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The summer of 2016

The summer of 2016

It has been a good summer; so far, anyway.

Lush grass

There have been meetings in nice towns.

Up the hill

Sunsets.

Sunset

Many walks in the countryside.

Nearing harvest

Some Nordic food shopping.

Haul

More walks.

Flowing

Trees.

Tree

Convivial conversations.

Pub

More sunsets.

Sunset

Moon rises.

Moon in the gap

Cricket.

Expectant home supporters

Some writing.

Hotdesk

And unexpected music.

Uh?

I have been, and remain (using that word pointedly), disinclined to “blog” or write much of a non-work nature. The EU referendum has poisoned much, and my thoughts and vision lie increasingly elsewhere. Maybe some other time.

In the meantime, my work website (which remains under permanent construction) is where to go to check I’m still around.

The wind in the barley

The wind in the barley

Today was a good day, as one of the projects I started at Halloween 2014 has come to an end; I have finally tracked down every account I can find or remember, and deleted nearly all of them. Though that’s with the glaring exception of half-a-dozen blogs that I still don’t know what to do with, apart from some vague idea about writing more or generally adding to.

Thus, a nice walk concluded the day, the pictures of which are scattered within this post.

Those accounts numbered in the hundreds in the end. Social media of a wide variety stretching over years; online shopping; forum and newspaper commenting; academic, public and private business websites. So many. And most of them now gone (with the precaution of deleting or changing my details within and changing the associated email address to a throwaway account). It’s good now that when there’s a news story about accounts or passwords being stolen on some service, it rarely applies to me anymore, and I have a much, much smaller number of services to regularly change my password on.

Heck, I’ve even quit MetaFilter so the community there will have to figure out US election posts for the next five months without my long-form attempts. The list of accounts on various social media, financial, work, forums, mailing lists and other websites now easily fits on one side of paper.

Buttercup path

Thus, apart from that annoying blog problem, the online life is a lot simpler. And speaking of blogs and associated posts, I have a folder of drafts, near-finished, half-finished, sane ideas, stupid ideas and other notes for posts which I’m tired of looking at. So, that’s one reason I’ve decided to (where practical) limit online activities to work-related things for a while; I’ve reached a never-ending point of editing, re-editing, but never hitting “Publish”, as the days go by. Alas (or perhaps relief), the epic post I’ve been promising on online medical record data, how superb the NHS is, and which is less/more uncomfortable of a endoscopy/colonoscopy (spoiler: the latter is fine, but the former is like swallowing a greased hosepipe), will have to wait for another day (or, year).

There’s other reasons to “cut back on the online”. The days (as in “sun” and “light”) are long here and in the here and now, and I’d rather, to be blunt, spend as much time outside than inside staring at a screen and banging on a keyboard as I’ve done for much of the last quarter of a century. Also, a piece of work I’m currently doing has some strict confidentiality clauses in it (there are understandable reasons for that; it isn’t a complaint), and I’ve already nearly accidentally tweeted things which would have caused severe problems.

Curve

And speaking of twitter, my eternal love-hate relationship with it continues. As a social “glue” it’s great, unbeatable in form and ease. And some of the funnies on it are funny, and DMs are often the best way of communicating with some people. But, my God, it’s still and probably forever will be a place to amplify outrage, relentlessly, about every bad thing that people are doing in the world. This is not healthy and I’ve repeatedly fallen into the “LOOK AT THIS BAD THING LOOK AT IT” retweeting cycle myself.

At the moment, with the EU referendum (especially), the unusual US election, and all manner of other things going on the world of a negative nature, social media and Twitter in particular are often not great places to be, unless you thrive on the outrage. I did once – I lived for it – but I don’t now. Life is short, and trees are more satisfying to look at than the violence of failed humanity. Heck, I thought 2014 was bad on news and social media, but since then…worse.

Oh, and mailing lists. Yeah. Nope. It’s a blue sky outside, with a vitamin-D enabling sun, and those trees, flowers and fields. Much healthier to encounter these than the latest whine/rant on certain mailing lists that could be mentioned (#NotAllLists, I know, don’t get huffy).

On the positive side, I’ve figured out some realistic long-term aims of late. I’d rather crack on with moving towards them, rather than being distracted because I’m too easily distracted by certain aspects of the online life.

And a final reason for easing off the social media, is having unwanted knowledge about a few specific funding-related things. Ignorance can, sometimes, be bliss. Again, I’d rather not accidentally tweet or write or whatever something that shouldn’t come from me, especially when it affects friends and colleagues. That never ends well.

Green shoots

Work is work though, and social media, the Internet, websites, and even a few specific mailing lists are unavoidable because of work needs. So I’m not totally disappearing from the net; that would be impractical. Anyway, amongst other unavoidable online activities, I need to rebuild my work website which has dated quickly, taking into account some changes in focus.

I daresay I’ll break and come back every now and then for a minute or two to catch up, like having your nose against the window of a house where’s a nice party going on inside. I am human, and therefore weak.

But no idea when I’ll be back fully on regular social media – perhaps at the end of summer in the longer sense of the word summer – nor where I’ll be in “real life” when this happens. Who cares anyway; it’s just letters and other characters on a screen, no more than that. Get outside and enjoy your summer, northern hemisphere folk, while you can :)

Hotdesk

True Librarian

True Librarian

Phil Bradley, library advocate and activist, writes about libraries and Internet things (he’s particular good on search engines). He’s on the ball, open-minded, and tends to – sensibly – avoid many of the zero-win library arguments on social media. His website.

His latest post, A response to “This Librarian Is Not Impressed With Your Digital, No-Books Library”, is worth a read. I’ve posted a comment, though I can’t help but think I’ve written the same before in various places, about public libraries and librarians. Several times. Diminishing returns. Maybe it’s time to reluctantly acknowledge there will always be entrenched, opinionated, media elitists who favor one type of information container over another, or over all others. And leave them to their book sniffing, or techno-lust.

I’ve repeated the reply below as Typepad and me don’t get on, the reply lost the external links, and the grammar (I so need an editor) is a bit better.

+ + + + +

Yes; a thousand times yes. The grocer that sells only apples, even the finest quality apples, is soon a bankrupt grocer.

The extremists on both wings of the information access spectrum are just that; extreme, and selfish, and lacking in empathy. The “book sniffer” who only reads print, fetishes paper, and looks down with false superiority on those who use the library computers as being of a lesser, less intellectual and intelligent mind. The “techno bore” who parrots the lie that “everything is online”, ignores the many millions with no IT skills or experience, and looks down on those who read print as feeble, old-fashioned and just old (as they too will one day be).

There’s snobbery on both wings, and both weaken the standing of libraries and librarians with their intolerant, narrow and narrow-minded “I find information this way, therefore everyone else should” agenda.

This is particularly pertinent this week. Everyone has heard of the death of Robin Williams. Depression, mental illness and suicide are being debated and commented in varying degrees of enlightenment across print and digital media. Many on social media, in real life, are choosing this time to declare past and previous problems, battles in the mind. These are not rare, and easily remedied, conditions; these are common, but complex and individual conditions.

But where does a person who wants, or needs, quality information on these issues go? And go to, right now? Friends and relatives often give worse than useless opinions, masked as advice. “Pull yourself together”, “You’ll get over it”, You have a job; count yourself lucky”, “Get a job”, “Go and have a drink”. Does this advice work? If not, where else does someone go?

The A and E hospital department? Overwhelmed with people in stages of trauma, and frightening. The CAB? Again, busy and overwhelmed, and it doesn’t solve but sends the person elsewhere. The police station? Frightened of being sectioned or detained. The council’s social services? Overstretched, underfunded, and the paradox of requiring a tenacity to navigate that is often missing in those who need it. The GP? Again, needing the tenacity to get an appointment, wait, get seen too, maybe get mysterious medications, maybe get onto a mental health waiting list. With a heavy emphasis on waiting – and what does he or she do while they wait?

Which leads to: what if you need that information now? If the thoughts going through the mind aren’t good ones, and aren’t abated by hearing “The earliest initial appointment is in three weeks”. Or if it’s difficult, as many with mental health issues find, to deal with people and agencies, in appointment or on the telephone? People who want, or need, reassuring privacy to absorb information in their own way and at their own pace. What options are left? Often, only two are apparent, public, obvious and there.

…either, the pub. Alcohol is cheap, oblivion comes soon, and pubs are inviting; they want your money. Go in a few at opening times and find the many who chose, or had to choose, this easiest but non-solving and worsening of options. The cheap, chain bar became the default 21st century “Care in the Community”.

…or, the public library. Possibly. Print? There can be useful books there, which you can borrow and read, at your speed, in the privacy of your home. Online? There’s computers to get you to websites, some with up to date information, more information, and contact details. A library that provides both the analog and the digital maximizes the chances of providing essential and accessible information to those who really need it.

So long as there is the third component: the skilled and experienced librarian, who respects privacy and does not have a bias towards a particular media; who knows how to help and nudge people with complex needs in the right direction and into the appropriate media. Not the volunteer, well-meaning but lacking information and media skills, who may be judgmental, or not respect privacy, or not have the experience of encountering people with complex needs. But the true librarian, who can encounter an inarticulate, possibly frightened, probably emotional person, figure out what information they need, and help them to get it using the array of media in that same building. Who knows where an appropriate book is, or how to get it on loan; who knows how to get to an appropriate website.

True librarians, with their many information skills and experiences, can and do help, improve, and even save, lives. But they need, in their libraries, the diversity of information media – print, digital, book, online – to do so. The elitism and snobbery, the favoritism of a pet media to the exclusion of others, helps neither librarians, nor the patrons and members of the community and society, they serve.

Nidificating

Nidificating

It’s the first Saturday of August. After being held prisoner all night with an overactive mind I’m sitting, surprisingly comfortably, in an empty, early morning, coffee place in an English market town. So guess it’s somewhat like my childhood, except with better coffee. And the money to buy it. And wifi. And the person making the coffee reminds me of Lena Dunham in Girls. And the coffee place has the spacious, relaxed, brick wall feel of a coffee place in an American midwest town. Okay, it’s nothing like my childhood then.

Thank God.

This last year has been frustrating, though not as much as the previous three which felt like going backwards, while the body relentlessly aged. Health, in a wider sense, has had knockbacks, but there’s been more positives than negatives. Some legacy issues have been sorted. Others are in the process of being sorted. Some remain, kicked into the long grass for probably another year.

I’ve written more in the last year than any of the previous ten, but most of it isn’t public. A combination of nerve, legal worries, a lack of editorial skills – I still cannot figure out how to do apostrophe’s – and wondering if there’s any audience for these texts means most of it stays in the digital vault. Yeah, I’ll come back to that.

People I know, or knew, have had children, gotten married, gotten divorced, died. Less family deaths this year, but there’s not many relatives left now. Planes fall from the sky, rockets fall on schools, tanks roll into towns, diseases wipe out communities. The news is a relentless reel of grim; there is no dog on a skateboard any more. Twitter isn’t significantly more positive, but at least there are cats there.

Always cats.

And no matter what you do, or what you don’t do, life perambulates on everywhere else.

I’ve cut back on social media and use it more sparingly and less like a sugar addict in a sweetshop. In both social media and real life most people have been quietly dropped. I’ve escaped the city, my biggest mistake of several big ones these last six years being to not realize, or remember, that I’m happier out of the city than in it. Though that’s tweet-simplistic and there’s a bundle of probably contradictory feelings, on Birmingham and Detroit, to unpack at some point.

I’ve walked a lot of miles and seen a lot of trees. One or two may or may not have been hugged when there’s been no-one around. It’s probably the beard.

But though these are fields and trees, they are slightly familiar fields and trees. The country of my birth, which I don’t love but have learned to tolerate, still holds me while its health service (one of the pluses) fixes me, a frustratingly long car service at the biological garage. Home, in heart and mind, are a long way away and I feel like a semi-detached visitor on this island of sixty million. The contrails in the sky are my route map; the sound of the wood pigeon a daily reminder that I’m still here, and not there.

+ + + + +

The most significant event this last year was a malfunction, several months ago. Though, on reflection the most significant event may have been my inability to properly pack a large glass jar of coffee in my suitcase a few days before. Yadda yadda yadda coffee grinds and broken glass in seemingly everything, including some tech.

Thus my backup drive, instead of purring in its usual digital cat manner, screeched in a high pitched and almost violent fit, then suddenly went silent. The air filled with the chemical smell of some kind of plastic-metal melting or burning. Instinctively I knew this, whatever it was, wasn’t going to be fixed by a software upgrade.

On contemplating the digital death of the apparently sentient drive, I realized what was on my computer was the only versions of many things. And that computer was over half a decade old and would one day unexpectedly keel over, perhaps in sympathy with the now-smoldering drive. I could have run out and bought another backup drive, but that would have continued my usual bad practice of dumping everything on there in a random manner, with the good intention of sorting it all out one day.

A good intention never carried out. And I’ve written several times about this good intention, of sorting out all my old ephemera, and the started and abandoned blogs (several) and social media (many) accounts online, and making it all neat and tidy and online and blah blah blah. But never actually got off my 45 year old English ass and followed through. Always a job for tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.

But now, in the gaps between medical appointments, work tasks, waking up and the first coffee working, it made sense to do the big sorting out and saving and backup. To “nidificate”, as Becky told me; to build a (digital) nest.

The first task, sorting through and backing up everything from the laptop in some kind of ordered fashion, is pretty much done; all 14,319 files. Various “clouds” (look, a cloud is just some remote place you FTP stuff to – no magic) now house my stuff. More clouds house backups of other clouds. I should be able to survive at least one security breach, or cloud owner going under, or laptop eventually joining the old backup drive in digital heaven, without losing my stuff.

The second, much longer, task is underway; moving some of this stuff into one “blog” or place. The name was supplied by Becky and is appropriate, so it’s eventually my home for previous posts – everything except for the long-form decent writing which stays here on Wordshore. And by everything, not just the conventional posts of extremely variable quality, but ephemera such as posts from the quirky BBC Island Blogging thing from the middle of the last decade, most of the posts from this site, some of the descriptors from Flickr pictures, diary entries of varying tones from current times to some years back (effectively a private blog), possibly some other stuff I’m looking at now that may cause the odd ruckus. A smorgasbord of often quantity over quality. And the ride won’t always be fluffy and pleasant; I’ll leave the fakery and the trying on of personal hats to social media.

Why, rather than delete it all and start afresh? An aide memoir. Some context for what I do. An experimental place for writing. Hopefully a reminder of previous mistakes so history doesn’t get repeated (yeah, right). A few records being set straight (“history is written by the one who remembers to backup his shit”). And a memory stamp when digital history, and the history of digital, is being silently removed at an increasing pace. To explain; all six UK academic organizations I worked at or for, doing digital library and informatics stuff, between 1995 and 2004 have closed down in the last five years. Some of these have archived their stuff; some have rammed it into one database; some have chosen to just wipe everyones work from over the years (seriously, CDLR; wtf?). Yes, there’s the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive, and it’s great – essential, even – but it takes time to browse around historical timelines. And what happens if the volunteer-funded Wayback Machine itself stops?

So, Nidificate it is for much of my online texty stuff that’s currently scattered online and off. This will take a long time to do, as it’s the work that fits in the gaps between everything else. It’ll certainly take a lot longer than a year, so on the first Saturday of August 2015, I’ll hopefully be typing about what is done and what there is still to do. Maybe.

American Gothic reimagined

American Gothic reimagined

American Gothic 2011 Unrated Edition

And as the summer draws to a close, we continued our trips around the awesome state of Iowa. First impressions were of several thousand square miles of corn and precious little else, but perceptions are deceptive. There’s a lot in Iowa, if you look for it; more on this in future posts.

The best thing we’ve done here so far? Visited the house that Grant Wood painted in the iconic, and much parodied, American Gothic. The original painting…

American Gothic

…hangs in Chicago, but the actual house is in the town of Eldon, in the south of Iowa. Eldon has … not very much else, publicising the house in some way or other in two signs out of three around the place. From the main roads, follow the signs down various back streets, until the house comes into view.

Things we noticed when we turned up:

  • The house is surprisingly small
  • The visitor center nearby is several time larger
  • It doesn’t get visited much; just a few other people there, on a Saturday, when we were.

House

The house itself is lived in, rented out to someone who occasionally makes and sells pies. No tours inside, and signs to respect privacy, but you can get pretty close up to it.

The visitor center has a heap of exhibitions and a lot of contextual history about the house. But, best of all, they have friendly staff and a bunch of clothes you can put on to dress up like the folk (actually the painters dentist and sister) in the picture. Right down to the pitchfork, and the rather strong 1930s glasses.

So it was on with the clothes, and outside with our respective cameras.

Dressing up

And here’s the end result. The Systems Librarian of Grinnell College on the left, and me with the pitchfork, looking dour. Or hardworking. Or paternal. Or stern. Or, keeping a fixed frown as people of that era did, being dissuaded from smiling for primitive photography due to the long exposure time.

American Gothic

The visitor center, and having your picture taken, are free; donations welcome. More on their website. Eldon itself is 80 miles away from Grinnell. Enjoy.

An American trip: October and November 2008

An American trip: October and November 2008

During October and November of 2008, I took a month-long trip around the US of A. The main mode of transport was Amtrak train, and the trip tied in neatly with two conferences I was speaking at – one of which was in Chicago on the day Barack Obama was elected (and one heck of an evening that was). I did a lot of writing on that trip, thinking it was just a few people in the Outer Hebrides and a few friends and colleagues who were reading it – and not realising until recently that others were too, for various reasons. I’m relieved now I didn’t delete the words.

Since demolishing my blog and, essentially, restarting all of my online presence as new as I can, the diaries have gotten messed up, but they should be restored here as a set of 32 postings.

Don’t know which post was the “best”, but a few folk have said the Surviving New Orleans posting is their choice because of the tweeted engagement story in it. Mine is the Texas one, where I seem to have just lost inhibitions and fears and just … wrote.

Oct 18th – Los Angeles and Santa Monica

Oct 20th – Pictures, not words

Oct 21st – Sleepless in Monterey

Oct 23rd – Monterey aquarium

Pier from the sidewalk

Oct 25th – First overnight trip on Amtrak

Oct 25th – Breakfast in Seattle

Oct 26th – An afternoon in the mountains

Oct 26th – New York deli breakfast in Seattle

Oct 27th – Montana at dawn

Oct 28th – Whitefish, Montana

Oct 29th – Sign of the times

Samantha at Tucson station

Oct 29th – Election, American style

Oct 30th – Do bears…?

Oct 30th – Is black the new ginger?

Oct 30th – Election day events in Chicago

Nov 1st – Whitefish to Chicago by Amtrak

Nov 1st – GLLS2008 food

Nov 2nd – American time, British time, Obama time

Nov 4th – Chicago on election day

Walkway

Nov 4th – Outside, it’s America

Nov 5th – “Oh, you look so beautiful, tonight…”

Nov 5th – The morning after

Nov 6th – In America, academics knit

Nov 7th – Goodbye Chicago

Nov 8th – Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

Nov 8th – Memphis, and the ride to New Orleans

Nov 10th – New Orleans (1)

He won

Nov 10th – New Orleans (2)

Nov 12th – Surviving New Orleans

Nov 13th – Texas: a thousand miles of bugger-all

Nov 13th – The American Dream

Nov 16th – Trip summary

There’s also a set of pictures on Flickr, some of which are embedded in the postings anyway.

I heart Samantha

I heart Samantha

In response to a few comments and queries, Samantha isn’t a real person. She’s the name of my Asus EEE mini laptop which did the trip around the USA with me, and is pictured in various places (Arizona, Los Angeles, Oregon, Chicago, New Orleans) in this post. Samantha proved incredibly popular, and I must have been asked about her easily over a hundred times. From train travellers to people in hotel lobbies, bars and restaurants to very excited librarians, Samantha was the centre of attention on so many occasions.

Samantha at Tucson station

Why Samantha? It’s named after Travels With Samantha, probably my favourite work of American travel writing after Blue Highways. Travels With Samantha was one of the first major works produced, and put on, the Web. It subsequently won the Best of the Web award for 1994. nb if you have recently gone through a pet bereavement, then advise not reading the first chapter of TWS.

In TWS, Samantha was also a laptop which the author carried around the US with him on what became an epic journey. Rebrand More about Samantha. She’s the PC 901 model, running Windows XP and with Open Office installed. 1.6 GHz. Problems to date: zero. Improvements that could be made: more memory on the solid state hard drive; non-essential software removed before start-up.

Bench outside Klamath Falls library

One of my tasks on the trip to the US was to see how much work one could do on the road. And the answer is – a heck of a lot. The battery lasts for 6 hours on a full charge, probably because it takes less power to run a solid state memory than a hard drive. In the first few days, I managed to do a powerpoint presentation and a couple of articles; as the trip developed, I did both of my conference presentations from scratch. The small screensize can make fine detail a bit tricky to see; you’d also not want to do heavy SL development work on it. But for most other things; fine.

First drinks of GLLS2008 tagged :-)

Speed: fast; it’s very quick from starting up to getting in and doing things. Issues: the hard drive needs to be bigger. The keyboard can take a bit of getting used to. The Wifi pick-up seemed remarkably good (though others contest it may be weaker than other machines), as I picked up many, many wifi signals when travelling around the US (side-point: thank you, so many Americans, for leaving your wifi routers open. Especially those of you close to Amtrak rail lines).

Connie and Gumbo

Accessorise? Yes. I have three items. The Obama decal, which resulted in two people wanting to buy Samantha for more than she was worth. And the mouse and case, pictured below with her. The mouse is a Belkin one costing around 10 pounds which glows in ever-changing colours, and retracts. The case is a soft pouch which weighs virtually nothing. According to the kitchen scales, the computer, mouse and case between them weigh 2 pounds and 10.5 ounces. Hence it was one of the lighter items that I carried with me to the top of the 6,900 foot mountain in Montana.

EEE, case and mouse

Do I recommend it? Yes. They’re cheap; you don’t like it – put it up for sale on eBay and you’ll get nearly all your money back. It’s robust – my older, much larger and heavier laptop would not have taken the punishment Samantha has through America. But if e.g. airport security manage to destroy it, then you haven’t lost a fortune. Above all, the weight and the compactness of the whole thing (the mains adapter was also miniature) meant it could all be literally thrown into the backpack with other bits and pieces. Samantha went everywhere with me, except to the shower room on Amtrak trains or to the Obama presidential party. So we’re good mates now, and I’m glad I never sold her.

Monterey aquarium

Monterey aquarium

Fishies

With IL2008 over, and it being good to have the first presentation of this trip done, this morning I hit the world-famous aquarium in Monterey with a couple of other delegates. I’d heard a lot about this place, to the extent I was getting a bit fed up with it, but as I have most of a day before my train to Seattle it seems a logical place to check out.

The admission fee isn’t cheap – $24.95 – which is blimey UK prices. But, after a few hours of wandering around, looking at the substantial collection of sea thingies, stroking a blue ray, and watching sharks, otters and fish being fed, it’s been a pretty enjoyable time.

And the wifi. OMG. I don’t think I’ve ever had wifi as fast as this anywhere. And it’s public wifi, not optimized for your home or office. I cannot believe the speed things are downloading. (Downloads all the things)

There’s also an otter tank with feeding times, but as I have otters at the bottom of my garden back home, it was no big thing:

It was noticeable in the cafe/restaurant that people generally avoided the “Sustainable Seafood” option and went for beef or chicken instead…