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Summer Solstice and Summer Reading

21 Jun
Summer

Just hanging out in the summer sunshine.

Today marks the longest day for us here in the Northern Hemisphere. Time to welcome summer! I read an article this morning on STAT listing 23 of the best health and science books to read this summer and it got me to thinking about my own picks. In my last post, I mentioned David Epstein’s new book, Range. I’ve almost finished it and give it two big thumbs up. Here’s what else is in my pile for the summer:

First, a couple of things for work. Being new to management, I picked up Kevin Hoffman’s, Meeting Design, which talks about how to use design principles to plan and facilitate better meetings. If there’s one thing I quickly remembered when I returned to the library last summer, it’s that we have LOTS of meetings. I might as well learn some ways to make them both more efficient and maybe even a little fun.

Meeting-Design-front-cover-640x960

I also have Julie Zhuo’s very readable, The Making of a Manager, on my desk. A Silicon Valley product designer, Zhuo found herself in a management role a good bit before she expected. She offers up first-hand stories of lessons she’s learned, along with great tips for finding your own way. And it’s got fun comics by Pablo Stanley throughout. 

Zhuo

Finally, my fun summer read (it’s likely gonna take me all summer to read it, too), is the really enjoyable Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s the choice of my book club for the summer and I’m finding it fascinating. Great pick!

PF+Pulitzer+sticker

What’s on your list for the summer? Share in the comments section.

BONUS: It’s also Make Music Day, a world-wide celebration of the joy of music. I hope everyone is able to find a good book and some good, live music to make this a wonderful day!

Practice, Practice, Practice … or maybe not

7 Jun
retreat.JPG

Retreating is Hard Work!

Sorry to miss last week’s post. Just as I was getting back in my Friday writing groove, we had a joint department retreat here in my library. GREAT stuff happened there, but it kept me from writing. Not from thinking, though. Oooh… have I been thinking. 

I’m in the midst of reading David Epstein’s latest book, Range. I read the NY Times Book Review about it and immediately ordered a copy. It’s a fascinating read and so very relevant to the work that we do as librarians and/or information professionals. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, so I can’t give a complete overview of the theories discussed, but so far, I’m pretty well convinced that the argument he is making rings true.

In brief, Epstein suggests that in a world that’s becoming more and more specialized, it’s the generalists who will thrive. He builds on the work of psychologists Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman who have studied human decision making, and in particular, how the contexts in which decisions are made affect gaining expertise in an area. Robin Hogarth, another psychologist, goes further, identifying these learning environments as either “wicked” or “kind.” In a kind learning environment, “patterns repeat over and over, and feedback is extremely accurate and usually rapid.” (p. 21) Think swinging a golf club or learning Chopin’s Prelude in E minor on the piano. Over and over and over you’ll need to practice, in order to be any good at it. 

Compare this to what’s required to become really good at addressing an ebola outbreak or finding solutions to the climate crisis or figuring out if we can really do long-term space flight. Compare it to becoming really good at helping people not only find credible facts in a sea of opinions, but also determining the difference between the two. Think about problems that have no easy answers – or any answer at all. This is much more the world we live in and our habit of relying on past experience over and over again, much like practicing a golf swing, just might not be the best for us.

Perfect example… I subscribe to and regularly read the STAT Morning Rounds newsletter that appears in my inbox daily. A recent piece on the opioid crisis highlights the work of Dr. Stefan Kertesz, a primary care physician in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Kertesz has many patients who, over time, have developed a dependency on opioids thanks to the practice of overprescribing that’s been well-documented over the last few years. In reaction to this past behavior, the CDC proposed guidelines for prescribing in 2016. The issue, as often occurs, is that guidelines quickly become mandates. It’s simply easier for agencies or insurance companies or governing bodies to enforce a mandate rather than accept a guideline.

The problem with this, it seems, is that setting hard and fast limits on prescribing is applying a “kind” solution to a very “wicked” problem. It strips the patient and all of his/her variables and uncertainties from the equation. As Dr. Kertesz states, while tapering patients off of opioids is certainly to be encouraged, these are choices that physicians need to make in conjunction with their patients. “Backing mandatory limits, he said, assumes that what’s going to happen at the systems level will effect the best clinician.” 

To bring this all back to my work as a librarian, a terrific piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education* last week spoke to the affect that Google (and other search engines, not to mention the structure of the Internet, in general) has had on our presumptions about knowledge. We’ve become so accustomed to the practice of having a question, typing it into a search engine, and receiving back a lengthy list of results, that we’ve been lulled into believing that a list of results equates to an answer to our question. As the author so succinctly states it, “Search engines have created the illusion that vastly more information exists than ever before and that this information lies just a keystroke away. Today people ‘search’ rather than ‘study.'” Spot on, I say.

*My apologies if you cannot get to the article in the Chronicle. It requires a subscription.

I’m often leery of the swooning love affair I perceive when it comes to research, science, decision-making … you name it … around the role of both big data and artificial intelligence (not as a single thing, but the two separate “Ooooooh… it’s the solution to everything” mindset attached to both). Will they bring us significant breakthroughs in complicated problems? No doubt. Will they solve everything? I’m not so sure. I find a bit more truth here:

The progress of AI in the closed and orderly world of chess, with instant feedback and bottomless data, has been exponential. In the rule-bound but messier world of driving, AI has made tremendous progress, but challenges remain. In a truly open-world problem  devoid of rigid rules and reams of perfect historical data, AI has been disastrous. IBM’s Watson destroyed at Jeopardy! and was subsequently pitched as a revolution in cancer care, where it flopped so spectacularly that several AI experts told me they worried its reputation would taint AI research in health-related fields. As one oncologist put it, ‘The difference between winning at Jeopardy! and curing all cancer is that we know the answer to Jeopardy! questions.’ With cancer, we’re still working on posing the right questions in the first place. (Range, David Epstein, p. 29)

But then, of course, Watson never played Emma the librarian in Jeopardy!, either. 🙂

Happy Friday!

 

 

New Year, New Month, New Project!

1 Feb

Podcast-Art-1

You may recall that I’ve mentioned more than once how I wanted to start producing a podcast called, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” The podcast features interviews with people who have interesting hobbies and/or activities outside of their regular 9-5 working life. People like an X-Ray technician who organizes ukulele clubs all over town, a biomedical researcher who plays drums in a rock band, a science center director who grows hops and brews beer, an IRB director who travels all over the country as a birdwatcher, a medical librarian who writes about baseball, and on and on. The thing is that while we may live in a society and a culture that tries hard to define us by our work, not everyone falls prey to such thinking. I’ve met many people who live full lives outside of their jobs and while their jobs are often quite meaningful, they get a lot out of the other pursuits, too.

One theme that I’m exploring with these interviews is the role of creativity and how being creative in one aspect of our lives influences and benefits others. It’s something that I’m always wondering about and thought it would be cool to explore it via these chats.

And so … I’m super excited to report that I published my very first episode yesterday! I’ll be posting future episodes to this blog (my goal is a couple each month), but you can also visit my Libysn site and subscribe to the RSS feed there. You’ll also be able to find the feed soon, i.e. by the end of this week, in iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Downcast, and other popular podcasting spots.

If you’re interested, I hope you tune in! (Click the link below to access my podcast page.) I’d love to get feedback and love even more to have volunteers for interviews. If you’ve got a cool gig outside of your workplace, tell me about it!

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Episode 1: A Guy Walks into a Bar with a Ukulele

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Favorites of 2017 – Music / The Fab Five

27 Dec

I wrote in my first post of this series that my list of favorites wasn’t ranked in any order and/or that I can’t really produce the “5, 4, 3, 2, this is my very favorite” kind of list that most year-end “Best of” lists are. That said, after reviewing my listening habits, my purchasing trends, and my iTunes playlists I can say that these five records probably rise to the top as my favorites of 2017. A couple I listed in previous posts:

David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack

Valerie June, The Order of Time

Tyminski, Southern Gothic

Dan Tyminski is best known as the leader of Union Station, Alison Krauss’ band. He’s released solo records before, but Southern Gothic is something different. For an accomplished bluegrass picker, these songs rock. They’re also the kind of songs with catchy tunes that make you not really hear the words until the third or fourth listen and then … they go to a whole other place. This record has a lot to say.

Deb Talan, Lucky Girl

Deb Talan started out as a solo artist, making the rounds of the familiar singer-songwriter spots in Boston and throughout New England. Then she met Steve Talan. They would marry, form the greatly popular duo, The Weepies, and start and raise a family. And then, in 2013-2014, Deb was dealt and dealt with breast cancer. During her treatments, Deb and Steve wrote, produced, and promoted the record Sirens (2015). As I imagine happens to anyone after a life-threatening event, Talan says that after a whirlwind couple of years, she was forced to address some issues and feelings that needed to be expressed personally, i.e. as herself, solo, not part of The Weepies. Lucky Girl is the result. I pre-ordered it and, had it actually been an LP and not a digital recording, I’d have worn it straight out during the first week that I owned it.

Aimee Mann, Mental Illness

Okay! Okay! If you pinned me to the floor until I cried “Uncle!” to give you my favorite of the year, I’d cry, “AIMEE MANN!!” Start to finish, this is a magnificent work from an artist that, if you’re a fan, you expect magnificence. Maybe it was my year, but these songs so resonated with me. I bought the digital copy. I bought the LP. I bought the fun activity cards. This record will stick to my “Tops” list for many, many years to come. I’m sure of it.

So that’s it for my year, in terms of music. I’ll think about books and television next. Still got a few days left (and a few days off) before the New Year. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Favorites of 2017 – Music / Those Who Do Not Disappoint

27 Dec

Part 3 of my Favorites list for the year includes artists I know fairly well and who produced records in 2017 that did not disappoint in the least. You can easily like an artist without liking every one of his/her/their offerings. It happens. But when it comes to these recordings, it didn’t happen for me:

Iron & Wine, Beast Epic

Sam Beam can write a beautiful song, filled with sparse melodies and layered lyrics. His 2009 record, Around the Well, is a favorite in my collection. When I first heard Beast Epic, I thought to myself, “This is just as good.” His label, Sub Pop, makes the entire album available via YouTube. 

Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway

Giddens first caught my attention in her work with the fabulous Carolina Chocolate Drops. As a group, they are an American treasure and a very important link to our country’s musical heritage. As a solo artist, her EP Factory Girlher participation in The New Basement Tapes project, and her work on the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davisall demonstrate her abilities as both collaborator and singular performer. It’s no wonder she’s a recent recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award. This is a beautiful and essential recording. Give it a careful listen.

Rodney Crowell, Close Ties

An offering from one of America’s finest songwriters and musicians, Rodney Crowell’sClose Ties, is a wonderful, reflective collection of songs from one who knows full well that he has more years behind him than ahead on the horizon. He shares the experiences and feelings of aging with humor, a little melancholy, and just enough “I’m too old to give a damn” to strike a chord with any of us past a certain age – physically, mentally, or emotionally. And of course, he recruits some of him many amazingly talented friends to accompany him through the songs. “It Ain’t Over Yet” is one of my favorite songs of the year. I’ve listened to it many, many, many times.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound

Whether solo, with his band, or with his wife (an artist who can easily stand on her own), Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell stands comfortably among the greatest of our contemporary singer-songwriters. His music is perfect for any Saturday afternoon or any road trip. It’s just got that kind of “sit back and enjoy it” vibe. 

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters, self-titled

I first became a fan of The Honeycutters a few years back at MerleFest. They were one of those Asheville, NC treasures you find at such events. Amanda Anne Platt has always been the lead voice of the band, but this year’s record placed her fully front-and-center as they opted to rename themselves, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. The name change seems to have given the group a boost, putting them back in touch with the groove of their earlier releases. I was personally delighted. 

Rose Cousins, Natural Conclusion

My favorites list rarely coincides with the lists that I read from music critics or others in the music business, but I notice that I’m not alone in putting Rose Cousins on my “Best of” list this year. I’ve been a fan since seeing her open for Mary Chapin Carpenter in Lowell, MA last summer. She was an incredible performer with terrific stage presence. She is no less the songwriter. This record is tops. And by golly … she’s from Prince Edward Island! What’s not to love about that?!

Ruthie Foster, Joy Comes Back

Another necessity for a difficult year, Ruthie Foster’s, Joy Comes Back could not have come at a better time. Her voice! Her incredible guitar playing! Her absolutely beautiful spirit! They all shine through in these songs. If you ever need a lift, see her live. You will feel better. You will!

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet

I’ve followed Allison Moorer over the years more closely than Shelby Lynne, but the sisters together give us that magical harmony that really only comes from siblings. This collection of covers and one original tune will not disappoint for a long time to come. It was a nice gift from the sisters to their fans. 

The Sweetback Sisters, King of Killing Time

It seems like it took forever for this record to be released, but once out it immediately zoomed to the top of my “repeat” list in my iTunes. One of my absolute favorite live acts, if you live in New England and get the chance to see their annual sing-along Christmas show, treat yourself. With King of Killing Time, the gals (and guys) give us the harmonies and swingin’/stompin’/rockin’ music to love. Woohoooo!! 

BONUS

Two singles that came out this year that received much play in my iTunes came from Bob Schneider (an artist that I have loved, loved, loved forever) and David Myles (another Canadian jewel). I can’t put them in my favorites list, per se, since they didn’t release full albums, but it doesn’t mean that these aren’t worthy of a shout-out.

Bob Schneider, Lake Michigan

David Myles, Night & Day (will be included in 2018 release, Real Love)

Next post … my five favorites of 2017. A couple I’ve already revealed, but the rest are next.

 

 

Favorites of 2017 – Music / New Friends

26 Dec

Part 2 of my favorites list features some folks who were new to me in 2017. They aren’t necessarily novices to the music business, but until this year, I either didn’t know of them or I hadn’t listened much. That all changes now, thanks to these excellent entries.

Valerie June, The Order of Time

I looked up Valerie June after reading about her in an article featuring some of the best female guitar players, past and present. I was smitten from the get-go and “Astral Plane” is probably my very favorite song of the year.

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Souvenir

For me, there is no better lyric that sums up much of my feeling of the current state of affairs in the world than Holcomb’s“I don’t know about you, but I like to tell the truth. But the truth seems to change every Tuesday.” “Wild World” is a beautiful song of hope and a reminder of the best of people. It’s the core of a special record that makes my list this year.

Justin Townes Earle, Kids in the Street

Despite the fact that he was born into singer-songwriting royalty, I had paid little attention to Justin Townes Earle until Kids in the Street this year. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I queued up this record for my morning commute. “Maybe a Moment” is one of my top 5 songs of the year and I’ll likely be listening to the younger Earle for years to come.

Caroline Spence, Spades & Roses

I discovered Caroline Spence via an article in a magazine highlighting some “up and coming” folks to seek out. I took the writer’s advice and did such, coming away with a new favorite artist, not only a new favorite record. This woman is one blessed with that gift to be able to write songs that speak well beyond her years. Spence fills a void in my listening left by the sabbatical of Kathleen Edwards these past years. I look forward to more from her in the future.

Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up

Crack-Up is a record with more production happening than I usually prefer, but after hearing a local duo cover some of Fleet Foxes’ songs one night – two guys, two guitars, acoustic music with lovely harmonies – I was intrigued and sought out them out. Crack-Up became a favorite for quiet nights at home; the kind of record you used to put on, sit back, and simply listen to.

The Suitcase Junket, Pile Driver

Each year at the music festival, Freshgrass, I come across some new artists who utterly amaze me. Matt Lorenz, aka The Suitcase Junket, was that artist this past year. His website describes him as an “artist, tinkerer, tunesmith, swamp Yankee, and one-man salvage specialist.” I got to see him perform a second time here in my hometown in a small venue that allowed me to sit right up front, taking in … golly, just the dozens of things he can do at one time. Pile Driver is energizing to listen to, particularly with the volume turned up high! 

Rayna Gellert, Workin’s Too Hard

Around Labor Day, I put together a show around the theme of work and working. Searching out some new additions, I stumbled upon Rayna Gellert. Her lyrics, her playing, her haunting voice… I was immediately drawn in. Workin’s Too Hard is a terrific collection of tunes and Gellert easily a new favorite for me.

Offa Rex, The Queen of Hearts

Not new friends, but a new combination, Offa Rex is the combined effort of the band, The Decemberists, and the English folk singer and multi-instrumentalist, Olivia Chaney. Sometimes projects that sound enticing in mind don’t quite become such in reality. Silly! This is NOT one of those. It delivers as expected and makes my list without much thought.

That’s it for this entry of my new friends and favorites. Stay tuned for some more soon, including what is likely – if I’m forced to say – my favorite record of 2017.

Favorites of 2017 – Music / The Meryl Streeps

25 Dec

Woohoo!! It’s that time of year – the time when all of the “Best of…” lists come out. Ever since I was a kid and loved listening to Casey Kasem count down the “Top 100” each New Year’s Eve (I’d studiously write down each song as he played it), I’ve enjoyed finding and reading these lists. I also enjoy making them, so let’s do it! I’ll start with music. Subsequent posts will cover books, binge-worthy television shows, movies, and more. Check back for them.

I host a radio show every-other Thursday night on WCUW, the community radio station here in Worcester, MA. It’s called, “In the Tradition” and features folk, Americana, and singer-songwriter music. These are the genres that I listen to the most and you’ll see that clearly in most of my picks, though there are a few surprises.

This isn’t a countdown. I have too hard of a time picking any one record (or book, or movie, or…) over every other one. I certainly like some more than others, but this list represents the albums that I most enjoyed in 2017. Overall. I’ll make a stab at my 5 favorites along the way, but it’s basically a “no particular order” list.

THE MERYL STREEPS

As sure as Meryl receives an Oscar nod anytime she takes the screen, there are some musicians that I love so much that all they need to do is put out a record on any given year and it will make my list. Rosanne Cash, Gillian Welch, The Beatles, and these folks:

David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack 

David Rawlings and Gillian Welch didn’t release a record under the “Gillian Welch” umbrella this year, but gave us another offering with David leading the vocals. It’s an instant classic and an automatic entry on my list. It’s also one of my top five of the year.

Bruce Cockburn, Bone on Bone

An artist that I have followed longer than any other, I couldn’t have been happier to have new songs from him this year. It’s been a tough year and there are few voices better for tough times than Bruce. (The “Canadian Bruce,” in this instance.)

Catie Curtis, While We’re Here

I have had the blessing of sitting under a tent, looking out over the waters of Maine, and writing snippets of songs with Catie. What can I say? She’s a treasure and this collection of very upbeat tunes is another balm for the times.

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost on the Car Radio

My absolute favorite Mainer living in Texas. A year is never complete for me unless I catch Slaid live during one of his tours homeward to New England. An amazing songwriter. One of the best. And his twang and his yodel melt my heart.

Josh Ritter, Gathering

Another fantastic wordsmith, Josh’s latest doesn’t disappoint … though, when does he ever? At least not for me. He paints beautiful images with his songs (and with his prose) and his records often get stuck on auto-repeat on my listening devices.

That’s it for the instant entries. Next up, a few that I listened to over and over and over and over again.