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Crossing the Radar Screen

5 Feb

radar-333574_960_720It’s Friday and it’s snowing here in Worcester – all of the makings of a quiet afternoon. I’ve spent the day mostly working through a book that I recently bought, Tableau Your Data! It’s a lot to take in, so I thought I’d take a break and clear out my “Weekly Blog Post Items” bookmark folder. Here are some fun and interesting finds that crossed my radar screen during the past week:

Determined to hone my data visualization chops, I’ve been on the lookout for interesting sources of data to use for practice. The U.S. Census Department’s website is a great spot, of course, but a special gem that I found hidden on it is Stats for Stories. Here, you’ll find statistics related to stories that are in the news, calendar events and/or holidays, and more.  

It’s 2+ hours long so I’ve hardly sat and watched the entire thing yet, but what I’ve seen of the keynote address by Christian Chabot and Chris Stolte on the “Art of Analytics” at Tableau Conference 2014 is quite fascinating. Data visualization as an art form – it’s a topic that draws me in.

Obsessive fans (who me?) of the TV show, Law & Order, along with its many iterations will find Cecilia Esther Rabess’ latest entry in her McSweeney’s column, Mostly Uninformative Infographics, hilarious and oh, so true. … About Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit

My wife has been co-teaching Sunday school these past few months using a curriculum called, “D’oh, God!” It’s based around episodes of The Simpsons. Naturally, when I learned about Frinkiac, the database of 3 million+ screen captures from the show, I had to pass it along. Enjoy!

The Washington Post’s story, “What Ivy League Students are Reading That You Aren’t,” along with the data source for it, the Open Syllabus Explorer database, both fascinated me this week. 

If you’re curious about the source of words and phrases in the English language, you’ll likely find Arika Okrent’s YouTube channel awesome. Okrent is a contributor to the magazine, Mental Floss. I’ve subscribed to it for years, preparing myself for that “Jeopardy!” tryout that I just know I’m going to be invited to some day.

Virginia Woolf made famous the idea of “a room of one’s own.” I’m so very fortunate to have a studio space in an old factory mill in town where I can go and be creative in any and every fashion. It’s my space. My room of my own. Bored Panda’s “100 Famous Artists and Their Studios” is a wonderful photo trip through the rooms of some incredibly talented people. I found it inspiring.

Finally, the SuperBowl is this Sunday. I’m likely in the very small minority who tunes into the game to watch the game. I turn to a different channel during the half-time show and I mute all of the commercials. I realize that folks pay a gazillion bucks for these spots, but I always mute (or fast-forward through) commercials. Bleh! That said, these two spots made for Sunday’s game but released earlier got me. Dachshunds and singing sheep. What could be better?!  

and

Happy Friday, everyone!

And the Oscar Goes To: Best Picture

15 Jan

OscarThe Oscar nominations are out. No big surprises. When it comes to patting themselves on the back, the industry that is Hollywood is still overwhelmingly white and male. Still, it was a year for several good films and many wonderful performances and, per usual, I have a lot to catch up on before the awards are handed out next month. Cue up the movie tickets, Netflix, and popcorn.

For fun, I wondered what it would be like to name my personal Oscar nominations and winners this year. Oh, I don’t mean making picks based upon the movies of last year, but the events of my life during that time. What would be the Best Picture of my 2015? Who would be the Best Actress? Best Director? What was the Best Score, the background music of my year?

I sat down with pen and paper and started my lists. It’s more difficult that I thought and thus will take a few posts, but let’s start with what those darned Oscar celebration directors always make us wait until the end to find out – Best Picture. No need to stay up past midnight here.

The 2015 nominees for Best Picture in my year are:

ACC

It’s a long way from the Library to the 7th floor of the ACC.

The Road Less Traveled – A medical research librarian leaves the familiar confines of the library and her library kin to explore the highway of evaluation in clinical and translational  science. Along the way she meets up with intense grant writing, crazy deadlines, people who speak a different language, and much packing and unpacking of office boxes. Will it be a cliffhanger or a “happily ever after”? You decide.

*****

Little Snow

Dogs always steal the snow, er… show.

Snowpocalypse 2015 – The bustling, blue collar, chip-on-its-shoulder city of Worcester, Massachusetts is pummeled with snow the likes of which it cannot remember. Almost 120 inches of snow falls, leaving the City buried in challenges, but full of heart as the citizens all get behind the race to claim the title, “Snowiest City in the US.” No spoilers here. You’ll have to check out the Golden Snow Globe to see who won.

*****

IMG_2052

Austin, Texas. The backdrop alone makes for a winning film.

SwingTime – A bunch of medical librarians land in Austin, Texas and discover that honky tonks and margaritas and Texas Swing are all right up their alley. Meeting? Was there also a meeting? Think of this one as Todd Phillips writes a movie with smart people in the cast.

*****

IMG_2282

It’s ideal, but is it a winner?

Our House in the Middle of the Street – Adopting the title of the hit song by the band, Madness, back in the 1980s, the attempt to buy a home becomes maddeningly complicated at every turn possible. A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World it was, but this picture avoids the pitfalls of  The Money Pit and becomes an instant classic. Home, Sweet Home.

*****

Four Friends

Who will fall into the drama?

The Big Thrill – Four friends gather by a lake for a weekend of reminiscing. Twenty five years may have gone by between meetings, but the reunion is filled with laughter and tears. Lawrence Kasdan’s influence knows no bounds.

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Wow! What a slate. There’s not a non-deserving picture in the bunch. Hand me the envelope there, judges. And the Oscar for Best Picture of 2015 goes to…

Our House in the Middle of the Street! 

This is the first Oscar win for first-time homeowners Sally and Lynn. The sentimental favorite, yes, but who can argue? We can now sit in the comfort of a warm and cozy home and watch movies forever. Definitely a “Happily Ever After” feature.

Stay tuned for more. We’ll be back after a commercial break.

It’s Still the Giving Season

7 Jan

Yes, yes… the official holiday season is a little bit behind us now, but my ChristmasChristmas tree is still up and I celebrate as long as possible, i.e. until said tree becomes a fire hazard, so in the spirit of giving, here are a few goodies I’ve discovered over the past couple of weeks. Enjoy!

Reading Lists! Oh how I love them and this time of year is always ripe with such. The folks at TED Talks produced a nice one – 58 books recommended by TED speakers – and my favorite independent bookstore, Powell’s (Portland, OR)  offered up a selection of their favorite nonfiction books of 2015.  Here’s a list from Austin Kleon, who I mention here often – his reading list from the past year. And finally, if you missed reading along with Facebook’s chief, Mark Zuckerberg during his A Year of Books group, it’s not too late to see all of the books he read and discussed. BTW, if you’d like to run with Mark this year, you can join his new Facebook group, A Year of Running. 365 days = 365 miles. Go for it!

And while we’re on lists, I did my favorite music list in my last post, but afterward came across NPR’s poll results of their listeners favorite albums of 2015. More for your listening pleasure.

Switching gears… did you make a New Year’s Resolution to learn something new? I did. I’m taking banjo lessons. Hot dog! But I’m taking them in person because I’ve tried in vain to learn via online classes and Youtube videos. That said, there’s plenty of subjects well suited for the virtual world and the post on Medium, The 37 Best Websites to Learn Something New, will point you in the right direction.

Sadly, one thing that always gets me a little down when I think about and/or pursue learning something new is that I’m getting older. Older every day. I fear that I’ve missed out on ever becoming really good at something that I might want to do or be. I’m sure we all might feel that life crisis from time to time. In the midst of such anxiety last week, my daily email from The New Yorker arrived with a link to a great piece by Malcolm Gladwell, Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity? I liked it a lot and found hope in the thought that maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

Just for fun – “The lyrebirds of Australia were highly mysterious and rarely seen until one fell in love with an elderly widow in 1930.” Surely you will want to listen. How could you not?

 And finally, perhaps one of the coolest things that crossed my radar this week is this wonderful collection of infographics from the folks at Wait But Why. Could you imagine looking at 90 years of living in a more creative way? Great stuff.

That’s all for this week. Here’s to a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful, and Curious Creative-filled 2016 for all!

12 Albums of Christmas (Plus 3)

28 Dec

My good friend, Dan McCloskey, has produced a terrific “best of” list of albums for a good number of years now. He does a much better job than I’m about to attempt here, as he offers up his picks a day at a time and gives you a nice overview of why each is a favorite. (Follow Dan at Left Field.)

Me, I’m too lazy for that. In fact, as I tried to make a “best of” list for 2015, I quickly realized how seldom I focus my musical attention on new releases. I tend to either (1) follow the same people for years (thus, if they issued a new record in 2015, it will likely be a favorite of mine), or (2) discover new artists and go back and listen to and/or collect their catalog from whatever years the records came out. Thus, at a loss for making a “best” list, I give to you, instead, a list of records that I purchased this year that were actually released this year. In other words, here are my picks for 2015 music worthy of my hard-earned dollars (in no specific order beyond the list I wrote on a post-it note):

CincyPops

The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, along with a bang-up group of performers,  recorded a selection of songs from the songbook of Stephen Foster, one of America’s most cherished songwriters. I’m not sure how I came across it, but am sure glad that I did. Catch a wonderful video of “Camptown Races” here

Musgraves

My same friend, Dan, introduced me to Kacey Musgraves this year and I became an instant fan. Not only did I grab hold of her 2015 release, Pageant Material, but I also downloaded “Same Trailer, Different Park,” her award-winning release from 2013. Both are just terrific! Enjoy some Biscuits, here

Monterey

Don’t know the Milk Carton Kids? Shame on you! Amazing songwriters, guitar pickers, and harmonizers. If you’re a fan of a couple of other guys from a few years back, Simon & Garfunkel, or you enjoy the guitar stylings of Dave Rawlings (see below), you’ll like these guys. Monterey is just the latest in a string of wonderful, wonderful records.

Still the King

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my 2015 was a week in Austin, Texas. I went there for to attend the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association, but stayed several extra days to take in the music. I LOVE Texas swing music and am forever grateful to the band, Asleep at the Wheel, for keeping the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys alive. They have a regular gig at the Austin airport, but alas, they weren’t playing when I was passing through. One day… Catch Katie Shore and the rest of the band give Wills’ “It’s All Your Fault” a go here

As a bonus, one of my favorite books that I read the past year is Duncan McLean’s, Lone Star Swing. It’s the travel account of a Scot who’s never been outside of his homeland, but loves the music of Bob Wills and when he wins the Somerset Maugham Award for a short story he wrote, he takes his prize money and travels from Orkney, Scotland, to Texas “in search of the extraordinary mix of jazz, blues, country, and mariachi that is Western Swing.” It’s funny and informative at once. I just loved it.

song of the banjo

Not only one of my favorite musicians, but one of my favorite women, Alison Brown is both a virtuoso banjo player and record company founder. I’ve also had the privilege of meeting her a few times and she’s an incredibly approachable, genuine person. Her 2015 release, The Song of the Banjo, on her own, Compass Records, highlights the musicality of the banjo as she puts her own spin on a number of popular tunes. I happened to see her perform in Northampton, MA the day before it was officially released, so my copy is/was literally, hot off the presses! Check out her rendition of Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” along with special guest, Jake Shimabukuro, here

Cover_hi_res

Through Jason Isbell, I discovered his talented wife, Amanda Shires, this year. Her latest recording came out in 2013, though. Isbell’s latest came out this year. Like pretty much everything else he’s given us, Something More than Free is a winner. One of our most talented songwriters of today, Isbell continues to provide lyrics of substance that I listen to over and over, pondering all that they mean. The title track is but one example of the good stuff this record brings. 

The-Weepies-Sirens

Perhaps the record I most looked forward to in 2015 was Sirens from The Weepies. It’s not only because I’m a big fan and because it had been 5 years since we’d been given a new release, but because Deb Talen spent 2014 battling cancer. Thankfully, she came through and along with musical partner and husband, Steve Tannen, was able to give their fans Sirens. I have a feeling that the track, No Trouble, is a 3-minute summary of their past couple of years. Here’s to them for a happy and healthy 2016!

uncovered

If I’m stuck on an island and can only have one person to sing songs to me, Shawn Colvin may well be the one I want. She will forever be a favorite artist of mine. Her 2015 release of covers (like her 1994 offering, Cover Girl) gives listeners the treat of her amazing take on another batch of wonderful songs. Her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s, Tougher Than the Rest, is just one she’s picked.

honeycutters-2015-me-oh-my

I discovered The Honeycutters at MerleFest a few years back and have been a fan since. I was happy to stumble upon their 2015 release, me oh my, last spring. The Ashville, NC-based group gives listeners great songwriting and a straightforward Americana sound. It’s good music for driving. All You Ever is one good example. 

sara-watkins-im-with-her

Individually or in their many varied incarnations (Nickel Creek, Crooked Still, Sometimes Why), I just absolutely love Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins, and Sarah Jarosz. Their get-together-tour, “I’m With Her,” in 2015 produced a little gem in this EP, Crossing Muddy Waters. Sadly, I missed seeing them perform live and can only wish and hope that their act won’t be a one-shot deal. I can also tell you that my first entry for my 2016 list is Aoife’s forthcoming, In the Magic Hour. It’s out on January 22nd and my copy was pre-ordered months ago.

DarWilliamsCover_1500px-1

It had been a few years since I listened to Dar Williams and her 2015 record, Emerald, only made me wonder why. She never lets me down when it comes to giving music with meaning and heart. She’s been at this singer-songwriter life a good while now, but she’s not missed a beat. I was happy to have her grace my iPod in the past year.

Nashville Obsolete

Anyone who knows me knows that I can sing pretty much the entire Gillian Welch catalog. She and Dave Rawlings, when they perform as “Gillian Welch,” are simply right at the top of my record collection. Performing as the Dave Rawlings Machine, they gave us Nashville Obsolete in 2015. I admit that I liked 2009’s, A Friend of A Friend a little better, but when they set the bar as high as they do, “a little less” in comparison is hardly a disappointment. Everything is relative and these two don’t ever miss.

35450-servant-of-love

Another who rarely, if ever, misses is Patty Griffin. Servant of Love is a 2015 gift from the gifted songwriter and musician. You’ve gotta love a Mainer and I love Patty. This record is one more addition to her expansive catalog of beautifully-crafted songs. Any year that she releases a record is a year that she’ll appear on my “best of” list. 

Schneider

Another of my favorite Texans (by way of Michigan) is Bob Schneider. The long-time Austin resident, the prolific (as in “write a new song every day”) singer songwriter gave his fans a trilogy this year in the King Kong Suite. Three releases = hours of Schneider greatness. I love this guy. I just love him. There are few true artists like him giving us music today. Seek him out, if he’s unfamiliar to you. A quick YouTube search will leave you with lots to enjoy.

adele-25-album-cover

Okay, okay… yes… THE record of the year is on my list, too. I was way late to the Adele party. In fact, when she won a gazillion Grammies for 21, I asked all of my friends on Facebook, “Who is Adele?!” only to be bombarded with questions asking me in any number of ways what rock I’d been hiding under for the past years. Well, I do know now and I did purchase 25 as soon as it was released, and while “Hello” is the first big hit, it’s  “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” that plays over and over and over again on my iPod. That song is infectious. 

**********

That’s it. That’s my list. If some artists are new to you, I hope you’ll give them a listen. I also hope you’ll share in the comments some of your favorites from 2015. I surely won’t complain about the year’s offerings. There was plenty of enjoyment for me.

Happy New Year, everyone, and thanks for following along throughout 2015! 

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

31 Jul

Nothing says vacation time like a water skiing squirrel!

Go, Twiggy, Go!!

I’ll be back writing mid-August. Until then…

Stay Put!

6 Mar
Sit, Eliza. Stay.  Our puppy on her first day home, Aug 2013.

Sit, Eliza. Stay.
Our puppy on her first day home, Aug 2013.

I read a couple of good blog posts this morning, over on the Medical Library Association’s blog, “Full Speed Ahead.” The first was by MLA President, Linda Walton, called, “The Time for Change is Now.” It offers a nice summary of the organization’s new strategic goals, each of which contains some level of a call for action. Like many professional organizations, MLA is challenged to find its purpose and goals in the ever-changing world of libraries, health care, and information. The second post is by MLA’s new Executive Director, Kevin Baliozian. “Words I Can Do Without” lays the foundation for what became the very strategic plan outlined in Linda’s post. Wondering what Kevin’s “no say” words are? SPOILER ALERT: They are “try” and “continue.” Again, you can see that MLA and it’s leadership are focused on moving forward, shedding the “same old, same old,” and making the organization as relevant and important to health sciences librarians and information professionals as its storied history shows it to be in the past. 

I serve on the Executive Board of my regional chapter of MLA and we are engaged in much the same type of work. What do we continue doing? What do we cast aside? Who do we reach out to? What defines us and makes us different, unique, worthy of a colleague’s membership dues and energy? Important questions, all.

I’ve got nothing against change. I think it’s important to take stock on a regular basis and adjust accordingly. In my new job as an evaluator, that’s one of the main focuses (foci?) of my work. More, it’s one of the main reasons for my work. I evaluate the research cores and programs of the UMCCTS to track their progress and to make corrections; to identify where changes need to happen. 

But all of this said, I do have one cautionary note about change: Change for the sake of change is no change at all.

I once counted the number of times that I moved between the ages of 20 and 30. I don’t remember the exact number today, but it was around 18. Eighteen moves in 10 years. I also had a number of jobs during that time. I changed all of the time, BUT I went nowhere. I never stayed in any one place long enough for it to feel like home and I never stayed in any job long enough to become very good at it. And it’s the latter that I sometimes fear when it comes to the bigger picture of organizational and/or professional change.

The other day, someone called me to ask for some “librarian expertise.” I told him that I no longer worked in the library, but I could still certainly help him because I still have librarian expertise. I have it because I stayed in a job for 10 years. My job in the library did not stay the same for 10 years, but I stayed true to a certain core ideal – to help the students, clinicians, and researchers of the Medical School with their information needs, whatever those needs might be. Whether I was building consumer health websites, answering reference questions, teaching how to better search PubMed, or building data dictionaries for research teams, in each I was staying true to that ideal. 

As we search and investigate and try on new roles as librarians – at the individual, institutional, and professional organization level – I hope that we stay true to our ideals. It’s a big challenge, but not impossible. It doesn’t mean we don’t change, but that we purposefully change. Change is expensive. It costs time to learn new things and time to become an expert. It costs time to raise the awarenesses of the people we serve regarding the things we now do. It costs people jobs, when roles and tasks disappear. It costs people their identity, when they’re tied closely to one in particular. 

In the past 2 months, I have changed jobs, moved offices twice, watched my mother-in-law pass away, and (just about – almost ready to sign the papers) bought a house. I seem to be forgetting another big thing, but that’s probably an innate defense mechanism, because let me tell you … all of this change has been exhausting. It takes a toll on a person physically, mentally, and emotionally. We all know this. So it’s all the more important to make sure that we undertake change that’s worth the expense.

I’m enjoying my new job, though it’s stressful to not be an expert anymore and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss the library. I’m going to love our new house, something that I’ve never had before in my life. And I do so love having an office for the first time, even if it’s across the campus from all of my old colleagues. All good changes. All worth it.

In the same way, I think that many of the changes that we’re talking about and making in the world of health sciences libraries and beyond are great – necessary and worth the cost. But I do wonder about some and I question their true connection to our ideals. Are we scrambling to change because we don’t know what else to do? Are we forced to change for reasons that have nothing to do with our work, e.g. budgets, space, etc. All very real forces of change, but I worry that sometimes the changes that they force aren’t necessarily in our best interest.

Change is difficult. Change is inevitable. And perhaps most importantly, change requires good leadership – whether you’re leading an organization or just trying to lead yourself in the right direction. In that respect, I feel pretty good about my professional organization. I paid my dues for another year. :)

 

January 9th – ALREADY?!

9 Jan

It’s a good thing that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions related to my personal writing, because I’d have to report a failure already. That said, the CTSA grant proposal that everyone has been working ’round the clock on for weeks now is very close … oh so very close … to being put to bed, which in this case means submitted. And then I’ll be able to start focusing on how to approach doing the new job that I’ve been hired to do. Up until now, I’ve only been writing what I’ll do. Next stop, figure out how to do what I said I’d do. I’ve already joined the American Evaluation Association and signed up for one of their upcoming coffee break webcasts.

An aside… I think the idea of coffee break webcasts – 30-minute weekly sessions that focus on a particular topic, led by different members of the organization – is a TERRIFIC idea. I know that I belong to a few organizations that are struggling to define and/or create the real benefits of membership and such a simple thing as a regular, free, short-and-sweet-yet-interesting webcast is just that sort of thing.

For today, I at least wanted to send up a post with a few fun things I’ve come across over the past couple days/weeks – some delayed candy canes, if you will:

  • The Spudd – it’s The Onion of medical and pharma news. Hilarious. I discovered it just this very morning, thanks to a hilarious post shared on Twitter by my friend, Dean Hendrix. 
  • How Reddit Created the World’s Largest Dialogue between Scientists and the General Public is a very good blog post by Simon Owens. I’m fascinated with scientific communication and, in particular, efforts to bring the scientific community together with the general public. We are a scientifically illiterate culture at our own peril. I love what’s happening on this online community and so I’ve set up a Reddit account and plan to follow along for awhile. 
  • Finally, for anyone curious about public health and/or epidemiology and NOT interested in returning to school ever again <hand raised>, I came across an on-demand course from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I confess that I’ve signed-up and failed at several MOOC’s, mostly because of timing. I’m really happy to find a relevant, on-demand one and hope to work through it soon. I have a feeling that doing a course on my own, at my own pace, and at my own convenience will work well for me, especially now as I juggle all of the new tasks of a new job.

Back to the grindstone here. Happy New Year to all of my readers and followers! You make blogging fun.

My 3 New Year's Resolutions for 2015. No progress yet!

My 3 New Year’s Resolutions for 2015. No progress yet!

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