Link: Pimp my Bookcart Contest

Some webcomic is holding a Bookcart decoration contest. The only place I have ever seen decorated book carts is at UC Berkeley's library; that's where I've shot all of my book cart graffiti photos. But I guess there must be other places that this happens, as evidenced by the impressive previous winners of that contest.

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Site: Yet more Library Book Cart graffiti photos

I uploaded more library book truck graffiti photos (scroll down to the section marked February 2009 for the latest greatest). Can you find the palindrome? I knew you could.

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Site: Yet More Library Book Cart Graffiti Photos

I went to Doe Library again yesterday and I had my camera with me--with some juice in the batteries this time. I snapped photos of the re-shelving carts, the ones which have been decorated. I guess that bored library science students decorate them, but I don't know the whole story. So now the August 2008 part of my collection of library book truck graffiti photos has grown. Yes, someone painted a pirate ship onto the front of a cart. Someone drew an "S" such as you might see in an old illuminated manuscript. Someone pointed out that they were pushing books for The Man.

But I've now seen "CONS" (short for "conservation", I suppose) used as the start of "CONStantly" twice now, so I'm no longer impressed by that joke. C'mon, librarians, keep it fresh.

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Site: Library Cart Graffiti Photos

Yesterday was a good day for a few reasons, few of which will make it into the permanent record. But one good thing was a visit to Doe Library. While there, I snapped photos of a few decorated book carts. I would have snapped more, but my camera batteries ran out and I hadn't brought spares.

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Semi-Irony in some Library Mail

This came in the mail:

We're sorry, but your LINK+ request has been cancelled. Please contact your local branch library for more information.

Reason: Not on shelf.

AUTHOR: Jones, William F., 1952-
Keeping found things found : the st
CALL NO: HD30.2 .J664 2008
San Diego State Univ

It isn't as good as the previous one, but every collection of "We can't find our books about findability" notices has to start somewhere.

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Irony in a Library Catalog

I want to check the book Ambient Findability out of the UC Berkeley library. So I looked it up in the catalog:

1.     Morville, Peter.
       Ambient findability / Peter Morville.
       Sebastopol, Calif. ; Farnham : O'Reilly, 2005.

Moffitt      QA76.9.D26.M67 2005

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Book Report: Mathematical Cranks

My lip-bump had a name: pyogenic granuloma. You can Google that if you enjoy gross photos. Speaking of annoyances, what about those mathematical cranks, eh?

Back in 2006, I reported that R.S.J. Reddy sent me a copy of his book in which he failed to prove that π is approximately equal to 3.146446. Alert reader Nathan Tenny suggested that I read Underwood Dudley's book Mathematical Cranks, It took me a while to get ahold of the book. (I kept hoping to check it out from the U.C. Berkeley library system. Lately, the Math library has been closed on weekends. Which might show something about the intersection between the set of Mathematicians and the set of people with Real Jobs, but let's not dwell on that.) I finally did read it, though.

It was a fun read. I guess I already learned a fair amount about crackpots back when I lurked on Usenet, back when people used to talk on Usenet. (Usenet used to be more about discussion than about warez. I think. At least the groups I hung out on were full of discussion.) So I knew the general advice:

  • When a crank tells you his wrong theory, you might tell him he's wrong; you might keep quiet.
  • When you point out a flaw in the crank's argument, don't be surprised if they "disprove" your statement with an argument along the lines of "layler layler layler I'm not listening!"
  • Don't sic the crank on someone else; that's mean.

This book has more. It has anecdotes. It has correspondence between cranks and mathematicians who have received crankmail. It follows the development of some cranks over the years. It has stories. It has more trends to watch out for.

  • If you point out the first problem in a many-problemed "proof", the crank will figure out a way to replace that first problem with a new problem--and then claim you agree with them.
  • If you say "This 'proof' just doesn't hold together," the crank will say, "No-one can point out a specific problem with my proof."

I didn't follow all of this book. Some of the math was over my head. But most of it was pretty accessible. And you don't need to know math for the most part: my crank was pretty typical: "prove" something by declaring it true and waving your hands.

Reading through this book, I think I got away easy. I've received mail from one mathematical crank. If I worked at a university math department, more cranks would target me. Maybe that was this book's most encouraging message: it could have been worse. I could have received mail from someone who was enraged at the very notion of... of... of a Menger sponge. Or they could offer a "proof" of something in number theory. I never know how to disprove anything in number theory.

Every university should have a copy of this book in their library, for the sake of whatever junior professor gets the task of responding to crank mail and needs to look up that number of the form 6p+43 which is not a square number, this disproving some common crank theory. (I just made that up, but you get the idea.) And that library should be open on weekends. Please?

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Book Report: Rainbows End

It pays to increase your word power. I always thought that "hyperventilation" meant "breathing too fast", but really it means "breathing too fast and/or too deeply". I didn't know it was possible to breathe too deeply. And the occasional deep breath is a good way to calm down. So when the paramedic told me "Try to stay calm and stop hyperventilating", I breathed slower but deliberately kept breathing deep. That was a mistake. Last night, I had breathing problems again--started out as nothing but got worse as I took deep breaths to relax. They got better when I got up to walk around, but got worse when I sat down to try more deep breathing. Finally I got on the internet and looked up "hyperventilating", read about it on Wikipedia. I found out I'd been wrong about what it meant all these years. I didn't try to breathe deep; I felt better pretty fast.

Oh, right, I'm supposed to be telling you about Rainbows End. It is a science fiction novel by Vernor Vinge. It might be worth reading just for the in-jokes. Someone who read the book recently mentioned that he couldn't remember anything about it, so I guess I'd better leave some notes for myself: book shredding/scanning; Alice and Bob; micropayments; certificates. What's that? You want me to write something non-cryptic? OK. This book's setting is pretty interesting. It's a world in which online collaboration is pretty easy. In this world, engineer/designer folks don't really engineer/design things--they just do a really good job of describing what they want to other people who might do the real design work--or might farm it out to yet other people. But there's enough, uhm, findable expertise out in the world such that this technique works pretty well. Wearable computing is prevalent, but unfortunately most people are pretty bad with computer security; this is a bad combination. There appears to be some kind of micropayments system lurking in the background, butthe book says little about it. There are fun schemes to digitize the world's books faster than Google, Amazon, et al. would normally get around to it. There are jokes, there are many jokes. It's a fun read. Check it out.

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Site Update: More Library Handcarts

Yeah, I know you want a game report. Yesterday was BANG17, which was pretty awesome. Even if the game hadn't been awesome, it would have been a good excuse to hang out for a day with some folks who I hadn't seen in too long a time: Andrea took a break from her hectic almost-graduated grad student schedule; Lofty Dave recovered from a cold just in time; Paul Du Bois drove up from San Jose.

Plus it was good to meet some new-to-me folks. Paul's Double Fine co-worker Pete Demoreuille was introduced as "Smart Pete" and lived up to his nickname. I got wrapped in aluminum foil by The Smoking Gnu. I met Paul, the mysterious force behind the Bay Area Night Game wiki. I found out that Michael of team Taft on a Raft knows some Double Fine folks.

But I'm not going to try to write about that now. Today, I've been kind of a wreck. I didn't get much sleep Friday night, and so early Saturday I drank an excessive amount of coffee. I was doing my Buzzy the Hummingbird impression all day. Today, I went cold turkey on the sauce. I've mostly been napping. When I haven't been napping, I haven't been... effective. Like just now I opened up a big jug of orange juice to pour myself a glass, and tossed the jug cap. I didn't want to do that--I needed to re-cap the jug. What saved me from fishing the cap out of the trash? I was so spacey that my toss missed the garbage bin.

The only worthwhile thing I got done today was to prepare some photos from yesterday. These aren't the BANG 17 photos. I have a few of those, but they're not ready yet. You can look at Lofty's photos, starting with this one showing most of the team covering a Smoking Gnu with foil.

I have photos of what I did before the game: photos of book trucks from Doe Library. I now have two hand cart photos showing graffiti in languages I can't read. One in (I guess) Chinese and one in (I guess) Arabic.

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Site Update: Photos of Library Book Trucks

So far, this page of photos of library book trucks only has a few photos. But I'm setting it up anyhow. I've taken other photos of library book truck graffiti--and thrown those photos out because I didn't have a good place to put them. A few weeks back, I went to Doe Library and some of those decorated book trucks were locked up, look like maybe they were heading for the junkyard. I was regretting not keeping those photos. Didn't one of those carts have a label making a funny Sisyphus allusion? Maybe now I'd never remember.

From now on when I take goofy photos of library carts, I'll know where to keep them.

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Book Report: The Island of Lost Maps

The Island of Lost Maps is non-fiction, a book about a non-descript thief who slices rare maps out of old books in libraries. It was kind of a non-descript book. I can't remember much of it. I remember that I enjoyed reading it. But now if you asked me to pick this book out of a line-up of other books, I'm not sure I could.

If you like non-fiction, I guess that this would be a good book for a long bus ride: fun and easy. If you don't remember it later, that's probably OK.

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Book Report: BAE05: Andrea Barrett's "The Sea of Information"

Early Saturday morning, my friend Tom Lester drove me to the Emeryville Amtrak station from Berkeley. He pointed out the bakery called Sweet Adeline, and said that they had good cookies. My memories of the next 33 hours are kind of hazy. There was a train ride. Then there was about 20 hours sitting in a hotel room in Sacramento, watching people answer phones, answering a phone, and getting progressively twitchier if five minutes passed without hearing a phone ring. Then there was a party. Then there was another train ride, and I was back in Emeryville. Then I was in Berkeley, on a pleasantly cool Sunday afternoon, at Sweet Adeline, eating ginger snaps and drinking cold milk. It seemed to me that this was the best snack I had ever had in my entire life, but you might not want to trust that thought, though--my judgement was pretty impaired by that point.

But you can trust this book report. I wrote it ahead of time, before the weekend, back when I could still think straight:

I read the compilation The Best American Essays 2005. I picked it up because it contained the essay "The Sea of Information" by Andrea Barrett. She writes books that are weighty with historical research. Surely, I hoped, an essay by her about "The Sea of Information" would shed insight into her research methods, perhaps give hints about how certain search-oriented companies could help her to research/write novels better faster stronger.

But it turns out that her research methods are not so search-y, but are more browse-y. She's not looking for particular facts. She follows chains of books and ideas. One leads to the next.

About halfway through the essay, you realize that she's answering the cliche question: "Where do you get your ideas?" She reads an old pamphlet about tuberculosis treatment; she looks at photos of an old sugar factory; she looks for quirks of language, the hints they give of another time's way of thinking.

She got a fellowship to work at the New York Public Library. She had an office. She could request more books, someone would bring more books. She read. She read more. One day into her stint in the fellowship at the New York Public Library was 9/11 2001.

Why was I reading all this? Why do all this work, especially when I wasn't writing and didn't know if, when I started again, I'd find a way to use any of it? And especially when I might more usefully have been out in the world, helping someone, fixing something: cleaning up the rubble or raising money or aiding the families of the dead. Instead I read, which is what I do.

This was not the essay I expected to read. It was darker, more gnarly. And though I didn't find the answers I wanted, I did find out how Andrea Barrett gets her ideas. It ain't easy. I don't think I can help her.

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Book Report: Nightwork

It's a book about MIT pranks, with photos. Including some color photos. It was nice. Web sites can be more comprehensive, but are not so easy to read on the streetcar. Thus, I was glad to read this book.

I returned this book to the UC Berkeley library yesterday. I tried to break into a few UC Berkeley buildings yesterday. You might think that was a tribute to the spirit expressed in Nightwork. But actually I was just posting flyers about technical writing internships at work. And in the end, I didn't break into any buildings, just got into those that were left unlocked. Hey, UC Berkeley, they caught the Unabomber, maybe you can start leaving Cory Hall unlocked on Saturdays now, eh? Please?

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Book Report: Rex Libris #1 "I, Librarian"

Oh, "Rex Libris" is a a comic book about a librarian, this sounds interesting. Oh, he's a time-traveling librarian. Oh dear. He's a time-traveling librarian who can withstand a vacuum and has superpowers and... yawn. Whatever.

I think I'll go re-read Jason Shiga's Bookhunter. Now there's a good comic about fanciful high-adventure library hijinx.

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Jason Shiga's site has erupted from inactivity to interactivity. He makes these wonderful interactive comic books, some of which he has translated to web-o-matic form.

Because this blog is more about books than about web stuff, I should point out the delightful not-interactive-but-nevertheless-fun comic Bookhunter. It was awesome!

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Practical Physics

Outside the San Francisco main library, there is a bin where one may return borrowed things. I walked up to it, ready to return a few books. A lady was already there, looking inside, noticing something amiss.

She said that the bin was too full to put anything else in. I thought Oh well, guess I'll bring these books around again when I pass by this evening and got ready to turn around. But she wasn't turning around. She kept looking at the bin. Maybe she didn't go past a library that often. Maybe her stuff was due today. Whatever. Not my problem. Then I noticed that one of the things she was carrying was a My Neighbor Totoro DVD. Hmm, was she the kind of awesome lady that introduces her kids to Totoro? Maybe I should help her out. I looked inside the bin.

The door of the bin was a sort of counterweighted see-saw. The door swung down, you could put books on it. When you let the door swing back up/closed, the books would slide down the see-saw into the holding area. But the holding area was mostly full. With the door open, you couldn't reach the holding area, but there was a grating through which you could see it. Books were piled up in the middle--but there was room at the sides. However, the pile was high enough such that the see-saw couldn't swing all the way. Thus, books might not fall down into the holding area. There was already one book stuck on the see-saw.

So I shifted the book to the side. I swung the see-saw up and down, got its rhythm. Kept swinging, reached inside, twisted the book, kept swinging--and the book slipped down into the holding area, going along the side, away from the high/full part of the pile.

I had this thing figured out. I turned to the lady and said, "Give me--"

And then the nice librarian lady walked up and said, "Oh, is it full? I can take those for you." And for an instant, I was disappointed. Getting books into the overfilled bin was a fun game! Why was she spoiling my game?

But I got over it, and handed over my books. And I thanked the nice librarian.

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Summer Reading

For Fourth of July weekend, the U.C. Berkeley libraries are closed. Nevertheless, they recalled the book I was reading. I'm not sure how that works. In theory, I was returning the book because someone else had requested it. But the library won't be open for a few days, so that person won't have any way to check the book out.

Thus, I gave back White Mughals I wasn't finished with it.

I returned all of the books I had checked out from the U.C. Berkeley library. The BART train workers are threatening to strike, so it could be a hassle getting over to Berkeley to return those books later.

I checked some books out of the San Francisco library instead. Its books tend to be a bit less serious than those of UCB. I guess I've switched over to my light summer reading.

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Happy National Library Week

Today there was art in the central stairway/atrium area of Doe Library: dozens of books suspended in air by wires. Meanwhile, there's a book I want which is currently unavailable because it's in the hands of the "cataloging" department. I tried reading the titles of the suspended books to see if my desideratum was amongst them, but I couldn't tell.

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At the front of this library book, it says

In compliance with current copyright law, U.C. Library Bindery produced this replacement volume on paper that meets the ANSI Standard Z39.48.1984 to replace the irreparably deteriorated original.


The book is Jane Eyre. (Yes, I am just now getting around to reading Jane Eyre. I enjoyed it.) As of 1994, it was already more than 100 years old. I do not think it was protected by copyright law. So why mention that this copy was made in compliance with copyright law? Maybe that's just standard boilerplate that the Library puts at the front of all of its re-print jobs.

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Ask Not For Whom the Klaxon Peals

As I stepped up to the library exit, the stolen-book alarm sounded.

I stepped back from the door and waited for some nice librarian to wave to me, to tell me to open up my backpack.

But no nice librarian waved to me. After a few seconds, I stepped up to the exit again, setting off the alarm again.

I stepped outside.

I had just checked out Kevin Mitnick's Art of Deception, a book about cracking security systems.

I kept walking, thinking, M_____ D_________, "master hacker," rides again! I just totally evaded that alarm. That was kind of funny.

Then I thought, No, they let me go. That alarm just told the FBI to commence tracking. That was less funny.

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