Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 on YouTube and Flickr

From the Official Google Blog, check out What Were We Watching This Year? Let's Rewind 2011. Here you'll see a YouTube video of what was the most popular. Scroll down to see a list of music videos, particular channels and categories, and topics such as fashion, how-to, and sports. Google reports that there were over 1 trillion playbacks on YouTube. That's an incredibly high number, more than twice as many stars in the Milky Way, says Google.

If you're more into still images, check out Mashable's article on Flickr 2011: The Year in Photos. Political unrest was a popular subject as was weather-related events. Occupy Wall Street makes an appearance as does Harry Potter. The collection is also available directly on Flickr with brief commentary by Yahoo editors.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Search Trends in 2011

It's always interesting to go back and see what caught people's attention over the course of a year. I have search engine results, but I thought I'd also post a few popular search lists from other sources. Take a look:

Bieber Beats Kim Kardashian as Most Searched Person of 2011 -- Guess having a paternity suit dropped on you, even if it turned out to be bogus, does wonders for your popularity. Casey Anthony got a lot of interest (or perhaps morbid curiosity) as did Hurricane Irene. In sports, tennis ruled, while music chart mainstays also were popular, beating out up and coming singers. Consumers were looking for gaming systems and speculating about the iPhone 5. American Idol was the most popular TV show while the Kardashians hold some kind of fascination for searchers. Actresses and female reality show stars were more popular than their male counterparts. The Smurfs actually made it at #7 for movies searched while the next Mission Impossible installment took #1, even thought it's not in theatres yet. The wedding of Prince William and Kate was popular, as was Kate herself and her sister Pippa. See the rest of Bing's top searches.

Google's Zeitgeist 2011 -- Google charted how the entire world searched, not just the US. Rebecca Black and her "Friday" video were popular, and Google's own Google+ got the #2 spot. Casey Anthony appears on this list also as does the iPhone 5. Check out the zeitgeist website and see what people in other countries were interested in.

Top 10 Twitter Trends of 2011 -- According to hashtags used, Justin Bieber also reigned supreme on Twitter. For some reason Finding Nemo was a popular movie, and cricket beat out the NHL in sports. Events in the Middle East and North Africa captured the world's attention as did the earthquake in Japan. The article I've linked to has a neat infographic.


Facebook Reveals 2011's Most-Popular Status Trends -- The death of Osama bin Laden  sparked the most status updates, but the news story that got the most shares was about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Check out the list to see the top songs, movies, and TV shows (old favorite House ranks high with Facebook users). Soccer was popular in sports. There's even a category for fictional characters. (I've never heard of most of them, but I'm guessing Facebook users aren't big readers. The ones I do know are from TV shows.) Note that the categories weren't based on status updates but rather page popularity.

AOL Names Top 11 News Stories that Shaped 2011 -- Basing the results on shares and comments across all its news sites, AOL names stories such as the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as top of the year. They list their results chronologically, and it's fascinating to relive 2011 month by month. Charlie Sheen gets mentioned as does the unrest in the Middle East and Africa along with the debt ceiling crisis. It's quite an eclectic list.

What were you searching for and reading about in 2011? Feel free to leave comments.

Monday, December 5, 2011

UnlistMy.Info

It's possible to list your phone numbers on a do not call list and you can stop unwanted catalogs and mailings from coming to your house, but what do you do about those people finder directories online? Chances are, you never signed up to be listed in any of them--they get their information from publicly available sources--so how do you get unlisted?

Try UnlistMy.Info. Some of the sites require you to mail a form and possibly a copy of your driver's license (black out the number first), and some of the sites have a simple online form. It'll take quite a bit of work to get unlisted from all the sites, but if you're very concerned with privacy it might be worth it. There is a contact email to report bad instructions, which I'm tempted to use because I found at least two errors. Still, it could be an eye-opening exercise to search for yourself at some of these sites and see how much information is readily found on you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CanIStream.it

A recent TechCrunch article mentioned a new search engine called CanIStream.it, which lets you search for movies to see whether they are available on the web. It searches the usual suspects (Hulu, Netflix, Amazone, iTunes, etc.) and even gives links to the iMDB and Rotten Tomatoes pages where applicable. Even if your movie isn't streamable, you can still find links to rent or purchase copies, and if you're interested in the Blu-Ray version, there might be an Amazon link to purchase a disc.

Sign up to receive a notification if/when your movie becomes streamable. And there's a free app in the Apple store.

CanIStream.it doesn't do TV shows, so you might still need Clicker.com for those.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review - "The Litigators" by John Grisham

John Grisham returns to form with The Litigators. I liked The Associate, which I thought was more like his early books, but I wasn't impressed with The Confession after it. However, this latest is more like the Grisham I remember.

David Zinc has a panic attack on the way to his high-powered, specialized job as an attorney with a huge law firm in Chicago, and ends up spending the day getting drunk. He stumbles across the tiny firm of Finley & Figg and manages to get himself a new job there. Partner Wally Figg smells money when he hears of a drug that might be connected to several deaths, and he ends up dragging Oscar Finley and David into the mess. They have no case, but Wally refuses to back down. David ends up having to face the pharmaceutical company in court, though he has no experience.

Meanwhile, David and his wife have befriended a Burmese family whose son has ingested poisonous levels of lead from a toy. David takes it upon himself to track down the manufacturer and distributor and discovers in the process that he actually enjoys litigation.

Grisham brings his experience as a lawyer to this new novel, explaining the workings of the federal court system and how a tiny law firm could get in over its head. David is young and hard-working, and he's easy to root for. Besides the main story of the bad drug is the sideline of David working on behalf of the Burmese family. It feels like Grisham took his time to plot out this book, and the read is enjoyable. If you've stopped reading Grisham for a while, give The Litigators a try as Grisham seems to back to his old, legal-thrilling self.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Real Daisy Buchanan

I just finished Gatsby's Girl by Caroline Preston, and it made me want to pick up The Great Gatsby again. This time, though, instead of focusing on Jay Gatsby and his obsession with former flame Daisy, I would want to re-evaluate Daisy herself. What kind of woman was she? What quality did she have that made Gatsby idealize her and be unable to let her go after all those years?

To get an insight into Daisy and Gatsby as teenagers and into what kind of woman Daisy became, check out Gatsby's Girl. There's a note in the back explaining what was true and what was fictionalized, but save that for last. Read this book with the idea that this girl, Ginevra Perry, was the inspiration for Daisy and indeed for several women in F. Scott Fitzgerald's books.

Ginevra is a self-centered, spoiled socialite in Chicago, the boarding school roommate of a friend of Scott's. The two meet at a party, hit it off, and write thick, romantic letters to each other over a course of several months. They only see each other a few times, and eventually Ginevra loses interest. She gets married, has babies, and moves on with her life, while Scott becomes a famous author and a drunkard with a mentally unstable wife and a child he doesn't quite know what to do with.

Mostly this book for me was a question of what if? What would Ginevra's life have been like if she hadn't settled for her mediocre husband? What would Scott's life have been like if he'd married the love of his life, Ginevra? What might the real Fitzgerald's life have been like if he'd married the love of his life, Ginevra?

Gatsby's Girl isn't the most stimulating read; at just over 300 pages it goes quickly and doesn't have much of a lasting impact, but while you're into it it should make you think. What kind of life does Ginevra want? Why does she cut out articles about Scott and scissor scenes from his books and save them for years? Why does Scott continue to use episodes from their time together in his stories and novels? Where they really each other's first loves? Should they have stayed together?

It's also fascinating, knowing what kind of life F. Scott Fitzgerald led, to speculate what might have happened if the real Scott and Ginevra had stayed together. Might he have stayed sober and lived longer, able to write dozens of Great American Novels?

It would be interesting to read The Great Gatsby in light of Gatsby's Girl, but Gatsby's Girl is an intriguing read on its own. Check it out if you're in the mood for something fast and light with a dose of literary merit.

thanks to sterling cut glass for the photo

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blekko

Tired of irrelevant results on Google? Not excited about Bing? Try Blekko, a search engine that claims it's "slashing out spam, content farms, malware."

Blekko crawls 3 million "quality" websites, so in theory the results you get are relevant and authoritative. It's different from the other major search engines in that it allows you to use slashtags to specify kinds of searches and filter out unwanted websites. (The slashtag is the forward slash on your keyboard.) There is a directory of preset slashtag searches so you can get an idea of the kinds of specific searches Blekko has come up with, or try your own. For example, a search on jennifer aniston /movie will return movie-related sites only, no gossip sites or sites about other ladies named Jennifer Aniston who are not the Hollywood actress. You can create your own slashtags or edit current ones if you create an account.

To get an idea of how Blekko works, try the same searches I suggested in my posts about Bing and Yahoo. First, type in your hometown. How do the results differ and how are they the same? with Blekko you can sort by relevance or date, and you can also have it show only images or videos.

For the second test, play 3 Engine Monte. This is kind of a game where you do a search and add the slashtag /monte in order to get results from three search engines (Google, Bing, and Blekko but in random order). You choose which set of results you like best, and Blekko will show you which search engine returned it. This way, you can compare search engines and decide which one might be more consistent with the kinds of searches you do and the results you prefer. Again, to use the example from my previous post, try travel itinerary for new zealand /monte. Which search engine did you choose?

If you want to read more about Blekko, there are Help screens by clicking the link in the upper right. You can also see their Web Search Bill of Rights by clicking "About" from the list at the bottom of their search page.

Even if you have no desire to leave your favored search engine, give Blekko a try and see what you might be missing.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Lost Art of Browsing

I saw an article on Mashable this week, called Why Browsing is So Important to Content Discovery. It's about how browsing online is nearly impossible, with so much emphasis on searching. Probably because I work in a library, I know how crucial browsing can be for some people, so this article made a lot of sense.

Sometimes you know what you need to find out, and so you head to your favorite search engine and type in some keywords. You sort through the results list and hopefully eventually end up with an answer. Transaction ended, customer happy. But what if you're not sure what you're looking for? What if you don't even know what you need until you see it? How many times have you been in a store and had a display of items caught your eye? You suddenly decide you must pick up one of those items, even though it's not on your list of things to get.

This happens in the library all the time, and I'm sure bookstores see it too. A person comes in and may or may not have a specific book in mind, but they spend some time at a shelf, glancing at covers and titles, maybe reading the jacket flap. Maybe they didn't realize their favorite author has just published a new book or maybe a topic has grabbed their attention, and they head to the check-out line with something to read that they didn't know they wanted until they saw it.

Can this experience be translated to the web? Certainly websites like Amazon can offer "similar items" ("other people who purchased this item also purchased these other items") or offer a click-through list of subjects. Clothing sites usually sort their wares according to gender, style, season, etc. Wikipedia offers links to other entries and outside sources, so readers can follow their interests like breadcrumbs. Yahoo started out by trying to categorize the web until it exploded, and it got to be too much work to sort through every website. Spiders can automatically crawl the web and pick up on keywords in an effort to itemize sites, but is it really possible to browse online?

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by search engines? Do you sometimes need those clickable subject lists to lead you to something interesting? Do you wish you could browse the web instead of searching? Leave your comments below.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

TIME Magazine's 50 Best Websites of 2011

I saw this list on Stephen's Lighthouse this week. It's interesting because I've never heard of most of these websites. Google+ is there, which is a recent site but already has taken the world by storm. Google the search engine is not. Hmmm...

To see the list by category, check Time's website. They also list the Best iPhone Apps of 2011 and the Best Blogs of 2011, and you can see past lists to compare and track changes. There's something for everyone, and I definitely have to look at it more closely and try out some of those websites.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: "When We Were Friends" by Elizabeth Joy Arnold

Sydney and Lainey are former high school friends. The two have lost touch over the last twenty years, so it's quite a surprise when Sydney leaves her one-year-old daughter with Lainey, claiming abuse by her husband and saying she needs to keep her girl safe. Lainey agrees but is shocked to see Sydney on the news that night, saying her daughter was kidnapped. Lainey must leave town and take the little girl, but where will she go? Who will take care of her mother, trapped inside her house because she suffers agoraphobia?

The premise sounded intriguing, but as it turned out, I didn't like the book very much. Maybe I was expecting more of a suspense story, although I do like books about relationships and people trying to figure themselves out. However, this one has a lot of tears and some rather flat characters. Lainey depends on Sydney to tell her her next move, but Sydney is a manipulator and doesn't really know what she wants. Because the characters seem at such losses, it felt like the author didn't have a plan either and was writing whatever came into her head, whether it made sense or not. The plot turned out to be unplausable, I thought, and little things, like Lainey worrying over not having money but spending wildly on baby stuff, and the punctuation errors bothered me. There are secrets all around, which do come out in the end, but for some reason there was very little suspense for me. I found myself not really caring about any of the characters, though I did finish the book. (It reads quickly, so I didn't feel bogged down.)

When We Were Friends is actually more about motherhood and the mother/daughter relationship than the story of a former bullied girl coming into her own. The title suggests that the focus would be on Lainey and Sydney, and while they do interact, the stronger ties are between Lainey and her mom and Lainey and Jacqueline. We do see quite a bit of backstory, but ultimately Sydney remains the same person she always was, and I didn't have any emotional connection as Lainey overcame her feelings towards her former friend.

I was reminded of another book I read last year called Mothers and Other Liars. That one takes place in the Southwest and is of a similar story, where a teenager takes a baby from a car that's been hijacked, intending to keep her safe but ending up raising her as her own. Then one day, the baby's family steps forward, wanting their daughter back.

When We Were Friends is told in the first person, whereas Mothers and Other Liars is third person from the viewpoint of Ruby, the teenager. The difference did contribute to my enjoyment of Mothers as I found myself seeing events through Ruby's eyes. Friends narrator Lainey seemed to get a little too familiar with me as the reader, interjecting little asides that probably were supposed to make it feel like she was actually telling me her story.

All the characters in Mothers seemed real, but in Friends there wasn't much depth. Sydney is a narcissist, Alex is the perfect man, his sister Posy can't decide whether she is a bitch or a chum, Lainey's mom is strong enough to overcome her phobia and provide inspiration for her daughter, Lainey should grow from insecure teen to confident woman but somehow comes off mostly as a whiner who manages to fall in love with Sydney's daughter. The most real character is the toddler herself.

The book is billed as a great book club choice, a "what would you have done" type, but I would recommend Mothers and Other Liars over this one. The plot is more believable and the ethical issues are dealt with better. I would suggest When We Were Friends for the less literary crowd, someone who simply wants to turn pages while lying on the beach without getting too involved in the story.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: "Sister" by Rosamund Lupton

If you like murder mysteries, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. If you like character-driven stories, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. If you like well-plotted novels, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. If you like books that explore the relationship between siblings, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. Yes, the book is really that good and yes, it really will appeal to all kinds of readers.

Beatrice is living in New York with her fiance when she gets word that her sister Tess has gone missing. She rushes to her native England to find out what happened and moves into Tess's flat to begin investigating her last moves. Soon her body is found, and it looks like suicide. However, Beatrice is certain that Tess never would have killed herself, even though a psychiatrist says she was suffering from postpartum psychosis after the death of her newborn son. So was Tess murdered, and if so, by whom?

This is one of those novels that is so intricate that I would love to see the author's notes. How did Lupton keep all the details straight and tease the reader with information at just the right time? Not only is there the murder mystery, which is structured as a letter Beatrice is writing to Tess to explain why she did what she did, but there is also Beatrice's witness statement to a prosecuting attorney, so the reader knows pretty quickly that there was a killer. These two elements come together at the end in a great twist I definitely did not see coming.

In Beatrice's letter, which is the murder mystery part, she also talks about missing her sister terribly and explains the nature of their relationship and their family dynamic. There is a ton of character depth, making this book so much more than just a mystery or suspense novel. We are inside Beatrice's head as she investigates Tess's death and also deals with the emotional side of losing her best friend.

So whether you like a good mystery or whether you prefer less action and more heart, definitely pick up Sister. You will not be disappointed. I can't wait to see what Rosamund Lupton will do next.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Civil War Websites

The June 1, 2011, issue of Booklist has an article with several recommended websites about the Civil War. This year is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of that bloody period in American history, so if you're interested in any aspect of it you'll probably find sources of information listed below.


COMMEMORATIVE SITES
Civil War Trust's Civil War 150th Anniversary -- Here you will find links to individual states' 150th anniversary websites. There are also links to the Civil War blogs of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Civil War -- has a complete run of Harper's Weekly, 1861-1865.

Lincoln at 200 -- includes an online exhibit about his role in the Civil War.

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

The Civil War: 150 Years -- the National Park Service's website

CivilWar@Smithsonian


MAPS AND IMAGES
Civil War Maps -- Library of Congress American Memory collection

Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection -- from UNC

The Becker Collection: Drawings of the American Civil War Era -- Boston College collection

Selected Civil War Photographs -- this is just one collection from the Library of Congress; if you poke around their website you'll find several more


THOSE WHO SERVED
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

History of African Americans in the Civil War -- from the National Park Service

Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet -- from Duke University

Women Soldiers of the Civil War -- National Archives


MUSIC AND POETRY
Band Music from the Civil War Era -- Library of Congress American Memory

Poetry and Music of the War Between the States


PERSONAL HISTORIES
American Civil War Collections at the Electronic Text Center -- from the University of Virginia

United States Civil War Collection: Civil War Diaries -- Western Michigan University Libraries

Hospital Sketches, by Louisa May Alcott

A Diary from Dixie, by Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut

"My Precious Lulie ...": Love Letters of the Civil War

There are other sites listed in the article along with some brief commentary. To read the whole thing, check with your local library to see if they can get you a copy. Also, many of these sites are pieces of a whole. If you look around within a site, you'll often find more information.

I would also add the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, which you can find at the Internet Archive. Various formats for viewing are listed on the left. You can also find it at Civil War Home organized by battle. Cornell University's Making of America has the Official Records plus the naval records.

photo courtesy of Flickr

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Tool to Compare Schools

I saw a recent Mashable article on ProPublica's new tool to compare public schools across the US, so parents now have another source to turn to when evaluating school systems. If  you're moving to a new area or if you're debating public schools versus private schools, give this resource a try. The information comes from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and gathers together statistics such as the percentage of students getting free or reduced lunches and how many students are taking AP classes. The initial search is as quick as entering a ZIP code, address, or school. You can also browse by state on the left to get a brief overview. You can compare individual schools and share your findings on Facebook if you wish.

There is also a website called GreatSchools, which includes both public and private institutions. It focuses on test scores but also has demographics, funding, and other information, so between the two resources parents can get a good idea of their locale's educational system.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Books Related to "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is one of my favorite books. Rebecca herself has died before the book begins, but she is still a great presence throughout. More than the current events with the second Mrs. de Winter and her new husband Maxim, it's Rebecca's story that keeps me interested: What was she doing in London the day she died? Did she really commit suicide or was she murdered? And above all, who was she really?

Several years ago I came across Mrs. de Winter by Susan Hill. I don't remember anything about the plot, but I do recall being less than impressed. Indeed, when I was searching recently for reviews I found that it got rather lukewarm mentions in various places, mostly English newspapers. However, a couple of weeks ago I found Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman. Now here was a story that addressed the very questions I always had, and finding out who Rebecca really was is at the heart. Beauman's book was approved by the du Maurier estate and even manages to keep to the basics of Susan Hill's book. It's quite a feat for an author to take a well-loved classic and a not-so-well-received sequel and construct a plausible third narrative around them.

Hill's book begins right as Rebecca ends and follows Maxim and his second wife as they deal with the aftermath of finding Rebecca's body and end up leaving England for a while, then returning for various reasons. Beauman sets her book twenty years after Rebecca's death, using a minor character from the last few chapters of the original and introducing another character who is interested in Rebecca for personal reasons. There's intrigue, mysterious notebooks, a touch of romance, and the evil Mrs. Danvers. This book might even stand on its own if you like a good suspense novel. Definitely pick it up if you want to find out what really happened to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

If you like satire, you might also like The Other Rebecca by Maureen Freely. It's an updated retelling of the original, but it's supposed to also be humorous. I don't think I want to try this one, but if you don't mind your classics getting a little twisted treatment, you might go for it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Need Something to Read?

Check out these two lists from Reference & User Services Quarterly: Notable Books: The 2011 Selection of Titles and The Reading List 2011. Both lists are geared towards adults, but mature teens can probably find something of interest. Notable Books is just a list of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, while the Reading List is organized by fiction genre. Both lists are annotated, and the Reading List also includes other suggestions for reading.

I can say, as a librarian, that Emma Donoghue's Room and Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are still in demand even though they've been out for months. They must be very good books, so if you need something to read on vacation see if your library has copies available.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Missing Children: Two Different Takes

John Hart's The Last Child and Lee Martin's The Bright Forever both have at the center of their stories a girl gone missing after returning books to the local library. They both resonate with the reader but in different ways. Both are compelling books, but the authors take very divergent paths with their narratives.

The Last Child is mainly a suspense story. Alyssa Merrimon went missing when she was twelve, and a year later her twin brother Johnny is still looking for her. He refuses to believe she's dead even after all these months, and he often skips school to canvas neighborhoods and keep tabs on known sexual predators. He's meticulous in his search, even more so than the local police. His father took off under the strain of having a missing child, and his mother has fallen apart. The only person Johnny feels he can trust is his best friend Jack. Detective Clyde Hunt keeps his eye on Johnny as he feels responsible for being unable to keep his promise to Mrs. Merrimon and bring Alyssa home.  

The Last Child, while mostly a suspenseful mystery, is also full of heart. Detective Hunt has developed feelings for Mrs. Merrimon, Johnny's mom realizes she has to gather her strength in order to support her son, friend Jack has his own demons chasing him, and then there's Levi Freemantle, the giant man Johnny literally runs into. Emotions are raw, life is violent. The bad guys tend to be two-dimensional and Johnny isn't totally likable, but if you root for any character, make it Mrs. Merrimon. No person, real or fictional, should have to deal with all the trouble she has. I had a feeling I knew who the ultimate bad guy was, but even still I was surprised at the twist the ending took.

For a completely different look at a missing child case, check out The Bright Forever. Katie's older brother tattles at dinner one night that she hadn't returned her library books yet, and they were due that day. So her father makes her take them back before closing time. Katie rides off on her bicycle, barefoot, and never returns. Yes, there is suspense here because author Lee Martin takes his time spinning out the tale of what happened to Katie, but he also gets in the head of several major players. This is more a tale of what happens to the family that is left to wonder what befell their child and to deal with the not knowing. This is also a tale of how a person, a man in this case, might be driven to abscond with a little girl and kill her. Themes of guilt and loneliness resonate in almost every character's viewpoint. Actions are not excused but rather are explained. In the end, the person who feels most guilty does accept responsibility for not stopping events when he had the chance, but he still realizes his life and the lives of Katie's family members were forever altered.

The Bright Forever is an idyllic, almost sweet story. It is set in the sweltering summer of Indiana in the early 1970s. Life seems innocent and perfect, at least on the outside. Even with the undercurrent of Katie's disappearance, there is no violence, no bad language. Only towards the end when Katie's dad finds himself making a choice he he never thought he'd have to face does any blood flow. Then, too, when we find out what happened to Katie is there more blood.

The narrative is told in the first person by several characters, which is nice because the reader feels a part of the story. We get to find out what each person is thinking and feeling and why they do what they do. However, there are also sections told in third person, and I found that jarring. It's hard enough keeping track of each voice, remembering who "I" is. Then you get a more objective view of the action, and for me at least, I was pulled out of the story a few times because I had to adjust my mindset. One character talks directly to the reader as if he is writing the book, and I also tend not to like that device much, but it does give the story a sense of conversation and of truthfulness, as if the character is confessing a deep, painful secret.

If you like your books to be gritty, pick up The Last Child. If you want more of a character study, try The Bright Forever. In either case, you won't easily forget them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book Review - "Wingshooters" by Nina Revoyr

Nina Revoyr's book Wingshooters covers a lot of topics: child abandonment, small town communities, race relations, not quite fitting in, trying to find one's place in the world, doing the right thing, refusing to change even in the face of absolute necessity. It's short at about 250 pages and it reads quick, but it'll leave you with a lot to think about.

It's 1974 in Deerhorn, Wisconsin. Young Michelle, half American and half Japanese, has been left with her white grandparents after spending her first few years in Japan. She knows more Japanese than English and has to contend with being an obvious outsider in this small town that still seems to be fighting World War II. Soon an African-American couple moves in, and their race makes life in Deerhorn even more difficult. Suddenly prejudice becomes absolutely real, though very few people will admit it. Even Michelle's grandfather, who seemed to despise her Asian mother but who loves his granddaughter fiercely, is confronted with choices that he isn't prepared for.

This powerful book does not end with things neatly tied up, because life is not neat. Sometimes there are no happy resolutions, only lessons learned and ongoing survival. The story is straightforward enough, but the aftermath is shattering. Though the bulk of the action takes place over thirty years ago, it's still relevant to today as America continues to figure out how to step out of the ugly shadow of its history of poor race relations. Read this book if you like to be challenged in your thinking.

Where to Find Videos Online

I've mentioned video sites before, but I wanted to share this list from Mashable: 7 YouTube Alternatives & Why They Make Sense. Some you've probably heard of, like Blip.tv, but others may be new. The list focuses on the uploading side, which is great if you're looking for a place to store and show videos, but you might also get some ideas for viewing videos.

7 YouTube Alternatives:
  • Blip.tv
  • Vimeo
  • Flickr (did you know Flickr hosts videos, not just pictures?)
  • Veoh
  • Viddler
  • DailyMotion
  • yfrog

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Cautionary Tale of Kiki Kannibal

Attention, parents. Right now, go to Rolling Stone and read this article: Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played with Fire. I'll wait for you to finish. At the very least, Google her name and check out some of the links that you get. The Urban Dictionary entry gives you the controversy in a nutshell. Some of her older videos may not be on YouTube anymore, but there are still enough available that you can get an idea of who she is.

All done? Are you horrified, outraged, angry? Does it make you want to Google your child's name and see what might be out there that shouldn't be? Or are you thinking, "She's just a kid. Kids do stupid things. She's just expressing herself." If you didn't read or Google, basically Kiki Kannibal is the online persona of a teenage girl who suffered loneliness and was bullied and who took to the Internet in an effort to find some friends. She has toned down her image in recent years, but her provocative dress and tendency to spout intimate details about her life got her some very unwelcome attention.

I don't want to bash Kiki's family or Kiki herself. They know they've made mistakes and are still dealing with the consequences of some terrible situations. What I do want to do is use this as an opportunity to explain why it's extremely important for anyone, regardless of age or circumstance, to closely guard their online profiles. Parents, you absolutely have to know what your kids are doing online, from the time they first see a computer and are fascinated by the mouse until they become of age and move out on their own. At that point, hopefully they've internalized the importance of privacy and will continue to safeguard their personal information.

Here are some things to take away from Kiki's story:
  • Keep your social networking profiles private. Especially if you have a tendency to be outgoing and like to share your entire life with people, you want to keep yourself protected from the open Internet where any weirdo can find you and use your information against you. Just because address and phone number are fields to fill out on a profile form doesn't mean you have to type anything in. And keep in mind that no matter how locked down or secure you think you are, anyone can still copy your status reports or photos or whatever and post them elsewhere without your knowledge.
  • Only friend people you have actually met and have a decent relationship with. Yeah, okay, you might want to friend people you'll be going to college with so you can start conversations over the summer, or there might be relatives you don't especially like but not friending them would hurt their feelings. But you can still take advantage of lists or groups and allow them to see only certain bits of your information. Kiki friended anyone and everyone, realizing these weren't really people in her life but only numbers on her MySpace page, and she ended up with an abusive boyfriend and tons of Internet enemies. Yes, her story is extreme, but her life became a living hell because she didn't protect her privacy. Weed your friends lists once in a while, and don't feel bad about refusing requests from people you don't know.
  • Never engage a troll. The Rolling Stone cover called Kiki "the most hated girl on the Internet." I'm not sure that can be quantified, and I'm not sure "hated" is really the right word. Internet trolls are really just bullies who are hiding behind the anonymity of cyberspace, but unfortunately, there isn't much anyone can do about them except delete their comments and block them from websites. From some comments I saw online, Kiki would engage these trolls and ended up sounding like a bully herself. So don't respond. That's what they want, and they'll keep making you mad until you do or say something stupid. Take the high road and refuse to let things escalate.
  • Know how to report cyberbullying or Internet crime. Contact your local police before things get out of hand. Unfortunately, they were less than helpful for Kiki's family, but persistence pays off. Find out what the police can do for you. Be in contact with your kids' schools to raise awareness about bullying and have some no-tolerance policies and procedures put into place. Stay involved in your kids' lives, know who their friends are, both online and in person. Preventive measures could have saved Kiki from years of heartache.
  • Absolutely never meet anyone in person who you've met online but don't know for real. No matter how nice a person seems online, keep in mind that they may be totally different in real life. If you must set up a meeting, select a public place and maybe bring a friend. Tell people where you're going, what time, and when you'll be back. Call someone to check in so they know you're safe. Be aware that people can lie online about their age and about any other fact. Someone who seems young online can turn out to be an adult. Male predators are savvy about finding lonely teen girls online by pretending to be teens themselves. They seem so caring and attentive online but are actually abusive and selfish.
There's one last thing that I keep coming back to from Kiki's story. She acknowledges that she was lonely and didn't fit in at school. She realizes that online friends cannot take the place of real ones. Her parents say they made mistakes and would have done things differently. What could they have done? What can parents do now to hopefully prevent their children from suffering as much as Kiki?
  1. First, don't let your daughters dress like sluts. I'm sorry to be so blunt, and in a perfect world it shouldn't matter what a girl wears. However, our world is not perfect, and girls need to know that dress can be a powerful tool for good or bad. I'm not saying dressing like a slut guarantees she'll be raped or that not dressing like one means she won't. I am saying men can get the wrong idea if a girl presents herself in a certain way. Predators don't need much encouragement to act. Kiki's mother says she didn't want to stifle Kiki's creativity concerning fashion. Um, dressing provocatively is not creative or fashionable. It's a cry for help. Kiki needed acceptance and wanted to be noticed. She ended up being noticed for her body and not for herself as a person. To broaden this to include boys and to make a general statement: Parents need to be parents, not their children's best friends.
  2. Second, get your kids involved in activities. I have nothing against homeschooling, or public school or private school. Every child and every family is different and requires different responses to situations. However, even though Kiki was bullied at her public school, was homeschooling really the answer? I'm not advocating staying in a dangerous situation, but pulling her out only isolated her further. Was there no other public school she could attend? How much did her parents push the administration to address the bullying issue? Were there any private schools around that might take her on scholarship if her parents couldn't afford tuition? Even if homeschooling was the best option, were there no community groups she could join to meet people? What about church or some place of worship? Community theatre? She might be introverted at heart, but she has a dramatic personality. She wouldn't have to be on stage in front of an audience, but could join the crew. She got her GED so she wouldn't have to worry about education, so could she take classes at a community college? This is another way that might make her feel isolated as she'd be younger than many of her classmates, but still, she'd be meeting people. How about volunteering somewhere, getting a job? Kiki did start her own jewelry-making business, so maybe she could have attended crafting workshops (or perhaps led one)? Maybe she could have approached local businesses about selling her products in their stores? The Internet seems like a cure for loneliness and does make it easy to find people, but sometimes it also makes it hard to find real, personal connections that translate into deep friendship. Kiki needed encouragement to step out of her comfort zone and into some interests or hobbies that would put her in contact with flesh and blood humans and not rely on conversations strictly over ethernet.
Again, I don't want to badmouth Kiki or her family. I don't want to pillory her. I simply want to use her story as an example of what not to do. Parents need to know what's going on with their kids, and everyone needs to protect themselves online. Learn from Kiki's mistakes so you don't repeat them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Web of Books, Beginning with "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield

This post is less a book review and more an explanation of the other books The Thirteenth Tale brought to my mind as I was reading. I thought of some books immediately, and others occurred to me as I was looking up pertinent information, such as authors of books I knew titles of. Hence a web of books, books that got caught in the net of my imagination loosed by ideas presented in The Thirteenth Tale.

First, I do want to talk about Diane Setterfield's excellent story. It could be classified as a suspense novel, but there's so much more to it than just that. The central idea is truth. (Is there a universal truth? Is truth only in the eye of the knower?) There is also the idea of story, that is, how events surrounding one's birth shape that person and make them unique. As Setterfield unfolds the narrative, the reader is drawn into the mystery of who Vida Winter is, who she really is as opposed to the fictional tales she has told about herself over the years. We also are privy to Margaret's story. Margaret has been selected by Miss Winter to be her official biographer now that she's coming to the end of her life. As the two women work together, we see the present story of them and how their birth stories have led them to where they are now. We also meet Hester Barrow, a former governess from Miss Winter's childhood, and learn her story. Margaret meets Aurelius while visiting Miss Winter's childhood home, and she eventually gets to reveal his story to him because he was a foundling and therefore doesn't know anything about his birth. All these characters and more from past and present are entwined in a marvelously plotted book.

Setterfield's characters also have an affinity for language, words, and literature, which is not surprising since Vida Winter and Margaret Lea are both authors. Romantic classics, especially Jane Eyre, are almost like characters themselves. Margaret especially is prone to losing herself in a story, whether she stays up late reading or is transcribing her notes from Miss Winter's oral tale. The setting in the moors of England is straight out of a Bronte novel, and the antics of twin sisters and their families makes for a Gothic-Romantic meld.

The Thirteenth Tale is not a fast read as details emerge slowly and the truth of the entire story comes mostly at the end, but it is a page-turner.

Now, onto the web part.

The first connection I made was to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It was mentioned several times, enough so I was reminded of other books that took inspriration from that classic. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys was written in 1966 as a prequel to Bronte's story. For those who always wondered how Mr. Rochester's first wife ended up in his attic as a madwoman, Rhys's book will explain. More recently, Jasper Fforde chose Jane Eyre as a work in danger of revision in The Eyre Affair. Literary detective Thursday Next, living in an alternate version of England, has to actually enter Bronte's story in order to save the characters.

Madness, manic depression, or simply "bad blood" also figures in Setterfield's novel. I was reminded first of a book I recently read called Prayers and Lies by Sherri Wood Emmons. In both of these books, the authors pursue the idea that insanity or some kind of personality disorder could run in families. Also, Sylvia Plath's classic The Bell Jar popped into my head. In it, she describes an episode of depression as told by the girl living through it.

For anyone interested in the use of language or in letters as a viable form of communication, take a look at Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. His story unfolds through letters that become increasingly difficult to read because certain town fathers have outlawed the use of particular letters of the alphabet. This book does go quickly as I read it in one sitting.

The twins in The Thirteen Tale have their own secret language, and I was reminded of the true story of Jennifer and June Gibbons, twin sisters from Britain who communicated mostly with each other and who felt so out of tune with their world that they turned to crime in order to get some notice. They were sent to a mental institution instead of prison. One twin is still living. Read their story in Marjorie Wallace's The Silent Twins. Identical Strangers is another true story about twins, but this time it's about sisters who were separated at birth and found each other later in life. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein take turns sharing their perspectives of that meeting. Crying Wolf by Peter Abrahams is a suspense novel in which college student Nat falls for twins Izzy and Grace and is drawn into their high society world of secrets.

So that is my web of stories connecting to The Thirteenth Tale. If you've had a similar experience, please share in the comments.

thanks to tim phillips for the photo

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Resources for Knitters

I saw an article from Reference & User Services Quarterly, New-Wave Knitting: Thirty-Eight Resources for a Core Collection. Don't let the library jargon throw you, it actually has some good suggestions for websites and books for new and experienced knitters. Most look like standards, such as Nicky Epstein, Sally Melville, and Vogue, but you might find some new websites or magazines.

Want to try out a book before buying so you know whether it'll be useful or not? Ask at your local library if it's available. Even if they don't have it on their shelves, they can probably request it from another library. (Sorry, couldn't resist the plug.)

Any other crafters out there, what are your favorite websites? Leave your recommendations in the comments.

thanks to the George Eastman House for the photo

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reading About the Salem Witch Trials

The year 1692 was not a pleasant one for residents of the colony of Massachusetts, especially the area around Salem. That was the year a band of girls leveled serious accusations against several fellow townspeople, calling them witches and ultimately sending them to the gallows. Here are two books that portray that era and ask the question, How could this tragedy have happened?

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
This story is told from the perspective of a child whose mother is accused of witchcraft. Young Sarah is only ten years old at the time of the witch trials. She and her family are living in Andover, Massachusetts, the town next to Salem where all the horrors are taking place. Sarah's mother is Martha Carrier, who makes the ultimate sacrifice so her children will not face the same fate she does.

Martha Carrier was a real person, and Kathleen Kent brings her alive through the eyes of her daughter. You will feel like you are living in their household, with all the blood, sweat, and tears that marked life in Colonial America. The only quibbles I have with this book are that there are no maps and no notation as to what is based in fact. Luckily information on Martha Carrier, and indeed on the entire witch hunt and trials, are readily available online. I also found a map of Salem and a map of Andover in 1692.

Deliverance from Evil by Frances Hill
Hill sets her book in Salem and takes you right into the heart of the witch hunt, trials, and executions. She focuses on one character, another historical figure named George Burroughs. He was a minister, which makes the accusations against him quite puzzling. The first part of the book introduces you to Burroughs and his young wife Mary, who are living in Maine at the time, as well as to the girls in Salem and how they got involved in the witch hunt. Hill makes it clear that she thinks Thomas Putnam, the father of ringleader Ann Putnam, actually put the youngsters up to their antics in a diabolical plot to get rid of political and economic rivals.

The second and third parts of the book focus on Burroughs and Mary, and his ordeal in prison and her attempts to convince the magistrates of his innocence. Whether Putnam and others were really part of the conspiracy is not an agreed-upon matter among historians, but it makes the atrocities that much worse.

Perhaps because I read The Heretic's Daughter first I ended up liking it more, but somehow it seemed more real to me. I sympathized with the characters more, and I thought it was better written. The towns and the living conditions were drawn with fine details, and the characters were full of personality. It's a difficult read because of the subject matter but worth the effort. Deliverance from Evil is not a bad book, it just presents the story a little more simply. You instantly know who the good guys and bad guys are, and life isn't quite as blood-and-guts graphic. Author Hill has written several nonfiction books on the Salem witch trials so she definitely knows her history, but she seems less skilled than Kent at weaving a tale of fiction. Still, either book is a good choice for anyone interested in this particular event in American history.

thanks to Svenstorm for the use of the photo

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Review - "Mermaid" by Carolyn Turgeon

Even if you've never read "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen or seen the Disney cartoon, you might still enjoy Carolyn Turgeon's reworking of the fairy tale. It's a short book at fewer than 300 pages, and it's not dense or filled with symbolism, though you could read into it what you want about beauty, sacrifice, and true love. It's a simple story of two women in love with the same man who make huge personal sacrifices to be with him. This man, a prince, thinks he is in love with a certain woman who he doesn't think he'll ever see again, who rescued him from the sea and nursed him back to health. He meets another woman, a silent, elegant, gentle woman who sacrificed her life as a mermaid to be with him (though he doesn't know that), and would marry her if his father allowed it. Alas, the king has accepted an arrangement on his son's behalf with the princess of the North because such an alliance will united their kingdoms and bring them desperately needed peace. What will the two women do to ensure themselves true love, peace, and everlasting life? What will the prince decide?

I like to think my reading tastes appeal in some fashion to both men and women, though I do include some literary chick lit in my reviews. Most of the fantasy, mystery, and suspense books I review are suitable for either gender. However, Mermaid is probably for women only. It's a sweet romance, written from the perspectives of both the princess of the North and the mermaid. You will find yourself wishing both of them can have their prince, but not until the last section will you find out which one--or maybe both?--gets her happy ending.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

ALA 2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

Do you know a teenager who absolutely hates to read? Are you that teenager? It's understandable that you might not like what your teacher assigns (who does?), but if you never, ever pick up a book or magazine on your own, check out this list: 2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. I dare you to choose just one book and read it all the way through, then decide whether you still hate reading. You might surprise yourself by choosing a second, maybe even a third book from the list.

You have my permission to scroll through the boring first few paragraphs and get straight to the list, fiction first, then nonfiction. The descriptions are extremely short, but hey, you hate reading so these should be perfect. There are definitely no wasted words here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Healthcare Blue Book



Did you know that medical procedures can vary widely in cost depending on where in the US you live? To compare those costs, check out Healthcare Blue Book.

To use the site, you put in whatever procedure you need and click "Search Prices." You can be as general or specific as you want, but you may be asked to fine-tune the results. Also on the results page you can enter your ZIP code--or any ZIP code really, for comparison purposes.

You can also browse topics by using the tabs across the top of the screen. There are separate tabs for Dental and Hearing Aids, although dental procedures may show up in your results if you search on a general topic, like X-rays.

The Resources for Patients tab is useful. There's a section on using the website, plus there are tips on finding insurance, understanding treatment options, negotiating your bills, getting a pharmacy discount card from Healthcare Blue Book, and more.

The next time you feel overwhelmed by something medical or insurance-related, try Healthcare Blue Book.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review - "The Ascent" by Ronald Malfi

Whoa. That was my initial reaction after staying up late one night to finish The Ascent. It might sound cliche, but it really is a roller coaster ride of a book.

Whatever review I read must have made this book sound just fabulous, because when I got it and was reading the inside flap, I almost put it back. It's about extreme mountain climbing, specifically a place in the Himalayas called the Canyon of Souls that no one has ever seen. Or rather, no one has seen it and returned to tell about it. I have no interest in mountain climbing, but since something in the review made it sound interesting in some fashion, I decided to give it a try. And, wow, am I glad I did.

The Ascent isn't just about mountain climbing. It's also about art and inspiration, marriage, friendship, and really wacko minds. It's very much a suspense thriller but an intelligent one. The characters are three-dimensional, the scenery unfolds like a video as you trek through the mountains with these guys, and the plot is well-paced and intricate.

Tim's past has bearing on his present and is the reason why he goes on this crazy trip, and the reader finds out what happened at the same time as Tim processes the events. It's a wonderful blend of how we can never escape our choices because they are always in our minds influencing every other choice. We meet his wife Hannah and eventually find out why she left him and how she ended up going over a cliff in a car with another guy. We see how Tim and Andrew meet and wonder why Andrew would invite Tim on a wild journey in the Himalayas. We meet the other members of the climbing team and root for them as their strength and will are tested beyond what they ever imagined.

There is a touch of the supernatural in this book, but the region the guys are walking through is a sacred place, so it's not unexpected to have some contact with souls that have gone before. Don't let that aspect of the story stop you from picking up this book. It's much more than just a suspense novel or a story about mountain climbing. It will haunt you after you read the last page, giving you that delicious chill as you wonder whether what seems to have happened really did.

How to Stop Getting the Yellow Pages Phonebook

I saw a Wired blog post recently that explains how you can opt out from receiving the yellow pages. (Be warned that the author really doesn't like getting that brick of bound pages on his door step.) If you too would like to discontinue delivery, simply go to the Yellow Pages Opt Out website and put in your ZIP code. You do have to register, but it's free and then you can select which products you want or don't want to receive anymore.

Also on the site you can find out how to recycle your yellow pages and learn about how the book gets made. (For anyone who is curious, Yellow Pages does its best to be environmentally friendly before and after printing the books.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Credit Score

I came across an article recently from Yahoo Finance, Free Credit Scores Become More Available to Borrowers. Not everyone is entitled to see their credit score for free, like you are your credit report, but as of January 1, 2011, if you are offered a higher interest rate than other borrowers, you can ask for your credit score from the lender in order to see why you didn't get the lower rate. That way, you'll know what you might be able to do to raise your score for future loans or credit applications.

If you are just curious about your credit score or if you are thinking about applying for a loan or new credit card and want to see where you stand, you'll still have to pay to see your score. But with this new law, if you get turned down or don't get the best interest rate, now you can find out why.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best Books of 2010

The Reference and User Services Association, part of the American Library Association, has listed their top genre fiction titles and the best general fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles from 2010. The genre fiction list also gives suggestions for read-alikes and shows other candidates for the award. The general fiction, nonfiction, and  poetry lists have several titles apiece. That way, you have many books to choose from if you're looking for something to read.

Have you read any of the titles on these lists? Leave your reviews in the comments.

Thanks to soundfromwayout for the photo.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review - "Friday Mornings at Nine" by Marilyn Brant

Marilyn Brant attempts to address the age-old yet still difficult question of "how do you know you've married the right person?" in her new book Friday Mornings at Nine. Her three main characters--Jennifer, Bridget, and Tamara--each respond to the proposal that they try to figure out what their lives should have been like and then do what they have to in order to make their "correct" lives happen.

Jennifer has gotten an email from her college boyfriend David, which spurs her to wonder why he left her right before graduation. She's been married to another man for many years now, but she feels like only David really gets her. She determines to meet him and find out whether they really were meant to be together. Jennifer's "what if" question gets her two friends reflecting on their own marriages and on the possibilities that arise from their also meeting men who seem to "get" them more than their husbands do.

The ladies meet at a coffee shop every Friday morning to compare notes, though there are plenty of details they leave out. Their secrets and deceptions begin to come to a head at a neighborhood Halloween party, and they then must face not only their husbands and children, but themselves as well. What do they truly want from marriage and from life?

Jennifer, Bridget, and Tamara are three very different women. They have three different marriages, meet men under different circumstances and engage in different kinds of activities, and ultimately come to three different conclusions. None of the women is a caricature, yet I never quite totally identified with any of them. The events surrounding them, their choices, and the outcomes are not cookie-cutter, yet there is a certain lack of character development. It's almost, but not quite, like the author planned out the various ways in which affairs happen and in which marriages break up and then constructed a tale around those instead of first getting into her characters' heads and figuring out why they do what they do.

We do see each woman separately and then as a group. We do see what they choose to reveal to each other and some rationale for why they hide details or fudge the truth. But in the end I wasn't sure if Marilyn Brant meant to write chick lit or something more serious. I also wasn't crazy about some of the pop culture references because those quickly date a book, and the final fairy-tale chapters could have been written in the same style as the rest of the book. (Although fairy tales and fantasy do play a large part in the story, writing those chapters in that format made the book end up more cutesy and less weighty than it might have been.) Friday Mornings at Nine has its own identity issues.

That said, this book does still tackle the question of why women stray. These three characters may not be completely fleshed-out, but they are still compelling. Aspects of their stories will still resonate with readers. I'd recommend this book for clubs who want to talk about such personal questions without getting too literary or philosophical.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Teach Parents Tech

How many of you are the de facto tech support for your family members? Did you ever wish you could record yourself explaining the steps for whatever process your parents are struggling with...again? That way they could just watch the video over and over again until they got it? Well, rejoice, for help is here.

In December Google set up the TeachParentsTech.org website. See their blog post for a quick overview. A number of videos have been uploaded, and you just choose which one you want to send and fill out the form. The recipient--it doesn't have to be a parent--will get an email with a link to the video. Then voila, you've done your tech support, and from long distance even.

The videos range from changing text size to setting up auto-respond on your email to doing searches online. They do focus on Google, so you might want to preview the videos before sending in case you'd rather give instructions that are less product-specific.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Religion Websites


I recently came across an article in Booklist that had several recommendations for useful websites dealing with religion. Most of these are related to the Western hemisphere with a Christian or Judeo focus, although a few do have information on other world religions.
Adherents.com
This is a good website for answering common questions and providing basic religion statistics. One can ask such questions as, "How many Lutherans live in Wisconsin?" or "What are the major religions of India?" This site is not affiliated with any particular religion. Instead, it summarizes religious data compiled from books, journals, or other websites. Entries include citations to the sources from which the data was compiled.

Biblical Art on the WWW
Did you ever need to find an illustration of Moses, but Google's image search or Flickr let you down? Biblical Art on the WWW indexes more than 37,000 biblical images. Browse by biblical subject, text, or artist, or do a keyword search. Entries include artist's name, year of artwork, and location of the physical illustration.

Encyclopedia of Religion and Society
The content of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, published by AltaMira in 1998, is posted on the website of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Entries are browsable by table of contents.

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)
GAMEO provides reliable information on Anabaptist religions (Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite, Brethren in Christ). Entries are indexed alphabetically and include history, theology, biographies, and more. Entries also include formatted citations for MLA and APA styles.

Jewish Encyclopedia
Based on the printed 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, which was published between 1901 and 1906. This online source includes more than 15,000 articles and illustrations.

New Advent
Content is derived from the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. The site also includes the Bible, writings of the church fathers, and church documents.

Patheos
This site's unique tool allows the user to select different religions and conduct a comparison on backgrounds and beliefs. Each religion entry provides current news and information and links to further reading. Another great tool is the multi-religion holiday calendar, which shows various religious holidays all in one click.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
This site provides an extensive report on American religious beliefs, statistics, and mapping information. Public survey information is drawn from more than 35,000 American adults. Statistics are provided in a very user-friendly environment with various charts. The report and statistics detail the religious makeup, beliefs, and practices of the American public.

Saints
Finding that patron saint is no longer a problem with this site. More than 4,000 saints are profiled. Keyword searching allows the user to find specific saints or saints that are related to a specific event or subject. Biographies with links to additional sources are included. The site also provides MLA citation for each page visited.

Source: Escobar, Hector. "Finding Religion. " Booklist. 107.6 (Nov 15, 2010): 56(1).

To read the entire article, check with your library and see if they have access to online databases from Gale. I used General Reference Center Gold, but any number of similar Gale products should have it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tax Changes for 2011

You may have heard by now that the IRS is not sending out paper booklets this year. The number of people filing online increases every year, so the IRS is saving money and paper by not automatically mailing out forms and instructions.

If you want paper IRS forms, how can you get them?
  • Print them from www.irs.gov. Click "Forms and Publications" on the left side of the screen, then choose either "Form and Instruction Number" or "Publication Number." If you do not know which form or publication you need, you can use the search box in the upper right of the screen.
  • Call 1-800-829-3676. The IRS may be willing to mail you copies if you ask. Availability may be limited.
  • Try your local library or post office. Many of them will have forms and instructions, and the library staff should be willing to help you make printouts from the IRS website.
For some basics on using the IRS website, check out this previous blog post.

Many states are also changing their mailing procedures, so check with your state's revenue department to see whether or not you'll be getting paper copies.

For assistance with your taxes, check at your local senior center or public library. The AARP has a resource locator; just be aware that it may not be active until February. Most places that give free assistance do so starting in February and going through April 15.