Monday, February 25, 2008

Videogames in Libraries

Do video games belong in public libraries?

I think the answer to this question is an emphatic MAYBE.

Some points in favor of video games as part of the core library mission are that video games have become cultural and artistic creations, and at least some of them serve educational purposes. I'd have a little bit of trouble defending this statement that video games are artistic creations simply because they haven't made that leap in the general public consciousness. They are far more likely to be considered as toys rather than art. I would imagine that movies started out in a similar way in that at first it was simply amusing that we could get a few crude moving images on the screen. Only later did film become an accepted art form to the point where the Oscars are now at least as prestigious as other major artistic awards. I admit to skimping on the film research to see if that is totally accurate, but it seems to have a core nugget of truth. In any case, current video games are reaching a level of artistic presentation that is quickly approaching the art of film making. If films are suitable for library collections, then why not video games?

The main problem with video games is that the primary mission of libraries is to educate and inform the populace. Modern libraries are beginning to stray from that mission somewhat, but the reason that our tax dollars go to libraries is that libraries can educate us and give us information to improve ourselves and become well rounded citizens. So maybe the real question here is should libraries stock romance novels, popular movies and the latest Britney Spears album. I'm leaning towards no and in that case we probably have to kick out almost all of the video games too. I enjoy having a library as a provider of all the media that I don't feel like purchasing, but the library's purpose is not really to be my personal Is most of the collection of modern libraries designed to promote education and information? My guess is that the overwhelming answer is no. So perhaps as long as we are just using libraries as storehouses of all possible media then video games do belong there too. Just try not to examine that argument too closely.

Firefox Feed Annoyance

I've had a problem using the little orange feed button in Firefox for a while so I thought I'd post about it and see if anyone else has had a similar problem. I did some quick Google searches and didn't see anybody else with the problem except for maybe this guy:

The problem only happens at work so if I'm at home using Firefox everything is just fine and dandy. I am also running Windows 2000 at work instead of Vista and XP which I have at home. I doubt the OS is the problem, but that's the only major difference I see. In any case, when I click the feed button that is supposed to bring me into Google's options to add feeds, I instead get something like this in the address bar:
feed://http// and then an error page. If I change the "feed://http//" part to just "http://" then I go right into Google's add page and everything works fine. So I've got a workaround, but it's still a little annoying.

Anybody have a suggestion or have you even seen this problem before?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Response to Mike Allen

In today's opinion page of the Lexington Herald-Leader Mike Allen started out his article (link will expire in a week or so) by making more sense than most people who are heavily involved in the gun control debates. He takes the reasonable stance that neither allowing conceal and carry permits to apply everywhere nor legislating much more restrictive gun permits are going to do anything to stop school shootings. Honestly, I can only see either of those types of legislation being effective if they were taken to their utmost extremes. If we were to force everyone to be armed at all times or if we had a nationwide purge of all firearms, that might be sufficient to effect the number of school shootings. Anything short of that is laughable and even those options would have many other unintended and likely negative consequences.

In any case, Mike Allen starts out talking sense . . . until a couple of paragraphs later he goes off the rails in an unexpected way. He goes straight from making a reasonable and well thought out argument to suddenly blaming school shootings on an imaginary "unraveling of the family, the general devaluing of human life and the rise of violence in popular entertainment." Allen fails to give any evidence that any of those three things are actually occurring in American society and instead expects us to accept them as givens. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much reason to accept these givens. Let's take them one by one:

1. Unraveling of the Family - The divorce rate has been going down since the early eighties. Even the number of single parents has started dropping in the last few years. There is also a huge argument to be made that a single parent family does not necessarily equal an unstable family life. There are plenty of stable couples raising children who simply choose to remain unmarried (or cannot do so legally in the case of homosexual couples) and there are truly single parents who are professional adults and doing just fine with their family life. In any case, you're going to have to give me some specific arguments to back up what seems to be an unfounded idea of an unraveling of US families.

2. General Devaluing of Human Life - So apparently Allen is a pro-lifer. If not, he's going to have to explain what the hell he's talking about here. The last I checked people still thought murder was bad and were shocked and saddened by recent school shootings. The vast majority of people were not randomly killing each other. In fact, the violent crime rate has been steadily decreasing for decades. I suppose if you want to call every abortion a murder then those numbers change quite a bit, but that's a whole different argument. Even if you want to consider abortion, keep in mind that the abortion rate is at a 30 year low. Allen does nothing to expand on this argument, so maybe he realizes it's a little silly.

3. The Rise of Violence in Popular Entertainment - This is the only one of Allen's argument that has any sort of evidence to support it and even that evidence is pretty shaky. It's hard to objectively decide whether violence in popular entertainment has been increasing, but I will admit that it seems quite likely. Video games have become "more violent" or at least more realistically violent as the images have become clearer and gained in resolution. Movies have had violence in them for quite some time and technology may have once again increased that level by using CGI instead of more expensive special effects. The link between violent media and real world violence has, however, not been definitively shown to exist. As I mentioned before, general violent crime has decreased which I would not expect if violent media caused violence. School shootings seem to be one of the very few types of crimes that have actually increased and I don't recall seeing a rash of school shooting movies or video games recently. Allen is going to have to give me some more definitive evidence than a Saw tattoo on the NIU shooter before I accept this as a causal relationship.

So Allen's school shooting causes seem to be largely imaginary with perhaps a little wiggle room left in that violent media argument. So what solution does he propose to these "problems." Well, it turns out his solutions are largely imaginary as well. He is "not advocating governmental censorship, but rather a renewed awareness in the entertainment industry that rights bring responsibilities, and a heightened conscience for all of us consumers who determine with our dollars what a civil society will and will not accept." Yeeeahhh, good luck with that, buddy. Assuming that increasing amounts of violent media is a real problem for a minute, why do you think that media might be increasing? As I mentioned, it's partly an issue of increasing technology, but it's also because consumers keep buying it. I understand that you are trying to change that trend with this column, but one column does not a successful economic model topple. Without governmental regulation or a huge self-imposed set of industry guidelines, this anti-violent movement is doomed to fail.

Good luck with your fight, I've got to go shoot me some aliens and government agents in Half-Life 2 and then I'm gonna watch me that movie 300. Yee-haw!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Happy Hour Madness

This is just another example of the danger of omnipresent cameras:

Look to future Blue 2.0 Happy Hours for future antics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jonathan Coulton the "Godfather of Geek Rock"

Jonathan Coulton is quite the geek rocker. You may have sen him referenced by or appearing with John Hodgman. I just started listening to him recently, but I do quite enjoy his songs. You can acquire many of these finely crafted pieces of music for free by downloading them from his website. If you like them, throw a little cash his way.

If you'd like to see him appear in Lexington, then demand that he do so here:

Mr. Coulton suggests in this article that he will attempt to perform in any city with more than 100 requesters. As we are now at 13 in Lexington, KY, we only have 87 more to go! Yay! The Louisville group is a little closer 100 so you might also click there if you don't mind the drive.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Now with more Blue 2.0!

I already had a delicious account so I just tagged a few interesting things Blue 2.0 and added Blue 2.0 to my network. I really like delicious for giving me a place to put favorite websites when I don't know which computer I will want to view them from next. If I know I'm looking at something that I'm only going to use at home or at work, then it's easier for me to just put a site in my Bookmarks or Favorites, but if I want it anywhere then delicious is the way to go. Here's my account:

I also already had a LibraryThing account: I also added the LibraryThing widget to my account just for shits and giggles.

I just recently created a spreadsheet of the salaries of library employees so I went ahead and created a Google Spreadsheet for that, as well:

I think those salaries are from the 2005-2006 calendar year, but I'm not entirely sure since the Herald-Leader doesn't give a date for their source.

Alright, I'm going back to do the actual word processing activity now. I'll mess around more with my new toys later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stop the Religious Secrets!

Mormonism and Scientology have been under a lot of scrutiny recently. This scrutiny of Mormonism occurs because of Mitt Romney's religious affiliation and the scrutiny of Scientology occurs because of some high profile Scientologists and the "War on Scientology" being waged by "Anonymous."

The feeling that these two religions are kinda crazy and more or less cults is quite widespread. I tend to argue that any cult, given enough time to mature, will become an "acceptable" religion, but most people believe that there are big differences between the two. I hear many people condemning the crazy belief systems, and who doesn't get a giggle out of Xenu and his Thetans or the Conversion of Dead ancestors to Mormonism?

The real problem that drags these religions one step closer to being a cult than most other modern belief systems, though, is that they try to keep secret what it is that they do believe. Scientologists have a very active legal division to their church that attempts to stop the public dissemination of their core beliefs. Mormons have secret teachings and their Temples are not open to non-Mormons. This air of secrecy makes it easy for outsiders to believe that these religions have something they need to hide and much of the evidence indicates that they do, indeed, have "secret" practices worth hiding.

This secrecy makes it difficult to say with any certainty what the tenets of these respective faiths are and what the intentions of their congregations members might be. This is the exact same reason that the Skull and Bones Society and the Masons get similar bad raps. I don't think this practice of secrecy is likely to change for either of these religions any time soon, but I do suggest that the leaders of these religions give transparency some thought if they want to lose their "cult" status.

You have nothing to fear but your own beliefs!

LibraryThing Widget

I took a minute and added the LibraryThing Blog Widget that you can use in some different ways, but that I have set up to simply show five random books from my catalog. I guess this is another reason to keep "adult" titles out of my public catalog. The whole setup process was incredibly easy. That's one of the things I love about LibraryThing, they try to make everything as simple as possible.

I tried to do something similar with flickr so that it would show random photos from my collection, but flickr didn't seem to have an easy widget to do that and I couldn't get the slideshow option in Blogger to be limited to only my photos. Oh well, there are only about a billion flickr widgets out there so maybe I'll try doing it with somebody else's java later.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Wiki Creation

I set up a wiki, again as part of the Blue 2.0 activities. Right now I don't think I have any need for it, though.

I do already have a wiki I created for Webmaster Section of SLA's IT Division. I've got to say that I prefer the default look of PBwiki to the look of SLA's Confluence wikis by quite a bit. PBwiki is clean and uncluttered while Confluence pushes a lot of options on me that I don't really need and the flow between pages kind of sucks.

In general, wikis are nice when you want many people to be able to edit a single web page. They seem to be quite useful for times when you have an active group of users that all want to contribute to information on a topic or just the general creation of a site. I have seen them used when I think a regular web page is more appropriate. Sometimes people are using wikis just to say they used them, which I think is a little silly.

So PBwiki is probably missing a lot of useful advanced options (why else would there be pay versions available?), but it only seems to be missing stuff that I don't need. Too bad I don't have any use for it right now, hence my wiki's name: Unnecessary Wiki :o(

Stop Micromanaging my Budget!

Anybody who's reading this probably knows me, and you are probably aware that I run a small corporate library for a Fortune 500 (at least it was last year) company. This means that I have most of the control over almost half a million dollars of company cash. It sounds like a big fat pile of dough, but you might be surprised how little that actually buys.

In any case, I have been left on my own to negotiate 10 and 100 thousand dollar database contracts with vendors like LexisNexis, Elsevier, and Nerac. They even trust me enough (or don't care enough not to) to sign off on increases in those contracts without much additional scrutiny. This all seems pretty good so far, doesn't it? We'll set aside, for the moment, the fact that I've been unable to initiate any new contracts even if I was able to cancel other services that would make up for the cost.

So here is the problem. Just recently, a manager who sits three levels above me decides that we're going to cancel our newspaper subscriptions. This unilateral decision saves our half million dollar library an absolute maximum of $350 a year. Whoop-dee freakin' do! Thanks a bunch for making that call for me. I'm sure that $25 a month will save the company from bankruptcy and restore our budget solvency, despite the fact that it's going to cost me nearly $25 an article if our employees need any of that information.

The second, similar, problem is that the library has needed new computers for a long time. Our two publicly accessible computers are still running Windows NT and one of them has a monitor that needs major gamma correction on a daily basis to even be usable. Is it too much to ask that we spend $500 on a new computer to bring us into this millennium? This is not to mention the staff computers that are in better shape, but are still running Windows 2000 and are definitely starting to show their age.

Hell, I've got stuff that I'd be happy to cut to make up the cost, but I know that every time I've made cuts in the past, all I get are those cuts. I don't get any new spending ability, I don't get any new leeway in purchasing decisions, nobody with any clout even really notices that a cut was ever made.

All in all, it's really no way to run a company.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

RSS Activity

Alright, I have continued along the Blue 2.0 program and was happy to find that I had already basically completed the "Explore a Feed Reader" activity. As soon as I saw Blue 2.0 had a feed I went ahead and added it. I believe that was some time before the first set of activities.

I did use Google Reader (hereafter abbreviated as GR) instead of Bloglines, since that is my reader of choice. I used to use Bloglines, but became a GR convert sometime last year.

I'm going to give a couple of reasons why I prefer GR, in case anyone out there is deciding on which reader to use. Keep in mind that I haven't used Bloglines in several months so it's possible that they've updated their interface and have picked up some of these GR advantages. In any case:

1. Read or Not? - When viewing a feed in GR individual posts are only marked as read once I have scrolled past them. In Bloglines all posts would appear as read as soon as I viewed the first entry.

2. Oldest or Newest First? - In GR I can choose, on a feed by feed basis, to view by oldest or view by newest. So feeds that I don't keep up with on a daily basis I can set so that the new posts appear first. Feeds that I obsessively read every post from can be viewed with the oldest showing up first so that I don't miss a single delicious morsel, and so I don't see posts referring to older posts that I haven't had time to read yet.

3. It's Purty - I think GR looks a little nicer, but they really are quite similar.

4. Other Fun Bits - I don't use most of this stuff very much, but you can view your reading trends, apply tags, and quickly clean out inactive feeds.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Alright, so I just added this blog to my feed reader and I took a look to make sure my posts were coming through correctly. It was at this point that I noticed several substantial typos, grammatical errors, and simple proofreading problems in my posts. One sentence from my most recent post had a totally reversed meaning because I accidentally said congressmen dislike voting "for" rather than "against," which was what I actually meant.

This kind of stuff really annoys me in other people's writing so I'm going to attempt to proofread myself a little better. Luckily, almost no one is reading this blog except for me so I'm mostly just annoying myself. Yay!

Friday, February 1, 2008


There are just so many things wrong with this light switch (hat tip to, original source:

Let me count a few of the wrong-ish things:

1. Just the fact that we are displaying a religious icon on a lightswitch in the first place.

2. The obviously inappropriate placement of the switch.

3. The unhappiness (or at least lack of happiness) of the children as they take a weird sidelong glance at the "switch."

4. The inscription on the plate that is somewhat worn, but seems to repeat the bible quote "Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother." It's just a nice indoctrinating message for prominent placement in what was presumably a child's room. Another good argument in favor of Christianity being a cult.

. . . and I'm sure there's more, but this is plenty for now.