Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Clicker.com

Many people are now bypassing their television and the TV schedule in favor of watching their favorite shows online. But with every channel having its own website plus Hulu and Netflix, how do you know where to go? Enter Clicker.com. Search or browse, and Clicker will tell you where you can see your show as well as noting whether the website is free or not. Here's how Clicker describes themselves:

To make it fast and easy to find a show you want to watch right now, Clicker is one part directory, one part search engine, one part wiki, one part entertainment guide, and one part DVR. At the heart of it all is a massive database that looks like this:

Clicker contains more than 750,000 episodes, from over 12,000 shows, from over 2,500 networks, 30,000 movies, and 90,000 music videos from 20,000 artists.

Staying on top of what programs are available online and offline, organizing them for you, and recommending gems for you to discover is what Clicker is all about.

You can create an account and make playlists, but it's not necessary for searching and browsing. Clicker also offers similar information for movies and music.

It looks like a handy tool. Give it a try!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Free e-Books

Check out these lists of websites from Hongkiat.com that let you download e-books for free:

Part I
Part II

I'm not sure any of them will have the latest best-sellers, but with all those choices you can probably find something you like just as well. You might even find some new favorites.

Thanks to Stephen's Lighthouse for the links.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review - "Still Missing" by Chevy Stevens

Still Missing is a disturbing book. First-time author Chevy Stevens must have had to dig deep into dark places of her psyche to create such a creepy character as the kidnapper is. Victim Annie dubs him The Freak, and he certainly puts her though a wide range of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual. It's no wonder she sleeps in the closet when she returns home. Everything he does to her is manipulative, and fighting him only makes it worse. Annie becomes so tortured she doesn't know how she'll hang on.

Annie is a thirty-something Realtor, packing up her signs at the end of a hot summer day after an open house. She's almost finished when a charming man comes by and asks her if she'd mind showing him around. As she's taking him through the house, he pulls a gun and forces her into his van. He takes her to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, where Annie is forced to rely on her wits to survive through a horrific year. She quickly finds out the abduction wasn't random. He knows too many things about her and has prepared the cabin just for her. In order to zone out and keep some sanity, Annie becomes an obsessive counter: tiles, ceiling holes, bricks, water drops, anything to take her focus off her situation.

Annie tells her story in sessions with her psychiatrist, so the reader knows she gets away. Exactly how that comes about is part of the suspense. Annie also relates what life has been like for her since her return. She deals with reporters, Hollywood agents, her former boyfriend, her narcissistic mother, and the demons in her own mind. Her story is riveting. It's like watching a car crash--you are helpless to do anything about it, but you can't bring yourself to leave the scene.

In a sense Annie's troubles only begin once she returns home. Her story of getting her life back is profoundly shattered when events take a turn into a place she never imagined they would go. Her nightmare may be over, but what brought it about is just as terrible.

So Still Missing is disturbing. Annie's year in the cabin is so well-written you won't be able to stop thinking about it even after you close the book. Her struggle to fit in after her return, her dealings with her family and friends is also realistic. What weakens the story a little for me is the part about what precipitated her kidnapping. I was enthralled and sickened by the actions of Annie's abuser--Stevens really gets into his head--and I was anxious to see how she'd deal with life back home, all of which were suspenseful enough. But then the investigation into who The Freak really was and how he got involved is settled in a slightly predictable yet convoluted way. The story was captivating before becoming something of a whodunit, and I wasn't entirely excited to follow that path.

However, I still highly recommend the book. For lovers of psychological thrillers, suspense novels, character studies, or mysteries, this will consume your days and nights. You won't be able to put it down, and once you do manage to let the cover close, you'll still be turning it over in your mind. You'll find yourself looking over your shoulder, wondering if what happened to Annie could happen to you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What the Internet Has Done to My Brain

I just finished The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I also read his Atlantic article when it came out a couple of years ago, entitled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Both pieces resonated with me, and it's nice to know I'm not alone.

I've long noticed my inability to read an article online word for word. I find much too easy to scroll or mouse down the page and have to physically take my hand off the keyboard or mouse in order to force myself to read and not skim. I am apt to scroll all the way to the bottom if I'm searching for information for a patron because I want to make sure I haven't missed anything that will help them, but often that patron will have noticed something and is anxious for me to click on a link immediately. However, if I've found something of interest for myself, I'd rather print out a few pages than read the whole thing online. I check a national newspaper everyday, but if an article goes to a second, or heaven forbid a third, page, I probably won't click to continue reading. My attention span isn't that long, and my physical ability to absorb information online is small.

I used to think it was because I came of age before the Internet became commonplace, that I hadn't grown up doing research online and was used to books and print material, that maybe it was a matter of preference for me. But after reading Carr's article I decided it wasn't just me. It was that I had fallen prey to the ephemeral nature of the Web and had embraced its seductive ease of navigation. Now that I'm aware of this, I've found myself trying to read more deeply online and have made more of an effort to concentrate better when reading books.

I've always been a big reader. I have to have at least one book going at any given time, and I switch between fiction and nonfiction, although I'm more drawn to fiction. My tastes have changed over the years, but I still gravitate towards mysteries and suspense, though lately I find myself reading character studies or stories with true-to-life situations. I want a world where I can get lost, where I can put myself into someone else's shoes and wonder what I would do in the same place. I read for escape, though I also read to learn. If I don't get enough fiction, if I don't let my mind wander along with the characters, I get restless. I have to have that outlet to unwind.

It saddens me to hear about kids and teens who don't know how to entertain themselves. What happened to playing outside, making up games and pretending? Where are these youngsters' imaginations? As a librarian, I struggle to help students who don't know how to research. They are unwilling--and probably unable--to take notes, to use multiple sources and synthesize an answer to a complex question. They want something quick, easy, and short. Is that the fault of them, a product of their own natural laziness (which is really the laziness of most humans)? Is it the teachers' fault for not explaining the research process and demanding well-written, well-documented papers? It seems to easy to blame the Internet for these shortcomings, but maybe Nicholas Carr is onto something. Kids are used to instant gratification. Need song lyrics? Google the song title. Why memorize dates when you can look up events in Wikipedia  (or even the Britannica and other online reference sources)? They can post their intimate or mundane thoughts on Facebook or Twitter and get immediate feedback from friends who are also logged on. No one has to wait for any bit of information anymore.

The Shallows doesn't offer solutions, but reading it made me re-evaluate my approach to in-depth reference questions. It's challenged me to find alternative ways of helping students with their research. I need to learn patience, I need to learn how to train them to use the sources available, whether in print or online (because the Internet as well as propriety sources are valuable tools), and I need to learn how to explain the research process.

I think every educator in all areas should read Carr's book, or at least his article, and decide how best to combat this loss of the ability to read deeply and to absorb and internalize information. We should be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet and be conscious of its effects. We need to learn how to use the Internet and our computers without sacrificing what makes us human and therefore different from the machines we've become addicted to: our ability to think.

How has the Internet changed your brain? Leave your experiences in the comments.

Book Review - "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" by Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr has written an incredible book. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains actually started out as an article in Atlantic. Indeed, most if not all of the article is in the book (so definitely read the article if you don't have the attention span to read the book), but then Carr expands on the process of how our thinking has already changed due to technological advances throughout history. He explains his own struggle with deep reading, realizing after years of heavy Internet use that he no longer was able to spend much time with a book or detailed article before being distracted. Often he was following links in an attempt for learn more, but sometimes he lost concentration. The article and then the book try to figure out why he found it so hard to read and could only skim.

Carr asserts, with citations to studies and experiments as proof, that the nature of the Web demands quick reading with the ease of scrolling instead of turning pages and the abundance of links that give us easy access to more related information. It's so easy to be connected--and as social creatures humans have a need to feel connected--with email alerts and RSS feeds and Twitter notifications that we don't want to unplug and unwind. We stimulate our brains to oversaturation in the quest for "more" and don't take the time to read deeply and study fully ideas, arguments, or even fictional stories.

Written alphabets, the printing press, and typewriters have all changed the way humans think. The Internet is no different. It's just another communication tool, and like its predecessors, it has affected how we think and how we get our ideas across. The difference this time is that we seem to have regressed in our ability to synthesize information. We don't seem to have the same ability to internalize knowledge. The medium of the Web makes it too easy to breeze through paragraphs and pick up on keywords without understanding the  connection of those keywords. We're good at getting the gist of something, but we might not be able to expound on a writer's thesis and determine whether that thesis is right or wrong.

Then there are the images and sounds that intrude on our reading. Our brains use different sections to process different kinds of information, and when a person forces theirs to multitask by feeding it images, videos, text, and more all at once, its ability to digest any of it well diminishes.

Carr discusses his need to unplug from the Internet in order to write the book (because his powers of concentration had shrunk so small that he couldn't write coherently for long stretches of time), but he confesses that he has since rewired himself. He doesn't say we should chuck the Internet and computers because they are detrimental to society, but he hasn't completely embraced them as he once did either. He takes a middle ground, showing how the Internet has changed our thinking processes and warning us that we should evaluate our own usage and how our personal patterns may have changed. He leaves it up to the individual to determine whether those changes are good or bad and what each person might do about it.

Anyone who spends time online should read this book. Anyone who has children or who works with students should read this book. Anyone who finds himself unable to read deeply, whether online or in print, should read this book. Even if it takes months to finish it, the time will be well spent. It will make you think and consider your own habits. You might end up disagreeing with Nicholas Carr, but he won't mind. It'll mean you found the time and ability to read deeply and to evaluate his thesis and his evidence and to determine for yourself if he's right. It'll mean you had to think, and that's all he wants.


What has the Internet done to my brain?