACO funnel, coordinated by Judy Knop. We had an interesting discussion about NACO and how useful it is to be a NACO member, as well as discussions of quality of work from authority control vendors, specific heading-establishment conundrums, and the difficulties of balancing authority work with the rest of the Technical Services workload. Judy mentioned the virtual authority file, which allows access to the authority files of national libraries around the world. (I think I have the correct link posted above, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong).

I took a lunch break at the Highlander Pub on Rue William Street. I expected to find various varieties of Scotch, I did not expect to see Scotch Malt Liquor ice cream. (They were out of it, unfortunately, so I didn't get to try it). I did, however, try one of the lagers that was brewed locally. I don't drink lagers that often, but this one was pretty good. I think it is called Creemore Springs.
Later, I went to the LAC (Library and Archives of Canada). We all got onto chartered buses, but the driver apparently had the wrong directions. He took us to the Wellington St. facility, which is the National Library of Canada. We were supposed to go to Gatineau in Quebec to the Archives facility. After some random driving around in French Quebec (my favorite sign: Place du Wal-Mart), and after going past some row houses, our coordinator thought she saw a Canadian flag on top of a building, and told the bus driver to head that way. Turns out she was right. Interestingly enough, the LAC is located in front of a Home Depot.

The LAC catalogers were very welcoming, and talked about their cataloging operation. We were given complimentary CD-ROM copies of the National Bibliography of Canada, though it's also easily obtainable online as AMICUS. (I usually consult AMICUS when establishing Canadian authors via NACO). A couple of things highlighted were their bilingual cataloging program (English and French), the Canadian List of Subject Headings (which covers local interest subjects not treated adequately by LCSH), and the difficulties with classifying hymnals using LOC classification in Canada. With regard to the latter, there are apparently multiple class numbers and 57 cuttering variants for American hymnals, and one number for “all of Canada and Mexico” (M2133, I think, but I'd have to look it up to be sure). They outlined 3 proposals to LOC for modifying this without disrupting the schedules too much. I was surprised that we got all of the presentations in, plus had some time to chat with the LAC catalogers before getting on the bus to go back to Ottawa.

Once we returned to Ottawa, we stayed on the bus to get to the riverboat cruise on the Ottawa River. This was a pretty nice event, and it was lovely to see all of the buildings lit up at night near the Rideau Canal, but it was an exhausting event. The boat was full, and we were all sort of crammed in together at dinner. I chatted with some librarians from Toronto and Southern California, but eventually I was getting tired, and really wanted to get back and get to bed. Dinner was just sandwiches and such, so I was glad that I'd eaten a full lunch, as I don't do sandwiches. I felt pretty lousy by the time I got to my hotel room again, but a couple of Advil and a shower took care of that.

Today is Friday, and after some debate, I decided that I'm not going to any sessions today. I'm very tired, and I do want a chance to see some museums and other sites downtown. I also want to check out the one Irish pub I seem to have missed. (There are probably others that I have missed, but these look like the most fun). Tomorrow is another full day of presentations, plus the closing banquet, so I won't be here too much longer. While I've enjoyed the company of the other librarians here at the conference, I do need a little “down time” to myself. (OK, those of you who know me know that I need LOTS of downtime, evidenced by the fact that I disappear for days at a time and don't return calls for weeks).

I'll post about the last leg of the trip tomorrow, or Sunday.

I should note that I was interrupted by a random fire alarm in the hotel while writing this. I went outside as instructed, and ran into Tolonda Henderson from New Brunswick Theological Seminary (I mention her presentation on Alice Walker in my posting on MAAR). We noted with interest that there was no hotel staff outside instructing people NOT to come in, and no one around whatsoever to provide any direction as to what to do. They let us back in within about 10 minutes, so I'm guessing it wasn't that serious. Good thing, too!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ATLA in Ottawa (Day 1)

I've been in Ottawa, Canada for the past two days now. I'm attending the ATLA (American Theological Librarian Association) conference. I've never been to Canada, in spite of the fact that I only live about 5 or 6 hours away by car. I flew into the Ottawa airport, which I've been told is a whole lot better than the Toronto airport by the locals. Quite a difference from Newark, which is total chaos—I was surprised to see the radio tower popping up from a green hill, a grassy clearing surrounded by what appeared to be pine trees. Our passengers were the only ones at the airport, besides the folks who worked there.

On the shuttle bus over, I met a gentleman who was attending the conference, and he introduced me to a few others that he knew at the hotel. A group of us ended up heading to a pub in the Byward Market (Marché By), and having a number of interesting conversations about Canadian politics, beer, travel, library systems, and life in general. It was a great evening, but I was really tired this morning.

Today's conference sessions were optional workshops, and I ended up going to two sessions. The first session was on writing for Theological Librarianship, the new peer-reviewed journal published by ATLA. Beth Bidlack was the main presenter of this session, and she gave a lot of excellent tips on researching, writing, and revising in general for scholarly articles. The main thrust of her talk included three things: 1. Use questions to narrow your interests into a specific topic, 2. Read your work critically (and have others do the same) to find areas that are overdeveloped or underdeveloped, and 3. Think about who your audience is, and what you want them to do with the information you are giving them.
We then had breakout sessions to discuss different types of contributions: bibliographic essays, reviews, and articles. I was in the articles session. Dr. Ron Crown, one of the editors, led the session, and discussed specific guidelines for submission and answered questions about specific topics. Overall it was very useful, and Beth provided a bibliography of resources for writers that looks very much on target.

The second session I attended was on the new CONSER standard record for serials. (Non-catalogers can just skip right over this paragraph). It was presented by Judy Knop, ATLA's digitization coordinator. I could tell that these were modified from a PCC CONSER presentation, most likely one given by LC. Judy did a great job of modifying the slides to make them clear, concise, and helpful. The biggest change in serials has been simplification to promote access and decrease description. Apparently RDA is also going in this direction. Currently, if one follows the CONSER minimum standards, it will be simple if one only does serials cataloging, but if you also do monograph cataloging, there is some contradiction with AACR2, though Judy said the LCRIs have been updated to reflect the CONSER changes. It's both good and bad; the simplification of the standard makes it easier for the average non-serials librarian to enter CONSER level records, but you lose your breadcrumb trail through the record's history. If there are no notes, how the heck do I know what was done before and for what reasons? The CONSER committee has a proposal in to MARBI to add certain 5XX fields for CONSER standard notes; having separate fields would allow the sys admins to suppress those fields in the OPAC, but still allow them to be available for the catalogers. One way that notes are being eliminated is by adding $i's to the 710 added entries (similar to those added to linking entries), so that you can see the year(s) that a particular corporate body was involved in the publication (this is still a MARBI proposal, not a fait accompli). At the end of the session Judy asked about interest in a CONSER funnel, with the only requirement being NACO corporate body training; independent status was not necessary. I'm definitely interested in doing this, and let her know.

OK, there were too many acronyms in that last paragraph. Such is the plight of the librarian. This evening I skipped out on the receptions and took a long walk through town, hitting a couple of different pubs for dinner and drinks (and a visit to the drugstore for some things I forgot to bring). Ottawa is not really like any other place I've been. The best description I can come up with is that it's like an integration of Oxford, England and Madison, Wisconsin, without Oxford's ROS (Really Old Stuff). The buildings are gorgeous, and the town is overflowing with culture. Even with all of the college kids out on the town, it still feels more like a European city, though one could easily imagine the Madison farmer's market, or the night life on State Street. So far, I like it a lot.

I will write more tomorrow, after the day's session.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Erik Estrada and Sexual Predators

I found this link via another blog that I read:
Erik Estrada Having an Actual Conversation with a Sexual Predator

So, sexual predators remember--you might not be talking to some cute young thing--you may be talking to Erik Estrada.

Let that be a lesson to you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I don't get this at all. But I can't stop watching it:


Maybe it is the 96 degrees plus high humidity here this week, but I’ve been thinking a lot about “hotness”. By that I mean “hotness” in the sense of “attractiveness”.
I don’t normally spend time thinking about this. But recently a Facebook friend of mine invited me to add the “Hot, Cute, or Okay?” application. So, I thought, what the heck, why not. I was rather surprised to see the number of guys—cute guys (!)—who rated me as “hot”, or even as “cute”. Perhaps some of it should be taken with a grain of salt.

But more interesting to me was my own response: “why would a guy find me hot?” Mind you, I don’t think I’m an ugly person, or even undesirable. But somehow I don’t think of myself as having “hotness”.

When I was in my teens, I had a cute body but a terrible face—I had lots of skin problems. My nose was also too large and out of proportion (that was fixed 20 years ago via plastic surgery). Over the years, the cruel hormones of teen years have turned kinder, and not only have my major skin issues disappeared, I also look much younger than my actual years. I’ve inherited my father’s skin—he had skin issues similar to mine, but at the age of 76, he has very few wrinkles at all. Mom doesn’t look so bad, either at 70. So, what was a liability is now something envied by my contemporaries. However, in this bargain, I have traded an awesome figure for one that I merely consider OK. I’m not fat, but I’m not as skinny as I used to be, either. My Mom being a size 4 does not help that image. I’ve noticed that my body type is not necessarily a problem for guys; girls seem to think that they have to be very thin, while guys like a few curves. I’m still a size 8, which I’ve been most of my life.

So, all things considered, I should be pretty satisfied with my appearance, and overall I’m not complaining. But I’m still shocked by the idea that someone would consider me “hot”. I don’t think I’ve let go of the physical insecurities of my younger years, in spite of all the revelations and enlightened moments I’ve had about self-image and popular culture.

Which leads me to flirting problems. When men flirt with me, I don’t really know how to respond. I either think they’re joking, or I’m embarrassed. So, my apologies to my male friends out there who have gotten flirty with me and were met by silence or an awkward response. It’s not personal. Really. As I told someone recently, I’m a retarded flirt.

The other problem I have is the relationship problem. In spite of the fact that many dating relationships do not end up as serious relationships, some backwards part of my brain still evaluates long-term possibilities when considering a date with a guy. I’m not a fan of marriage, having suffered through that for many years, but what the heck do I want anyway? One day I’m happy to have a fling, the next day it’s long-term or forget it. Not knowing what I want has been a problem, and has made me something of a hermit.

Sex is yet another thing. I have a very sexual side, but usually it’s hidden. I’m not into the idea of getting down and dirty with strangers, and like the flirting problem, I still feel awkward about being “sexual”. Maybe astrology has the answer—in my chart, Venus and Mars (sexual and aggressive energies) are in the 12th house—the house of hidden things and fears—along with Saturn, which is the planetary influence that puts the brakes on everything. As one astrologer told me, “It’s not that you’re not sexual. It just expresses itself very awkwardly.” That does seem to fit.

In a wider perspective, I don’t think I’m the only woman who feels this way. Thoughts, anyone?