Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 104: For the people!

I tend to spend most of my Thursday with a glazed look in my eye and a little rivulet of drool escaping from the corner of my mouth. But I'm trying to keep it together well enough to provide you with decent lessons.

Today's lesson is from the Wonderful World of Webdesign.

Lesson 105: Don't build a website just to implement cool new tech. Build a website that people want, using the cool new tech.

While some tech developments find their markets, just building a website to show off the latest and greatest without thinking about how your users use your website is a good way to waste a lot of money for nothing.

I mean, for instance, if you're managing the website for the Anywhereville Senior Centre you don't necessarily want to jump right on the bandwagon with every tech thing that comes along. Is your average user even on Twitter, or Pinterest, or whatever new tech trend that's cropped up?

If they aren't, why do you need to be?

It's a good guideline at least.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 103: When is a book not a book?

Books have not always looked like books.

But we knew that, right?

We knew that in Egypt, their stories were written down on walls and in scrolls of papyrus with pictograms. Ancient civilizations wrote on clay and stone tablets, or in wax on wooden tablets. Eventually they wrote on some form of "paper", though maybe not the pulpy kind we use today. They wrote on vellum, which was paper but made of calf skin. They wrote on paper made of rags.

Books have looked like pillars. Books have looked like walls. Books have looked like tapestries. Books have looked like scrolls.

And finally, books started looking like books. That's the codex form of books. But that form didn't really start showing up until the 2nd century and didn't really catch on until the 5th century.

But how did we go from spooling whole books on scrolls and having to scroll through the whole thing to find what we're looking for to these bound piles of paper that we can open to any point? What other forms could books have taken?

Lesson 104: In Burma, they created "Palm Books".

Turns out they did them in other places too, but today in class we got to see some Burmese Palm Books.

Basically they'd take palm leaves and cut the writing into them, then dry them and rub ink on them to dye the cuts. Each leaf would be numbered and they'd be bound between wooden boards. The string binding it all together was left long enough that it would wrap around the book holding it closed. To read it, you'd untie it and the pages open by fanning out.

They're really beautiful.

There are just so many interesting little anecdotes and entrancing particulates of information in the history of books and bookbinding....

Books used to need straps and clasps to hold them closed because vellum would swell when it got humid and deform the book into a wedge; unless a clasp was keeping it boxy and rectangular.

Paper as we now know it was developed in China and used by Arabs in the 8th century and didn't catch on in Europe until later.

Independent of all of this, Meso-Americans made codex style books where they whitewashed the pages before writing on them.

This class just speaks so much to my nature as an encyclopedia of useless knowledge!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 102: Regrets Abound?

Hardly even a question now... I'm going to hate Thursdays more than any other day of the week. I have class from 11 in the morning till nearly 9 at night. It's going to be one heck of a day...

Part way through the summer I was offered the opportunity to take Metadata and Access. A course I was very disappointed to have missed out on due to some course sign-up shenanigans. But ever since I dropped Public Libraries in order to take up that offer, I've been wondering if maybe I'm just going to regret taking it. Metadata's a necessity for me, and the four-day weekend thing is going to be nice. But the headache-inducing Thursday alone may not be worth it. We'll see how this semester pans out.

My lesson today wasn't really library school related, despite having three classes. No, today's lesson was about building your own computer. See, a friend of mine back home helped me put together this brand new desktop for myself, and it's part of the reason my posting this week has fallen by the wayside.

I had originally wanted a hackintosh, that is to say, a self-made machine running Mac OSX. It's called a hackintosh because Mac OSX will not run on non-apple hardware, so to do it you need to hack the OS a bit. But ultimately, my friend and some of my online research convinced me that it's too finicky for me to try and have as my primary machine. So instead I've gone with a Windows/Linux dualboot system. It's just been so fun tinkering with it and making things work and smoothing out all the wrinkles that I hadn't put aside the time to write my posts for the week. Shame on me. But I've learned a lot about the workings of my computer, the ins and outs of the software and hardware... just as I had hoped I would.

But the biggest lesson of all has been about Maximizing versus Satisficing. It's something we talked about in class a bit last year, so not completely unrelated to library school. The basic idea is that when ever you're doing something or making a choice, you can be a maximizer or satisficer. Maximizers try to achieve some absolute objective ideal of "The Best" that doesn't really exist and isn't achievable. While Satisficers try to achieve their own subjective ideal of "Best for Them".

So bringing this thought to the computer I've built, today I was trying to finally make my decision about which distribution of Linux I should install. Now for those uninitiated into the bizarre world of online discussion, the best way to start a fight in a group Linux-minded people is to ask which distribution is "The Best". "Ubuntu!" goes the cry. "No, Debian!" shouts another. "No, OpenSUSE!" says another still. And the argument goes in circles as they debate about what file structure is most efficient or which one is too mainstream.

As someone who is very much a maximizer trying desperately to curb those inclinations, I have spent more time than I care to admit poking about and reading online trying to decide which distribution I should use. When finally, I realized...

Lesson 103: It doesn't actually matter which is "Best"; which one do I want

Which one is going to be easiest for me to use? Which will be the least hassle for me and what I want to do on the machine? Which am I going to have and find the most support in? These are the questions that are going to get me the best experience in the long run.

It reminds me of one of my nights at a pub while I was back in Ontario. I ordered a Rickard's White and one of the guys I was with was just absolutely appalled and started giving me a hard time because it's "such a bad beer". I just couldn't understand why my choice in beer was causing him such obvious offence. I wasn't forcing him to drink it. By ordering it I wasn't stamping it with the Veronica Seal of Approval and declaring it "The Best Beer to Have Ever Been Brewed By Mortal Hands". It's just that of the options given, it was what I most felt like drinking.

On the whole, I think I've been much too governed by that kind of thinking; that my every choice has to be the objective best and absolutely defensible one. Why shouldn't I just be happy and satisfied choosing what I want for myself? Maybe it'll turn out that there was a better, more perfect choice I could have made, but that shouldn't make me any less happy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Day 101: Back to School!

So here we are... everyone else's "last first class" is my "first class" of the year. Creates kind of an odd disconnect, but there you have it.

Today was History of Books and Printing, and while I'm really not a fan of the standing-around-tables-for-two-hours format for a class, I can already tell I'm going to learn a lot from this class! A lot of really interesting and arcane factoids; my favourite flavour! Lets start this school year off with a bang, shall we? Multi-lesson first day post!

But where do we start with the numbering? It's such an arbitrary numbering system to begin with; do I continue and make this lesson 101? Or do I serialize and make it 2.1? Maybe just start straight from 1 all over again? Bah humbug, I hate decisions.

Lesson 101: Italics presuppose eyeglasses.

Kind of an odd, almost throw away line from my professor. Italics were developed by the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, who was kind of a big deal. While we now use them to bring attention to important segments in a text, they were first used to fit more printed words onto a single page so you could have smaller, more compact volumes. However, since the type is so small, it assumes that anyone with less than stellar eyesight is having it corrected by lenses.

Lesson 102: Books printed as someone raised in a Western context expects them to look are printed in the Venetian style, that is: each page containing one column of full justified text, often filling the page to margins which are slightly larger at the bottom and outside edges

There's a long thread in the history of printing that leads back through a few idealistic revivals and notable presses, and when taken right back, it's those printers in Venice who printed books more or less as we now expect them to look.

I was trying to find a good picture to illustrate what I mean, and I found someone has written a great post about Aldus Manutius and his printing, and rather inexplicably taken a few pictures with one of his books in a bathtub. You can see that here.

Old books are just so cool!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pre-post Madness

My busy busy summer is coming to a close now, and I'm back in Montreal after spending the last two weeks in Ontario seeing all my wonderful friends and family before I buckle down and get back to class.

This won't be a lesson post, but I figured I'd take the opportunity to explain a little about my summer, and what my posting schedule is likely to look like this year.

You may have noticed this blog, despite my aspirations to keep summer lessons going, has been all quiet over the summer months. While I learned a lot at my practicum, I really had no time to breathe, let alone post. I was working full-time and doing the practicum in the evenings, so my weeks were almost entirely working and sleeping.

I did get to volunteer for a week at a Venturer Scout event at the beginning of July and take the aforementioned two weeks in Ontario though, so it wasn't all mind killing insanity!

I really should have started posting last week, since that's when classes started, but I have a terrible revelation... I skipped my first week of classes. I can see you now, all shock and awe and horror. I know, isn't it awful? But my sister, the mastermind (?) behind Out of My Ordinary was leaving for Botswana this past Saturday, and I wanted to be sure to see her off. She'll be there for the next 8 or so months watching elephants out her bedroom window I'm sure.

Also, this year I've been blessed with an amazing schedule... I work Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9-1, and only have class Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (well into the evening in the case of Thursday). Which means I get four day weekends! Woo hoo! It also means that in general, I'll be updating this blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and maybe the occasional Wednesday if something particularly interesting happens at work.

Hope you all had an enjoyable summer; lets get on with this school year!

.... My last ever? *gulp*