Monday, December 31, 2012

Search Trends in 2012

Google and Twitter have released their top searches and topics. (If Yahoo and Bing released theirs, I missed them.) What did you search for and discuss this year?

Twitter: Topics included AT&T, Family Guy, the NFL, IHOP, President Obama's victory tweet, and Whitney Houston.

1. Whitney Houston
2. Gangnam Style
3. Hurricane Sandy
4. iPad 3
5. Diablo 3
6. Kate Middleton
7. Olympics 2012
8. Amanda Todd
9. Michael Clarke Duncan
10. BBB12

Friday, November 30, 2012

What Should Children Read?

I came across this opinion article from the New York Times: What Should Children Read? It has to do with the standards for English and literature being written that individual states may adopt. The author raises the question of nonfiction and whether it should have a place in school curricula. She thinks nonfiction has a place in education, especially quality nonfiction, which is sometimes harder to find than quality fiction.

What do you think? Should public schools teach more nonfiction? What titles would you recommend? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sixty Ways to Use Your Library Card

I saw this post recently on Stephen's Lighthouse and liked it so much I'm including it here in its entirety. It's actually a repost from the link shown below. September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, and there are a few days left in which you can visit your local library and see what they have to offer. School has started, projects are underway, and the card and library resources are free. Why not take advantage?

Sixty Ways to Use Your Library Card
Library Card Sign-up Month is a celebration held at the beginning of  the new school year during which librarians across the country remind  parents and caregivers that a library card is the most important school supply of all.

Visit your local library with your children and teens today and sign up for a library card!

A library card is a key resource in achieving academic success, and  the library is the perfect place to spend quality family time together.

Check out these great ways to use your library card and library.
1. Download an e-book.  (Over three-quarters of libraries offer access to e-books. E-book readers are available for check-out at nearly 40 percent of libraries.)
2. Not sure how to download an e-book on your new device? A librarian can show you how. Take a workshop on how to use your e-reader or other gadgets.
3. Use a computer to finish a school project. (Over 62 percent of library outlets report they are the only provider of free public computer and Internet access in their communities.)
4. Use free Wi-Fi. (Almost 91 percent of public library outlets offer wireless Internet access.)
5. Learn the secrets of editing digital photos in a Photoshop class. (More than 90 percent of public libraries now offer formal or informal  technology training.)
6. Learn how to edit your family vacation video.
7. Find love at the library: meet like-minded mates at a library speed dating event (or check out a romance novel).
8. Learn check mate: attend a library game night.
9. Take the kids to a free movie during spring break, or pick up a DVD to watch together at home… or get a movie for free from your library’s website.
10. Attend a family crafts workshop.
11. Attend preschool story hour with your child.
12. Start a parents & teens book club.
13. Ask for a recommended reading list for your kids.
14. Enroll your child in a summer reading program.
15. Save money while spending quality time: plan a family afternoon at place that’s free – the library!
16. Build your young reader’s self esteem by letting her read to a dog at the library.
17. Check out a pass to a city museum.
18. Launch your future: Get free assistance with job searches, resume writing and interviewing tips.
19. Use a library computer to apply for a job online or check out materials to help study for a certification exam. (92.2 percent of libraries offer access to job databases and other online job resources.)
20. Research your term paper.
21. Get help with homework.
22. Get ready for the SAT with online test-prep services.
23. Explore new opportunities and research technical schools, community colleges and universities.
24. Figure out how to pay for college at a free library seminar.
25. Learn about local candidates for office and pick up information on voter registration.
26. Book a meeting room for your club or community organization.
27. Learn about the history of your city or town.
28. Spend an hour with a “living book”; see if your library has a list of local experts who can share their knowledge on different subjects – like knitting, taxes, or training for a triathalon – or simply share a bit about themselves.
29. Get involved – join your library’s Friends group or teen advisory board.
30. Check out your favorite graphic novel.
31.Trek to another planet in a Sci-Fi novel.
32. Research before you buy. Access an online consumer guide on the library’s website.
33. Learn how to manage your money at a free financial planning seminar.
34. Search out tips for building your retirement nest egg.
35. Learn how to write a business plan.
36. Get new ideas for redecorating your house.
37. Hear a local author reading his/her latest novel.
38. …then research WWII espionage…
39. …then find a quiet spot to plug in your laptop and begin your own novel.
40. Use style guides to write a bibliography for your new book.
41. Learn how to self-publish – and market – your new book.
42. Take a cooking class.
43. Learn a new language with books or online language-learning software.
44. Broaden your world by checking out cookbooks of foods from other cultures.
45. Borrow or download an audio book for your next road trip or commute.
46. See a new art exhibit.
47. Volunteer as a literacy tutor.
48. Find a new hobby.
49. Enjoy a concert.
50. …then borrow some sheet music.
51. Use free online tools to research your family tree.
52. Empower yourself through home improvement: check out a book on learning how to fix that leaky faucet.
53. Find a quiet spot, curl up with a good book and enjoy.
54. Take a fitness class.
55. Talk mysteries with people who like mysteries, too, at a library book club.
56. Find the best resources on how to preserve that photo of your great grandmother.
57. Get growing! Check out seeds to plant in your backyard or community garden.
58. Go back in time: use databases or microfiche to access early newspapers or rent a “classic” movie, like “Back to the Future.”
59. Check out books in the bookmobile.
60. Learn new knitting techniques and get new patterns.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review - "What Comes Next" by John Katzenbach

What Comes Next is a disturbing yet fascinating imagining of what goes on online on websites most of us prefer to pretend don't exist. It's hard to read, yet like a traffic accident, it's also hard to look away.

Jennifer Riggins is a sixteen-year-old student who hates her life. At least she thinks she does. She plans to run away, though exactly how and where to are a little fuzzy. As she's on her way to the bus stop, she's snatched by a couple in a white van.

Adrian Thomas is a retired psychology professor who's just received the news that he has a disease worse than Alzheimer's because the decline in mental ability is so much faster. He's pulled into his driveway and is still in his car when he sees Jennifer and the white van. He doesn't actually see her get grabbed, but when she's not there after the van leaves he fears the worst.

Terri Collins is a police officer who's dealt with Jennifer and her family before on the teen's previous attempts to run away, so she gets the call when the girl disappears again. Collins has very few clues to work with, but she does her best.

Jennifer's fate has been appearing online in a series of live webcasts. Viewers from around the world, with varying degrees of perverseness, log on to see what she is doing, what's being done to her, and what will ultimately happen. Can Adrian and Terri find her before it's too late?

This is definitely a novel of suspense, and from a master of the genre according to the review blurbs on the back cover. The premise sounded interesting to me so I picked up the book, but I'm not sure I want to read John Katzenbach's other books if they are as dark as this one. It's a page-turner, yes, but it delves into areas of the mind that I prefer not to explore too often. I recommend it for those who like their suspense on the seedy side. It's not overly graphic or violent, but it does mess with your mind in ways that might keep you up at night.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Article on the Internet and Memory

This isn't exactly a new topic, but I came across this article in the Daily Mail: Google Boggling Our Brains? Study Says Humans Use Internet as Their Main "Memory".

The graphic included provides a good summary.  Do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa?

I'm curious how many of you have experienced this. How many of you prefer to do a quick Google search instead of remembering some fact? (This gives new meaning to Google's cloud storage GDrive.) Do you prefer to be connected all the time, or do you like some offline time? What would you do if your Internet connection(s) was down indefinitely? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Free Ebooks Online

Project Gutenberg is an oldie but goodie when it comes to finding free ebooks. These books are in the public domain, at least in the US, and can be read online or downloaded. Some may even be compatible with the Kindle. This is a relatively small collection so far at 38,000 titles, but it does offer a wide range of books in languages other than English.

Open Library is another great resource. It's kind of like Wikipedia, where anyone can add a title or fix records already online. So far it has over 1 million books going back to the year 1000 or so. Clicking on a title gets you the publishing history, and you can choose which edition to read online. Again, you might be able to send a copy to your Kindle. This site is part of the Internet Archive project, which is like a massive Library of Congress, trying to preserve everything from websites to video and audio files, music, and texts. The interesting thing is, not everything in the text section of the Internet Archive is fully available in Open Library. The Archive still gives you the option to download books or read them online, so if what you are looking for isn't in Open Library, try the Archive (which has 3.3 million titles).

The Digital Public Library of America says it will "provide a Google-Books-like experience but without the hassles of lawsuits" when it goes live in April 2013. It will try to bring together all those listings of ebooks available online, to be the go-to catalog or national digital library for anyone wanting to download or read online.

Even with Google Books, which scanned and digitized hundreds of thousands of pages without bothering about coypright, you aren't going to be able to read a current, popular ebook for free, though you may find a way to purchase one should an ebook version exist. But with the sources listed here, you can find some good research material without needing to visit a physical library building or paying to download a file.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: "The Good Father" by Noah Hawley

The flap inside the front cover of Noah Hawley's The Good Father makes it sound like it would be a story of suspense. While eating dinner one night with his family, a man catches a news item of the shooting of a presidential candidate. He realizes that the suspect is his oldest son and begins a search to find out everything he can about his son's whereabouts, hoping to prove his innocence.

All that does happen. However, this book is deeper than a traditional suspense novel. This is more a book about a father coming to understand his son, and the son coming to understand himself. It's really two stories: that of Paul Allen, renowned doctor, divorced from his oldest son's mother, nearly estranged from that son; and that of Daniel, the twenty-year-old college dropout who's been roaming the country, trying to figure out what he wants from life.

Author Hawley explores how a good kid could become an assassin. Danny has always been more of a loner, but he was never violent. What might cause him to decide to kill the frontrunner in the presidential candidate race? Why did Sirhan Sirhan kill Robert Kennedy? How about John Hinkely, shooting Ronald Reagan to impress young actress Jodi Foster? Is Danny a monster like them? What are the similarities and what are the differences?

Hawley also wants to know how a parent would process this idea of having a child who becomes a murderer. It's not a spoiler to say that Daniel is convicted and sentenced to death. The suspense comes in finding out how he got to that point and how his father tries to deal with this new reality. How far would a father go to save his son?

While reading, I was reminded of Defending Jacob (see my review). Both stories are about sons who are accused of an awful crime and their fathers who would do anything to save them. While Defending Jacob is more about the court system, it also includes the affects of the trial on the family. The father also has to come to terms with what his son may have done. It's the more suspenseful of the two books, but both have their merits. I would say, if you can only read one of them, pick up Defending Jacob if you prefer straight suspense (but anticipate some deeper truths also), and read The Good Father if you like stories that have more of a psychological exploration element. If you have a little more time and can squeeze in a second book, read them both.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gone Reading International

I got an email recently from the creator of Gone Reading International and am passing on the information for this neat website (which is simply It's a shopping site, where you can buy T-shirts, bookends, bookplates, bookmarks, games, posters, and much more...all related to reading and books. (Get something for your favorite librarian!)

The interesting thing about this site is it's more than just a place to buy cool gifts. They donate their profits to libraries and reading-related charities, so your purchases go to help support a good cause. The founder, Brad Wirz, is also on Twitter: @gonereading4evr. Check out this neat online store, and find out how you can get free shipping!

Update: Between now and April 19, 2012, get 25% off purchases (except bookends) when you use the code ONLINELIB25.

Monday, March 5, 2012

SoSlang, Online Dictionary

I got an email recently letting me know about an online slang dictionary called SoSlang. It says it has over 6 million definitions and is edited by users. Honestly, I'm not sure how it differs from the Urban Dictionary upon first impression, which also has over 6 million definitions and is edited by users. However, give both a try and see which you like better.

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Search Engine: Stealth

Mashable had an article recently on a search engine that doesn't track users with cookies or by saving search histories. It's appropriately named Stealth and is kind of like a private version of Google. To find out how it works, check out the menu under "Learn More." There's also a brief bit on why using Incognito on Chrome isn't such a good idea. This new search engine is so stealthy that the URL isn't quite what you'd think; instead, it's

Give it a shot. The interface is clean and uncluttered, rather like Google for those of you who prefer simplicity. The results are straightforward, giving you a link and some pertinent information so you can decide whether a site is worth clicking on. It doesn't tell you how many results there are, which is sometimes handy, but a "More" button does appear at the bottom of the results list so you can keep browsing.

The icons are easy to miss, but right under the search box are options for images, news, and videos along with the standard web search.  I don't know how the results compare to Google, Yahoo, or Bing, but I suspect Stealth's database of crawled or cataloged websites isn't nearly as big. (Stealth says, "We do a good bit of our own crawling and also utilize many different API's (Google's Ajax API, Bing's search API, etc) as well," but that doesn't explain how many websites or images or whatever are in its database.) 

The only thing that bothers me is the need to scroll slightly to the right. For new computers this may not be an issue, but they could have made their screen size dynamic to fit whatever monitor size a user has.

Try it out and leave your thoughts and impressions in the comments.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: "The Underside of Joy" by Sere Prince Halverson

A stepmother has raised two children for three years. The birth mother left when the younger son was only months old. The older girl remembers her mother a little, but her brother doesn't remember her at all. When the mother re-enters their life, does she have any say in their upbringing? Can she now request custody even though she gave it up when she left? The situation is complicated by the accidental death of the father. The stepmother assumed she would continue raising the kids, whom she loves as her own, but the appearance of the mother throws them all into confusion.

Ella is the stepmother, and Paige is the birth mother. Paige lives in busy Las Vegas while Ella and the kids live in Northern California, in a sleepy little town where their father's family has been for several generations. Ella thinks it's unfair for Paige to expect to take the kids full-time, uprooting them from everything they have ever known, but Paige has the law on her side. What's really the best thing for the kids?

The Underside of Joy addresses the issue of motherhood. Does giving birth automatically mean certain unalienable rights, or does the nurture of a stepmother mean she also has some rights? The courts might have one opinion, but the family involved has another.

What is family anyway? After her husband's unexpected death,  Ella finds out the family store has been going under for months, perhaps years. She has in-laws to support her decision to try and turn things around, and things go smoothly until she makes a choice that keeps Paige permanently in the picture. The in-laws are suddenly furious that, even though Paige is the children's mother, their grandkids will be taken away from them. They never liked Paige, and they adore Ella. Which woman is considered part of the family?

The family's anger stems from an incident little talked-about in American history, and Ella finally confronts them and learns their secret. Paige has a secret too, one that led her to abandon her children at very young ages, but Ella also has been carrying around a secret for nearly thirty years. The Underside of Joy is also about the messes we make when we don't talk about what is really going on inside out heads.

Sere Prince Halverson is a mom and stepmom herself, and one can imagine her asking, What if something similar happened to her and she was forced to choose between her stepchildren and their birth mother? How would two grieving women handle custody? Halverson writes tenderly, mostly from Ella's point of view as the book is in first person, but also with understanding on Paige's behalf. There is no black and white here, just many shades of grey.

I thought the turning incident was rather predictable, which led to a rushed ending. And I'm not fond of epilogues as I don't necessarily need everything neatly tied up, but these are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent book. It's not exactly fast-paced, yet it kept me up late because I could not stand to put it down. I simply had to read one more chapter, then one more, and just one more.

I was reminded of another book that deals with the definition of motherhood, Mothers and Other Liars. You can check out a little bit about it at the end of my blog post on When We Were Friends, which addresses a similar issue but in a way that didn't impress me. However, feel free to check out all three books if this topic is of interest.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: "Defending Jacob" by William Landay

William Landay's Defending Jacob is not just a murder mystery. It's more than a suspense novel or a thriller, though it is all of those. It focuses less on the details of the crime or on who did it, and is more concerned with what happens to the family of the accused.

A teenaged boy is killed one morning on the way to school. There is very little evidence to go on in terms of chasing suspects, no murder weapon, no physical traces of DNA, no witnesses. There is one bloody fingerprint on the victim's clothing, however, and it is from this single clue that the investigators find their only possibility. The suspect is a classmate of the murdered boy, and his father happens to be the district attorney handling the case.

Andy Barber tells the story, both in first person and through transcripts of a grand jury hearing. He seems blind to the fact that his son Jacob could be capable of killing and constantly protests his innocence. He doesn't see a conflict of interest in his taking the case, even after Jacob is accused of the crime. Andy even hunts down another man, trying to force fellow lawyers into believing that this other guy must be guilty. He goes from lead prosecutor to assistant to the defense in order to clear his son's name.

Andy's wife Laurie doesn't handle the situation well. She loses weight and can't sleep. She ages quickly through the six months between crime and trial. She believes in her son, but she can't help but wonder if maybe Jacob is guilty, or at least is capable of violence. She questions her parenting and all the choices she made during Jacob's childhood.

Jacob is a typical teenaged boy...or is he? He's moody, ego-centric, something of a loner, addicted to the Internet. But he seems to be just a little moodier, more ego-centric, friendless, and Internet-focused than his peers. Is this a bad thing? Did he really contemplate murder in his own quiet way?

There are several instances of foreshadowing throughout the story, and they point to what happens after the trial. In the space of a few pages at the end of the book, we find out that some of the Barber family members are quite capable of unimaginable things.

Defending Jacob will appeal to suspense fans, perhaps less so to straight mystery fans because there is less procedure and more courtroom drama, but for those readers willing to branch out, do give this book a try. The plot doesn't move quickly, yet somehow the book is still a page-turner. You'll probably question a lot by the time the true psyches of the characters are revealed. Fans of character studies should enjoy the book also. There is one narrator--who is rather unreliable--but the author still manages to get inside the heads of other characters: The reader is able to see the actions of all the characters and judge whether Andy's impressions are correct or not. It's a genre-bending book, but it definitely has elements of suspense and of the psychological thriller. Do read it.