Discomfort

lichtensteinI haven’t felt this uncomfortable in quite a while.

It’s the day after the presidential election. My colleagues are walking around obviously grieving, holding each other in hallways as if they are mourning the passing of a dear friend. Many of them look dangerously close to tears.

While I did not vote for the winner, most don’t know that, as I don’t make a habit of broadcasting my choice. However, it is widely known that I lean more towards a conservative point of view. I am catching sidelong glances that are full of thinly-veiled dislike. I can feel the disgust and the disapproval.

Meanwhile, those that share my conservative bent have been coming into my office, shutting the door, and talking about the election. It seems that, in this atmosphere, these conversations must be clandestine.

The small child in me that wants to be liked by everyone cringes from this moue of distaste whenever I draw near. I didn’t vote for him, either! On the other hand, the adult (who is trying not to feel offended by all of this) is annoyed by the behavior, by the assumption that everyone thinks as they do, by the certainty of the correctness of their beliefs.

Academia is infamous for its liberal leanings. I feel that most acutely, today.

It’s interesting that a group that is intent on creating a community where everyone feels welcome seems to have lost that passion today. I most definitely do not feel welcome.

 

(Credit: Photo: Centre Pompidou)

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No coups.

We have a fairly significant immigrant population here in Rochester, many of whom hail from areas of the world that are plagued by war. They have come to the United States for sanctuary, for a new start, for a better life. Their previous experience taints their world view, and every now and then you get a glimpse of their challenges in meshing their old life with their new one.

This hit home for me in the last presidential election, which was not as contested (or, let’s face it, downright weird) as the current race, but was the usual flavor of election discord. I watched them as they watched the election results, and as their wonder increased as they realized that there would be a winner, and the losers would perhaps grumble, but would accept the winner as the President.

There would be no coups d’etat. There would be no tanks in the streets. People would not be rounded up and never heard from again.

The keys to the White House would change hands (or not, in the case of the last election) and that would be the end of it.

We take for granted this peaceful transition from one administration to another. We vote and we hope that our candidate wins, but we accept if the ‘other guy’ wins instead. The elected candidate becomes Our President, for good or for bad. We pray that whomever wins will do a good job, but we accept the results.

In the turmoil of an election like this one, it’s easy to forget that this country does this one right. It takes the wonder of an immigrant to shine a light on the process, to remind us that we live in a country reserves the right to disagree, but will abide. As The Bloggess reminded us, It’s Going To Be Okay.

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Stendhal Syndrome

There is a new program here at MPOW called MindFuel. Various and sundry get up and talk for 5-10 minutes on a topic that’s interesting and a little off the beaten path. I was the speaker this morning, and here’s my talk: 2016-09-23-11-31-09

There is an unusual psychological disorder called Stendahl Syndrome.

When exposed to concentrated works of art, affected individuals experience a wide range of symptoms including physical and emotional anxiety, feelings of confusion and disorientation, nausea, dissociative episodes, temporary amnesia, paranoia, and – in extreme cases – hallucinations and temporary ‘madness’. The syndrome has also been applied to other situations where individuals feel totally overwhelmed in the presence of what they perceive to be immense beauty (such as something in the natural world like a beautiful sunset). The effects are relatively short-lived and do not seem to require medical intervention.

The condition was named after the 19th century French author Henri-Marie Beyle better known by his penname ‘Stendhal’ – who at the age of 34 years (in 1817) described in detail* his negative experiences of viewing the Florentine art of the Italian Renaissance – and hence it’s alternative name as Florence Syndrome.

Since Stendhal’s published account, there have been hundreds of cases of people experiencing similar effects – particularly at the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence – and had often been referred to as the ‘Tourist’s Disease’. It wasn’t until 1979 that the condition was given the name Stendhal Syndrome by the Italian psychiatrist Dr. Graziella Magherini (who at the time was the chief of psychiatry at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova Hospital). She began to observe that many tourists visiting Florence appeared to be overcome with a range of symptoms including temporary panic attacks to seeming bouts madness lasting two or three days.

I can’t say that I was affected by panic attacks or bouts of madness, but I was certainly affected by the incredible art in Florence. We had the privilege of spending a week in Tuscany last month, and made visits to Florence and its amazing art three times during the course of the week. We saw the astonishing Duomo – the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – and its related Baptistery. In the earlier days of the Catholic Church, you weren’t allowed to enter the cathedral if you hadn’t been baptized. The building was for the express purpose of baptism, and once you were baptized, you left through a magnificent pair of doors, directly facing the doors of the cathedral. The sheer beauty of the ceiling of the baptistery brought my friend and me to tears.

The art within the Duomo was awe-inspiring. The dome itself is a fresco of the Last Judgement by Giorgio Vasari, though it paled in comparison to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, which we had seen the week before. The building is filled with works of art: marble statues and paintings by Renaissance artists like Donatello – who designed one of the cathedral’s 44 stained glass windows.

Another day we visited the Uffizi Gallery. You know those amazing works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli? They’re at the Uffizi. The Birth of Venus? There. You begin to get the sense of the power and influence of the de Medici family when you tour these museums.

Finally, we visited the Accademia Gallery, which most famously claims arguably the most beautiful piece of sculpture ever released from a piece of marble, Michelangelo’s David. It truly is astonishing, and breathtaking in its detail. Perhaps the most haunting of the pieces are four sculptures by Michelangelo called The Prisoners. These are sculpted in such a way as to imply that the marble itself is holding the figures captive, and the figures are trying to break free of the marble. They’re incredible. In addition to the magnificent sculpture, the gallery houses numerous paintings once owned by the Medici family, now donated for all to enjoy.

Before we visited Tuscany we toured a few days in Rome, visiting the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, which offered their own transcendent beauty. The Sistine Chapel, again, brought my friend and me to tears. St. Peter’s was incredible, with pieces of art all about the place – including the magnificent Pieta, also by Michelangelo. (As an aside, I rather prefer the Pieta to David.) The colosseum and Palatine Hill the next day brought the startling realization that two millennia ago there were people who built entertainment venues that are still partially standing. Here, we’re amazed if a house is over 100 years old. It’s a different world, and it’s a humbling experience.

Tuscany was beautiful, the hillside city of Assisi (as in St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals) was charming and lovely, and the whole visit was a balm for the soul.2016-09-24-07-51-59

Your challenge, dear listener, is to make a trip of your own. Invite the possibility of Stendhal Syndrome into your life. Visit a place that’s older than our country, with streets not as wide as the commons, with architecture unlike any other, with art on virtually every corner. Soak in the atmosphere, the language, and the amazing food. (And, let’s be honest, the wine. We did stay in the Chianti region at a winery, after all.)

Ciao!

 

 

*(in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio)

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Journalistic ideals

It has been a very, very long time since I’ve written here. I write almost daily on Facebook and Twitter, but haven’t wandered over to this blog. I’m not sure why, exactly, though the modern urge to communicate in 140 characters is beginning to be the norm. And yet, I’m feeling the need to express myself in a more complete – if less concise – form.  In any case, if you’re still with me, thank you.

I’m teaching at the local high school this week. I’ve been a visiting presenter at the invitation of the English teacher, and we’ve been talking to the students about research and how it may be more intense in college. In addition to the things I usually talk about, the teacher has asked me to talk about blogs and journalism and how the two may differ, and when it might be appropriate to cite a blog.

This took me on a path to research what blogs are out there these days, and I was a bit surprised at the “legitimate” organizations that now have blogs as part of their media reach. I’ve been blogging for a while now, and when I first started (cue the, “Why, back in my day…”) blogs were dismissed as being the ramblings of people unknown. Blogs were considered entertaining and perhaps informative, but in most cases not authoritative. That seems to have changed.

A thousand years ago, I switched majors in college from music (voice) to journalism, largely because of the influence “All the President’s Men” had on my young crusading spirit. (On a side note, I have discovered that I am descended from real Crusaders…but that’s another post.) I loved the idea of researching stories, uncovering misdeeds, righting wrongs, saving the world…you get the idea. Journalism rode in on a white horse, saving the day from tyranny and preserving the American Way. In my mind, the Fourth Estate was essential to democracy, ensuring that the other three branches of government were doing the things they were supposed to do and bringing to light abuses of power.

I’m not sure I believe that the Journalism I admired as a young woman exists any longer. These days I see the mainstream media as part of an entertainment complex rather than as a heroic and patriotic enterprise. The biases in media are insidious, and are all the more dangerous because – for the most part – they are hidden. When I teach students about research and biases and how to determine whether a source has an agenda, it’s difficult to talk about the mainstream media.  In doing a search on NBC, Fox, and CBS news channels, all three talk about entertainment, rather than journalism.

In contrast, news-related blogs – especially those that are politically driven  – tell the reader what their bias is, without equivocation. Daily Kos tells us that, “This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog.” Right Wisconsin (as if the name isn’t enough of a hint) tells us that, “We are a new distribution channel for conservative ideas.” This, I tell my students, is exactly what a site should say. It’s okay to have a bias, as long as you tell the reader up front that you have this lens through which you’re seeing the world.  If a site doesn’t tell you what their bias is, if they purport to be unbiased in their views but have a tendency to lean one way or the other….that’s when you should be a bit suspicious.

This all makes me think that the growing trend of citizen journalism will continue to grow, and perhaps is closer to the ideal as put forth in the constitution. I still believe that the Fourth Estate is essential to democracy. I’m not sure who inhabits that Estate, however, and who will take it into the future.

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9-11

We’ve come around to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the country. I was one of the bloggers who memorialized those who died on that horrible day, and the man whose name I was given was Howard Kane. I feel like I got to know Howard a bit in doing my research, and I think about him on this day and whenever I see the Towers.

I wonder how this day affects the families of those people who died. Is it a comfort to see the memorial blog posts and web pages, or is it a shattering reminder, a stab to the heart? While I want to remember Howard, I don’t want to be the cause of more grief for his family and friends.

I would hope and pray that the families have begun to heal a bit, for the rents in their hearts to begin to close. Having lost too many in our lives in the past three years, I understand a bit about the loss of a loved one….though having them torn from you in such a way must make the grieving that much deeper.

I pray that they have been blessed with God’s peace. I remember Howard, and trust he is at peace.

Eternal Rest, grant unto them, Oh, Lord, and may Perpetual Light shine upon them.

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Post-surgical care

I had major surgery a few weeks ago.

I’ve been struggling with seriously arthritic knees for a few years now, thanks to my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Genetic stuff. I had the knees of a 75-year old. Given that I’d love to travel to many different parts of the world where walking is the primary mode of transportation, the knees were a problem.

DH and DBF have been pushing me to go bionic for a while now, and I finally gave in and scheduled the surgery. I had bilateral knee replacement, which means I had both done at once. Some think I’m brave for having done it all at once. I know that I’m not brave at all, but know that I wouldn’t want to go through this twice…so getting them both done at once and getting it over with was right for me.

I came home from the hospital two days after the surgery, and have been largely confined to the bedroom and the chair in the living room. I’m getting around more now, but for the first three weeks or so, the bed and the recliner were my world. I discovered a few things in my recovery experience, and I think libraries might be able to develop programs to help.

Here’s what I discovered:

  • It’s really, really hard to read (and concentrate) when you’re on a bunch of pain meds. As much as I adore reading, I couldn’t. It was frustrating. After a few weeks, when the meds are reduced, you can read again….but for the first three weeks, it’s almost impossible.
  • Daytime television is truly abysmal. Awful stuff. And boring. And, if you’re stuck watching it, cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s where libraries can come in. It would be fabulous to have Surgery Care Packages for patrons who have had surgery, and are looking for entertainment. It could contain audiobooks and movies for the first few weeks, and could segue to print books once the patient was able to read again. I would have jumped at something like that.

Think about it, libraries…especially if you have a large hospital in your community. You would be providing a very welcome service!

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Unplugged

It was an interesting day yesterday at MPOW. An overenthusiastic someone with construction equipment managed to cut the fiber optic cable, and we lost access to the Internet. We also lost phone communication, as our phones are VOIP.
We’re a laptop campus, and so being online is a constant state of being. Students, staff, faculty are online All Of The Time. Losing access to the world online was borderline catastrophic for some. It took a few minutes for everyone to wrap their heads around the fact that 1) we lost it and 2) it wasn’t coming back for a while.
That’s when things got interesting. People starting talking to each other. Classes that normally had students marginally engaged had students complaining that class was over so soon, as they had gotten so into the discussions they were having that they didn’t want them to stop. One professor told me that there was a group of students who stayed an extra 20 minutes to continue the discussion that had started in class.
There is a palpable difference in the pace of the campus. Things are slower, gentler. No one seems to be rushing around, but instead walk slower and allow themselves to be stopped and to enter into a conversation. The encounters that are usually a bright and quickly tossed, “Hi!” are now genuine inquiries into each other’s lives. It’s rather lovely.
Technology has been a boon, there’s no doubt. But I sometimes wonder at what cost. Unplugging is definitely worth the experience. Perhaps we should have an official Unplugged Day every now and then.

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Rambling on and pursuing joy

Fair warning: this post is a bit of a ramble.

It’s been a difficult few years for DH and DBF and myself. We’re all orphans, now, and that brings with it all sorts of challenges. Dealing with the various estates (though calling them that sounds much more grand than they are) brings a host of issues that are annoying and heart-wrenching at the same time. Two of the three are settled; still waiting on the third. (Anyone interested in a mid-century ranch home in the Milwaukee area?)

We’re all struggling with the aftermath and working through how to live with the gaping hole that has been left by the loss of our parents. For the most part we’re doing fairly well. As I try to heal, I am determined to pursue joy wherever and whenever possible, and to actively search for the activities and people that are affirming and positive and creative and, well, joyful. Get back to doing the things I loved to do that have fallen by the wayside.

DH presented me with a number of lovely gifts this Christmas, the most meaningful of which was a gift certificate for voice lessons. Once upon a time, I had a good singing voice. As in, people would frequently tell me I should be on Broadway, or sing professionally. I sang in theatrical productions, I sang in an acapella jazz group, I for sang innumerable weddings, I sang with a Big Band, I sang for fun. Being a singer is so central to my being that I still think of myself that way…..but I haven’t sung in almost 10 years. Part of it, weirdly, is the lack of a commute. When I lived in the Big City, my daily commute was almost an hour each way. I sang almost every day on that commute, which kept my voice in relatively good shape.

Now, however, DH and I live 10 minutes from work. Not much time to work up a good set. Every now and then I drive somewhere further away and try to sing, but having not sung regularly has made my voice weaken and shrivel to the point that I cringe at the sound coming out of my mouth. (I feel like those American Idol wannabes that proclaim they’re wonderful singers and then have a perfectly awful audition.)  I have shared my situation with friends, and a few of them demanded that I get back to singing, pronto. Enter DH and his lovely gift. I’m hoping that some voice lessons will help to get my voice, if not back to what it once was, at least to an acceptable status.

Meanwhile, I’m also wanting to do more pottery, and have decided to purchase a kiln of my own. The electrician will be giving me an estimate soon, and I’m planning to get things set up in spring. Creating something useful and charming and occasionally beautiful is good for the soul. Having the tools at my ready is a luxury I am able to have thanks to my parents and a small inheritance. I found out recently that my Mother and DBF had been secretly on the hunt for a kiln for me a few years ago; to purchase one now feels like a gift from mom.

And then there’s travel. I adore traveling. Unfortunately, DH and I haven’t been able to travel much; our last official vacation was in 2008. It’s ridiculous. Travel is absolutely on my list for this year.

DH, for his part, is getting back to bowling. He really loves to bowl, and is (or was) a seriously good bowler. A few of his bowling balls cracked, having been stored in the garage. Not a good idea, apparently, in our frigid climate. He’s on the hunt for a new bowling ball or two. (Yes, bowlers will have a few of them. Who knew?)

DBF is working on Book Two, which is seriously exciting. You can follow her writing here, by the way. She’s redecorating/remodeling/redoing her home, too, and it’s amazing to see her imaginings come to fruition. DBF was doing Pinterest before there was such a thing. She had binders of photos cut from magazines of rooms and fabrics and colors and arrangements, all in the name of someday having a room or home that looked like that. Well, she has. Her home is beautiful and elegant and welcoming all at the same time, and looks like one of those Pinterest photos that someone would pin for their own inspiration.  She and her DH have added a master wing onto the house, which I have yet to see. From the photos, it looks amazing.

We’re doing okay. It’s going to be a joyful year. Amen. Let it be so.

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CrowdAsk

A Gamified Crowdsourcing Reference System for Libraries Developed by Purdue Libraries. Ilana Stonebraker, Tao Zhang

  • FAQ system where users can vote and contribute.
  • Points, badges, and leaderboards
  • 122 questions, 232 answers since spring 2014
  • Open source and openly available
  • Helping users learn together and from each other
  • Website

Had a FAQ help system that wasn’t working well. How to know which users want what in help? Started a research project and surveyed students to see what they’re looking for in help.

In traditional library reference, all questions are treated equal. Majority of reference questions are lower level. Reference service model is flawed; students getting answers from librarians, professors, other students, and friends. We only know about the answers from the librarians, not from the other sources.

Solutions in crowd sourcing is the utilization of content experts, like graduate students. Novices learning together better reflect a participatory culture, metaliteracy. Benefit is that it’s a single channel, and focus is on librarians as community builders versus information sources.

Types of questions asked were course-related, CrowdAsk related, library services or resources, how-to, and conceptual. Motivated by reciprocity, not by the points.  It’s about cultivating community, rather than gamification.

Offered as a secondary choice, after the Ask the Librarian choice on the website. Staff ensures that questions are answered in one day. Goal: develop sustainable user engagement and community involvement as part of the Purdue University Libraries website.

Looking for partners and test cases; GNU General Public License Version 2 on GitHub.

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Search: social, personal, & everywhere

Greg Notess, Montana State University @notess

Personalization

  • Pros:
    • customize results ranking
    • increased relevance
    • targeted ads
  • Cons
    • librarian searching
    • privacy
    • not always relevant

The Filter Bubble: concerns based on results personalization. People will only see material that they agree with; if searching for liberal (or conservative) information that match that point of view.

You get personalized results whether you’re logged in or not – Google will remember for you. Will see previous searches, GeoLocation, YouTube viewing history, all pages visited (if toolbar enabled.)

Google behavioral ad targeting: google.com/settings/ads. Logged in or not. Check and see how accurate it is on targeting you. You can disable it by logging out. Easiest way is to use the private or incognito mode. Even in private mode, there is some personalization, like GeoLocation.

Rapleaf: information based on your email address. BlueCava: device tracking.

Alternative search engines: duckduckgo.com, dontbubble.us, ixquick.com

Social searching: Facebook – private to a point. Makes it harder to search. Twitter – can have private tweets. LinkedIn – default shares who searches for you; alternative search approaches: cached search options, Bing search results.

Facebook graph search: combine odd combinations of factors (republicans who love sailing and live in Minneapolis.) Can narrow search by sex, age, employer, etc. Dependent on what information people share.

Twitter searching: follow hashtags. Topsy: will search full Twitter feed. Hshtags.com – app to search hashtags. Twitter: #{name} filter:links.

Unshorten – unshorten the link, to determine what it is. wheredoesthislinkgo.com, knowurl.com, clybs.com/urlexpander

Map/Geographic search: Google and Bing maps both have street view, different data sources, different imagery dates. Google Earth has the ability to browse back in time.

World.time.com/timelapse – time-lapse imagery. Earthengine.google.com – environmental data and analysis.

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