Friday, January 30, 2009

Fear the Donkey!

Park View Middle School is hosting a fundraiser this evening, featuring this group. Yes, donkeyball is coming to Mukwonago. Tonight the community-based Blazin Burros will face off against a group of Mukwonago school administrators. The winner will take on the winner of a game between the 7th and 8th grade teachers at Park View.

The community team features a number of familiar faces from around Mukwonago, Carol Spaeth Bauer of The Chief, everybody's favorite dentist, Dr. Svang, Katie Pierce of Espresso Love and many others. Oh... and me. I'm not sure if I should feel honored that I was asked after being part of the Mukwonago for only 4 months or taken advantage of because
I was too new to say no. I'm going to go with honored.

It should be fun, and its for a good cause-- new technology for the middle school. I'm sure there will be pictures to post after the event, which is a sell out!

The donkeys don't look that fearsome. Do they?

Friday's List: Favorite Authors

Who doesn't like a Top Ten List? Nobody, that's who. If David Letterman has proven anything, it's that Top Ten Lists are a perrennial favorite. So, Friday will be the Library's Top Ten List day. And since it is a Library list, we'll start with authors.

These are folks that have written sufficient quantities of material that they are distinguished not only by the quality of their work, but also the quantity. Thus, Harper Lee is not included even though To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books.

A quick glance at the list will clearly indicate my inclination towards science fiction and fantasy novels, with a heavy dose of humor preferred... a bias begun very early in my life, and one which remains to this day. I am branching out into less genre specific authors, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and John Updike for example, but at this point they have won my respect and interest, but they have not topped my list for sheer reading enjoyment.

My Top Ten Favorite Authors:

10. Joseph J. Ellis. The one non-fiction author on my list, I find Ellis to be the best historian writing today. He makes his historical narration both fascinating and informative and he presents his subjects as he finds them, brilliance, warts and all.

9. J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are both brilliantly done, though the structure of TLotR is a bit odd by today's standards. He would likely be higher except that his output is smaller compared to others on this list and his other works, The Silmarillion for example, are a bit heavy and far less engaging. If you have a chance to visit the Marquette University Archives to view some of the original Tolkien manuscripts, it is well worth your time-- call ahead, though, they won't pull them out on a whim.

8. Dr. Seuss. Perhaps the best poet ever and certainly my favoirte. He makes verse fun and engaging, and the stories he tells are timeless and evocative. He has hooked thousands (millions?) of kids on the joys of reading and the power of words and images.

7. Douglas Adams. As with Tolkien, he would be higher on this list except that his notorious writer's block and untimely death limited his output of material. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a mind blowing experience for me and the Dirk Gently novels resonate more with each reading.

6. Orson Scott Card. Ten years ago he would have been higher on this list, but some of his recent works are too colored by his religious and political views for my liking. Regardless, the Ender series alone would likely get him into my top 10, and many of his other books are nearly as good.

5. Harlan Ellison. The short story maestro. In many ways a great short story is harder to write than a great novel but great short stories are all Ellison writes. His work is darker than my general inclination, but a little darkness from time to time is a good balance. For a real treat, find an audiobook of some of Ellison's stories that are read by Ellison himself-- he is also a terrific narrator. This biography by Isaac Asimov is a pretty good summary of the Ellison experience, I think.

4. Stephen King. A victim of his own success, in some ways-- King has written so much that the sheer volume of his work seems to naturally categorize him as prolific, but not all that good. Quantity over quality. Yet while there are some definite clunkers and dogs in his enormous bibliography, at the top of his form he is one of the best storytellers ever. His works frequently stay with me for days after I've finished them, popping up at odd times or in strange connections to other events and activities.

3. Ray Bradbury. Much like Ellison, Bradbury's specialty is the short story, though my favorite of his works is the novel Dandelion Wine. Bradbury is more gentle than Ellison, yet his work still has power and poignancy aplenty. For me, Bradbury's writings are a distillation of both the wonder and the harshness of childhood and growing up.

2. Stephen R. Donaldson. If there is a true heir to the Tolkien "throne" I would say that it must be Donaldson. His Thomas Covenant series takes the structure of The Lord of the Rings and transforms it into something greater and richer. His Gap books are some of the best science fiction stories I have ever read. Plus, he has an enormous vocabulary. I consider myself to have a pretty darn large vocabulary, but I am constantly running across words in Donaldson's books that I have to look up. So, his books are educational, too!

1. Terry Pratchett. Talented, ironic, prolific and an absolute hoot to read. Who could ask for anything more? Many of the phrases he turns make me laugh out loud, yet the heart of the story is usually warm and deeply considered. For a taste, read this transcript of a speech Pratchett recently made to the Alzheimer's Research Trust Foundation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Things They Did Not Teach Me in Library School #2

I made my first foray into listing all the Things they did not teach me in library school (ttdntmils), here.

So, things they did not teach me in library school, #2:

The Americans with Disabilities Act Makes TTDNTMiLS #1 really hard

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and subsequent revisions, was and is in many ways a groundbreaking piece of legislation that makes life much, much easier and fulfilling for people in wheelchairs, with walkers or with other physical limitations due to illness, injury or birth circumstances. But it does make configuring a public building much more challenging, a fact that was brought into sharp focus for me after our new toilet paper dispensers arrived.

Why, you may ask? Well, here's why (click on the picture to see a larger, clearer image):
As you can see, the dispenser must be either below or above the grab bar mounted on the side wall of the stall. If you mount it below the bar, it must be at least 19 inches off the floor, must still provide access to the grab bar (at least one inch of clearance), and can't be more than 36 inches from the back wall. Plus, it is really difficult to reach because it is too low.

If you mount it above the bar, it must be mounted at least four inches above the bar and it is nearly at eye level and is impossible to miss. Of the two options, we decided that above the bar was preferable, but these types of both practical and aesthetic considerations were never, ever mentioned in library school.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One Stop Shopping?

I've written before about the all around usefulness and utility of the public library. We have materials on an incredibly wide variety of topics, staff that are trained in finding what you need and helping you with new ideas and technologies, and online access to still more... but I have to admit I would not recommend having your baby here.

But that's what happened at the Denver Public Library yesterday. A healthy, baby girl. Do you suppose the mother was going to the library to get a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting or something similar?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Things They Did Not Teach Me In Library School, #1

There is inevitably a problem, or at least an annoyance, when theory fails to connect with reality. Or is insufficient to fully accomodate reality. Thus, though education is wonderful and I enjoy learning tremendously, there is always a disconnect between what I was told/learned in school and how those things actually apply, or don't apply, in real life.

If I had any doubt about this, my current position as Library Director here at the Mukwonago Community Library has put those doubts to rest fully and unequivocably. There are so many things I am dealing with that weren't mentioned, much less covered, in library school, that this is likely to be a running item for... well, for a long time to come.

So, things they did not teach me in library school, #1:

The Library Director is responsible for the toilet paper dispensers.

The logic goes as follows: as the Library Director, you are responsible for the building. The bathrooms are part of the building, so therefore you are responsible for the bathrooms. The toilet paper dispensers are part of the bathroom, which is part of the building, so therefore you are responsible for the toilet paper dispensers. I can confidently state that toilet paper dispensers were never mentioned in library school (well, at least not in the actual coursework). But last week I spent some time looking at various dispensers, trying to weigh their pros and cons and also their impact on the budget.

They arrived Friday and were installed yesterday. They rawk! Well, as much as toilet paper dispensers can rawk. At a minimum, they are much nicer than the old ones, which were rather dilapidated.

If You Couldn't Attend the Inaugural in Person...

Check out this amazing gigapan pic of the event. Stunning-- zoom in and you can clearly discern the color of people's scarves and the expressions on their faces. It was created out of 220 separate photos and is 1,474 megapixels in size.

We live in an amazing age, we really do.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Bad Way to Wake Up

A rabid bat was captured in Racine after landing on, waking up, and then biting
a resident, according to city health officials.

Yikes--that is not the way to start your day. What do you think is worse-- waking up with the head of your prize horse in bed with, ala The Godfather, or waking up to find a bat in bed with you and a nice bite for your trouble?

I think the longterm effects of the horse head are probably worse, but I think the immediate "Ayyurrghhh!" factor is greater with the bat.

Should you feel the need to relive the iconic scene from The Godfather, you can now purchase a horsehead pillow:

It retails for $45 and is available from the quirky Kropserkel company. Kropserkel also manufactures gothic armor, Nazgul armor (ala, The Lord of the Rings), nine-foot wide fake UFOs, and replicas of costumes from a wide variety of action/adventure movies.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Quote for the Day

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware."
-- Martin Buber

An intriguing thought. Kinda makes you want to take a journey, doesn't it?

Here's a follow up thought: Life's a journey, not a destination.

Logically, then, life has secret destinations of which we are all unaware. But life isn't a destination... so...

Yikes, now my head hurts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fun With the MPPA

The Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA, is the group that rates all of the films that go into theaters, giving them the G, PG, PG13, R or NC17 tags. Within the last 10 years or so, they have also started to add little narratives to the ratings, presumably to assist potential viewers in deciding if a particular movie is appropriate for themselves or their children. Generally, the tag is something along the lines of: Rated R, for Sexual Content, Nudity and Violence or Rated PG-13 for violent sequences and some sensuality.

Pretty self-explanatory, and possibly even helpful. But sometimes the MPAA ratings get a little silly. For example, the movie Deep Blue Sea, about a group of scientists that get attacked by SMART sharks has the following ratings tag: Rated R for graphic shark attacks, and for language. Graphic shark attacks, you say? What sort of graphics? 3-D? Line-art? Geometric?

And language. Oh dear, there's language in the movie. I do so prefer movies with no language at all-- just images and possibly some symbols. Don't you?

Of course, I realize they mean really bloody, visually intense shark attacks and bad language, containing lots of profanity. But that's not really what the tagline says, with the result being rather humorous.

Here are a few others that I got a kick out of, found puzzling, or thought were really stupid:
  • Rated PG for suggestive content, language and some rude behavior. Suggestive content. Suggestive of what? Some rude behavior. Rude by who's standards? And, the nearly ubiquitous language. I get the feeling that there would be way more G and PG movies if it weren't for our troublesome fixation on language. Stop using language people!
  • Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material. Oh no! Now we have pervasive language. It's everywhere! Good grief, can't these writers craft scripts without using so much language. And drug material. What does that mean-- the material drugs are made from? I suppose it means that portions of the movie contain material referring to drugs, but its not really clear, is it?
  • Rated PG-13 for action/adventure violence. Action/adventure violence? As opposed to all the non-action violence we all experience?
  • Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images. So, what to make of this? Now there are intense sequences of action/adventure violence-- presumably worse than just the regular old action/adventure violence in the previous rating. Yet they are both PG-13. In fact, they are both Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The first rating is for Curse of the Black Pearl (Pirates 1) and the second for At World's End (Pirates 3). And then there's some frightening images. Frightening how and to whom? My son likes snakes and gets a kick out of watching them on television or in movies. My daughter hates snakes and covers her eyes whenever one shows up onscreen. Are shots of snakes "frightening images"?
  • Rated PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images. Come on, now. So, this time we have adventure violence but no action? This is for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. Yeah, no action violence in that movie. And what's the difference between Indiana Jones' scary images and the Pirates' frightening images? Is the MPAA just trying to use their thesaurus whenever possible?
  • Rated PG-13 for irreverent humor throughout. Irreverent humor? That's one of my favorite kinds, but why exactly should kids under the age of 13 not be exposed to it? Honestly, this is one of the dumbest labels I've come across. Bill Cosby's humor is just as irreverent as Richard Prior's or Chris Rock's, but I sure wouldn't let a ten-year-old watch most Prior or Rock routines. Yet, I don't think there'd be a problem with him or her watching Cosby's irreverent humor. Oh, and for the record, this rating was given to The Simpsons' Movie.
Well, enough for now. Found any really goofy, odd or completely incomprehensible MPAA ratings? Share them in the comments section!

A Poem for the Day

Wisconsin Poem

It's winter in Wisconsin
And the gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour
At twenty-five below.
Oh, how I love Wisconsin
When the snow's up to your butt
You take a breath of winter
And your nose gets frozen shut.
Yes, the weather here is wonderful
So I guess I'll hang around
I could never leave Wisconsin
'Cause I'm frozen to the ground!

-- Thanks to Darlene Foat for passing this terribly appropriate poem to me on this cold, cold, snowy January day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Paws to Read

The very popular Paws to Read program is back in 2009, with Cinnamon the Afghan added to our roster of pups, Steinway, BJ, Scooby and Navarre. These therapy dogs are available for children and adults to read to-- they are attentive and listen very well. Steinway the Great Dane will be here this Saturday at noon, and next week BJ and Cinnamon will both be at the Library (6 pm on Wednesday and Thursday respectively).

A full-listing of the Paws to Read visits, along with the other activities and programs here at the Library, is available on our online calendar: Come check us out!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rant or Rave: Guitar Hero

Another rave. I guess I don't do a lot of ranting. I s'pose I should change the tag line, but Rave and Rave just doesn't really have the same ring to it. Well, for now it will do, but I do seem to prefer writing about things I like, rather than ripping on things I don't.

At any rate: Guitar Hero is all the rage with the various video game consoles-- or platforms as they are referred to in the "literature". Our family got Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero Legends of Rock for Wii for Christmas, and I understand the appeal now. The games are very addicting. And also very challenging.

Simple in concept, hit the right color button with one hand while hitting the "strum" bar at the correct time with the other, the game allows us all to live out the fantasy of being a rock star. You can play classic rock tunes like Smoke on the Water and Crazy Train or modern day hits from bands like Foo Fighters and The Killers. And you can do it as a variety of prepackaged avatars or as ones that you create for yourself.

Guitar Hero World Tour adds the ability to play guitar and bass as part of a band (and the drums and singing if you buy the full "band bundle") which is fun. My son and daughter and I have a blast with one of them playing guitar while I play bass-- or occasionally vice-versa if I can talk them into playing the bass parts (generally easier and not quite as much fun). I have also tried the drums for World Tour and after a fairly steep learning curve, found them to quite enjoyable as well.

The only downsides to guitar hero are the amount of time you may spend on the games. It is easy to start a gig on the career play option and suddenly a half-hour or more of your life has evaporated. Oh, and the fact that when I hear a song that I've "played" on Guitar Hero now, I sometimes find myself thinking about how to "play" the notes on my own small, fake guitar.

In related news, the Library will soon be offering Wii, PSP3 and Xbox 360 games for check out. Details to follow.

Rawk on!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Still More Wii Play

With the holiday break winding down, the Library began the New Year with another round of Wii Play. Guitar Hero, Carnival Games, Boxing, Raving Rabbids and De Blob were all rampaging across the walls in the community room. The participants had a great time-- but then who wouldn't when you are jamming out to the Foo Fighters, or playing mini-golf with pools of lava or shooting plungers at crazed rabbits?

There's another session on Friday, February 20, so make plans

to join us-- all ages are welcome!