Moving!

It’s time to move my blog to its own domain and space – something that gives me a few more behind-the-scenes options than the WordPress.com hosting does.

Come join me over at http://modernhypatia.info and take a look at what I’m reading, thinking about, and otherwise doing in the realm of sharing, using, and taking joy in information.

Tech I use : Laptop

I adore my laptop. I bought it last April (that’d be April of 2009), and I’m currently wondering what I did without it. It not only does all the things a computer normally does (word processing, email, Internet browsing, etc.) but it’s also my main music player, and my TV.

It is not my first laptop: my primary computer from 2001 to 2005 or so was one of the clamshell iBooks (graphite, in my case). I loved that, too, for portability in the house, but it was before wireless points were everywhere, and the battery life was so-so, so actually using it for Internet access in other places was problematic.

These days, though, my laptop holds:

  • Both work and personal files (with automatic backups to a Time Capsule)
  • My music files
  • My productivity software
  • Creative projects
  • Notes and files for all manner of things I’d like to remember, think about, or do.
  • Alarm clock (I use Awaken, which lets me select an iTunes playlist to wake me up.)
  • Games of varying kinds (everything from a Tetris clone to World of Warcraft)

All that, and the Internet too!

I don’t use a computer desk at home: by preference, I sit on the bed cross-legged with the computer propped up on pillows, and use it that way. It allows me to adjust the height, position, and other things based on how I feel that day. And it also allows my cat to curl up next to my leg (as she’s doing right now) and be warm and cuddly – something hard to do in a desk chair. I definitely love how the laptop lets me do that easily – but also move to my desk or to a library or to a coffee shop when I need to.

One thing I’m ardent about is personalising my laptop. I have a MacStyles cover on the front (mine is their phoenix image in dark blue) and a matching cover for the keyboard area. Both were easy to apply when I followed the directions, and while there are some scratches a year later, it’s held up really well. (Sometime this summer, I’ll probably replace it with something else, or maybe the same phoenix in a slightly different color)

I also believe in personalising the digital bits: here’s a screenshot of my current dock and one of the desktop images I use in rotation (I’ve got about 20 that rotate every 5 to 30 minutes, depending on my mood). The image is by Vlad Gerasimov, a Russian digital artist who runs VladStudio and it’s called Google Library (note the tiny door in the bottom center right!)

Image of my current dock and desktop: shelves of books with candles as the background image

Image of my current dock and desktop

My icons on the dock (and elsewhere on my computer) come from a variety of sources: I’m particularly fond of the sets on the IkonFactory - most of the program icons on my dock (that’d be the left side) come from their Flurry series (which is an iPhone style set of icons that covers a wide range of programs: I like my dock to have aesthetic similarity).

The right side icons come from a variety of sources: some from Deviant Art, an artist networking site that has grown a set of amazing digital images in the last few years, some from other Icon Factory sets (the first individual book from the left is the Grail diary from their Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail series), and some from Marmalade Moon, an icon creator whose work I like a lot (I use a number of her others for internal folder structures.)

From left to right for the programs, we have:

  • The Finder
  • Firefox (my web browser of choice)
  • Awaken (my alarm clock and egg timer program)
  • iTunes
  • Postbox (my personal mail program)
  • TextEdit (for quick notes, drafts of things I’m thinking about, etc.)
  • Things (my task management program: more on that in a later post)
  • Preview (which doesn’t usually live on my dock, but happens to be open right now)
  • System Preferences (because I’d just gone to select the desktop image I want.)

The stack of books is the alias to my documents folder. The grail diary book is my reference files – things I access a lot (like the tracking file for how far I’ve gone swimming: charts make me happy). The blue book is personal files, the gear is programs I use a lot, and the box that’s ajar is my “To Sort” box. (For a long time, I had a TARDIS image, thanks to Doctor Who – the TARDIS has infinite space, after all – but it doesn’t fit my current aesthetic scheme.)

I also have a work folder, but I’m currently experimenting with what it’s like if I remove that folder from my immediate line of sight when I’m home, and put it back when I get to work, or am choosing to work on something. (It’s an image of a book with an apple on it from Marmalade Moon’s sets: great for a school setting.)

And up in the top right corner is an image of my hard drive: I have used Macs for so long that it’s still insticntive for me to go open from the icon on the desktop, even though the dock would be a lot more convenient. Thus, I still have the icon there, rather than hiding it (as I usually do any attached drives, like my Time Capsule)

Image of my programs folder showing icons for the programs described below

Image of my often-used programs folder

And here, you can see my often used programs.

  • Games (Quinn, World of Warcraft, various others)
  • Utilities (various things I want handy, but don’t use all that often)
  • AddressBook
  • Adium (my preferred chat program)
  • DVD player (yay, Netflix)
  • Freedom (a program that will shut down Net access for a specified length of time or until you reboot)
  • iCal (my preferred calendar)
  • Keynote (presentations)
  • MacGourmet Deluxe (recipes)
  • Numbers (spreadsheet)
  • Pages (word processing)
  • Preview (PDF reader)
  • Pukka (for managing Delicious bookmarks on multiple accounts more easily)
  • Scrivener (amazing writing program)
  • TextEdit (notes)
  • Together (a great way to store multiple PDFs, web files, and other documents with tagging and labels)
  • VLC (for miscellaneous audio and visual files)
  • VoodooPad (will talk about this in a few posts: great for keeping categories of notes together)
  • YNAB 3 (my budget and finances program)

These certainly aren’t all my files – or all my programs. More live in my Documents folder and in my Applications folder. These are just the ones I use most often, where a very short click-to is especially useful.

I also believe in naming my technology: my current computer is named Musica Humana, which is the Renaissance name for the music that we, humans, beautiful and complex and alive as we are, make in the universal song, rather than the Musica Mundana, the music of the universe and the spheres. (Also as opposed to the Musica Instrumentalis, which is human music filtered through technology – instruments – and therefore less directly human.)

My time capsule is named Alexandria, for the Great Library thereof. Yes, I’m a geek. We all knew that, right?

As you can see, I use my laptop for a lot of practical things – but I also believe that the tools should be something we have fun with, that reflects a part of our human personality and preference without getting in the way of the tool.

Tech I use: Books

Hey, it’s still a vital and important technology!

Anyone who’s ever seen my home (or my desk, for that matter) knows I tend to live surrounded by piles of books. I love the immersive feel of books, the way that there’s nothing between you and the world they describe other than your own fingers. I love that they’re almost maintenance free (other than some storage choices). I don’t need to recharge something to read them. I don’t need to think about whether I’ll run out battery before I’m done reading. It’s just, y’know, a book.

Reading in the bath is one of my great joys. (Reading in the shower doesn’t work so well!) but I drop books in the bath just often enough (or end up with damp fingers from turning the faucet or whatever) that I’d hate to have electronics nearby.

How much do I use books?

I average reading 20-30 books most months, and unless I’m under a lot of stress or sick, it’s usually about equally balanced between fiction and non-fiction. Left to my own devices, I read a lot of speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) because different settings bring up different kinds of questions, and I really enjoy working through those. But I also read a fair number of historical (and modern) mysteries, a chunk of young adult fiction, and I’ve got a real fondness for dystopia novels. On the non-fiction side, I’m especially fond of microhistories, and of narrative non-fiction – looking at history through the life or experiences of an individual or small group of people. But I also read things that have interesting reviews, books with lots of buzz or conversation around them, and .. well, just about anything else that catches my interest.

There’s a lot of discussion about the future of books. Me, I think print books will be here in some format for a good long while to come. I think there are – and will continue to be – huge numbers of additional ways to access information (and I like those too, generally.) And I think that there are some substantial inefficiencies in the current publishing model (specifically, that you print a bunch of books, and distribute them all over the place, and then hope they sell) that I suspect will change over time. But there’s still something about the physical objects, somehow.

Tech I use, and tech I don’t

As we move closer to 1:1 laptops at work, and we keep having conversations about fascinating new technology, it seems time to do a list of which technologies I use all the time, and which ones I don’t. My plan is to do a post about each item on these lists and how I do or don’t use it (and why, which is probably more intriguing) In the meantime, the list by itself might be amusing.

Tech I use pretty much every day:

  • Books
  • Laptop (MacBook, in my case)
  • iPod Touch
  • Web browsing
  • Email (both on my computer and on Gmail as well as work’s FirstClass)
  • Blogs and online journal conversations
  • RSS feeds
  • Productivity and calendar applications
  • iTunes
  • Moodle (course software)
  • Notetaking tools (TextEdit, VoodooPad)
  • Computer based alarm clock (Awaken)
  • Radio (in the car)
  • Car

Tech I use at least once a week:

  • Cell phone
  • Google Voice
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Hulu
  • Podcasts
  • iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote)
  • Instant messaging (Adium, by choice, but also Google’s chat)
  • Watching DVDs on the computer (via Netflix)
  • Online health charts
  • Digital camera

Technology I don’t use or use very rarely:

  • Television
  • Console gaming
  • Landline phones (outside of work)
  • Dedicated ebook reader
  • Text messaging from the phone
  • Microwave
  • Video calls or voice over IP
  • Bread machine

Choosing to read (and what)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we decide what we’re going to read – something even more fascinating these days, when we have online material of all kinds in the picture.

This fall, I’ve been spending a lot of mental (and emotional, and physical) energy on work, so by the time I get home, I’m often not up for anything particularly challenging. I’ve been reading a lot of comfort reading (more on this below) and also a lot of things that are sheer mindcandy enjoyment, without a lot of challenge.

But I’m starting to miss the challenge. I want to dig my teeth into a complex book about desires, issues, and skills important in my religious community. I want to go digging deeper into history – especially social history – in several areas. A recent discussion as part of my school newspaper advising reminded me that my ability to explain statistics is not as good as I’d like. (I can recognise problems, but not always explain the issues behind the numbers, basically). And all of those things are slowly coming back online, as I start being able to look at something outside of work with a clear mind.

Until then, though, there’s the comfort reading. Comfort reading refers to the books or authors we return to, again and again, where the plots and characters are enjoyable, but not startling. There are no stunning unexpected plot twists, or ideas that must be pieced together from tiny fragments throughout the story. They’re often simply good stories (whether fiction or non-fiction) told in a compelling way.And one of my personal requirements is that I’ve got to be able to put the book down when I’m tired, otherwise I end up tired and cranky, which is not comforting. (For example, I regularly reread Lois McMaster Bujold’s works, but only when I know I have time to finish them before I should be asleep: once I’m into the last half to third of the book, I feel compelled to keep reading until done.)

People have very individual ideas of comfort reading. Some of mine include:

- Dorothy Sayers – a longtime favorite of my father, and my inherited copies are now all falling into pieces.

- Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, oddly enough, a book (and miniseries) I came to very early in life, and where my understanding of the book has continued to deepen and grow.

- Mercedes Lackey – an author of urban fantasy and fantasy novels. I started reading her work at pretty much exactly the right age, and while they’re not the most complex stories out there, they continue to pull me in. (They’re also light, and follow some fairly predictable tropes, which makes them easy to put down when I need sleep.)

- Historical mysteries in general – I get to enjoy an interesting setting, a plot that has a clear goal, and usually interesting characters sustained over multiple books (which means I don’t have to get to know a whole new set of characters each time.) I’m very fond of the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters,  the Mary Russell books by Laurie King, and the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear, but there are lots of others. (I spent a lot of the summer reading Laurie Joh Rowland’s series set in Tokugawa-era Japan, for example.)

- Microhistories, which I’ve talked about on this blog recently.

My librarian toolbox

Jessamyn made a great post today about what’s in her librarian toolbox. I like the idea a lot, so here’s mine.

Hardware/software:
I’m comfortable using a wide range of computer systems, software, and other tools. While I’ve got my personal preferences (Macintosh, Firefox, and a combination of organisational and task management tools), I’m pretty comfortable with sitting down and poking around at other options. (And I’ve done extensive work with Windows machines and some work with Unix boxen in the past.) I know what might break something or damage a file, and what won’t, and that gives me a lot of space to play around and try things out as I have time.

The social web:
I’ve been online since 1994, and I’ve got my own network of people around the world who have a wide range of skills, interests, and knowledge. It’s often amazingly easy for me to tap that web, ask someone a question about something they love talking about, and get a quick but thorough answer. I also make use of sites like ask.metafilter.com.

As a librarian, I believe that there are a lot of questions where facts, authortative data, and other such things matter a lot. But I also believe there are times that understanding another person’s viewpoint, concerns, or experience is just as important. The social web, when handled well (and when you’re getting a larger picture of someone’s life, not just a few quick snippets) can be a powerful tool for these information needs.

Wide reading:
Related to that social web, I read widely across many subjects. (I pity anyone who tries to profile my interests based on my Amazon pageviews or library requests!) I also read widely across my social web, and keep an eye of blogs and journals of people who write well about what they care about – which means I learn about a lot of topics I otherwise wouldn’t know much about. It’s hard to measure how much this helps me find answers for people’s questions, but I regularly have a “Oh, right, this would be the best search term.” moment and realise afterwards that I only knew about it because of that time spent in varied reading and learning.

The downside to this one is that it takes quite a bit of time: I estimate that I spend between an hour and two hours every day doing things that benefits my professional work pretty directly (reading books, reading online content, building skills, etc.) outside of the hours I’m actually at work. (I am planning on trying to track stats at some point to see how accurate my estimate is. I think I’m actually erring on the low side.) I don’t mind this much – a lot of it is stuff I enjoy. But there’s also no denying that the upkeep required is pretty extensive.

Practicing search artist:
I’m really good at refining searches and figuring out which results are going to be most useful. That’s largely a result of practice (though I do joke that my secret superpower is getting information out of Google: I can do searches very similar to those that other people have tried, and get far more useful results, sometimes – and no, it’s not Google snagging past history as a factor, as it’s often on their computer.)

I really think it’s an art form: having a wide knowledge base helps me intuitively pick the best search terms for a particular topic, or guess at a glance which result is going to be most helpful. But it’s almost always something that I do subconsciously without reasoned thought, like a dancer creating a particular combination or a painter knowing just how to mix colors puts things together in a particular way based on past experience.

And a few glitches: (because the tools that don’t work great are still in the toolbox!)
While I’m friendly, and do my best to be outgoing and easy to work with, I’m also enough of an introvert that that’s sometimes very hard work for me. (Especially if my personal life is currently demanding a lot of those skills.) That’s something I’ve been working on a lot this fall, and found that a major event in my religious community this weekend was a lot easier for me than past years as a result. It still means I sometimes come home from work exhausted, and not good for anything much in the evening, though.

I have a generally very good memory for information, but I generally only remember names if I’ve heard them several times in close succession in connection with something that sticks in my head. This makes working with students very challenging, because I don’t reliably get that kind of repeated connection. (Students I work with regularly, yes. The kids who check things out every week, yes. People I talk to every couple of weeks, or where their name isn’t part of the interaction, it’s a lot harder.)  I’m working on improving my skills here, but haven’t quite found the perfect way to make them stick yet. I’m not a very visual learner, so some of it is also that the face+name combo doesn’t always click clearly in my memory – interestingly enough, I’m a lot better with email addresses, even when they’re not made up of someone’s name.

Celebrate the freedom to read

This week (Sept. 26th to Oct. 3rd) is Banned Book Week, a week highlighting issues of censorship, freedom of access to information, and other related issues sponsored by the American Library Assocation, the American Bookseller’s Association, and other such folks.

I like to spend the week providing more information about access to information issues, so let’s start today with some general links and resources, and then go on from there. (If there’s something you, my readers, want me to talk about in particular, please let me know! Questions are my favorite source of ideas.)

In 2008, there were 513 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom. It’s estimated that as many as 85% of challenges go unreported to the office because they’re resolved at an early stage or a very local level. (That means there’d be about 3400 challenges in the US in 2008.)

There are also four videos from this year’s American Library Association conference linked from here with descriptions that may be of interest on freedom of information grounds.

I’ll be talking this week about the reasons for challenges – and the fact they can, indeed, be complicated. But I also believe strongly that free access to information is critical to the process of becoming an adult, and in being able to make meaningful (and, if it is not too circular, informed) decisons.

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