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Visual Impact: Worldmapper.org February 24, 2010

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Not to bombard you with reference resources today, but I stumbled across another great site that will easily keep you occupied for a while. Worldmapper.org provides more than 700 world maps (over half of which are available in PDF form) that showcase various statistics by resizing countries to visually show the impact of such statistics. There are even a few that are animated, and thus display the way the world has changed over a number of years. All of the maps link to excel spreadsheets with detailed statistics as well as sources. The organization is run by a group of college professors. I am going to include some of the most astounding maps below so you can see for yourself what an impact these can have, but make sure to check out the whole list of maps here.

Forest Loss - Click image for more info

Malaria Deaths - click for more info

Research and Development Employees - Click for more info

Nuclear Arms - Click for more info

Dictionary 2.0: Wordnik February 24, 2010

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Recently I read a good review by Choice, recommending the free website Wordnik.com as a new type of dictionary. Their goal? “Our goal is to show you as much information as possible, as fast as we can find it, for every word in English, and to give you a place where you can make your own opinions about words known.” As a word lover, I found myself browsing this site for some time. Each entry compiles definitions from American Heritage Dictionary, Century Dictionary, GNU Webster’s 1913, Wordnet, and “elsewhere on the web”. The entries also include examples from online articles, print articles, books, etc. There is a place to tag the entries, a live Twitter feed, Flickr photos which have been tagged with the word, statistics about the popularity of the word, etymology from a number of different sites, and a chart graphing usage. While many of the links depend on public contribution like Wikipedia, there still is a wealth of good information on here.  As of today, Wordnik boasted that it is comprised of, “billions of words, 423 million example sentences, 4.7 million unique words, and over 185,000 comments, 95,000 tags, 74,000 pronunciations, 24,518 favorites and 728,464 words in 23,583 lists created by 39,849 Wordniks.” While this might not be the most authoritative source on the web for definitions, it is certainly the most current, and in times like these, that is certainly something to be taken into consideration.

Monday Book Review: Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal February 22, 2010

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Christopher Moore is hands-down one of the funniest writers of fiction I have ever read. His books are truly unclassifiable, mixing elements of science fiction and fantasy while dealing with realistic drama and tragedy in an absolutely hysterically comical way. I have read several of his novels, and in each one, the main characters react in a completely realistic way to utterly unrealistic situations. As I have said before, when I find a book I enjoy, I recommend it to my fellow readers, and this is one I have recommended countless times.

LAMB: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, is a hilarious take on what Jesus might have been like, as viewed by a contemporary friend. One of my favorite scenes is from the very beginning, when Biff first encounters Joshua (as Jesus was called by his family and friends) while Joshua is playing with his younger brother (apparently the Bible left out all kinds of details about Jesus’ everyday life, including his brothers). Anyway, Josh’s brother plays with a lizard until the lizard is about to bite him, and then, instead of getting bit, he smashes the lizard’s head with a rock, and hands the smooshed lizard to Josh. Josh put’s the lizard in his mouth, and a moment later takes a wriggling, and very-much alive lizard out of his mouth and hands it back to his brother. The brother plays with and smashes the lizard’s head, and again gives it to Joshua to be brought back to life. Not exactly the kind of game you’d imagine Christ playing, but exactly what a kid with Christ’s powers would do! Biff is fascinated while he watches the lizard live and die over and over, and soon, they are best friends.

Biff accompanies Joshua on his metaphorical journey through childhood and adolescence, and on a literal journey to find God’s purpose for him, through difficult areas and meeting incredible characters and having exciting and frightening adventures along the way.

I cannot repeat enough, this book was laugh-out-loud funny. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this story, except maybe a member of the clergy – but even then… if they have any sense of humor at all, they can appreciate this story for what it is: a tongue-in-cheek take on what happened during all the gaps in Jesus’ life that are not covered by the Bible (and a few alternate theories on how those stories happened too!)

Copybot’s List of Interesting Wikipedia Articles February 20, 2010

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In case you are counting down the hours until works ends (hmm…who could that be?), training for Jeopardy (also sounds familiar), or just want to kick your spouse’s/friend’s/lover’s butt at Trivial Pursuit (bingo!) here’s a great list of interesting articles on Wikipedia to keep yourself entertained. The list is from the Copybot blog and kept me entertained for a while. As a librarian, I’m all for vetted, published, researched and cited sources but I don’t think the “Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic”, “Globster”, or the “Harrowing of Hell” can be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica, or at least not in such detail. Have fun with this one!

Dataterrific: Time Travel in TV and Movies Visualized February 19, 2010

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In case you didn’t already know, let’s be clear about something: Information Is Beautiful – especially when it’s collected and displayed by David McCandless (and friends). This graphic can be found in his new book (available now from Amazon.UK) – but he generously has also shared it on his site!

You can find a HUGE version of the image directly on his website.

Early draft sketch

Also, he talks about how he (and his collaborators) went through 36 drafts before arriving at this final version in this post about his data graphing process. It’s incredibly impressive.

We’ve shown you some of McCandless’ work before, but it’s even more fascinating now, knowing how much work goes into the details of an infographic.

What do think? Are you impressed? Any information you think would make a compelling infographic?

(via A.V. Club)

Feed the World: It’s Not Easy February 19, 2010

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MVRDV, an architecture and design practice from the Netherlands specializing in “densification and multiple space use” (wikipedia.org) and named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in the world, has produced a video entitled “Food Print Manhattan”. The video uses basic design and 3D bar-graph bars to display the problem of feeding the world, focusing particularly on whether Manhattan could feed Manhattan. Manhattan is truly challenging because there is an average of 1.8 million inhabitants in 23 square miles. The food production is further complicated by the fact that Manhattanites are prosperous and therefore eat about 2,600 pounds of food a year, per person. Good.is, where I first saw this video, pointed out the astounding fact that Manhattan would “need a 23-mile high vertical farm” to feed themselves, but I was personally more taken aback by the image of 656 feet of food added to every single building top in Manhattan. Watch the video for the full effect.

Niche Blog Friday: Babies with Laser Eyes! February 19, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Niche Blogs.
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It’s that time of the week again – time for a niche blog that will have you wondering if you should really bring a child into this crazy bizarre world of ours – particularly if she could end up on this blog with lasers coming out of her eyes! Yes, it’s Babies with Laser Eyes…just check it out.

The Myopia of Techy Librarians February 18, 2010

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Today I (virtually) attended the second Handheld Librarian Conference. I had the opportunity of watching three sessions:

1. “This is Now: The Mobile Library” by Joe Murphy from New Haven, CT.

2. “Developing Library Websites Optimized for Mobile Devices” by Brendan Ryan of Providence College.

3. “Mobile Trends and Social Reference” by Alison Miller a Doctorate student of Professional Studies in Information Management at Syracuse University, School of Information Studies.

Overall, the conference did exactly as advertised–the sessions explained the current trends in mobile technologies and how to apply them to library services. The second session, “Developing Library Websites Optimized for Mobile Devices”, was the most straightforward, giving detailed instructions on how to build a mobile web site, including lists of resources and web sites, barriers, challenges, lessons learned, examples, etc. The other two were highly informative as well but I have a problem with this subject matter that I think needs to be discussed in greater detail.

From Toban Black's Flickr stream

My first problem with libraries embracing social media is Twitter. I love Twitter; I use it for this blog and also have my own personal account. But report after report says that young people don’t use Twitter. As an academic librarian, Twitter is not going to do much for my patrons. Is it going to do anything for my fellow librarians? Joe Murphy suggested we use it to facilitate committee chatter. I heartily agree with Joe that, harnessed correctly, Twitter can boost professional development and sharing. But the learning curve is extreme, especially for those not born into the digital revolution. I can’t blame Joe for his enthusiasm over augmented reality, QR codes, and location-based gaming because I think they’re great as well, but I do blame him for falling into the trap of “techy librarian myopia.”

Those who are addicted to technology and use it throughout the day, every day, often forget that most of the world does not use technology in the same way. One of the statistics Alison shared was that 63.1% of mobile users sent a text as of December 2009. She, and many others, acted as if this number was astoundingly high. I though it was low. If only 63.1% of mobile users in America have texted, how many have Tweeted? How many have gone on Facebook? How many are going to text a reference question? It’s easy to forget that we, especially as librarians, are not the general public and don’t use technology the same way they do. We are constantly in danger of being too cutting edge. I think this conference teetered on the edge of that precipice. I remember when I first discovered Mashable and threw around Peter Cashmore’s name like he was my BFF. Turns out 95% of my friends still have no idea who he is. Just because we have become a profession of netizens and social media junkies, doesn’t mean our clientele has the same needs as us.

The second problem I had is what the presenters referred (fleetingly) to as the “mobile divide.” For years we have been hearing about the digital divide, and trying to decrease it. That is the library’s job–providing equal access to information and media for everyone in a community. One of the commenters in the chat room mentioned that the mobile divide will be smaller than the digital divide because cell phones are cheaper than computers. This is greatly simplifying a multifaceted problem. Cell phones may be cheaper but smartphones are not that much cheaper than netbooks. And both “divides” are about so much more than owning technology. They are about being raised in a culture that embraces technology, research, and learning. Two people may both have iPhones, but depending on their socioeconomic background, education, and the way they were raised, they may use the iPhones in completely different ways. The challenge for us as librarians is the same–teach people how to find reliable and current information. Mobile technologies do not bridge the divide. Using Twitter, Facebook, various augmented reality apps, Foursquare, QR codes, etc. require learning and support.

My final issue, and one the conference understandably ignored, is cost. The point of the conference was to explore and share technologies, not to discuss whether they were feasible. While Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and many programs that turn sites into mobile sites are free, the time dedicated to embracing such technologies is not. And time is one of our greatest resources.

I think that it is important that we discuss these trends and I think the presenters did a great job of doing just that. It is my hope that participants will closely examine their user population before jumping into any kind of relationship with these trends. If there is someone techy on staff who can set up a Facebook page in ten minutes and show colleagues how to use it in a 20 minute powerpoint presentation, then go ahead–nothing is lost. But if you have to spend hours upon hours creating a mobile site when half of your patrons don’t even know what an “app” is, then focus on something else, like building your collection. It is and has always been the librarians’ job to meet the needs of their user population.

Google’s Chance at Redemption: Liquid Galaxy February 17, 2010

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With all the recent clamor over Google’s invasion of privacy through the launching of Google Buzz, and the short-lived commotion over Google Wave, it’s hard to remember that Google still is one of the most innovative information providers in existence. American Libraries (the American Library Association’s magazine) did a post this last Friday on Google’s newest experiment -Google Liquid Galaxy. In the following demonstration “eight separate computers are running [this], and it’s being flown by a PS3 SixAxis controller” (American Libraries). Less than an hour ago a group of librarians and I were gushing over the new atlas from National Geographic, but this video has me wondering if paper atlases haven’t finally reached obsolescence.

Another Ridiculous Augmented Reality Idea February 17, 2010

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When I first saw this article on augmented reality tattoos I had a few questions:

1. Is it April Fools’ Day?

2. Why does this make me think of Harry Potter?

3. Won’t most people think I have a tattoo of a box (like everyone else, if this takes off)?

Apparently, a Brazilian software company has come up with the ridiculous asinine innovative idea to tattoo people with barcodes that will allow augmented reality cameras to view animated tattoos. Not only does this mean that people will be branded with “boxes” permanently instead of art, it means you have to buy a device to view the art. I know many tattoo artists who refuse to brand people with anything but their own original artwork, and I would surmise their reaction to barcode tattooing would be even more severe. And let’s not forget the problem with needing accuracy in tattoos that we learned from the trend of using Asian characters in the late ’90s–changing a symbol slightly can lead to a completely different meaning. So imagine what altering the barcode of an augmented reality tattoo might do–you might think you have a dragon when in reality you have something very very different.

Check out Discover’s full article here.

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