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September 29, 2004

The L-I-B-R-A-R-Y

On Sunday Kelly and I went over to the new Eden Prairie / Hennepin County Public Library. The library had been built in the old Lunds supermarket. I had watched them building it out over the past two years or so with great anticipation. I had been in the old library located just down the road a few times many years ago - in fact, I’d guess that it would have been the last library I had set foot in, 8 years ago.

We walked inside and I was immediately struck by the architecture. This didn’t look anything like the supermarket which had been here before. The inside was completely renovated; skylights had been added all over the place, making everything nice and bright.

Then I started looking around for a librarian in order to get my library card. Walked right up to the front desk, got my card in less time than it took Kelly to use the restroom. Upon her return we set ourselves adrift in the sea of books.

The second big thing I noticed was all the computers. Realize, the last time I had been in a library was 8 years ago, even longer if you only consider regular visits. (Before you assume I’m some kind of bibliophobe, I have kept up the regular visits to my favorite bookseller, Borders, so I still consider myself well-read!) The amount of change which has gone on was astounding! Everywhere I looked I saw computers. Certainly I remember the move from the actual card catalog to the terminals we had right around the time I entered high school. But here were over 100 computers, all setup with not only “card catalog” access but full Internet access as well. I use “card catalog” loosely because I’m not sure you could call it that anymore - the computers basically just access the same website you can from home.

The benefits are extraordinary. Not only can I see instantly on a computer screen which books match my criteria, but I can scan the entire Hennepin County Library system at the same time. From there I can see which physical libraries have the book on the shelf or put a hold on the book (either the specific copy or any copy of it in the system) which will be delivered to my local library in a few days for pickup. The Internet access helps immensely, too. Instead of having to rack my brain trying to remember that book I put on my Amazon wishlist, or read about on some blog, I can instead bring up another window, visit the Internet site, get the author’s name and search the library system immediately.

The next thing which struck me was the number of librarians. Four by my count. A few helpers moving amongst the shelves putting books back, but four actual sitting-at-a-desk-waiting-to-help-you librarians. One might think this number is low, but in actuality I don’t think it is at all. Normal library patron tasks (looking up books, locating, reserving, and checking out) are all automated - now they are simply there to be asked the questions they would probably prefer to receive. I walked up to one, looking for the Dewey Decimal number for “problem solving” books. He began to explain to me how to search on the web interface, but when I explained I had searched and got a bunch of different numbers he was able to clarify which one was the best one to browse in. He walked me right over to the section and even offered up a suggestion from the available books before he walked back to his desk.

When the announcement of the closing of the library in 15 minutes over the PA, Kelly and I found each other and walked up to the checkout. No lines, no busy library patrons running around at the last minute trying to get that one last book. Instead we found ourselves at a wonderful little machine. Slide in your library card, scan each book, remove the library card and it prints out a receipt with the due dates for each item listed.

All in all, it was a great experience. Indeed, I just got an email today letting me know that three books which I had put holds on were waiting to be picked up at the local library. (They were located at a different library in the system when I looked them up on Sunday) Even picking up a reserved book is automated - simply walk in the library, goto the designated “reserve” section, pick up the books from the shelf, and check them out at the automated booth!

I’m excited about going to the library again! *snickers*

Which books did I pick up, you might ask?

Besides the three books which are waiting for pickup:

  • Automated Alice by Jeff Noon
  • Pollen by Jeff Noon
  • Passage by Connie Willis

I picked up:

  • A New Kind Of Science by Stephen Wolfram
  • The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics by Karl Sabbagh
  • Math Mind Games by Heinrich Hemme

October 13, 2004

Order in the Court

Tonight I came home from work and started work on restoring some sense of sanity to the apartment.

I’ve made efforts over the past year or so to unpack from the house, get rid of what I don’t need or want and make some space in here for the things I love.

I spent most of the night picking things up which were already unpacked, although I did manage to make a small dent around the dining room table as well.

A trip to the Hennepin Country Hazardous Waste Center (computer recycler) this weekend should help clear out some space…I’ve got a bunch of old computers that are just sitting in the middle of the floor gathering dust. 486DX/66’s, a Pentium 60…even an old CompuAdd 386/25! The Apple IIgs I had while growing up will stay, along with all the currently used boxen.

Tomorrow night I’ll try to finish off the kitchen and the books.

Getting these three things out of the way first is important - I know I need storage in all three areas, otherwise things will fall back into disrepair rather quickly. The rest of the stuff is assorted junk which will need to find its place - but the first three need to establish their places first.

October 18, 2004

Home Ward Bound

Decided that I needed to try and lick this cold/strep once and for all and stayed home today. Really wouldn’t have helped to go into work anyways, as I can hardly talk. All weekend it fluxuated between getting better and getting worse, I finally broke down last night and took some Nyquil. Funny, I know some people who get knocked out by Nyquil, can hardly make it back to bed before they are deep in slumber. For me, it seems like a mere suggestion - I still had a bit more difficult time than usual falling asleep, and I woke up plenty over the course of the night.

So, today is to be spent resting, not speaking and reading Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein. It is an amazing book, and deserves an entry of its own after I complete it.

NaNoWriMo

That’s National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated.

I first read about it in this Slashdot article.

I thought of jodi and sent her a link to it, suggesting she try it. She takes her writing very seriously, has taken classes, edited not only high school newspaper and yearbook (who didn’t?) but her college newspaper as well.

After a bit of cajoling back and forth, I (along with the help of others) not only ended up convincing her to do it, but I signed up for it, too.

I haven’t written much since I graduated from high school (due to skipping college entirely) other than technical papers related to my job. (Which I just did a scan through and found the longest at 20 pages - including gratuitous bulleted lists!) How I’m going to accomplish 50,000 fictional words in a month I’m not sure - never mind making it somewhat readable and interesting.

I put a hold on the book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel by Tom Monteleone at the library. I imagine I’ll have to move it to the top of the “Books Waiting To Be Read” pile and start planning for November 1st now. I don’t even have a plot in mind; luckily I’ve got two weeks to come up with one.

This should be an interesting experiment…

January 23, 2005

Alton and My Chicken

A few weeks ago, I was possessed to go visit Alton Brown’s website. I didn’t really go up there looking for anything in particular…I think I had just finished watching an episode of Good Eats and thought I’d check it out. I noticed an AB on Tour link and clicked through. Low and behold, Alton was coming to Minneapolis to promote his book! I added it to my calendar…and thought I’d forget about it until shortly before.

However, even with the stress of the last two weeks, I’d often find myself looking forward to the book signing. I checked the website a few days later, noticed that an independent bookstore, Bound To Be Read had been added, decided that’s where I’d go.

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March 7, 2005

The Road To Reality

I heard Roger Penrose back in February on “Science Friday”, which is the Friday mainstay of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation”. The interview was rather short, but the name of his most recent book stuck in my mind. A few days later, I was killing some time at the Mall of America’s Barnes and Noble and saw his book sitting there on the table. I picked it up (all 1136 pages) and read the jacket copy.

Now, I tend to support brick and mortar bookstores because I value their ubiquity and browsability. I think it is a wonderful luxury of this day and age to be able to travel a very short distance, walk in and purchase a book whenever the mood strikes me. (Much better than waiting for a monk to transcribe the book from an original) I also love the ability to review the books before I purchase them…read a few pages, a few chapters, whatever I need to do in order to gauge the value of the book and compare to its purchase price. These reasons mean I am usually willing to pay a slight premium in order to keep my favorite bookstores around.

This book, however, was $40. Not a showstopper, but when I had nothing to go on besides a 10 minute radio interview which only touched lightly on the book (along with only enough time for a cursory examination of the title) I was a bit leery of an impulse buy. (It also didn’t help that I found the book at Barnes & Noble…my least favorite bookstore) I knew I should look into this book a bit more before committing to such a purchase. I put it back on the shelf and made a mental note to check into it when I got home.

After I got home, I did a little more reading on the book. The more I read, the more interested I became. Penrose spent 8 years creating the work. Positive reviews all over the place from both laymen and experts. I also found a full website devoted to errata and problem solutions from the book, a sure sign of a quality technical work. I checked Amazon for its price - $26 bucks. That price, combined with Super Saver Shipping, made it a done deal. I thought I could wait patiently until it arrived.

Of course, I spent the next week and a half tracking the shipment as it moved around the country. I got really excited last Friday, since it seemed it would arrive at work just in time for the weekend. Sadly, it didn’t arrive until Saturday, which considering we don’t receive mail at work on Saturday, meant that I didn’t get it until this afternoon’s delivery.

One of the reviews I read compared the book to two independent study courses: one on the intersection of geometric and algebraic mathematics, the second on the history (and future) of physics. Reading the prologue and foreword, I have a feeling the reviewer was right, at least when one considers the amount of effort it will take to consume and understand the book. The first portion of the book is devoted to teaching you the mathematics you’ll need to understand the remainder of the book…maybe I’ll finally understand vectors and matrices! As the author writes in his introductory text, “It is always the case, with mathematics, that a little direct experience of thinking things over on your own can provide a much deeper understanding than merely reading about them.”

Celebrations of the Day

  1. I finally got my book, “The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
  2. From 43 Folders’s feature on rules of thumb, If you donít know what you want, itís probably sleep.
  3. Cheap generic lemon sandwich cookies totally hit the spot
  4. Mailinator has been my friend for a while now…and it deserves your friendship as well
  5. There is and always will be a 5…or, rather, “5ves” by the Heiruspecs, my #1 chart-gainer in the month of February in the iPod playcount list!

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March 19, 2005

Wow, What a Logjam!

The previous post sat in draft state since Monday, jamming up the portion of my brain responsible for blog updates. I knew I had to get it out there, and nothing else pending wasprocessed until I got that status toggled to “Publish”. So, an update on the previous week:

  • I found my digital camera. There was much rejoicing amongst fans around the world when I found my digital camera in a pile of holiday decorations here at home. I had thought it lost for the past few months while I searched hi and low for the elusive camera. You know they say you miss things the most when you don’t have them…well, over the past few months I’ve time and time again been bitten by the desire to snap a photo of something. Now that I’ve found the camera, of course, I expect all photo desires shall immediately cease.
  • The 2.6 GB bittorrent download of the free MP3 collection from artists appearing at the South by Southwest Music Festival finally completed. Get it while its hot, there are some great gems in there.
  • I got my premier issue of Make. I meant to sign up well before the initial issue hit the streets, but it wasn’t until it did that I finally got up the courage to sign up for a year. So far, I’m nothing but pleased. It is a tinkerer’s dream - tons of projects and neat tricks to keep the curious entertained.
  • Booked tickets to fly down to Dallas to help my Sister and Bro-In-Law move into their new home. I expect a lot of work…but I also expect a lot of Chick-fil-a!
  • Speaking of Chick-fil-a, if you examine the container from an 8-piece order of nuggets you’ll notice there are punch-out holes for “N”, “S” and “K”. While all participants of our visit to the U of M - Twin Cities campus (the only Minnesota Chick-fil-a location!) on Monday for lunch agreed that the “S” stood for “Strips” and “N” for “Nuggets”, JManDoo hypothesized that the “K” stood for “Knuggets”. (Neither the “K” nor the following “n” are silent, according to JManDoo). Research later revealed the “K” must have stood for “Kids”, since the kids meal at Chick-fil-a has a 4 or 6-piece nugget option. JManDoo is still sticking to his theory, tho.
  • My review was due yesterday at work…so I sent it in at precisely 11:59pm last night. Double-B (the boss) did say I had until midnight to send it in. I hope I’m not the only one who sees humor in it, tho!

That’s not everything (my life isn’t THAT dull and boring!), but it is the stuff I found blogworthy over the past week.

June 24, 2005

A Stunning Gift

When I picked up the wrapped birthday package from Kelly, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I thought for a moment that it was something made of cement. Or marble. All I could tell was that it was large and heavy - very very dense.

When I finally unwrapped it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I am now, after admiring it whenever I spotted it at a bookstore since its release, the proud owner of The Complete Far Side 1980-1994 (2 Volume Set). Weighing in at 1272 pages (or 20 pounds, whichever you prefer), these two volumes catalog every Far Side panel ever published.

Those of you who have known me for many years remember the ever-present Far Side calendars on my desk at work throughout the 90s. I was always a big fan of the series, starting from the first panel I remember seeing when I was still in elementary school of the child trying to push open the front door belonging to a school for the gifted. (Someone had replaced Midvale with Westwood, which was fitting considering we were the gifted/talented program magnet for the district)

So, a big public Thank You to Kelly for the wonderful gift. Woohoo! I will treasure it always…

[ed: I was asked to remove the Midvale cartoon originally included in this post. See here for more details.]

March 6, 2006

We Bicyclists Do Our Spring Cleaning Early

A wonderfully productive weekend.

  • Did a bunch of reading
  • Brought order to vast portions of my apartment
    • (still have the kitchen and bathroom to clean/organize, but these are traditionally the two rooms that get cleaned the most frequently, so I doubt they will remain messy for long)
  • Went down to the Bike Expo
    • (Registered for the Ironman at a discount, met the representative from the Tour of Saints who commented on my blog here, got some information about “sprint triathalons” from a representative of the Twin Cities Triathalon Club and saw a crazy six-person bike!)
  • Still found time to put together a bunch of new playlists on the iPod and listen, listen, listen!

Just what I needed, for sure. Felt so good to wake up and not worry about parrying around items littering the floor in order to make it to the bathroom! Now I just have to get training…less than 8 weeks until the Ironman ride…and this year I’m going for 62 miles _(over last year’s 30 miles).

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