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Science & Technology

Located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, often referred to as the “main branch” of the New York Public Library, is an iconic structure. From the pair of stone lions (“Patience” and “Fortitude”) guarding the entrance to the famous Rose Main Reading Room, it is easily recognizable, even for individuals like myself who have never seen it in person.

Recently Morgan Holzer, Information Architect at NYPL, teamed up with Nate Bolt to provide us with a novel view of the NYPL; through the eyes of Lucy IV, a DJI Phantom aerial drone! Shooting after hours, they capture footage of Astor Hall, the Rose Main Reading Room, and the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division. As Holzer mentions in her write-up of the project, the different perspective provided by the drone “astounded me over and over again.” Take a look at the embedded video below and see for yourself! As noted in the description, “lots of safety precautions were taken and no books were harmed in the making of this video.” If you are interested in catching a glimpse of the drone itself, make sure to watch the video all the way through; it appears around 2:10.


commandEric Schlosser’s new book keeps me up at night.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser, that is.   He scared the willies out of me with Fast Food Nation and now this.   I do appreciate the way nuclear fission is explained fairly clearly for laypeople like me.  The book gives a brief history of the Manhattan Project and the events leading up to the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it relates frightening  tales of what has occurred since.

Here is Publisher’s Weekly‘s summary:

“In 1980 in rural Damascus, Ark., two young Air Force technicians (one was 21 years old, the other 19) began a routine maintenance procedure on a 103-foot-tall Titan II nuclear warhead-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. All was going according to plan until one of the men dropped a wrench, which fell 70 feet before hitting the rocket and setting off a chain reaction with alarming consequences. After that nail-biting opening, investigative reporter Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) goes on to tell the thrilling story of the heroism, ingenuity, mistakes, and destruction that followed. At intervals, he steps back to deliver an equally captivating history of the development and maintenance of America’s nuclear arsenal from WWII to the present. Though the Cold War has ended and concerns over nuclear warfare have mostly been eclipsed by the recent preoccupation with terrorist threats, Schlosser makes it abundantly clear that nukes don’t need to be launched to still be mind-bogglingly dangerous. Mixing expert commentary with hair-raising details of a variety of mishaps, the author makes the convincing case that our best control systems are no match for human error, bad luck, and ever-increasing technological complexity. “Mutually assured destruction” is a terrifying prospect, but Schlosser points out that there may be an even more frightening possibility: self-assured destruction.”

Mind-boggingly dangerous, indeed!  What is suprising to me is that we have been so lucky thus far.


Oct 11 2013

Bill Bryson

by Jesse M

Although the majority of my reading material tends to be fiction, I like to mix it up every once in a while with a good nonfiction book, and in today’s post I’ll talk about one of my go-to non-fiction authors, Bill Bryson.

Bryson writes on a number of topics, ranging from science, history, and etymology, but he is perhaps best known for his travel writing (he has actually been mentioned before on this blog in that context). Whatever his topic of choice, Bryson thoroughly explores the subject with his trademark wit and humor, using a writing style that is easy and pleasant to read (and listen to as well; he even narrates many of his own audiobooks!).

Interested readers can find the majority of Bryson’s output in the DCPL catalog, but if you’re new to his work, allow me to recommend some of my favorites:

A walk in the woods coverA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering the Appalachian Trail describes his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, interspersed with discussions of matters relating to the trail’s history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people. It is as much a book of personal discovery as it is an exploration of the Appalachian Trail, and it is hard to say which aspect of the book I enjoyed more.

In a sunburned country cover In a Sunburned Country, written in a similar style to A Walk in the Woods, details his travels by car and rail throughout Australia, with asides concerning the history, geography and ecology of the country, along with his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality. This book has the distinction of being the funniest that I’ve read by him, which is saying something since all of his work is quite humorous.

A Short History of Nearly Everything coverA Short History of Nearly Everything deviates from the travel guide style of the previous two books, instead focusing on the history of scientific discovery and an exploration of the individuals who made the discoveries. In this fashion he covers a variety of topics including chemistry, geology, astronomy, and particle physics, moving through scientific history from the Big Bang to the discovery of quantum mechanics. The book has won multiple awards, claiming the Aventis prize in 2004 for best general science book and the Descartes Prize the following year for science communication.

At home coverAt Home: A Short History of Private Life is a history of domestic life told through a tour of Bryson’s Norfolk home, a former rectory in rural England. The book covers topics of the commerce, architecture, technology and geography that have shaped homes into what they are today, showing how each room has figured in the evolution of private life. Possibly my favorite of Bryson’s many works, this is a must read for anyone interested in the fascinating history of everyday things whose existence most of us take for granted. To get an idea of the breadth of what the book covers, take a look at the wikipedia page.

One Summer coverBryson has recently published a new book, titled One Summer: America, 1927, which examines the events and personalities of the summer of 1927, a momentous season that begins in May with Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and ends with Babe Ruth hitting his then-record-setting 60th home run on the last day of September, amongst many other notable events. Bryson will actually be in Decatur this evening (Friday, October 11 2013, 7:00 pm—9:00 pm) at First Baptist Church Decatur as part of the Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers series to promote the new book. For more details visit this page.


Sep 25 2013

National Computer Learning Month

by Glenda

computerDid you know that October is National Computer Learning Month? Did you know that there is a place in your community that offers computer classes every month? Did you know that these classes are free? The DeKalb County Public Library has twenty-two library locations and just about all of the locations offer free computer classes, all you have to do is call a location that is having a class and register. The library offers classes such as e-mail basics and classes on how to use Microsoft Office programs. In addition to these classes, some locations even offer Book-A-Librarian opportunities. Book-A-Librarian gives you the opportunity to ask a librarian any computer or research question and receive one-on-one assistance and advice from a librarian. You can’t beat that, and it’s FREE. So the next time you are in a library branch location pick up a monthly calendar (or check out the online calendar) and start taking some of these free computer classes. Come on, you know you want to learn all the cool stuff the kids are doing!


Sep 20 2013

Tech detox. Could you? Would you?

by Dea Anne M

I recently came across an article published this summer in the New York Times that profiles Camp Grounded in Navarro, CA, a three-day summer camp for adults. Campers relinquish their phones, computers, tablets and watches. There is no television. Furthermore, campers are not allowed to discuss their work or ages and each camper has a “camp name.” Camp diet is gluten-free and vegan. Camp Grounded is a creation of Digital Detox an Oakland based group that offers tech-free retreats. Their motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”

There’s something to be said for taking a tech break now and then in order to recharge. I know that part of what I find so profoundly relaxing about a vacation at the beach is that I wind up spending very little time in front of a screen and don’t pay attention to the clock. Instead, I read, walk, cook and just watch the water. Many experts today suggest creating a tech-free zone in one’s home. This may not be desirable to everyone, or even possible for some, but it’s certainly something to think about.

A recent article by Jay Turner of Georgia Public Libraries Continuing Education and Training discusses a keynote address delivered by Stacey Aldrich who is the Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Among the areas of future technology that libraries may be involved with,  Aldrich suggests that libraries may soon provide not only access to all sorts of technology but also to tech-free areas in which users will engage in “self-reflection or face-to-face communication with others.” And a  2011 article from American Libraries magazine discusses the possibility of libraries offering gadget-free zones and whether or not library patrons would use and appreciate these.


Where do you stand on the tech-free question? Do you provide yourself with “digital breaks” or do you like to stay wired?

If you’d like to do some reading on the effects and future of digital culture, try these titles available from DCPL.

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London Public LibraryIn the past, we’ve posted about Google Street View, a subset of the Google Maps service which lets you explore places around the world through 360-degree, panoramic, and street-level imagery. But did you know that now Google Street View is now offering their service indoors as well?

Since late 2011 Google has been offering interior tours of buildings via their Street View technology. Businesses can voluntarily access the program and Google’s photographers will schedule a photo shoot inside the building. Some of the earliest adopters of this new service have been bookstores and libraries.

The website Ebook Friendly has an informative and interactive post where you can learn more about the program and then tour 10 libraries which have already been given the Street View treatment.

In related news: two DeKalb County Public Library branches (Decatur and Salem Panola) are now available through Google’s new indoor Google Maps project–not exactly Street View, but similar. It allows you to see a floor plan of the inside of the library, with different sections of the library labelled clearly. Also, since this feature is still in beta, some of the details may still be buggy, and the labels may look different depending on the mobile device you are using. More branch floor plans will become available soon.


Apr 17 2013

Backyard Birds (part 2)

by Dea Anne M

ssialisI posted here awhile back about my newly discovered fascination with (and delight in) the many birds who inhabit my backyard and neighborhood. I see a lot of small songbirds at the feeder along with larger birds like cardinals, woodpeckers, and the occasional comical mourning dove who’s always a little too round of belly to perch long enough to get his fill.  I often hear an owl hooting in the early morning hours and sometimes catch sight of the hawk that lives in the neighborhood. While the bird feeder gets heavy use all year, my pleasure so far this spring has been to observe the birds as they prepare nests and get ready to bring new birds into the world.

I’m especially happy to see this year, for the first time, Eastern Bluebirds appearing at the feeder. To encourage them to make a home in the back yard, we’ve put up a special bluebird box. The instructions tell us not to be discouraged if the birds choose not to nest there the first year but it’s looking hopeful for young bluebirds and I couldn’t be more excited. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, everything starts with the male bluebird depositing bits of nesting material into the box which he then stands on top of and madly flaps his wings. Once this breathtakingly suave display has secured him a mate, it’s up to the female to actually build the nest and incubate the eggs. Last week, I observed a male bird in full flap on top of the box and since this weekend I’ve seen the female going in and out. The bird box instructs one to check it regularly to be sure rival birds such as house sparrows aren’t squatting (so to speak) but this morning’s monitoring confirms that the box is holding the small, cup-shaped nest made up of fine grasses that is the hallmark of the Eastern Bluebird. Hooray!

Here lately, the only thing that makes me happier than seeing one bluebird is the thought of seeing a lot more. Though bluebirds are migratory, those that live in the Southeastern states often stay put all year. You might have bluebirds in your neighborhood too! Do you want to know more? Check out the North American Bluebird Society for more information or visit the University of Georgia’s site for its Museum of Natural History for facts related to bluebirds in Georgia.backyard

If you’re new to bird watching or if you are, like me, mainly a “Whats that outside the kitchen window?” bird watcher, then you can’t do much better than Backyard Birding: a guide to attracting and identifying birds by Randi Minetor. Packed with high quality photographs and information about everything bird, the author also includes great information about creating a bird’s paradise such as providing water sources and attractive nesting materials as well as dealing effectively with predators.

For the thorough types among us, National Geographic’s Bird Watcher’s Bible: a complete treasury is everything that the title promises. Filled with exhaustive information and the type of high-caliber photography that National Geographic is known for, you will find hours worth of entertainment and knowledge about all things avian.national

If you find that you want to go more deeply into birding (or already have), then don’t miss Derek Lovitch’s How To Be a Better Birder. Lovitch advocates for what he calls a “whole bird” approach to watching and identifying birds and incorporates meteorology, geography and radar along with traditional observation. Lovitch also calls upon avid bird watchers to get involved in conservation efforts—a sentiment with which I must agree.

Finally, if you’re planning a trip to the beach, don’t miss The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal by John Yow. From the Outer Banks to Florida’s Gulf Coast, Yow shares his personal journey of discovery in studying the birds unique to our seacoast. Filled with wit and anecdote, Yow’s book will appeal even if you plan to never pick up a pair of binoculars.


Mar 22 2013

Massively Educational

by Jimmy L

edXA few months ago I took a course taught by a University of Pennsylvannia professor. Although the class had over 28,000 students, I often received personal answers to my questions from one of the many TAs (teacher’s assistants) and occasionally even from the professor himself. My classmates were smart and discussions were lively. The assignments and quizzes were illuminating. I didn’t have to jump through any hoops or prerequisites to enroll, and best of all, I paid nothing for it.

You may already know where I’m going with this since you may have already heard of MOOCs before (or taken one, even). MOOCs, which stands for Massive Open Online Courses, are becoming increasingly popular these days, and although there are some differences, most MOOC sites offer high quality university level education for free on a huge range of subjects.

If you’re interested in MOOCs, there are several currently offering interesting classes:

Coursera — Although the website is .org, Coursera is actually a for-profit company with an idealistic view of free education for all. (I’m not sure how they plan to make money in the future, but for now the classes are free). It is among the largest of the MOOCs and currently offers classes from computer security, economics, ancient Greece, and property and liability law (just to name a few).

Udacity — born out of Stanford University in 2011, Udacity quickly grew to be a platform for free online courses. Currently they are offering courses on statistics, computer science, physics, building a startup business, and many others.

edX — unlike Coursera or Udacity, edX is a not-for-profit enterprise. Founded by MIT and Harvard University in the Fall of 2012, they have plans of making their learning platform an open-source solution that other educational institutions may use for their courses. Currently they are offering courses on biology, quantum mechanics, computer graphics, copyright law, and many more.

Each one of these MOOCs operates differently, and each course is also run differently, depending on the professor’s style, so it would be wise to read up on their policies before enrolling. Although MOOCs sometimes offer certificates upon completion, these are still not universally recognized. For a much longer list of MOOCs and other online educational websites, please check out this post.

Have you taken a MOOC or plan to? What are your experiences with them?


Mar 13 2013

Filament Mind

by Jesse M

At Teton County Library in Wyoming, designers Brian W. Brush and Yong Ju Lee have created a stunning art installation which provides visualizations of library searches conducted by users throughout the state, displaying them as pulses of light on a network of forty four LED illuminators and over five miles of fiber-optic cables. The installation, known as Filament Mind, activates when a person searches for specific terms using online library catalogs. 904 subjects including social sciences, arts, languages, history, and philosophy each correspond to a text label with its own fiber optic cable that lights up when a search is performed. If a person then clicks on one of the results of their search, another cable will light up.

The designers hope that Filament mind will encourage people to interact with each other, share ideas, and explore content new to them.

“Some of the best moments I’ve seen with the project have been when a flash of light in a fiber optic cable catches a person’s eye and they see it is illuminating a category of knowledge they never even knew existed,” Brush says.

To see photos and read more about Filament Mind, check out this Wired article on the subject.

To get a glimpse of Filament mind in action, take a look at the video below:


Feb 1 2013

Needful Things

by Veronica W

One of my earliest kitchen memories is of my mother, who didn’t own an electric mixer at the time, holding a big bowl full of cake batter in the crook of her elbow and vigorously cake and spoonbeating the batter with a big wooden spoon. At the time I wasn’t impressed. I just wanted to lick the spoon when she was finished. Not until I tried it myself did I really appreciate the amount of work and energy that went into her famous pound cakes. Trying it also taught me to love my mixer.

I have always been fascinated by stories of the Amish way of life. The traditional old order groups—sometimes called The Plain People—eschew many of our modern conveniences, such as electricity and cars…and zippers! Terri Blackstock has written a wonderful science fiction series in which a catastrophe causes all the electricity and electronics in the world to fail, shutting off just about everything; refrigerators, cars, televisions, computers, alarm systems, electronic games, telephones, heating and air, furnaces, hair dryers…need I go on? Hardest hit in the story is the upper middle class, whose lives seem to be controlled by microchips. At first, when everyone thinks it’s a temporary power outage, it’s almost fun, like roughing it at camp.  However when food gets scarce and clean water is at a premium, survival takes on a more serious and dangerous meaning. The first book in the series is Last Light, followed by Night Light, True Light and finally, Dawn’s Light.

Of course, after reading the series I looked at my house—and my day—with new eyes. For example, I am very fond of hot showers and toasted bagels at the start of the day. Also, have you noticed how really hard it is to put on makeup by candlelight?  Hmmm, then there’s the matter of clothes. These days, washboards and wringer dryers are pricey antiques and besides, after washing and drying them, how wrinkled could I bear to be without my iron? Having never learned to ride a bike, I would be stranded without a car, cab or bus (temperamental knees, can’t walk long or far).  I haven’t even touched on less frivolous, maybe life threatening needs.  A little less facetiously, a bit more soberly, I realized I am spoiled.

Perhaps you would like to do what I call a “chips and volts” assessment. What do you use now that you would be really hard pressed to live without?  Considering that a large portion of this world does not have the things I consider so important, I may need to work on shortening my own list.

True Light

Dawn's Light

Night LightLast Light

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