Monthly Archives: August 2008

reruns with books

I came across an interesting conversation on LT the other day contemplating the nature of our reading habits and more generally that of consumption itself (not TB but rather the using up, processing of stuff).  The author is curious whether we ever tend to reread the books of which we are fond, and how we manage this desire to reread with the desire to read something new and flashy.

Within the thread, reasons for rereading vary, either for pure enjoyment of something deemed “classic”, or simply because the book was incomprehensible upon first read and at least worthy of another try.  Those who don’t reread or lack the inclination to do so is because either their TBR (to be read list) is so numerous that they feel so pressured to read something new or just don’t have the nostalgia with the process.

This raises the larger question about revisiting other things or processes we redo.  How willing are we to eat the same foods, listen to our favorite music, watch the same movies/TV reruns over and over again in comparison to rereading books?  I’ll wager the former vastly outnumbers the latter. At least it does for me; I’m not much of a rereader as my TBR is ever-growing. Granted, reading takes more time and effort than the other activities, but the question remains…is reading by default less attractive than listening or watching when processing information, whether it be for enjoyment or otherwise?

review

David Sedaris is a writer who appreciates the finer things in life.  The finer things we either ignore or simply don’t see on a day-to-day basis.  Throw in a dripping glob of neuroses and an erudite air of resignation and you too can arrive at the astute observations he so dutifully illustrates in his latest book, When You are Engulfed in Flames.

I think of Sedaris as an unconventional connoisseur of sorts.  From sweat angels to the acumen of easily procuring dishwashing jobs, Stadium Pals, flaming mice, husbandry for spiders named “Big Chief Tommy”, confronting airplane irritants, and finally to “finishing” smoking while learning Japanese, his musings evoke a nostalgia for times and things past never yet experienced.

This particular collection of essays centers around movement.  Specifically regarding travel, Sedaris shares his experiences either en route to or upon arrival of the multitude of destinations to which he’s traveled, some foreign, some domestic, all bizarre.  Whether it be Japan, Thailand, France, the West Coast, Chicago, North Carolina, New York or wherever-have-you, his stories are ironic in that they all focus not on his destination, but rather the inner processing of his immediate surroundings, most notably his melancholy paranoia and courageous cynicism.  It’s more about the people he meets and his subsequent detachment from the normal workings of the world, not just the places he visits. It is the journey apparently, not the destination that matters.  Sedaris’ latest book is sublimely resigned, a comforting read for when the good times are indeed literally killing you.

green gaming

been recovering from the opening week of students crawling around campus and feel the need to post, but unsure what about. So after de-stressing with some good old fashioned video gaming I thought, hey, why not. It makes good sense as libraries are both going green and gaming, that I thought I’d mention a couple of games I’ve come across that are fun and have a green theme. These two are blasts from the past, and surely there are others dealing with greenness, but these two immediately come to mind and are really distracting.

Super Mario Sunshine came out way back when the Gamecube was the hot new console. It’s probably my favorite Mario Bros. game ever, as there’s so much to do while playing. The rundown is that Mario and Co. are taking a well-deserved rest from their Bowser beatdowns and taking a fun old fashioned family vacation to the tropical delfino island. Trouble is, evil is mucking about. Muck is the operative word, as the island is plagued with it, from graffiti on buildings to globs of the stuff polluting the waters surrounding the island. Predictably, the cleanup falls upon Mario’s shoulders, and with a high-powered squirt/hover cannon, cleaning time has never been more cathartic. Honestly, the game is worth playing just for the colorful design. Even the dayglo, psychedelic goo vomited throughout the game is worthy of one’s own drool being allowed to flow during game-play. It’s way challenging, fun, and a must have for environmentally conscious gaming.

The second game I have to mention is the lovably bizarre Munch’s Oddysee from the the makers of the lamentably discontinued or postponed Oddworld series games. The story doesn’t revolve around the issue of pollution and is eradication per se, but rather how the main characters, Abe and Munch, continually attempt to save their respective species and Oddworld itself from the enslaving, polluting, corporate baddies. Like all Oddworld games, the storyline is well-conceived and gameplay somewhat linear, but the developers manage to do everything right…it’s one of the most cinematic video game series I’ve ever experienced. It’s a bit darker than Super Mario Sunshine, as its socially conscious theme is bleak to say the best, but mosty importantly, aside from the fun gameplay it makes the player think.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but these two are classics in my opinion on a number of fronts. If you want to offer fun games with an environmental message, these are two to consider.

school

seems like students are wandering around again and asking questions, sparing a deluge of regular posting.

review

I find that travel writing is one of the best ways to attune to one’s inner gonzo.  Perhaps it’s best explained by the saying truth is stranger than fiction.  Indeed, the mere experience of finding yourself in sand-swept Nouakchott, Mauritania, just after leaving a comfy flat in Amsterdam can hammer home said reality is a fine feeling to savor.

Especially from the comfort of a good book, which is what My Mercedes is Not for Sale: From Amsterdam to Ouagadougou…an Auto Mis-adventure across the Sahara delivers.  Jeroen van Bergeijk tells the story of his seemingly innocuous quest to deliver his car, a Mercedes-Benz 190 D through Saharan Africa in a grand quest to…wait for it…sell it.

But it is so much more than that.  After a brief introduction to the culture of Mercedes-Benz as well as his own car, he immediately takes the reader to the dust, deception, poverty, corruption and overall culture of Western Africa and its obsession with the automotive throwaways of Europe. Peppered with the historical outlook of various historical/literary visitors such as James Riley, Mungo Park, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the culture becomes more engrossing.  It’s a comedic, frightening, even meaningful romp through countries like Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso in search of some adventure as well as a quick sale.

The great thing about this book is that it’s not geared toward the hardcore car enthusiast, but rather the culture of someplace deemed exotic or authentic; the car is merely the vehicle, ahem, of such authenticity.  Which is, he states, in the spirit of Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (to which he often refers), the act of trying to grasp the essence of a place.  As the book progresses, he seems to get a whole lot of it, perhaps more than he bargains for.

Africa’s authentic essence is timelessness.  “Things in Africa come in two forms,” he states, “broken and not broken”.  With the insistence that life is thus lived according to the phrase “god willing” or “inshallah”, time really has no place here.  He states that for these people, there is no future; everything, every decision is done for the moment for survival.

This sentiment is evident through all characters encountered along the way, from the ever-predictable corrupt border officials (regardless of country), to roving bands of car thieves and drug traffickers, desert guides, car merchants/repairmen, to everyday citizens looking to employ the fine art of finagling or chep-chep, just to make their daily ends meet.

But aside from the corruption, poverty and lawlessness, van Bergeijk also finds a sense of serenity and exquisite freedom in his journey.  Meeting colorful tourists and expats along the way he realizes how Africa is a destination for people running away from something, that it has comfort to offer.

In the end, this is an extremely fast and engaging read about an often overlooked area of the world in which is found an essence that’s worth deeper examination.  It truly is an authentic work, well worth reading.

etch-a-sketch 2.0

I’m starting to get the hang of this conference thing. Not so much the schmoozing and networking aspect, but corralling all the ideas that tend to congeal when driving home from an intense day of presentationing. After attending the Independent Colleges of Indiana Tech Summit at the picturesque DePauw University, my band of brarians were introduced to a couple of new and exciting technologies that are worth exploring for the library.

One particularly innovative application caught my absent-minded gaze. A company based in my neck of the woods, DyKnow offers a product that offers nearly limitless possibilities within the classroom. Dyknow Vision is like an electronic etch-a-sketch, allowing complete interactivity within the classroom. They summarize:

  • Instantly transmit prepared or extemporaneous content to student computers for annotation
  • Spark discussion by broadcasting a student’s screen
  • Empower students to lead class and share work from their seats
  • Poll students to quickly assess understanding and receiving immediate feedback
  • Save class notes and audio recording on a central server where students can access and replay them anytime, anywhere

Here was the scenario…we all enter the presentation and take our seats, in front of which is placed a tablet PC. Then the instructor tells us that we don’t need to take any notes with our notebooks, as we will be writing and saving them on our computers. We have a mock presentation in which the instructor delivers a lecture and we take notes on the tablet (with fake pen), answer electronically submitted polls, submit work to the professor, and email our notes to ourselves.

The possibilities are endless. Here are just some ideas for use:

  • physics lectures are delivered instantly to students and their thought patterns are recorded while solving problems on the tablet PC while taking notes
  • language instructors – analyze how students conceptualize writing Asian characters stroke by stroke…and correct their mistakes
  • students ask questions anonymously, reducing embarrassment
  • Deliver quizzes, class polls, homework all via the software

The issue of privacy does surface, as the software does monitor the work performed on the PCs; however, depending on the policies established by the institution/department, monitoring can be limited or extended to the classroom, building, department, etc.

From the library side, I can see potential for information literacy sessions, classification outlines, even web design principles using DyKnow. Rather than being social networking oriented, it is more socially collaborative. Something perhaps innovative enough to pry your students away from facebook.