s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: March 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Logic, personified

OR is the judge. She examines her options, weighs them, and makes her choice — one, the other, or both.

NOR is the indecisive dreamer. He can't bear to commit to choosing A or B so, in the end, he chooses neither.

XNOR is the perfectionist. She can see only all or nothing and misses the nuances in between.

NOT is the soldier. He defines who he is by who he is not. (In the end, it doesn't even matter which side he picks, so long as he knows who his enemy is.)

NAND is the vapid socialite. She seems to be all things to all people but, in the end, lacks a solid core.

AND is the resolver. He sees how to bring disparate groups together.

XOR is the solitary hermit. Alone and self-sufficient, he chooses one thing at a time, exactly sufficient to his needs.

(for Gromit)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Utah Mormon stereotypes examined: #1 There's no place like home

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to get to know a couple in my ward better when I had lunch at their house. The husband asked me what I thought of Maine (they being fairly new to the area, themselves) and I mentioned that I'd be happier when it got warmer again and that I did miss my family back in Utah.

He then made some patronizing comment about how Mormon girls can't stand to leave Utah or live very far away.

I didn't have a good retort at the time, but it struck me later what a bizarre thing it was to say.

Utah Mormon stereotype #1: Utah Mormons (or Utah Mormon women) can't stand to leave Utah and/or miss Utah if they do leave.

Actually, this may be often true, but that's only because many people, in general, like living where they grew up or living near family. I know Bostonians who don't want to leave Boston and southerners who are glad to be back in the south and Californians who miss California. It's not a Utah thing and it's not a Mormon thing. (Oh, and the grand irony? I later found out that this couple plans to settle in Texas eventually because — wait for it — his parents live there.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

C is for Easter Cow

This is really a post about my roommate's family, but she doesn't have a blog and the story needs to be told.

My roommate's dad seems very quiet and unassuming, but he has a wry sense of humor. Growing up, he always told his kids that it was the Easter Cow that brought candy at Easter time.

As was inevitable, my roommate one day was over at a friend's house around Easter and discovered—horrors!—that their family believed in something called an Easter Bunny.

Very upset, she went home and explained the whole distressing situation to her father, who assured her that it was, indeed, an Easter Cow and not an Easter Bunny. And a few of days later, he took her out to the back porch to show her a (small) pile of manure with a couple of hard-boiled Easter eggs in it. Proof indeed that the Easter Cow was afoot*. Happy Easter!
*Or possibly "ahoof." Also, my roomie's dad used to say "refrigigator" instead of "refrigerator," just to see if his kids would pick it up. To this day she sometimes has to think before she says the word.

Friday, March 21, 2008

An Open Letter to the DMV

Dear Maine DMV,

When I went to trade in my Illinois license this morning, the woman who processed my information decided, without consulting me, that my hair was BRN. While I have many close, personal friends with BRN hair, I have always considered my hair BLD and am not really psychologically ready to make the switch to BRNette. I can see how my hair could reasonably be judged light BRN, but it was very BLD when I was younger. (Also, my hair streaks in the sun, which is characteristic of BLDes but not of BRNettes.) In fact, it is entirely natural for BLD hair to darken as one ages; pretty much every woman with hair significantly lighter than mine has an artifical color (with the exception of towheads). This means that if my hair is to be considered BRN, you've basically created an entirely artificial hair color category. [One wonders, though, what the DMV does with regard to folks who have, say, purple hair. Does a "PPL" code exist?]

I am, however, willing to forgive this oversight, as well as the fact that said DMV employee tried to surreptitiously add an extra random letter at the end of my name, not to mention the fact that I unexpectedly had to go to a completely different office in another town to get my Maine license plates, in addition to the fact that this DMV was the absolutely worst signed DMV I have ever seen in my life. (Seriously. I knew I was on the right street and I thought I was just not seeing it. Turns out that I needed to turn off the main road into a mall parking lot, then sneak back around to the loading dock of a grocery store, then drive a few more hundred feet, then finally see the sign for the DMV. Yeah. I was really going to find that without stopping to ask for directions.)

The reason I am willing to be so magnanimous is that my Illinois drivers' license picture was pretty much the worst picture I have ever had, due to a mistimed camera flash, a bad hair day, and an otherwise stressful visit. You, on the other hand, gave me ample warning for the flash, took two (2) pictures and then let me pick which one I liked better. There is hope for humanity, yet.



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The human node

I recently remarked to a colleague that I tend to be the "node" in a lot of relationships, in the sense that I pass information back and forth between people.

This makes sense in terms of my relationship with Melyngoch: She doesn't have the time or the technological ability to keep up on the whereabouts of all of her friends, nor does she have the time to write to everyone, so it makes sense that she'd need someone to keep her apprised of what's going on with all of our friends and to broadcast her news, as well.

However, I take this role in other situations, as well. I pass news between friends who are perfectly capable of directly contacting each other, but who don't always get around to it very often. I even pass a lot of information between my brother and my mom — and they still live in the same house!

Generally speaking, I have a brain that likes systems and mapping, and apparently that includes mapping information about people and systematically informing others of their current states.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Z is for Zebra

A few years ago, Melyngoch and I found ourselves in at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. (It was also on this trip that I first met my friends Peter and Becca, so there are fond memories all around.) Anyway, while we were at the National Zoo, we got a chance to look at some zebras. There was a sign on the zebra enclosure that explained that male zebras are highly territorial — since they can't go roaming about to find a lady zebra, their mating strategy is to entice the females to come to them.

Melyngoch said: "You know, that's a lot like college boys."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cat. & Reference: A day in the life

On Friday, the head of our acquisitions department came by with a special request for me.

"I have a gift book that's going to be a puzzle for you . . . unless, of course, you read Russian," she chuckled.

"No, I do."

"Oh. Well then, here's the book."

"Ah, OK. It's a book about the history of art in Ukraine, but it's not in Russian, it's in Ukrainian."

"Can you still catalog it?"


(I have the sense that one of the other staff members is really intimidated by me, so I've been trying really hard to be nice and friendly to her . . . and then I bust out my reading knowledge of the entire East Slavic language sub-family. I think I just took one step forward and a couple of steps back.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Database Review: The Ethnologue

What it is: The Ethnologue is a compilation of information about almost 7,000 languages. It includes information about the relationship between various languages, the number of speakers of each language (or the date the language became extinct), and the countries in which those speakers reside.

How to use it: Start with a language and find out what family it belongs to, how many people speak it (1st and 2nd language speakers), and where it's spoken. Start with a country and find out what languages are spoken there and by how many people. Start with a language family and identify all of the subfamilies and languages in it. (You can also find information about the state of Bible translations in most of the languages since the site was started by a group of Bible translators.)

For example, I was once working on a project where we had to digitize all of the bib records in a collection, except for the ones in Indo-Iranian languages. The problem? We didn't know what languages were considered Indo-Iranian. So we pulled up that subfamily in the ethnologue and made a list of the languages we could skip.

I've also used the site to figure out how closely related Russian and Ukrainian are, and where Swedish is spoken outside of Sweden.

Pros and Cons: First, some minor quibbles. The Ethnologue assigns a 3-letter code to every language, but it's not the same set of codes assigned by ISO 639. This shouldn't affect the average person on the street, but for librarians, it means that the three letter language code you assign in a MARC record isn't the same as the codes used by the Ethnologue, which is sort of a pain.

Another issue is that linguists don't all agree on the assignment of languages to families and subfamilies, so any one presentation is going to meet with disagreement by someone, somewhere.

The biggest issue is that the Ethnologue folks don't regularly update the information presented in the website, which means that some information, such as populations of various countries or the number of people who speak a given language, is woefully out of date. Basically, it's a good place to get a general overview of a language and its relationship to other languages (and almost the only place to get such information about all the languages in the world), but if you want more current information and scholarship, try another source.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cat. & Reference: Mormon humorists, sharpen your pencils!

The Library of Congress makes weekly announcements about updates to the official thesaurus of Library of Congress Subject Headings. Usually these updates involve the addition of new authorized headings, although they may involve changes in form or, rarely, deletions.

As of February 13, "Mormon wit and humor" is a newly authorized subject heading, right there between "Moomins (Fictitious characters)" and "Mortes River (Mato Grosso, Brazil)." (Other honorable mentions include "Captive snails," "Drinking cups in the Bible" and "Puppet plays, Danish.")

Yes, we funny Mormons are taking our rightful place alongside purveyors of "Catholic wit and humor" and "Jewish wit and humor." (And we're apparently funnier — or at least producing more funny literary works — than the Amish, Anabaptists, Buddhists, Confucianists, Disciples of Christ, Druids, Episcopalians, Hindus, Jains, Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists, Moravians, Muslims, Neopagans, Pagans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Protestants, Puritans, Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists, Shakers, Shintos, Swedenborgians, Taoists, or Zoroastrians.)

However, this subject heading is brand new, so it hasn't yet been applied to any books. (It could be retroactively applied to the older books whose existence nudged the LoC into creating the heading in the first place, but retrospective authority work like this is pretty low on the list of most library's priorities. Which is not to say that I didn't spend 8 freaking hours this week searching for bib records with the subject heading "French Canadians--United States" to see if they warranted the addition of the subject heading "Franco-Americans," but that's a bit of a special case.) Anyway, the point is, now that this subject heading is out there, waiting eagerly to be applied by some cataloger, you, the Mormon humorist reading this, need to hop to it and write some books that fit the bill!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Things I will not do this month:

Buy two tanks of gas. (Hopefully I won't have to fill up at all.)
Buy new wiper blades.
Buy a new space heater.
Ride the T.
Go to a museum.
Buy plane tickets.
Make more than the minimum payments on my student loans. (I consolidated a few of them last month, so my minimum payments are a lot lower this month, anyway.)

Hopefully, these measures will mean that I won't spend more than I earn this month. (Of course, in the next few months, I still have to make a hotel reservation, buy another set of plane tickets, put down a security deposit on a new apartment, and pay for memberships in a couple of professional associations. So, we'll see.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Cat. & Reference: Serials vs. Monographs: real-world application

Last July, Esquire magazine published an issue which included a short story by Stephen King. (It's the issue that had Angelina Jolie on the cover, fyi.) Since our special collections department has a vested interest in collecting materials related to Stephen King (Kingiana?), they acquired an extra copy of that issue. And now they want me to catalog it. The catch? They want me to catalog just the short story, not the issue as a whole.

It's perfectly possible to catalog a item which isn't a separate physical unit; it's called "analytic" cataloging. It just isn't very common because librarians have barely enough time to catalog all of the books and magazines that come in without cataloging each article or chapter individually. Plus, databases like LexisNexis contain the full text of the articles in many of the magazines we acquire, even if they don't use the same system of subject headings, etc. However, the special circumstances in this case warrant creating an individual library catalog record, just for this article.

So, is it a monograph or a serial? The "parent unit," Esquire, is definitely a serial, but what about one article in one issue? Is it a serial because it's part of a larger unit that's a serial? Or is it a monograph because it stands alone?

(If there are any librarians or library science students among my readers, please wait a couple of days to answer so that the civillians can take a crack at the question.)