Friday, April 27, 2007

Booknote: Out of my mind

Rooney, Andy. Out of my mind. New York: Public Affairs, 2006. ISBN: 1-58648-416-8.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Essays, humor.

Andy Rooney speaks out on just about every topic under the sun. From the simple details in life to politics and world events, Andy has something to say about it. He says it in a simple and plain manner. Those who watch him on 60 Minutes will certainly recognize the old curmudgeon here. His voice is just the same, so to speak. The book is basically a collection of short essays on various topics. I will give readers Andy's advice on how to read the book: it's like a buffet. Walk by it the first time with the empty plate just to see what is available. Then go back and take what you like, but don't take more than you can eat. This is the type of book that lends itself to skipping and browsing. You may agree with some things, and you may disagree with others. You may choose to skip something here or there, and that is ok too. For me, it was a good commute reading book since I could read bits and pieces with ease while commuting. If you are looking for a light read, this is it.

Booknote: Ambitious Brew

Ogle, Maureen. Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer. New York: Harcourt, 2006. ISBN: 0-15-101012-9.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: History, U.S. History, Beer and brewers

Ms. Ogle tells the story of American beer from the first German immigrants to today's renaissance of microbrews. The book's strength for me is that it is more than a history of beer. The book gives a broad picture of American history and culture from the 1800s to today. Busch, Pabst, Best, and the other great entrepreneurs are shown along with other not so well known folks who still played key roles in the evolution of beer. I found it interesting that today many people complain that the large breweries (this usually means Anheuser-Busch) produce a bland and boring beer. While I personally do agree that the larger mass produced stuff is, to say the least, boring, Ogle makes an interesting point. That point is that people's palates over time evolved in order to prefer the bland beer that people complain about. Then again, you also have to look at the numbers, and Anheuser Busch is the major seller of beer in the United States. They must be doing something right if people buy it. To me, that was fascinating how Ogle looks at social movements and how people's tastes for beer changed over time. From temperance to prohibition to diet fads, they all helped to shape how Americans view and tasted beer. In that journey, we get to see the history of the United States as well.

Though the pace of the book is a bit slow at times, overall I highly recommend it. It is not just a book about beer. It is a history of the men who made and continue to make beer in America from the big families most people know to smaller folks. Not all succeeded; some failed miserably, and yet even those left their mark or made some contribution. I learned a lot of new things, and I have a bit more of an appreciation for American beer. I will say that I still prefer the smaller ones when possible, but I won't turn you down if you offer me a Bud. By the way, the story behind the name Budweiser itself is enough to make you want to read the book. If you must known, I favor Samuel Adams, and I just discovered Leinenkugel (what can I say, I am a simple guy). However, as some readers of mine already know, I am more of a wine drinker, but I also enjoy the occasional bourbon, rum, and tequila. But hey, in the end, it's all good, and I am always willing to try new things. So, go read Ms. Ogle's book, and remember to raise your favorite glass of brew to the great dreamers who made it possible. Just do it in moderation please.

Similar books, or books I have read that I think others may enjoy if they like this one:

  • Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses. My note is here. It does have a chapter on beer.
  • Kyle Jarrard, Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit. Find my note here. This book is just a pleasure to read. Very smooth and relaxed prose. Interesting too.
  • Josh Peter, Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour. I know, this has nothing to do with beer or liquor per se, but if you enjoy popular histories, you may enjoy this one. Find my note for it here.
And finally, while we are discussing beer, I came across this report on how the beer industry contributes the the U.S. economy (press release; find the report at the Beer Serves America website). Actually, Ogle looks at that issue given that historically beer companies used that argument to cement their position. It did not help them much when prohibition came around, but the nation discovered, the hard way, that prohibition was not a very good idea.

A hat tip for the report to Docuticker.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Observing Blog Silence on Monday

Next Monday, April 30, 2007, I will be observing OneDayBlog Silence in memory of those who lost their lives at Virginia Tech (April 16, 2007). For me, at least, this will be my small expression about the events and very small way to convey my condolences to the families and friends. I hope others will join me and other bloggers.

However, there are also some who believe that instead of silence we should speak out. For any readers interested in that point of view, feel free to visit the following places:

If instead you feel moved to write on that day, go right ahead. I respect their points of view, but for me, I figure I can post and blog any day. For a brief moment, I can stop and offer some thoughts for the victims. On Monday then, the blogs will be silent, and comments will be closed. "No words and no comments. Just respect, reflect and empathy."

Find out who else is writing about this (Technorati Search)

Best, and keep on blogging.

(crossposted to The Gypsy Librarian. It will also be crossposted to Gypsy Librarian onVox, FB, and Alchemical Thoughts).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

NYT offers higher education folks free access, librarians whine

This just does not seem too nice for me on the part of some academic librarians. According to a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education (requires subscription, but last I looked, available via Lexis-Nexis) entitled "'The New York Times' Adjusts Free-Content Offer to Appease Academic Librarians" written by Scott Carlson, it seems that:

It seems that there has been a slight adjustment in the deal, however, after college librarians complained that they already pay tens of thousands of dollars for access to premium New York Times content through database companies like ProQuest and LexisNexis.

Vivian Schiller, vice president and general manager of, now says TimesSelect archives will be available only to students at colleges that subscribe to database companies that carry Times content.

Now, I am sorry, but that just does not ring very nice to me. Do academic libraries pay a lot for access to the NYT via databases? We sure do. I know we do. You did not see me complaining when the NYT decided to offer that nice deal to college students (actually, pretty much anyone with a college e-mail. Heck, the NYT was saying they would simply go for an honor system of who registered for it). It seemed like a nice idea to get a few extra readers for the newspaper, and we all know newspaper readership is on the decline. So, I am sure it was a nice deal for the NYT for one, and it certainly was a nice deal for a few college students who may, or may not, now decide to read the paper online. Do these librarians really think they are going to lose that many database users over this? Are they really expecting that all of a sudden their library users will say, "hey, I can get the paper online free, why would I use a library database?" A database is not just the access to the particular paper. It's also the infrastructure and the arrangement to locate particular articles or articles on specific subjects. You are not paying only for the access, you also get the tools to search the periodical you are accessing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not work for the NYT or any database provider. My point is that this overall seemed like a nice win-win situation that a couple of academic librarians had to go and get their feathers ruffled over. So, according to the article, access now decreases because it will be correlated to the campuses that pay for the databases. Nice going librarians. Because heaven forbid some people in smaller places that may not be able to afford the database access actually get a little break, and in reality, that is what this was, just a little break. In the great scheme of things, it really would not make a difference to people like this:

Barbara Fister, a library director at Gustavus Adolphus College who is a prominent voice among librarians online, was among the first to raise the issue, on a couple of library discussion lists.

"I have mixed feelings," she says. As someone who is an avid reader of newspapers and who worries about their future, she believes that the Times should make its online content free to students.

Then again, her library recently shelled out nearly $20,000 for Times archives in a ProQuest database -- a real stretch for the small college. "Maybe I shouldn't have paid so much," she says.

Somehow, this just does not seem right. I think librarians can be fussing about so many important things, and this is what they choose? I ask again, do librarians like Ms. Fister really think they will lose that much over some students getting access directly from the newspaper? As I look over the FAQ about Times Select University from the NYT, I see a few things. For instance (citing from the NYT website),

  • "The free TimesSelect University subscription does not include the Archive: 1851-1980." (So, you would still have to pay for that historical archive if you want access to it).

At the moment, the site said the option was open to anyone with a .edu e-mail, but if the Chron report is accurate, then I am sure that will change to reflect the new deal. Somehow, it does not rub me the right way what these librarians are complaining about because I honestly don't see that the option would have been something that would have allowed them to cancel the database access and substitute. In which case, what difference does it make other than to maybe deprive now some people in campuses without the database? The database access is a different product than the online Times Select the NYT was making available for students. I can only shake my head and wonder what were those librarians thinking.

Update note: (4/25/2007): See Barbara Fister's response in the comments section. It also seems like this topic will be getting picked up in the blogosphere (maybe, maybe not. A cursory scan in my aggregator this morning showed no other hits on the topic). The Annoyed Librarian has chimed in, asking some of the questions I asked. Comments there worth a look as they bring up the issue of publishers and the content creators.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Visual DNA

It's Friday, so once again, the two readers here know what it possibly means. In many ways, this was actually pretty accurate. If nothing else, it proves I am a very down to earth simple kind of guy (and if you ain't down with that, I got two words for you. . . you get the idea). It's all visual, so if you try it out, just go with what works for you.

Found via Liz's Tavern. And the only reason it has Gypsy Librarian on it is because their name line does not have enough characters to put Itinerant Librarian on it. Oh well.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wilfing: Sooner or later, we all do some of it

I just learned a new word today: wilfing. Apparently, it stands for "what was I looking for?" but shortened to accommodate the Internet generation. Anyhow, I learned of this little word, which signifies, in essence, the idle web surfing you do when you went to the web to get something, only some other shiny website distracts you, and before you know it. . . what was I looking for in the first place? Our students here do it quite a bit, if what I see on the lab with all those browsers pointed to MySpace, Hi5, and so on are any indication.

Anyhow, don't just take my word for it. Tom Regan, in his article "Whistle While You 'Wilf' Online," over at The Christian Science Monitor has all the details. My favorite line was how this concept can soon become a pop culture trend (these days, anything can become a trend no matter how dumb):

Here's how I see the pop-cult arc of wilfing: First, wilfing appears as a keyword on the blog search website, Then someone will write "Wilfing for Dummies." A few weeks later, watch for the Time magazine cover story "Wilfing: A danger to your sex life?" along with a special report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN.

Oprah will then have a show featuring those who are in "wilf recovery" programs. Larry King will interview two congressmen in a tight election race who will debate the question "Is wilfing destroying the fabric of American society?"

Finally, a blockbuster thriller appears starring Sandra Bullock as a naive FBI agent who accidentally discovers a secret government organization whose goal is to destroy the country by having everyone wilf at the same time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Itinerant Librarian gets dragged to conference (TLA 2007)

I am being dragged by the professional cousin to some librarian gathering in San Antonio. If you are traveling, be safe and careful. Those roads can be nuts. I will be offline for a few days, which may be a good thing.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Some items on Latinos in the United States

When it comes to the debate over illegal immigration, it usually has a racist undertone (or very overt tone) along the lines of hating Mexicans or other Latin Americans. You never hear about other immigrants who may be here illegally as well. For instance, NPR recently featured a story about Irish immigrants who are in the United States illegally as well, often students who overstay their visas and work as nannies for instance. The story of the Irish, to cite an example, is one that is rarely mentioned. Could it be because they speak English, and they look like any other American, i.e. fair skin, light colored eyes, etc.? Just a thought for those who are the loudest about "immigration reform." Would you want those Irish immigrants, who are now here illegally, after all, they overstayed their visas, so they are breaking the law (a common complaint of those who object to giving Mexicans here illegally an amnesty or a path to legality), to be deported as soon as possible, or do you grant them an amnesty or route to legal status as the lobbying from the story suggests? For me, that is the kind of question I want to ask when I hear yet another story about the Minutemen or border security or "how those immigrants come and take jobs Americans could be doing." Americans could be doing them, but let's be honest, they are not doing them. However, for this post, what I am really interested is in pointing out some items I have recently seen regarding Latinos in the United States.

The Magazine Publishers of America recently updated their market profile for Hispanics and Latinos. Some of the findings highlighted on the press release:

  • Population growth: There will be 50 million Hispanics/Latinos by 2010, accounting for 16% of the total U.S. population. By 2050, 28% of the U.S. population (122 million) is projected to be Hispanic/Latino.
  • Spending power: From 2000 to 2006 the purchasing power of Hispanics/Latinos climbed more than 63% to $798 billion. By 2011 it will top $1.2 trillion, according to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.
  • Media habits: 75% of Hispanic adults read over 11 magazine issues a month.

This says a few things I find interesting. For one, look at the number of people. The total will account for 16% of the total U.S. population by 2010 and 28% by 2050. That is a lot of people. Add to it the spending power, and you get a picture of why such a market is significant. I did find interesting the little tidbit about reading magazines. At least in the Hispanic communities I have been in, reading magazines is a big part. If you are interested, you can get the complete document for the marketing profile here (PDF file, about 24 pages).

Latinos in the United States face a lot of challenges when it comes to education. I work in an academic institution that is defined by the federal government as a Hispanic-Serving institution.(Find the actual list here). So, naturally, a report like this one on "The Status of Hispanics in Education" (press release here; actual report in PDF over here, warning it is about 90 pages) from the National Education Association is something that would get my attention. In a way, the report does not say anything new, i.e. Hispanic students still lag behind their white counterparts and recommends things like class size reductions. However, it is something that gives me some food for thought, especially as I look at some of the students I get here.

Meanwhile, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has published a report on "Latinos Online: Hispanics with lower levels of education and English proficiency remain largely disconnected from the internet." (Abstract; PDF report). The report finds that Latinos in large measure remain disconnected from the Internet. However, one has to look at some of the numbers to grasp the significance. Some highlights:

  • 56% of Latinos in the U.S. use the Internet. The report points out that Latinos comprise about 14% of the U.S. population, and that half of those Latinos go online.
  • One in three Latinos who only speak Spanish go online. Mexicans, the largest national origin group of Latinos in the U.S. are among the least likely to go online.
  • However, just because they may not be using a computer, it does not mean they are not connecting online. 59% of Latino adults have a cell phone, and 49% of Latino cell phone users do text messaging.
  • To add some context, or more to think about: "Sixty percent of Latino adults were born outside the U.S. Among these immigrants, about two-thirds have lived in the country for 11 years or more. . . . About one-third of Hispanic immigrants are citizens of the United States." Then you have their children. The report discusses them as well.
  • Other Latino groups are addressed as well. For instance, Puerto Ricans, or as the survey calls them, Latinos of Puerto Rican descent. 60% of them use the Internet. The reason is that they are more likely to be born in the U.S. and to speak English. Of those born in the island who migrated to the U.S., they are more likely to have lived in the U.S. for a long time when compared to other Hispanic immigrants. Let me use myself as an illustration: I am island-born, and I am bilingual (I grew up with Spanish at home and English at school). I came to the United States when I was 18, and I have lived in the U.S. ever since (I am in my 30s now if you need to know). I use the Internet a lot (for leisure and work). I may not be the perfect illustration, but I do give an example close to what Pew displays.
The report may hold some implications and points to think about that libraries may find useful as they seek to tailor their services to diverse populations.

Overall, these are some items I have recently come across in my explorations of the Internet. A hat tip to Docuticker, a great resource to get all sorts of reports on various topics. It makes my efforts in current awareness a little easier.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ah, so those entrees really are bigger

Once in a blue moon, the family will go out for a meal at one of those "casual dining" establishments. Houston does not lack for them, though in many instances, places like Friday's, Chili's, and Applebee's, to name the three most recent excursions (about one a month, if not less), have been seriously lacking in service. However, that would be the topic of another post. This time I am wondering about something I have seen when you go to such establishments: the size of those appetizers and desserts. You order an appetizer, and they bring you an item that could feed a small army. I thought the idea of the appetizer was to give you a little something to munch on while you wait for the main course, not something to fill you up so that you can't make it to the main course, let alone dessert. Personally, I very rarely have dessert. If we order dessert, we usually share it, and very often, if the little one is with us, one is enough for three people. So, if you are someone who cares about what they eat and how much, then places like those casual dining places may not be for you unless you are willing to really be vigilant. Little did I know that I was not the only one pondering how the restaurants get away with such monstrous portions.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has published a short document entitled Xtreme Eating (warning: PDF, about 3 pages). You can read the press release here. The organization argues that people should be informed about all the extra calories that those items, such as that big bacon burger or the buffalo chicken with sour cream quesadilla, have. I am not one to argue for paternalistic actions; I certainly was not thrilled that New York was legislating things like trans-fats, not because I am not for more healthy choices, but because I think people should be able to make smart choices on their own (not to mention I think the government has better things to do than telling people how to eat or fry their food). However, the report does give you some food for thought. After all, if you have been to any of those chain places, and you have read the menu, finding some item that is reasonable enough in terms of size and calories for one person is not an easy task. Even when they offer some "healthy" alternatives, they are usually hidden in the back of the menu or in small print, and even those alternatives I would question. So, while I believe an adult should be able to choose what they eat, at least they should have some semblance of a level playing field. As for us, we usually don't get any appetizers, preferring to go straight to the meal itself. I am not one for desserts, but the ladies in the house have a bit of a sweet tooth. As mentioned, we just get one dessert, and depending on the place, believe me, that is more than enough.