Tuesday, December 29, 2009

WorldCat

If you're doing research of some kind and aren't sure where to start, WorldCat.org might be a good place. You can find materials in thousands of libraries across the world (but mostly in the US) including public, academic, corporate, and government libraries, then put in your ZIP code and see if any libraries near you have what you need. Books, CDs, magazines, DVDs--they're all here. You might also be linked to WorldCat if you do a Google Book search and want to borrow titles you find there from a library.

The default is to search everything, but you can also search by specific format. Or if you want to start with a library, click the link under the search box. Depending on the kind of online presence of each library in your results list, you can get to their website or their catalog. There might be a map available, and you can narrow your results by type of library by using the links to the left of the results list. If you're not sure if your library participate in the WorldCat resource, you can find out quickly by doing this search. If your library is listed, then they do participate and you'll find their holdings when you search for materials. You can also search for libraries across the world this way.

Try the advanced search to narrow by topic, author, age level, content (e.g. fiction or nonfiction), format, or language. To use the site in another language, click one of the links at the bottom of the page. Not everything will be translated but possibly enough for you to figure things out if you're unfamiliar with English terms.
Once you find what you're looking for and you see a library near you that has it, you can then click the library name to get connected to their online catalog. It might be a good idea to search for your item at that point just to make sure the library really does have it and whether it's checked in or not. (Unfortunately the link does not open in a new window, but there is a link back to WorldCat at the top of the screen.) In order to actually obtain the item, you'll need to contact your own local library and ask about borrowing it. Chances are the process will take a couple of weeks at best, so plan accordingly.

It's not necessary to create an account to use this site, but if you do (it's free!) you can then contribute reviews or create and save lists. You can also use WorldCat on your mobile phone by going to http://www.worldcat.org/m/ or check out this blog post on how to use your iPhone to scan a book and find libraries near you that have it.

Book Review - "The Atlantis Code" by Charles Brokaw

Ah, now this is what an adventure story is supposed to be like. It's got action, a handsome genius hero, beautiful women, ruthless bad guys, a secret society within the Vatican, gunplay, sex, and a lost world. If you enjoy Indiana Jones movies or even the cheesy recent TNT Librarian movies with Noah Wyle, you'll like this book. Fans of The Da Vinci Code will also like it.

Thomas Lourds is a world-famous linguistics professor, called to Alexandria, Egypt, by the BBC to participate in a TV series on ancient artifacts. Leslie Crane is the host, and during a filming session she hands Lourds a bell to identify. He is embarrassed to admit he can't read the writing inscribed on the outside. While he is pondering the language, the bad buys storm into the studio and start shooting. They take the bell, but luckily Lourds had snapped photos of it with his digital camera so at least he has something to work with. Meanwhile, in Russia, another professor is trying to decode the inscription on an ancient cymbal, only to lose her life over it by those same bad guys. The woman's sister turns out to be a policewoman more than capable of taking care of herself, and who teams up with Lourds, Leslie, and a BBC cameraman to find the men who took the instruments so she can exact vengeance for her sister's murder.

While the chase is on across Russia, Germany, and Nigeria, Father Sebastian is supervising an archaeological dig near Cadiz, Spain, where satelite images show an underwater formation resembling Plato's description of Atlantis. The secret Society of Quirinus, operating from the Vatican, believes sacred texts were hidden in Atlantis, and they are sworn to protect those texts because of the power they might unleash should anyone read them and gain the knowledge therein. That knowledge, after all, was what caused God to destroy Atlantis. Cardinal Murani is part of that society, but his true aim is to find the texts and use the power for himself. He believes he will be Pope someday, and he cannot wait to wield the power of the sacred texts.

Murani is bankrolling the guys trying to hunt down Lourds and his team, but someone close to Lourds is somehow leaking their every move. Lourds also is being pursued by the two women in his company, so he feels trapped on all sides. The search for the bell and cymbal and the search for Atlantis collide in a spectacular climax.

This book is well-written with plenty of suspense and blood. You'll get some history and liguistic lessons from Professor Lourds, but he explains things simply and his enthusiasm shines brightly. He is not immune to the temptation of powerful knowledge from the inscriptions inside the Atlantean caves, but he also has a strong will to live and to preserve the lives of his companions. The bad guys are ever-present and rather flat in character, but that's what bad guys in suspense novels are usually like. You should read with a healthy suspension of belief because some details may not add up completely. I was constantly wondering how Lourds managed to hang on to his laptop and the BBC guy his camera in all their hasty exits from hotels, guns blazing behind them. However, the plot is satisfying and interesting, and the end is open for another adventure involving Professor Lourds. I definitely will be waiting for the next installment.

Other books involving archaeology and ancient secrets:
The Source by James Michener
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.

The Library's mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

Not only does the Library of Congress have an online catalog where you can look up books and media in all kinds of formats, but they also have an extensive website with lots of neat information. Click "American Memory" and then "Go" in the box on the right to see what's currently on exhibit, or scroll down to Chronicling America to see newspapers from all eras in American history. Learn how to copyright something or find a library near you that lends braille materials.

There's a section for Kids and Families that has great information for school projects. Teachers can also find materials for use in the classroom, such as primary sources, lesson plans, and activities. Some sections are themed and may change, so keep checking back for more topics.

If you have a question, you can even ask a librarian by clicking the link at the top of many screens.

The Library has a powerful online catalog, which is useful for verifying information or doing preliminary research. Full-text is not available and you can't borrow directly from the Library (unless you live in the area or are planning a visit), but you can get citations to take to your local library. Chances are your local librarian can borrow what you need on your behalf, although usually not from the Library of Congress but from another US library. Ask for details. Besides books you can also search for audio files or photographs. There's even a way to search for copyright information.

Whether you're looking for something to read or you need information for school, try the Library of Congress. The website is packed full of useful stuff, and you'll certainly find something interesting.

Book Recommendations: Novels Set in a School

The insular world of prep school or college is a popular one for novelists. Students and even teachers sometimes can get into all kinds of interesting situations when they think no one else will find out. Often the setting is New England, with its image that wealth makes one untouchable. Fans of movies such as Dead Poets Society, The Emperor's Club, and Mona Lisa Smile should give these five titles (plus a bonus) a try.

1. Crying Wolf by Peter Abrahams
Abrahams is a master of the suspense genre, regularly getting high praise from Stephen King, and this book is no exception. Nat is a student at Inverness College in New England. He does his best to fit in, and he falls in with twins Grace and Izzy, New York socialites. They stumble upon a series of tunnels and secret rooms on campus, and hatch a daring plan to fake a kidnapping so they can use the ransom to pay Nat's tuition. However, another person is using the tunnels, and he sets his own plan in motion, with an outcome far more sinister than Nat or the twins ever imagined.

2. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Lee is from the Midwest, but she desperately wants to attend school on the East Coast. Throughout her four years of high school, we see her do her best to fit in, to pretend her family's financial situation is unimportant, and to find a boyfriend. She badly wants to be grown up and independent, but it takes time and experience to show her the value of family and of the process of leaving childhood.

3. Testimony by Anita Shreve
Each of Shreve's books is different from the others, and she experiments with story-telling techniques. In this one she uses characters' interviews, journals, and straightforward narrating to allow the story to unfold. A sex tape surfaces, and the headmaster of the Vermont private school must decide what action to take. What happened before the tape started rolling? What will happen to the participants? Marriages are destroyed, students' futures are set on unintended paths, and someone dies. Everyone's lives will change because of one night of thoughtless revelry.

4. College Girl by Patricia Weitz
In this debut novel, Natalie has transferred to the University of Connecticut, where she intends to major in Russian history. She's from a working class family and none of her brothers went to college, so she feels she has to prove herself--to them, to her professors and fellow students, and to herself. Whie studying in the library one day, she meets Patrick. He expresses some interest in her, and they slowly move into a dating relationship. She gives her viginity to him, but eventually sex seems to be all that is keeping them together. Is Natalie strong enough to get out of the destructive cycle? She must learn what kind of person she wants to be and then set herself on the path to becoming that woman.

5. Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
Sullivan's first novel follows four girls through their years at Smith College. Celia, April, Bree, and Sally live on the same floor and become fast friends. They learn about each other and themselves as they face life outside college and become mothers, lovers, feminist activists, and strong women. As the title suggests, college is often just the beginning of life.

Bonus: A Separate Peace by John Knowles
This is a classic story, set in a boarding school in New England during World War II. Phineas is the charismatic instigator, able to charm students and teachers alike. Introverted Gene is drawn to him, perhaps because Finny is the kind of person Gene would like to be but knows he isn't. While the boys are being boys, a dare turns violent. Was it accidental, or subconciously cruel? The consequences of the boys' actions changes the relationship between them as well as the atmosphere on the entire campus. You might have read this in school, but make sure you pick it up again. It really is timeless, and it may mean something quite different to you now at another stage in your life.

Boarding schools and colleges often serve as microcosms of life, and the characters in the novels here experience their share of a fishbowl world. Their experiences will shape their lives, and you might learn a few lessons about yourself as well.

photo courtesy of Flickr

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Search Captions on Hulu


As a follow-up to the post on VideoSurf, which lets you search for scenes on video sites across the web, I came across this blog post from Hulu, via TechCrunch. You can now search the closed captioning text for TV shows. This is another way to find scenes or segments of videos, but this one only works on Hulu.

Monday, December 21, 2009

VideoSurf

You probably know about Hulu, the website where you can watch TV episodes and movies, and you might watch clips on news websites and then hop over to YouTube to catch the latest viral video, but now you can search videos from across the web and see them in one place with VideoSurf.

According to their About page, VideoSurf can search visual images, not just text, so you can get right to a scene or segment. They include Yahoo, ESPN, MySpace, CNN, and more to bring you "over 50 billion visual moments." If you want to share a video, it's possible to share just a portion instead of the entire thing.

If you use Firefox, there's an extension over at Mozilla (see the link at the bottom of VideoSurf's homepage) that lets you preview any video before watching the whole thing. Pretty cool.

Check out the FAQ for some how-tos. It's a nifty tool for finding videos from many sources, all in one search.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review - "From Cradle to Grave" by Patricia MacDonald

Morgan is in town to attend the baptism of her best friend's infant, Drew. Claire chose Morgan to be Drew's godmother, but Claire's mental state is fragile and she talks constantly about what a bad mother she is. Morgan figures Claire is suffering from postpartum depression and can't seem to convince Claire otherwise. Claire's husband Guy receives a shock when the family returns to the house for the reception, and things quickly get out of hand as shortly afterward, Guy and Drew are dead and Claire has confessed to their murders. Morgan simply cannot believe Claire would have committed such a crime even in her condition and sets out to find the truth.

The blurb on the cover says this book is "nail-biting." I wouldn't say it's that suspenseful, but the author does put her heroine Morgan up against terrible odds. She finds resistance at every turn, from Guy's family and his best friend Fitz to the lawyer Noreen Quick, who takes Claire's case pro bono. After all, Claire confessed. What more is there to discover? But what if the confession were coerced? What if someone else was in the house and killed Drew? Sure, Morgan could wait for the wheels of justice to turn and maybe Claire would be found not guilty, but Morgan doesn't want to wait. She knows intuitively that Claire is innocent, and the case against her is just too strong to chance in court.

Patricia MacDonald crafts a slowly unwinding mystery. Morgan doesn't really begin investigating until about halfway through this pretty short novel (about 250 pages), and the clues don't start building up until one of the final scenes when it all comes to a head. If you like your mysteries taut, this one is for you. Also try one of MacDonald's other novels, which have gotten positive reviews over the years.

MacDonald tries to give her characters intriguing backgrounds, but she doesn't carry it off as well as writers who pen mystery series. Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, and Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley and Barbara Havers have fascinating lives all on their own aside from the cases they work on, but MacDonald just doesn't have the page count to do the same. I found it hard to care about Morgan's love interest, Simon, and it didn't seem completely relevant that Morgan's parents were killed in a bombing when she was young. Even Guy's family situation seemed unnecessarily complicated until the last pages, when the final reveal made sense of it all. In a suspense novel it's fine not to have deep characters, but MacDonald tries to flesh hers out and isn't completely successful given the short length of the story. Still, if you like some back story details and enjoy characters having lives outside the mystery in which they find themselves, you'll enjoy this book.

In all, this book is a quick read. Take it on vacation or on appointments when you might have a few minutes in a waiting room. It's easy to dip into for a few minutes and come back to if you get interrupted. It doesn't cover new ground in terms of narrative twists and turns, but sometimes a familiar set-up is just what you're looking for.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Twitter Topics of 2009

As a follow-up to the top searches of 2009, here's what Twitter says were its top subjects: Iran, Google Wave, and Michael Jackson (that's a TechCrunch blog post; see also the original Twitter blog post).

Twitter broke the topics into categories, so the Iran elections were the top news story as well as one of the most popular hashtags. The world really is getting smaller when a new piece of technology can spread the word about an event globally within minutes. Why Google Wave? No idea. Michael Jackson was a worldwide icon, so it makes sense that his death was huge news. Harry Potter and American Idol were also popular. Again, no surprise.

TechCrunch speculates about items that did not appear to be as popular, such as Facebook or the iPhone. But why would you tweet about things that are already part of the zeitgeist? Facebook provides its own communication avenue with status updates, and the iPhone is for calls and all kinds of other stuff through the apps. Unless something drastic happened, like a severe outage, I don't think people would need to tweet about Facebook or the iPhone.

I did think it was interesting that Tiger Woods and Lost were on their top tens lists. Lost hasn't been on the air in months and won't be back for a couple more, but it still has staying power. And most Tiger news didn't break until just a few weeks ago, so the impact of his crashing and burning seems to have pretty large.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

USA.Gov


USA.gov is "the US government's official web portal." Citizens, businesses, federal employees, and visitors to the US can find just about anything they want to know all in this one place.

  • Need to renew your driver's license? Get linked to your state's motor vehicles website.
  • Are you a Native American with questions on tribal issues? That's here.
  • Get some census data.
  • Learn how to apply for citizenship. (You can also link to WelcometoUSA.gov, which is specifically for immigrants and has tons of information about settling in to a new country.)
Read the blog or contact someone for assistance. Help is available by phone, email, or chat. There is all kinds of stuff here, organized in a way that's easy to find. Generally you'll eventually end up on another federal agency's website, but if you don't know which agency to check, start with this gateway site. It'll be very useful.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review - "Hummingbirds" by Joshua Gaylord

Set in a private all-girls high school in New York, this debut novel explores what can happen between male teachers and female students. Two teachers take different paths; likewise, two students make different choices. There is also a backstory between the two male teachers, which affects one's marriage. There are events in the story, but the focus isn't so much on plot as on the characters. What do they think and feel? What motivates them? Why do they choose to act the way they do?

Leo Binhammer is an English teacher, married to writer Sarah but still processing the affair she had a couple of years previously. Ted Hughes comes on board as a new teacher, also in the English department, but Leo knows a secret about Ted and it becomes a barrier between them. Student Dixie Doyle thinks she is worldly-wise and is constantly flirting with Binhammer, who finds it difficult to rebuff her advances despite his being her teacher. Playwright Liz Warren is the smartest girl in the class, no question, but in her private life she is a typical insecure teen. She doesn't seem the type to fall under a teacher's spell, but she isn't as immune as others think. One of the girls makes a choice that will change her, and in the end Dixie and Liz find out they have more in common with each other than they ever would have thought.

The story is told in present tense, giving you the sense that you're living these decisions with the characters. The writing style is poetic, almost to a fault at times as it seems Mr. Gaylord can't write a simple sentence without throwing in a flowery metaphor. However, he makes up for that particular shortcoming by using a cinematic technique of introducing a background character in one scene, then following that person into a scene of his or her own. He might do this three or four times in one chapter, giving movement to the narrative.

The book isn't long, about 340 pages, and it moves pretty quickly. It's not exactly a light read, although it doesn't delve too deeply into the characters either. The author obviously loves language and is anxious to use it in unique ways, so if you enjoy good writing, you'll like this one. For a debut novel it's very good. Hopefully Gaylord will write another, so let's see what he comes up with for his sophomore title.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

MyIDScore.com

You've checked your credit report and you might know your credit score, but did you know  you can also check your ID score?

This site is free to use. It's easy, and results come quickly. You don't even have to put in your social security number unless you want to, although the results may be more accurate if you do. Be sure to read the information on their opt-out policy and their privacy policy.

So what exactly is MyIDScore.com? Their homepage has some videos and text info on the right side, but this is a good explanation:
If you are concerned about the unauthorized use of your identity, My ID Score is a quick and easy way to assess the risk that your identity is being misused. It is an excellent way to compliment more traditional identity theft prevention approaches such as credit monitoring, fraud alerts, and credit freezes. An identity score can give insight into whether your personal identifying information is being used fraudulently to obtain goods or services in your name.

My ID Score is a statistical score that's based on technology currently used by leading communications, financial services, retail companies, healthcare providers, government agencies, and consumers to assess your risk of identity theft. These companies use ID Analytics' scoring technology to ensure that fraudsters do not apply for goods and services in an innocent consumer's name

My ID Score calculates identity risk by looking at the use of billions of identity elements like name, Social Security number, phone number, date of birth, and address across multiple industries.

My ID Score leverages time–tested, patented technologies that identify suspicious or unusual relationships among billions of basic identity elements within the ID Network® — the nation's only real–time, cross–industry compilation of identity information.

To get started, click the green button that says "Check My ID Score."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best Reference Websites of 2009

Reference & User Services Quarterly (RUSQ) has compiled a list of best reference websites of the year. The first page explains the criteria used in choosing the sites, so in order to get to the list itself, click the link at the bottom for page 2. I haven't had a chance to look at all of these yet, but they do look quite interesting. There is a conversion website, a career site, a place to find local hikes, plus Google Maps and WHO (World Health Organization) among many others.

Best Historical Websites of 2009

The Reference & User Services Quarterly (RUSQ) put out a list of best historical materials of 2009, but since it has some books on it I thought I'd copy the websites here for easy access.

Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive, The University of Southern Mississippi
Materials in this website pertain to Mississippi’s civil rights movement, particularly the seminal 1964 Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg. The site contains 149 oral history transcripts, some with digital audio, of individuals involved in the movement in Mississippi, along with diaries, correspondence, pamphlets, newsletters, posters, journals, photographs, and other items selected from the University of Southern Mississippi’s manuscript collections. The historical context section details the history of the civil rights movement in Hattiesburg and Mississippi; explains the role of Oxford, Ohio, in the movement; and lists Freedom Summer civil rights incidents by county or city. A thorough explanation of copyright permission policies for the collection along with a list of other civil rights collections completes the collection. Keyword searching of the collection is available through the cooperative Mississippi Digital Library.

National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults
This amazing website contains a database of some twelve hundred documents, photographs, drawings, maps, and other materials drawn from the vast holdings of the National Archives and covering all periods of U.S. history to about 2004. Users can collect images and use them to create posters, slide shows, and educational games or find materials for further research.

The site opens with a rotating display of images. Moving the cursor over one activates a pop-up with its title and record details. Details include a short description, tags (descriptors) that link to related images, links to educational resources (lengthy essays and suggested teaching activities), and additional resources (links to related materials in the Archives and articles from Prologue, the Archives’ quarterly journal). Instructions are available but hardly necessary.

Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA), Rice University.
This extensive collection of images, texts, and maps document European and American travels to Egypt in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The collection includes photographs, book illustrations, postcards, stereographs, museum and exhibition catalogs, travel guides, travel narratives, and cultural studies of Egypt and Cairo. It can be browsed by title, place name, creator, date range, or broad subject categories, such as Art and Artifacts, History and Politics, and Religion and Festivals. In addition to primary sources, it includes educational modules that contextualize the material and offer research strategies, as well as GIS maps with information about historical and religious sites, place names, water, elevation, and political boundaries. Gathering hard-to-find material, TIMEA should be useful to researchers at all levels interested in Western interactions with the Middle East in this period.

Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade, Emory University
This resource, sponsored by Emory University and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a visually rich and authoritative website that provides information on the slave trade that spans (and is organized by) five continents. In addition to the text-based resources of traditional bibliographies, Voyages also includes maps, images, lesson plans, and a database of African names. Content (much of which is downloadable) is organized so that users can navigate the website in many different ways, such as searching by material type or geographic region. New users will find the website’s glossary helpful in understanding specialized terminology. Because of the website’s unique interface, the scope of information available, and the fact that the content is available to the general public via the Web with software demonstrations, Voyages would be a recommended resource for both introductory and advanced research.

Best Business Websites of 2009

Check out this list compiled by the Reference & User Services Quarterly (RUSQ). It's very short, just three sites, but they are good ones.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Book Review - "Ladies of the Lake" by Haywood Smith

A prepub review I read made this book sound like an exploration into the relationship among sisters, set on a lake in the humid summer of the South. Family secrets would arise, the air may or may not get cleared, but the ladies would learn about themselves and each other. That review wasn't a bad one, but the book wasn't the deep character study I was hoping for. Instead, Ladies of the Lake is a quick read, a funny exploration into the relationship among sisters (especially two of them) with a little romance thrown in. It is indeed set on a lake in the humid summer of the South, Georgia to be exact. Take this with you if you yourself are going somewhere for summer vacation and will have a couple days to relax and read.

I also hadn't realized the characters would be in their fifties, which isn't a bad thing, just unexpected for me. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to the author's name, for Haywood Smith also wrote a couple of books about the Red Hat club, which is a real group that allows women of a certain age to celebrate life and to stop taking themselves so seriously.

The four sisters - Dahlia, Iris, Violet, and Rose - upon the death of their eccentric grandmother Cissy, discover that in order to inherit her house on the lake, they have to spend the entire summer there together. The house is in disrepair but it holds cherished childhood memories, plus the land is worth a few million. If they stay there the whole summer, they will be able to sell it off and use the money to pay debts, invest, or spend as they wish. Their mother was invited to spend the summer with them and to share in the inheritance, but she declined. This is one aspect of the story I wish had been explored more. The mother appears largely off-screen, but she apparently came to terms with her poor relationship with Cissy years ago and is happily married and living in Florida. I wondered if she would have had a different reaction if she had come to know the real Cissy as the sisters will by the end of their stay.

Dahlia and Vi are great friends, as are Iris and Rose. Some loud, heated confrontations take place, mostly between Dahlia and Iris, as they are complete opposites and have fought most of their lives. Dahlia narrates, so we see her motivations and attitudes and can come to understand her reactions to things Iris says and does. Since we don't get the same view inside Iris's mind, we must rely on Vi and Rose to explain her. Not that that makes for an unsatisfying story, but I was hoping for more of a third person omniscient point of view.

The ladies settle in to Cissy's house and try to blend in with the locals a bit by attending a community dance, where they meet Clete. He has his eye on Dahlia, but she refuses to admit it. She's divorced but doesn't feel quite ready to move on yet. Plus she has the sense that Clete is keeping a big secret. They tiptoe around their growing attraction, which makes for some hilarious scenes. Will Dahlia finally realize Clete is perfect for her? Will he be able to persuade her to stay at the lake and be near him, or will he have to lose her to her life back in Atlanta at the end of the summer? Read and find out.

There are some ancient family secrets, and the sisters manage to engineer a new one (and which may get them into some criminal trouble). This particular activity didn't seem to make sense at first. It takes place rather early in the book, but the payoff isn't until literally the last page. I kept wondering if it had a point, which was a small distraction every time the ladies mentioned it. A rather bizarre event forces Dahlia and Clete to spend time together, but I thought that was cleverly and cutely done. Flashbacks and memories tie into present events so the threads will get woven together, but I wasn't in as much suspense as I would have liked.

Somewhere around the last third of the book--after the women have been at the lake for only a month--the author stops drawing pictures and starts writing explication. The last few scenes seem hurried and tacked-on, and I would have liked more introspection. But perhaps I went into this book with the wrong vision and I expected too much. If you're looking for something quick and light, this book will be great. If you like light romance with a hint of suspense, this book has that. It's funny, especially for female readers at the same stage in life. The author knows what she is talking about when she portrays fifty-year-old ladies trying to cook dinner to all their different dietary restrictions, or count out those daily meds, or confront the possibility of new love years after their prime. It's true that every book has its reader and every reader his or her book. This one wasn't exactly mine, but it certainly would appeal to someone else.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Top Searches of 2009

From TechCrunch, the top searches of 2009 as reported by Bing, Yahoo, and Google. What were people most interested in during this past year? Apparently Twitter, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. Jackson makes all three lists, Twitter and Fawcett two, and nothing else appears on at least two of those search engines. So celebrities and new technology seem popular. Although the results aren't scientific, it's interesting to read the lists because each search engine seems to have a slightly different usage pattern. Celeb followers and pop culturists tend to use Yahoo, tech fans Google, and news watchers Bing. Maybe because Bing is the hot new thing in itself? Do young trendy types use Yahoo to organize their web presence anyway? And Google has tons of tools for tech nerds already. Who knows.

And what did people Twitter about? According to TechCrunch, a whole lot of stuff but very little in common with the top searches. One explanation for the difference could be "that...people tend to search for what they don’t know, whereas they Tweet about what they do know or think they know." Sounds good to me. Whatever the case, it's always fun to see what got people buzzing in the last year.

What did you search for and/or tweet about?

Perfectly Sized Pix for Social Media Sites

Sarah Houghton-Jan over at the Librarian in Black posted this cool piece about MyPictr. It lets you upload a picture - any picture, not just one intended for use as a profile pic - then resize it according to the specifications of a bunch of different social media sites. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, digg...all the  major ones. Give it a try!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Recommendations for Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and "Lord of the Rings"

J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write a mythology for his beloved England, noting that the English borrowed from Scandinavian legends but didn't have much that was unique to their own culture. That mythology manifested itself as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you've read The Hobbit plus the three volumes of LotR and are dying to know more, what do you read next? Tolkien left a hefty body of work behind when he died, having written bits and pieces and longer narratives throughout most of his life. Much of it has been gathered and editied by his son Christopher, but where do you start? Here are nine suggestions.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

This authorized biography is probably the best one out there, written a few years after Tolkien's death. Carpenter interviewed friends and family and had access to letters and papers, so this book, though compact, is chock-full of fascinating information. Even if you don't delve into any other books on this list, do read this one.

2.The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: Tolkien's World from A to Z by Robert Foster

This book is mostly for fun, not something you'll read cover to cover by any means, but one which you'll dip into when a word catches your eye or when you're reading something else by Tolkien and you come across a word or name and can't remember any specifics. The author explains in the introduction which textual sources he used in compiling this mini encyclopedia. The book includes a timeline and genealogies. This might make a good gift for a die-hard fan who has everything else.

3. The Silmarillion by Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

From the creation of Eä to "Lay of Beren and Lúthien," immerse yourself in the world Tolkien created. Many of these stories are unfinished but as some are referenced in the LotR trilogy, you might want to read the originals, so to speak. Tolkien worked on these stories throughout his life, though he never published them. His son Christopher edited them after his father's death. Additional material includes genealogies, an annotated index of names, and grammar and pronunciation guides.

4. Unfinished Tales: The Lost Lore of Middle-earth by Tolkien

Unlike The Silmarillion, which was edited from notes left by Tolkien when he died, the pieces in Unfinished Tales are untouched. Many of them, such as the section on Galadriel and Celeborn, are actually quite short and incomplete. Son Christopher has written commentary, which interrupt the flow of the narratives (but which are set off in different type so you can skip them if you wish) but which also give you an insight into the mind of J.R.R. as he wrote and rewrote his stories.

5. The Children of Hurin by Tolkien

Christopher edited this full-length novel, which was published in 2007. The basis for the story appears a couple of times in different forms in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. It's a tragic narrative, following the exploits of Turin Turambar, who seemed to be cursed or at least very unlucky.

6. The History of Middle-earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien

After having published The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, Christopher turned to the rest of his father's notes, poems, rough sketches, and musings with the intent of organizing it all. Twelve volumes later, he had achieved his goal. The books follow a general chronology, and like the previous posthumous publications, contain sections of various lengths and in different stages of completion. Books six through nine encompass the period of the LotR trilogy, so those might be a starting place for readers looking to immerse themselves even deeper into Middle-earth. Only obsessed fans will make it through all twelve volumes.

7. Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth

Tolkien had been a soldier during World War I. He fought in the Battle of the Somme and witnessed first-hand the horrors of war. What he saw and experienced influenced the rest of his life, and he indirectly included that terrible period in his LotR trilogy. Humphrey Carpenter of course talks about Tolkien's war experience in his biography, but Garth explains even further how war shaped the mythology Tolkien had been creating.

8. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with assistance from Christopher Tolkien

Tolkien wrote a great many letters in his lifetime, as did most of his contemporaries. Selected ones appear here, though "selected" means "a whole darn bunch." Topics range from family to teaching to answering fan mail, and of course a large portion relate to the writing of the LotR trilogy. Carpenter has included introductions to the letters, but it might also help to read the biography he wrote in order to better understand some of the correspondants.

9. Fans of the movies should check out the visual companions (one for each movie) by Jude Fisher and the making of the trilogy by Brian Sibley. Sibley was on set throughout the filming of Peter Jackson's masterpiece and served as the official chronicler of what went on behind the scenes. The pictures are gorgeous, and it's easy to just flip the pages looking only at the illustrations. Fisher is lighter on text but has just as many amazing photos. She sticks to the movie plot while Sibley lets the cast and crew speak.

There are lots of websites out there, but here are a few to look at:

TheOneRing.net - Hobbit Movie News and Information - Stay up to date with The Hobbit movie and get news on what the past cast and crew are doing; they also have an extensive online community for any LotR geek out there who wants to connect with fellow Ringers.

Tolkien-Online - This website serves as an introduction to the books and to Tolkien himself. use the menu on the left, or just start reading and clicking links. You'll be sure to learn something interesting.

The Encyclopedia of Arda - Use this site to look up just about anything you were ever curious about regarding Middle-earth. Names, places, calendars...it's all here along with maps and family trees. And the site is constantly growing.

The Tolkien Society - Get information about Tolkien as well as some book and movie news.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The White House

www.whitehouse.gov - Everything you need to know about what goes on in our Executive Branch of the federal government. President Obama was adept at using the Internet during his campaign in 2008, and his staff has not slowed down since he took office. There is a ton of information on the White House website. For instance, right from the front page you can:

  • see videos and pictures from recent events
  • get information on health care reform
  • follow the blog

The front page also has recent legislation plus a long list of related information at the bottom of the screen. If you want to stay on top of the news through other means, you can friend the White House on Facebook, get speeches on iTunes, watch videos on YouTube, or follow tweets on Twitter.

Use the tabs at the top of the screen to find information on all kinds of issues; to see more videos; to read speeches and remarks made by the president, first lady, and members of the administration; to get some biographical information on members of the cabinet as well as past presidents and first ladies; and to find out how the three branches of US federal government work together to keep the country running.

Students looking for introductory material will find quite a bit here, and citizens wanting to keep current on the issues in the news will certainly not be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review: "The Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

(excerpted)
This may be an obvious observation, but if you haven't been reading the series, this review isn't going to mean anything to you. But you can join in on the fun if go you to your local library or used book store and find book one, The Eye of the World. Then get your hands on the next ones, and by the time you get up to this current one, which is number twelve, it'll be out in paperback and you can then consider yourself all caught up.

Readers who enjoy high fantasy should definitely give this series a try. Robert Jordan has created a world that seems so real it's easy to get lost in it. He has numerous people groups, each one unique, with their own customs and governmental system. There are certain similarities to particular groups in the real world, but nothing is based entirely on any one people or place. There's just enough to make them seem familiar, but then he adds in magic (called "the One Power") and otherworldly creatures (like Trollocs) and you realize you're dealing with an intricately detailed location that has its own rules and problems.

The characters are strong and generally well-developed and the plotting is complex, so even if you're not into fantasy as a genre but you enjoy good storytelling, try the first book and see if you don't get hooked. Naturally some books in the series are better than others, but overall this series is a deeply satisfying read.

The first few times we see each character include some backstory explication, so if you didn't get a chance to do any re-reading, it's okay. Some phrases or paragraphs seem a little pendantic, but mostly (for me anyway) it was a good reminder of where everyone was and what they'd been doing at the end of book eleven. You do need to be familiar with terms and previous events in order to fully appreciate this volume as Sanderson (and/or Jordan) wasn't that explicit, but if you've totally immersed yourself in this series and can reel off trivial facts and names at will, then you might feel like you're in remedial class for a while. However, skim over those parts and get ready to dig into the meat of this story. The only part that will disappoint you is the last page, because then you'll realize you have to wait many months to find out what happens next.

Read my entire review >>

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Finding a Lawyer Online

If you are ever in need of a lawyer, finding one may be the hardest part. Where do you start? How can you find someone you can trust? If you try a general Internet search you'll get tons of results, but which ones are reputable?

Lawyers.com is a good place to begin your search. It was created by Martindale-Hubbell, the industry giant that's been rating lawyers and providing people with information for years, and which powers the lawyer locator on the American Bar Association's website. Lawyers.com is for the layperson while martindale.com is more for professionals. You can find similar information on both, but if you're just doing a search or if you're curious about everyday subjects like adoption, divorce, writing a will, or personal injury, lawyers.com is the better choice.

Start your search right in the middle of the homepage. You can search by name or firm if you know that, or if you're not sure who you want just yet, you can browse by area of expertise or by location.

Once you have a list of names, click either the name or the "More Info" button to get address, phone number, education, and possible rating information. You can create a list in order to compare lawyers. You might want to read the disclaimer at the bottom of the homepage before contacting any lawyers.

The homepage has tons of useful information, so even if you don't need a lawyer right now, spend some time browsing. There's sure to be something there that you'll want to know about. Use the tabs at the top of the screen for more stuff, like legal documents (under "Legal Help & Resources") or a Q&A section (under "Discuss Your Legal Issue"). There's also a blog with even more information. You might have to create an account to use some features of the site, but it should be free.

If you live outside the United States, check the links at the bottom of the homepage to see if there's a similar service for your country.

For a basic search, try attorneys.com. It's also provided by Martindale-Hubbell but there's none of the extra information, like documents and forms or how-tos.

Martindale.com is a networking tool for lawyers. You can still search for a lawyer by name or by area of expertise, and the information provided is similar to what is in lawyers.com. If you have a chance, spend some time with all the sites mentioned here and see which one(s) suits your needs. the best.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Recommendations About Convents, Vivaldi and Venice

(excerpted)
Fans of historical fiction and/or stories set in Italy should pick up at least one of these books: Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick, The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi's Venice by Laurel Corona, and Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant.

Vivaldi's Virgins and The Four Seasons take place in the Ospedale della Pieta in eighteenth-century Venice. The ospedale takes in orphans, and the girls are given music lessons, either in voice or on a stringed instrument. For a time Vivaldi, also known as the Red Priest, was the maestro and composer. Anna Maria is the main character in Vivaldi's Virgins, and she has taken up the violin and will become one of Vivaldi's best students. Anna Maria's story alternates between letters she writes as a child to her unknown birth mother and reflections on her life as she looks back on her years spent teaching at the ospedale.

The Four Seasons focuses more on two sisters, Maddalena and Chiaretta, also orphaned. Maddalena becomes a violinist, and Chiaretta has been blessed with a sweet voice. They grow up in the ospedale, then take two very different paths: One stays, the other marries. Corona has less mystery in her story than does Quick, but the details of convent life and Venetian life in general are fascinating. Both books address the question of identity and what it means to grow up without knowing one's parents or family history. Music is an ever-present factor in these two novels, how it was written and performed, how students were taught, and even how it shaped the girls' identities.

Dunant's book is also set in an Italian convent, but she chose Ferrara in the sixteenth century. The characters rarely step outside the grounds, although they do hear news from beyond their walls. The time is before Vivaldi's birth, but music is still a large influence in the lives of the nuns. Serafina's father brings her to Santa Caterina to get her away from her lover. She has a beautiful voice, but once inside she refuses to use it. Suora Zuana, the convent's apothecary, tries to take her under her wing, but Serafina has her mind only on escape. Serafina causes quite a disturbance in the ordered life of the sisters, and Zuana has to decide between what she knows is right and what the abbess wants.

All three of these books are wonderfully detailed and take the reader to an exciting time in Italy's history. The sights, sounds, and smells are rich and vivid. The characters are complex and interesting, including Vivaldi himself. Their struggles and the choices they must make are timeless, and the authors have crafted every aspect of their lives beautifully.


Read my entire review >>

photo courtesy of Flickr

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Comparing Hospitals

If you've ever needed to know the best place to get certain kinds of treatment or you want to find success rates or procedure costs, try Hospital Compare, from the US Department of Health and Human Services. It's also used by Medicare. (WARNING: This site does not seem to work in Firefox. You'll probably need Internet Explorer to see it.)

You can search by hospital name or location, so you can see information on one particular place or perhaps see all the hospitals within a certain ZIP code or town. Some states, like Texas, are broken down by region, and US territories are included. You can compare up to three hospitals at once.

The homepage has lots of explanatory information as well as a link on how to use the site (it opens a new window). When you're ready to search, click the "Find and Compare Hospitals" button on the homepage. There's quite a bit of useful information here, and it's nice to have it all in one place.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

AARP

AARP is generally for persons over age 50, and their website, which is newsy and informative, focuses on issues of interest to senior citizens.

There are blogs and news items on topics such as travel, health, money, and politics. You can register for a free account and join the AARP online community. Chat in the forums (groups), follow discussions, or sign up for the newsletter in your email.

Click the link at the top of the homepage to see selected articles from the AARP magazine. Not all the articles are available online, but quite a few are there. Use the drop-down menu on the right to see past issues back to 2003. If you see something you like, you can print it or email it.

For more news articles, click the Bulletin Today link at the top of the homepage. Here you can get articles plus diversions such as sudoku puzzles. Use the "In Your State" link to get local information.

To get statistics and research information, click the "Research" link at the top of the homepage. The research section can be searched separately from the rest of the website by using the search box on the left. If you want to search the entire AARP website, use the box at the top of most screens.

Want to join AARP or renew your subscription? You can do that on their website as well. The link is generally at the top of the screen.

The link AARP Segunda Juventud takes you to the online version of their magazine with news focusing on issues facing Hispanics. Articles from the print version are searchable, and this website is also available in Spanish.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review: "True Blue" by David Baldacci

(excerpted)
True Blue starts with Mace Perry, a former policewoman for the District of Columbia, coming to the end of her two-year jail term. She swears she was set up in retaliation for infiltrating a drug ring, but since she was convicted she is no longer eligible to rejoin the police force. She is at odds for a while on what to do next, but soon enough a case ends up in her lap. A lawyer is murdered and found in the office fridge, and a US attorney is also murdered and stuffed into a Dumpster. Are the cases related? Who else might be on the hit list? Mace's sister Beth is the chief of police, so Mace has some leeway plus lots of former contacts. She figures if she can solve the murders on her own, the force will have to hire her back. Mace is assisted by Roy, the lawyer who found his colleague in the fridge, and the two of them set out to answer all the questions of who and why. Mace, Roy, and Beth use their wits and muscle to follow the clues and to stay alive. They quickly find out who they can trust and who they can't.

Fans of Baldacci's books about former Secret Service agents Michelle Maxwell and Sean King will most likely enjoy this one. Maxwell and King (Split Second, Hour Game, Simple Genius, First Family) also felt they had something to prove to their former employers, and they ended up partners on the job and in their personal lives. Will the same happen with Mace and Roy? Begin with this latest book, and read and find out.

Read my entire review >>

Monday, November 9, 2009

Book Review: "The Weight of Silence" by Heather Gudenkauf

(excerpted)
Two seven-year-old girls, Calli and Petra, disappear from their homes in the wee hours of the morning. The girls are best friends, so their families assume at first that they must have gone somewhere together. But what really happened? Did Calli's dad actually go on the fishing trip he'd planned? Who caught Petra's attention while walking by her house? Calli knows the woods behind her house extremely well, but is she too scared to find her way back out? Can her big brother Ben find her? Oh yeah, the situation is more complicated because Calli doesn't talk.

If you like suspense stories with well-drawn characters, pick up this book. If you enjoy getting inside people's heads and figuring out why they do what they do, this book is for you. No one knows how they will react in horrific situations until they happen, but this story shows a few possible options. Relationships here are deep and messy, just like in real life, and sometimes, as in real life, true love just might win out.

Other books about missing children you might like:

The Deep End of the Ocean and its sequel No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacqueline Mitchard
Place Last Seen by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman

Read my entire review >>

Social Security Administration


This site for Social Security is not just for senior citizens, but they probably are the ones most likely to need it often. The homepage is filled with information on Medicare, disability and retirement benefits, and office locations.

Anyone needing a new Social Security card can look here to find out to get one. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is here. If you need a form or you want to check on your earnings, that's all here. Survivors of persons eligible for benefits can figure out what to do here. If you're self-employed, there's a section for you on the "Group" drop-down menu. Basically, if you're reading this blog post, go to this website and look around. It's packed full of useful, easy to find information, and even if you don't need it now, you will at some point - guaranteed.

The site is also available in Spanish and several other languages. See the links in the top right corner of the screen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Seniors.gov

Attention, seniors! (Not high school students but persons of a certain age - you know who you are.) Did you know the federal government has a website just for you? At seniors.gov you can find all kinds of information geared toward your particular circumstances in life. With topics like raising grandchildren, health issues, advance directives, age discrimination, and travel, there's sure to be something here that will apply to you at some point.

Caregivers can also find information here, such as how to choose a nursing home or getting support for yourself. Whether caring for a parent or spouse, there's some good stuff for you.

The links on the left are for the entire US government website, so concentrate on the ones in the center and on the right. If you need larger text, click the "A" near the top right of the screen until the page is comfortable to read.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

If You Love King Arthur Stories, Check Out These Five Authors

King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Guenevere, Merlin, the Lady of the Lake. Tristan and Isolde. Sir Kay, Sir Galahad, Sir Bors. If you love the legends surrounding Excalibur, Camelot, and Avalon, get your hands on these books and settle in for a trip back in time when chivalry was alive, when the knights wore armor and the damsels may have been in distress but were certainly capable of taking care of themselves.

Bernard Cornwell

Cornwell wrote a trilogy about Arthur and company (The Winter King, Enemy of God, Excalibur) and now is writing a series called The Grail Quest. On his website he says that The Warlord Chronicles were his favorite. He includes lots of battles and lots of blood and guts. None of these books is for the faint-hearted, but if you want a realistic picture of what life was like in the early days of Britain, you'll find that here. The Grail Quest takes place in the fourteenth century in England and France and follows a fellow named Thomas of Hookton as he searches for the Holy Grail.

Stephen Lawhead, Pendragon Cycle

There are five books in this series, beginning with Taliesin. Taliesin is a bard of unknown origins who falls in love with Charis, a girl from Atlantis, and they become the parents of Merlin. Author Stephen Lawhead writes beautifully, setting the scenes so well that you'd swear you were actually living with the characters. Merlin gets the second book in the series, and Arthur gets the others. The books are filled with the colors, sights, and sounds of battles, songs, the countryside, bad-tempered villains, and heroic good guys. Lawhead uses Welsh and Gaelic spellings for some names, which should appeal to language lovers. Most of the legendary elements are here, although the final book, Grail, feels a bit tacked-on, like Lawhead realized he'd left out that part of the story and went back to include it. At least read the first three books. If you like them, read the fourth, which goes back to fill in glossed-over areas. Only if you absolutelylove those should you read Grail. The series is enjoyable enough without it.

Rosalind Miles

If you like your female characters to kick butt, try Rosalind Miles' Guenevere trilogy. Taking her from girl to queen, Miles presents Guenevere's side of the legend. Lancelot is here as well as Arthur's bastard son Mordred. How might Guenevere have felt about each man in her life? Miles shifts her focus for another set of books, turning to the minor (and sometimes non-existant) character Isolde. Isolde is heir to the throne of Ireland but falls in love with Sir Tristan, one of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. This legend is not as well-known and so if you've read everything else about Arthur and Guenevere, try this one about Isolde. Even if you don't continue, at least get the first one, Isolde: Queen of the Western Isle.

photo courtesy of Flickr

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Better Than Wikipedia?

Are you a lover or a hater of Wikipedia? Do you turn to it first thing, or do you distrust it with a passion? How many topics listed there show up in the top ten results when you do a Google search? Wikipedia sure is popular, even though debate continues on whether it can be considered reliable and authoritative.

How about an alternative?

How about Encyclopedia.com? They do have a short "About Us" page, but just look at their homepage to see what kinds of credible sources they have. There are general encyclopedias, biographies, medical sources, dictionaries...over 100 sources. And the best part? It's all free!

There are some ads and sponsored sites from Google, but navigation is pretty easy. You might also get some Flickr pictures or YouTube videos. Under the encyclopedia results you'll find magazine and newspaper articles (but keep reading to see how to access these).

Depending on the topic you might only get a paragraph of information, but Wikipedia articles aren't usually very long either. Also, Wikipedia doesn't do keyword searching. It only brings back a match if someone has written an article specifically on your search terms. Encyclopedia.com does do keyword searching, so even if there isn't an article just on your topic, it'll bring back related articles.

Encyclopedia.com is run by Cengage Learning, a publishing company that puts out the sources used in the website. Cengage has partnered with HighBeam Research to give you access to the magazine and newspaper articles. (You may have come across HighBeam if you've ever tried looking for a magazine article through a Google search.) HighBeam offers a free 7-day trial to read its articles*.

Try a few searches in both Encyclopedia.com and Wikipedia. Which one seems to have more comprehensive articles? Which one is easier to use? Which one do you trust to be true? (Since "anyone" can edit Wikipedia at any time, there's no guarantee what you see today will be there tomorrow.) Encyclopedia.com may not have the scope of Wikipedia, but give it a chance the next time you're looking for some basic information.

*Or you could, you know, go to your local library. Chances are your librarian can find you that article or a similar one for free. And he or she can also show you how to find more while searching from home in the middle of the night in your pajamas.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

ThomasNet

Anyone remember those huge green volumes that probably took up a shelf and a half in your local library's reference section? You used them to find manufacturers of all kinds of stuff, whether local or not. Well, now that resource is searchable online.

From their website:

Search ThomasNet to find manufacturers, distributors and service providers - from Actuators to Zirconium and everything in between.

If you're looking for a product, you can type it right into the search box or use the categories. Use the links above the search box to find brands or companies. The scope covers the US and Canada, but you can't search by region. It's either all locations or one state/province. Some states are subdivided, like Massachusetts (into Eastern and Western halves), so depending on where you live you might have to do a couple searches to find everything.

Click on the company name to see contact information. You can also compare companies, or email or print results. Once on a company's page you can write notes and save them, provided you've created an account for yourself.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Baseball Books

Quite a few baseball books have been published in recent years, and this list includes some of those new ones plus a few old favorites.

1. As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber

Fans and players alike seem to enjoy complaining about umpires, but what is being an umpire really like? They are supposed to make calls as they see them and not make an impact on the game, but what happens when their calls are wrong? What are the "magic words" that will get a manager or player thrown out of the game? From umpiring school to the minors to the majors, follow Bruce Weber as he straps on the mask and chest protector and learns first-hand what it's like to be one of the men in blue.

2. The Yankee Years by Joe Torre

Joe Torre gets writing credit, but Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated actually synthesizes the information in this narrative of Torre's time as manager of the New York Yankees. From his inauspicious hiring by owner George Steinbrenner after the 1995 season to the end of his tenure following the 2007 playoff loss to the Cleveland Indians, read about everything that went on behind the headlines. See what it was like to lead the team to four championships in five years. Learn how Torre dealt with Steinbrenner's management style and find out how the players felt when Alex Rodriquez joined the team in 2004. Read about what happened later that same year, when the Red Sox came back from the brink of elimination in the ALCS to win four in a row and get to the World Series for the first time in 86 years--at the expense of Torre's Yankees. Through the good and the bad, get inside the head of this brilliant manager.

3. Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember by John Feinstein

John Feinstein is a newspaper columnist as well as a prolific author of sports books, and in this one he follows pitchers Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina through the 2007 season. Both pitchers were near the end of their careers--Glavine chased 300 wins that year, and Mussina contemplated retirement--and they both are given plenty of opportunities to speak in their own words. Read what they have to say about what it's like dreaming about playing in the majors, being on winning as well as losing teams, changing teams, aging as a player, and having to adjust their game to stay competitive. Both pitchers are introspective and have near-encyclopedic knowledge of every game they've played, making for fascinating if slightly tedious reading. Serious students of the game, especially of pitching, will enjoy this one.

4. National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, DC by Barry Svrluga

At first glance this book may seem to appeal only to those few diehard fans of the Washington Nationals, who relocated to DC from Montreal before the 2005 season. However, any baseball fan will be interested to read about what goes on in the front office and how personnel decisions are made. Most fans will experience long stretches of losing but true fans stick with their teams no matter what, and so those true fans of any team will understand what it was like to watch the underdogs perform above expectation and bring the excitement of baseball back to a city bereft of the game for thirty years. Barry Svrluga was the Nats' beat writer for the Washington Post at the time, and he planned to write the book from the start of the season. Thus he was around from the time the team moved and set up office in trailers to the conclusion of the season, when the overachieving Nationals went 81-81. Really, it's more interesting than it sounds. Give it a shot.

5. Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero by David Maraniss

Sportswriter David Maraniss writes eloquently about this 1960s Pittsburgh Pirates star. Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American player voted into the Hall of Fame, and this book demonstrates why. Clemente was one of the best ever at his position of right fielder, he won Gold Gloves and MVP awards, and he was a perennial All-Star. Off the field he generously donated his time and money to charities in his native Puerto Rico and elsewhere in Central America. In fact, he died in a plane crash while delivering emergency aid packages to Nicaragua following an earthquake in 1972. He was and remains an inspiration.

photo courtesy of Flickr

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Do Not Mail List

Stop unwanted catalogs from clogging up your mailbox and reduce your waste by getting your name on the Do Not Mail List from DirectMail. At first glance DirectMail seems like to opposite place to be as they sell address lists to companies and organizations, but they also say,
As direct marketers ourselves, we know that mail-order companies don't want to waste their money sending mail to people who don't want to receive it.

You have to register with the site, but it's free. Take a look at their FAQ.

There is another option called Catalog Choice. Again, you have to sign up. They have a list of participating catalog companies, but even if yours isn't there send in a suggestion to include certain titles.

Do Not Call Registry


Are you getting telemarketing calls? Do you want to see if your phone number has been registered? Check out the Do Not Call Registry, run by the Federal Trade Commission.

Input up to three phone numbers (or call 1-888-382-1222) to stop telemarketing calls. You can register both landline and cell phones. If you have more than three numbers, you can come back to the site and input the others. You'll get email confirmations for each one.

Did you register once but want to double-check that your number is still there? There is good news: Numbers on the registry do not expire. So chances are your number is still there, but there is a link to make sure. If you move or get a new number, it's not a bad idea to make sure that new number is registered.

Click "More Information" then "Information for Consumers" to get the FAQs.

Everything on the site, including the FAQs, are available in Spanish.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The World Factbook


For information on countries of the world, their flags, and maps, start your search with the CIA World Factbook.

Select a country from the menu. There are also locations listed, like the Arctic Ocean, the Holy See (Vatican City), the Kingman Reef, and the West Bank. You'll get anything from maps and flags to demographics and government information. You can see larger images of the graphics or get printouts.

The tabs under the menu pertain to the resource itself. You can find maps and flags here as well as definitions ("References") and explanations of abbreviations ("Appendices").

There's not a lot of narrative here, but if you need statistics or an overview or just want to see where a country is in the world, this is a great resource.

As a bonus, check out the link from the list on the left labeled "World Leaders." This resource, Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments, is a list, by country, of heads of state, cabinet members, ambassadors, and more. (Both the A to Z list on the right side and the one in the middle go to the same places.) Don't let the initial "updated" dates throw you. It looks like the lists haven't been updated for a couple of years, but once you get to individual country information the dates become much more recent.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Facebook

Check out this posting of Facebook privacy settings. Some of these are pretty basic and should be common sense, like not allowing your profile to appear in Google, but others, such as not allowing stories to appear on friends' pages, may be ones you haven't considered before. If nothing else, this list of ten tips should get you thinking about how you control your online privacy. If you want even more information on Facebook privacy, there is a downloadable file.

PC Magazine's Top 100 Websites of 2009

Okay, so this isn't exactly new, but it's still a cool list. PC Magazine has selected the top 100 websites of the year. They chose some old favorites (the New York Times and Slate) as well ones you've never heard of (Giveaway of the Day). Use the links on the left or scroll down to see the classics and the undiscovered gems. From tech info to just plain fun, you'll be sure to find something of interest and hopefully even usefulness. If you fall in love with them all, you can download the entire list to your browser's favorites.

Flu.gov

Stay up to date with the latest information on the H1N1 virus with Flu.gov. The site is run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the CDC links to it from their own website.

One of the more important sections is the area where you can check on your state's information, such as locations for getting vaccinated and whether your state has a pandemic plan. If your state has a hotline or blog, that will be listed.

There is a list of FAQs but you have to search it, I don't see where you can view the entire thing. But it's pretty comprehensive with refinements and categories presented to you so you can find exactly what you need.

Flu essentials are offered in a variety of languages, and the entire site is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Stay current on all the news by following on Twitter, Facebook, RSS, email, and even YouTube.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

AnnualCreditReport.com

From the Federal Trade Commission:

AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY authorized source to get your free annual credit report under federal law. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you access to a free credit report from each of the three nationwide reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — every twelve months.  The Federal Trade Commission has received complaints from consumers who thought they were ordering their free annual credit report, but instead paid hidden fees or agreed to unwanted services.  Don’t be fooled by TV ads, email offers, or online search results.  Go to the authorized source when you request your free report.

Read the FTC FAQs for more information. Your report combines all the information from the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You don't have to visit all three yourself; AnnualCreditReport.com does the work for you.

It's a good idea to keep an eye on your credit reports. You don't get your credit score this way, but you do get to see what creditors see. If you're trying to get a loan or mortgage or you just want to know what's on your report, you can get it for free. Then you'll know if you need to take care of any problems or errors that show up.

GuideStar

Do you want to check details on a nonprofit organization? Do you want to donate but want to make sure the organization is worthy? Are you looking for a certain kind of organization but aren't sure which one? Try GuideStar.


GuideStar is itself a nonprofit that seeks "to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving." You can search the site and get basic information on nearly 2 million nonprofits, such as verifying the existence of a particular organization, but if you register (which is free) you can get even more, like contact information, financial information, and IRS forms. There is even the option to subscribe to GuideStar, but unless you are doing serious research you probably won't need that much in-depth information.

GuideStar is pretty easy to navigate, but there's a how-to video if you want to watch an overview of the site.

Searching for a non-profit's name is straightforward, just type it into the searchbox. You can also type in keywords, and then at the top of the results screen you'll see a list of suggestions for related searches.


If you get too many hits, click on "Refine Your Search" to add details such as location or more keywords.


Check out the search tips for help in using the site.