DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

May 2008

May 13 2008

OpenOffice.org: Full-featured, Free

by Chris S

A couple of months ago I did a post about open source software and I listed a sample of programs you might want to try. Today I would like to highlight OpenOffice.org, which is the free office productivity suite that has all of the functionalities of the leading commercial office suites (all the functions you would use anyway). Here’s an overview of what comes with it.

Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Drawing, & More

OpenOffice has as many functions as you would need. You can type up a word processing document, create a spreadsheet with formulas, or make up a slide show presentation. There is also a drawing program that allows you to create diagrams for presentations, a database program, and even a math program. Here’s a screenshot of the Writer program:

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As you can see, the interface is very similar to Microsoft Word 2003, and many of the functionalities are the same.

Multiple Document Formats

OpenOffice.org allows you to create and save documents in its own Open Document Format (ODF), but it also allows you to save things in Microsoft and Adobe PDF formats as well, which means that you can have all the functionality of an expensive, proprietary software program at no financial cost. I would encourage anyone who needs an up-to-date office program, but doesn’t have the means to go out and buy one, to seriously consider OpenOffice as an option!

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I was driving to work a couple of weeks ago when I heard an episode of the StoryCorps series on NPR.  If you’ve ever heard a StoryCorps interview before, then you understand why I reach for the tissues as soon as they say it’s coming up.  This particular interview was no different, and the fact that it related to reading made it especially moving to me. 

This was the story of Joe Buford of Nashville, age 63, who is learning to read after decades of hiding the fact from family and coworkers.  He worried that he had passed “what was wrong” with him on to his children, and avoided promotions at work.  For the last year or so he has been working with literacy tutor Michelle Miller, and when he finally realized that he was beginning to be able to read, he “jumped up and ran through the house. It made me cry and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, it really is sinking in.'”  Listen to Joe’s story in his own words here.

DeKalb County Public Library offers many literacy materials to assist those looking to improve their reading skills, as well as materials for tutors helping others.  Visit any branch for more information, or check out our services on our website.

To find a literacy tutor or if you are interested in volunteering as a tutor, contact Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta, located conveniently across the street from the downtown Decatur Library.  They offer one-on-one volunteer tutoring as well as training for tutors.  LVA seeks to promote lifelong learning, and provides tutors for both adult literacy as well as ESL (English as second language).

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May 8 2008

Marvelous Miss Lee

by David T

Peggy1 Don’t you love using your library to sample authors and artists? There’s nothing like taking a book, or a CD, for a test drive before you purchase your own copy. A couple of years ago, I was on the lookout for a new female vocalist, and checked out The Best of Miss Peggy Lee. From the opening strains of the first song on that CD, “Waiting for the Train to Come In,” I said, “I like this!” Since I tend to like unfamiliar music about as often as Mikey, of TV commercial fame, likes new cereals, this was not a small compliment. Nor is it insignificant, I think, to praise her as one of the most understandable singers I’ve ever heard. I doubt that anyone has ever listened to the lyrics on a Peggy Lee CD and said, “Whud she say?” (Yes, I’m over 40).

Born in 1920, Peggy Lee was that rare singer who was both popular with listeners, and respected by critics. She won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Among her peers who expressed admiration for her work were Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, who said, “Her wonderful talent should be studied by all vocalists; her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.” Her career lasted from her early days with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 1940s through the 1990s, when she sometimes performed from a wheelchair — and still charmed audiences. In her later years,Peggy2_3 she successfully sued Disney for her share of the profits from the video releases of Lady and the Tramp, the hit 1955 animated film for which she contributed not only her vocal but her songwriting skills. (Remember “The Siamese Cat Song”?)

Interest in Lee’s work has only increased in the years since her death in 2002. The first major biography, Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee, by Peter Richmond, was published to critical acclaim in 2006. A more detailed study of her career year-by-year can be found in Miss Peggy Lee: A Career Chronicle, a lavishly illustrated volume by devoted fan Robert Strom. There’s also a fact-filled website at www.peggylee.com.

To borrow a phrase from one of her best-remembered songs, “It’s a Good Day” to check out the unforgettable Miss Peggy Lee.

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May 7 2008

A Musical Titan

by Ken M

There are many great composers, both well-known and obscure, living and deceased. I’m thinking now of one who wrote two of those snippets that kids who don’t know how to play the piano teach each other – the first four notes of probably the most famous symphony ever written, and a piano piece best known by its opening nine notes. This seems appropriate, because he was also the hero of the musical Peanuts character Schroder.

The famous tune at the end of his greatest and last symphony influenced the main tune Brahms placed in the last movement of his own first symphony, and Brahms put off writing symphonies until he was in his forties because of the impact of this musical giant. When the similarity was pointed out to Brahms, he famously said, “Well, any ass can see that!” (To our moderator and offended readers: he intended the older meaning of the word.) Who prompted Brahm’s defensive remark? I bet you’ve guessed long before now. As the man said of himself, “There is only one Beethoven!”

I’ll never forget the first time a piano teacher assigned me a “real” piano sonata of his, a short early one in G minor which ended up being published later in his life. Just seeing his name in the upper right hand corner of the page made me feel like I was leaving kiddie pieces behind and entering the piano world of grown-ups. Of all the composers I had encountered to that point, his name filled me with the greatest reverence.

Beethoven has been a constant figure in my life, and unfortunately, I’ve sometimes taken him for granted. Since his music is much more familiar to me now, I’ve followed many interests, getting to know other musical masters, and becoming interested in the music of others who’ve been virtually forgotten. I can’t stay away from Beethoven for too long, however.

When I think about it, I still marvel at the sheer effort that writing music required of him, both physically and emotionally. He was famously temperamental, obsessed with music to the exclusion of other things and people in the world. He worked with sketchbooks, in which he re-wrote some themes over and over, hammering away at them ’till he got them right. Even his manuscripts are not always clean and pretty, like those of other famous composers; they contain sections which are crossed out and torn, and they can be very messy. Here’s one example from his sixth symphony. Here are parts of the 9th symphony manuscript, in which some sections are messier than others.

It’s also amazing to me that whole groups of pieces he composed in a particular genre, say piano sonatas or symphonies or string quartets, are not only strings of masterpieces – not a dud to be found anywhere among them – but they have had perhaps the greatest influence over those symphonies or sonatas or quartets which came after them. I think lots of musicians and music lovers would agree with that. Beethoven’s influence is also tied to something else about him that really keeps us hooked: his personality itself seems to have survived more fully somehow, inside his notes and words, and it still compels us. When you get to know the drama of his life, it’s easier to understand his tirades and have sympathy for his sufferings, both of which can also be heard in his music.

If you’d like to spend time with Beethoven, we’ve got some great books, recordings, and films to offer. I recently watched Copying Beethoven (whose release slipped by me in the theater). This film focuses on the last years of Beethoven’s life, and while it fictionalizes many details, I enjoyed Ed Harris’s rather vigorous portrayal of the composer and his struggle to complete and perform his 9th Symphony. (More than 20 years after I first encountered the whole piece, this remains my favorite symphony.) Compare this with Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Immortal Beloved, which takes its title and plot focus from some of Beethoven’s letters. Both films are more succesful as entertainment than as biography (as their creators intended, I think); if you want to get a sense of the “real” Beethoven, try one of the biographies by Lewis Lockwood or Maynard Solomon.

I’d like to close with these few words from the great man himself, “I wish you music to help with the burdens of life, and to help you release your happiness to others.”

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When I was in library school, we explored an experimental library catalog called RedLightGreen, which combined traditional library catalog searching with the tools of search engines like Google or Yahoo. Since conventional online library catalogs are not always user-friendly, I was very happy to see that this existed. Well, RedLightGreen has become WorldCat.org, which you can use to find books owned by other library systems in Metro Atlanta, in Georgia, and all over the world. Sometimes you’ll read or hear about a book, and when you check our library catalog, you see that our library does not own it. Don’t run to the bookstore yet, though, because you might find that the book is owned by a neighboring county system like Gwinnett or Atlanta-Fulton (where you can pay an annual fee to get a library card), or by one of the college or university libraries in town (where you can at least take a look at the book to see if it’s what you really want). Searching WorldCat.org will tell you where the book is owned, and if it’s not owned locally, you can use our Interlibrary Loan service to borrow it from another system (current year materials and audiovisual materials are not eligible for this service).

Give it a try yourself: www.worldcat.org.

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May 5 2008

Relive Your Baseball!

by Nolan R

My cousin George is not a librarian, but when it comes to sports in general and baseball in particular, he’s always the one educating me about the best websites. One of these is Retrosheet. The folks who manage the website tell us that “Retrosheet was founded in 1989 for the purpose of computerizing play-by-play accounts of as many pre-1984 major league games as possible.” This function alone makes it a great website to visit for the nostalgic fan. The first search I performed let me look up the play-by-play and results of the first major league game I attended with my Grandmother and some of her friends back in 1966 (Pirates 9 Cubs 1). The next let me look at the results of the Pirates vs. Reds game that my Dad took me to the next year. It was Cap Day and we actually got to walk on the perimeter of Forbes Field until we exited the centerfield gate. I still have the cap.

Obviously I have already described my favorite part of this website, but Retrosheet is a gold mine for any baseball trivia wonk or statistics geek. For example, they chronicle every instance of a player losing a home run in a game (due, usually, to umpire mistake, a game being cancelled by weather, or a base running gaffe.) and the homepage tells the reader if a new occurrence has been added. Unheard of franchises are represented here. Did you know that the Cincinnati Porkers won 43 games, lost 57 and tied 2 games in 1891? I KNOW! Neither did I! There is just too much in this website to convey in words but, if you have any curiosity about baseball, Retrosheet.org is the place to visit. You’ll learn about things about the game that you didn’t know even ardent fans paid attention to.

George would not forgive me if I didn’t also mention what is probably his favorite website/blog at Uni Watch. Their slogan is “The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics.” In other words, if a sports team wears it, Uni Watch knows everything about it. They keep track of any change in any team’s uniforms (or those of the team’s cheerleaders, if they have them) and the writers are not stingy with their opinions, good or bad. One current feature that I like is a preview of all of the changes that fans will be seeing for the 2008 baseball season. Many, many entries discuss the pockets, hosiery, caps, and warm-up outfits and there are fans who write in about things they’ve noticed, like an upside down “i” on a player’s jersey or some other error. All of the major, and a few of the minor, sports are represented. As with Retrosheet, very few fans will be interested in everything offered but there is so much there that the digging around will be part of the fun.

Greg H.

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May 1 2008

Geography Game!

by DCPL

How well do you know your world geography?  Now there is a fun and easy way to test and hone your geography skills.  Traveler IQ Challenge is an online flash game that is both educational and addictive!  I’m not very good at geography, but after a few tries I was still able to “impress” the computer 🙂 (see image below).  Can you beat my score?

Mapgame

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