Friday, June 23, 2006

Blogging about Hannibal, MO.

Our trip took us to Hannibal, Missouri. The town capitalizes on it's role as the hometown of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Sitting beside the Mississippi, it was once an important town for shipping which catered to the westward traveler. When Clemens lived there, it was at its zenith --- second only to St. Louis in population at the time.

Today its a sleepy rivertown with a bunch of Mark Twain landmarks and "inspired attractions", it caters to family travelers. We stopped off at the Clemens house and the small section of restored homes that surround it. There is a nice museum which traces the author's life and writing, especially his writing about his Hannibal. Most of his famous characters, in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, were based on people he knew in town. We also visited the Mark Twain cave, just south of town. It's rocky passageways are interesting, nothing much had changed since my last visit, except you can't sign your name on the walls anymore.

My daughter wasn't too interested in the museum or cave. Unfortunately, she hasn't read his writing and has only seen the recent, poorly made, Disney Huckleberry Finn movie. She will be reading the book this year, so I hope she will get something out of the visit when the time comes.

What I found most interesting was the museum exhibit covering Clemens' life as a newspaper man. His brother and he started a small paper in the town which flopped, but it got him interested in the business. He traveled the world, including Hawaii, in the 1860's, when few people ever left there states. His writing was wonderful, always pointed and opinionated. His novels, like those of Dickens, grew out of his newspaper and magazine work.

Back in his day, there were many, many newspapers around the country. Each trying to lure an audience through news coverage and opinion. The entry into the newspaper business was low, so many different types of people went into the business --- with little or no training outside of how to operate a printing press. Certainly, there must have been incredible trash published at the time and also a lot of unread papers, but that era brought forth some incredible writers -- including Twain, Dickens and H.L. Mencken. But, as all these print voices consolidated, the variety became limited and what we call the Mainstream Media emerged. Currently, there are few large cities with more than one paper and those papers are mainly filled with copy from the new services.

It makes me wonder if today's Blogging Community is the new replacement for old style media. Blogs generally have a point of view and offer up a variety of stories -- some compelling some not. No one needs a journalism degree to blog, just the motivation to be heard. Most blogs have very few readers, but some like the Drudge Report, has millions. While many in the mainstream Media bemoan the entry of 'amateurs' into their field, I think it's healthy. A little bit of competition keeps everyone a little more keen. I bet Samuel Clemens would have blogged, if he could.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Brief Road Trip

I'm just back from a quick trip to St. Louis with stops in Springfield, Il. and Hannibal, Mo. It was a nice little trip, not quite up to the standards of our magnificent trip to San Diego, but a good break from the ordinary. Now that my daughter is 15, I foresee the approaching end of our little trips, so it makes me more desperate to cram more in -- when time and money allow.

When I was growing up, our family took at least one vacation each summer -- roadtrip odyssey around the Midwest or East Coast. Most of the time there were 3-4 of us kids packed in the back of family sedan with Mom and Dad up front. Dad was a road warrior and loved the long haul across the country -- going 500 to 600 miles a day. Mom would find little places along the way to stop and see something. Those of us in the backseat generally looked forward to the hotel pool. I saw a lot of the country that way --- sneaking peeks out the side windows, while I straddled the infernal hump in the backseat. I loved those trips because we got to eat out all the time, see stuff and spend time with Dad. He worked so much back then, it was the only time we had more than a day with him. By the end of the trip, I think he was ready to return to the office for another 12 months.

This little trip was a partial re-run of one of my family trips. Though it was only to the two of us, I tried to pick a couple of fights with my daughter, just to give her a taste of my experience. We sailed across the cornfields to Springfield to see the new Lincoln Museum. The Museum is very nice, it seems to be catering to today's Disney experienced traveler. There were several "interactive experiences". My favorite little display was a video map which gave you the Civil War in 4 minutes -- you see the battle line change, as well as the mounting death tolls. I was sorry that the Gettysburg Address was not recited anywhere in the museum. I think it is the most perfect speech ever given; parts of the speech were mentioned, but I think it should have been given in it's entirety.

The Museum was really the only landmark we visited in Springfield. We didn't go to the Lincoln home, law office or cemetery. Unlike my old family roadtrips, my daughter has a great deal of input into the trip -- for better or worse. Fifteen year olds can be picky about their time, where they eat and what they wear. It takes a while to head out of the hotel room when there are clothes to press and hair to straighten... high maintenance. Luckily, somethings don't change -- she loves the hotel pool and so do I.

More on my trip later...

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Personal Library

I love buying books, owning them, reading them and lending them out. Though I'm a librarian, I am not comfortable borrowing books from libraries, especially with returning them on time -- I should feel like a traitor. It's just that I work on my own timetable and I like to manhandle my books on occasion. Also, when I have found a library book that I love, I end up going out and buying it -- or at least think about it.

There are lots of books around my house, I don't know how many. I tend to buy or get books a couple at a time. My books are not arranged as well as I would like, but I generally keep all the non-fiction in the office or living room and reserve my bedroom for fiction. I've read about 50% of the books I own. I'm constantly trying to catch-up on my reading, but I sabotage myself by buying more books.

I found this great resource, called Library Thing, on the net that allows you to catalog your books. It's a really streamlined cataloging system. It's a community of readers who catalog, review and rate all kinds of books -- over 3 million books since last year. You can add tags (little descriptions) to your entries, as well as write your own reviews. My library is public, so please take a look. So far I have added the books I have read over the last 3 years -- I haven't even scratched the surface.
I added a permanent link to my library over there on the side with the rest of my recommended blogs.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Will the Book Endure?

Books are my one lifetime passion. I don't know when I first fell in love, but I'm sure it happened at a library or a bookstore. Like anyone who calls themselves a reader, I adore a good story, well written. I buy books, read books, store books and work among books. I love going to stores and libraries to visit books. There is a feeling I have when around stockpiles of books that thrills me, it’s a low hum of excitement or unknown possibilities that makes my heart beat faster. When looking at a fresh shelf of new books I am practically giddy while examining their covers or paging through their text.

It's funny that I still love my books, since I work around them all day. As a corporate librarian, my office is a library with shelves of organized books. They are really lovely to look at, but unfortunately these books, all technical and scientific, aren't the pleasure reading I desire. But I do love them as a backdrop. At work my main focus is a computer which is an excellent tool. My work is generally done on computer and most of my workday reading takes place on its screen.
For the last several years, it seems, I get some article a week, either from the library literature or the mainstream press about the demise of books. Most often these articles have a smug knowingness about them, they predict empty bookshelves and the de-evolution of literature from printed page to streaming words. All such stories champion the coming non-book age and scoff at the luddites who worry about it.
When I read this stuff, I panic a little bit, I mentally clutch my books tighter. Is a world without books a better world in any way? I would find it so lonely and plain because no matter how my computer screen was dressed up, it couldn't offer me the comfort of a book. I can't dog-ear my computer, or run my fingers along its side -- fanning pages as I go. Techno-geeks assure me that a new device will be developed that will enable me to take my computer reading to the beach, I'm not that interested.
I love a lot about the Web and the ability to self-publish and form communities. I'm blogging right now, I must think it's worth it. Anyway, here's an article finally defending our books in the web age. Lee Gomes, of the Wall Street Journal gets it right in my opinion. He covers the newest assault on books and the idea of user-generated content.
"It is an odd state of affairs when books or movies need defending, especially when the replacement proffered by certain Web-oriented companies and their apologists is so dismally inferior: chunks and links and other bits of evidence of epidemic ADD. Reading some stray person's comment on the text I happen to be reading is about as appealing as hearing what the people in the row behind me are saying about the movie I'm watching."
In my heart of hearts I believe books will endure because I need them.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What's with Elmhurst?

Elmhurst is one of those close-in, tree-shaded suburbs of Chicago which is afflicted with the McMansion Syndrome. McMansion Syndrome occurs when developers buy up the cute little 50's and 60's ranch homes and tear them down. In their place, outsized homes are built on the lots; these homes loom over their neighbors in both size and conspicious consumption. Alot of suburbs around here are experiencing this problem.

Aside from all those hulking homes, what sets Elmhurst apart is its interest in SEX or at least that is what the story on says. Using a new tool within the Google Search Engine you can judge the popularity of search terms. Google Trends is kind of fun to play with. Gosh, I've been to family parties in Elmhurst and I never knew....

But wait, when I tried to duplicate the search, I didn't get the same results -- it looks like St. Louis comes in first in the searching for sex race.

I'm not sure how well the the new tool works, it's still under development. I was tickled to see that Bay City, Michigan leads the way with searches on the word "Tiki", far outpacing Honolulu, Hawaii. The Kingfish Restaurant & Tiki Room must be the place to be, as it appears to be the only thing Tiki in Bay City.

Who Moved my Blackberry

As a corporate librarian for a couple of large corporations, I know a bit about the language of corporate marketing BS and the workings of executive politics. On a fairly routine basis employees receive memos relating great corporate projects to re-brand or re-size ourselves to greatness. After a couple of years you take it all with a grain of salt. Though the language of these missives can be painful -- filled with poor word usage like learnings (for lessons) and trainings (for classes).

So, when this book showed up on my doorstep --- literally. I dove right in. It's a quick read. Lucy Kellaway takes you through a year in the life of Martin Lukes via his e-mails. Martin is an ambitious guy who has employed a 'virtual coach' named Pandora to move him ahead in work and life. Martin's goals of 22.5% better than his best and receiving an "A" grade push the drama ahead, as does his office affair and hostile son. The satire is fantastic, especially its portrayal of American and British management styles.

I am a bit mystifyed as to why this book came to my doorstep. I didn't buy it and I don't remember signing up for a free copy on their website. My favorite publishing friends deny sending it. So how did it come my way? Maybe it's a bit of viral marketing or, more likely, did request it and my 41-year old mind forget. Anyway, this is a fun book -- I recommend it.

Signing off in Martin Lukes fashion --- All my bestest......