The Attic of My Life

What's a life?  Mine's gone.  I now have something better, which is happiness.
-A. N. Wilson, A Watch in the Night.

The only thing there is to say,
Every silver lining's got a
Touch of grey.
-Robert Hunter, Touch of Grey.

Housebound by cold weather and sickness, my planned week of annual leave has been an interior moving picture show.  I've read how episodes of one's life return vividly in old age, and now at 56, I begin to understand.


OS & Browser Market Share, Doc Searls on Google.

XP Market Share
Giving up on my plan to do yard work this week, (it was 42° at noon, though "sunny"), I spent my afternoon doing something I haven't done in a long time:  "surfing" the Internet, looking stuff up and revisiting blogs I'd bookmarked for some forgotten reason.

My current main PC, a Velocity Micro Edge M10 with an Athlon 64 3 GHz Dual Core processor, is 2 years old now.  When I bought it, I chose to have Windows XP on it, though the vendor, like everyone else, was pushing Windows Vista.  I am not an early adopter.  I don't like to bug-test unpolished software.  But I was curious, now that Windows 7 has been released, to know how many users are still sticking with XP, which I only got at work in the last year.

I found the information at Net Market Share, which analyzes market share for operating systems, web browsers, search engines, and provides other Internet usage data.  Windows XP is still the most popular OS in the world, with a massive installed base of 66% of all PC's.  Vendors of popular free applications, like Adobe, iTunes, and Google, and PC game companies, will have to accommodate XP users for years to come.

Searls Blogs Google
And speaking of Google, the Doctor has written a fine piece in Linux Journal on the future of Google, The Google Exposure.  Reference librarians, along with everyone else, have come to rely on Google searching as though it were something like a public utility.  But it is not.  We don't pay a penny for it.

I'm just worried about the way Google makes money. Nearly all of it comes from advertising. That's what pays for all the infrastructure Google is giving to the rest of us. As our dependency on Google verges on the absolute, this should be a concern.
Think of advertising as oil and Google as one big emirate. What happens when the oil runs out?
Maybe it already is. Citing a “Natural Born Clickers” study by ComScore and Starcoma, Ad Age last year reported that “the number of people online who click display ads has dropped 50% in less than two years, and only 8% of Internet users account for 85% of all clicks...What's more, the 8% of Internet users that compose a majority of clicks is also down by half from the last study, which found 16% are responsible for 80% of clicks. The 2008 study found half of all clicks come from lower-income young adults.”
The free rides won't go on forever.
If you do reference work every day with Google, you owe it to yourself to read this piece, including the excellent comments.



For the benefit of those eight or nine souls who are curious enough to visit regularly:

I'm pretty sure now that my "cold" was just my regular late winter/early spring allergy attack.  I saw the tell-tale yellow pine pollen around the storm drain after Monday's heavy rain.  It feels like a hangover with a cough and a runny nose.  My voice today was no more than a croak.

I am on annual leave this week.  When you've been a public servant as long as I have, the annual leave begins to pile up unless you take a week or so every quarter.  I might as well enjoy it.  It is one of the "perks" of government work, in lieu of fame and fortune.

I thought I might whip the yard into shape this week, but winter persists.  Tuesday brought a balmy reprieve, and our cat Claudius sunned himself, watched the migrating birds and chased a young opossum into a hollow stump.  Today brought rain and temps in the forties.  Mr. C. was content with a brief time on the front door mat before coming back inside.

I finished William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms, a British comic novel about an academic who is mistakenly implicated in a murder, and who goes into hiding among London's down & out to try to clear himself.  The victim, a medical researcher, has in reality been rubbed out by Big Pharma.  After the initial murder, I was afraid this one might be too dark, but I stuck with it and liked it very much.  I have to name William Boyd as one of my top authors.  Any Human Heart is one of my favorite novels of all time.

Ronda landed just after six with a bottle of my favorite tipple, Black & White scotch.  The local ABC has been out recently, and I've had to settle for Ballantine's.  She then produced a scrumptious supper of Fricadelles de Veau, (veal and ham patties), with braised green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes.  I'm not worthy.

Finally, my big sister Carol, an old campaigner for Barack Obama in the last election, was a driver in the motorcade for his recent visit to Tampa, and got her picture taken.

She's right next to Joe Biden, with her long tresses.  Go Carol!


Bring Out Your Dead.


Crawling into work Saturday, at the tail-end of a chest cold, with a hacking cough, I wasn't even going to try blogging it today.

Before opening we had network problems.  The public-access PCreservation server gave an error message at start-up, as did our database for generating requests for materials the library doesn't own.  A County technician was able to get both up and running in short order, however.

Worked with our new librarian, MK, whom I introduced to our volunteer L., also a recent MLS graduate, when she arrived at noon.  I enjoyed seeing them get to know each other.  MK and I both had book displays to do, so we worked on these when we weren't busy.  Mine is entitled, "Adventures in Austenland:  Writers Pay Homage To Jane Austen", which I hope is not too lame.  I had to get it up before going on annual leave this week.  I may post at greater length about this display, as it was very interesting to research.  I don't have the energy tonight.

Traffic middling today, never more than a ten-minute wait for a PC, and only a couple of flurries at the refdesk.  It was a sunny day in the high 60's, so that may account for it.  And the Science/History Fair assignments are over.  Even Black History Month seems already to have run its course in terms of information requests.

We closed at 5:00.  Home to let our cat Claudius out for a bit, then we went out to Jasmine for bowls of hot, spicy ramen.  Back home for Prairie Home Companion and a wonderful movie about the miracle at Fatima on EWTN.  I'm exhausted, and ready for my week off.


Where the Holy Father Gets His Ashes

I wasn't going to write about Ash Wednesday.  A thousand Christian blogs will have plenty to say about it.  But after supper we happened to see a broadcast of the service from Rome held, not at St. Peter's, but in the Basilica of St. Sabina at the Aventine, which dates from the fifth century.


St. Sabina's is close to the headquarters of the Knights of Malta.  A body of Knights were seated at the front of the congregation in their Maltese cross-emblazoned cloaks, (the original "blazer"?).  Apparently, the faithful who process to this church for Ash Wednesday may gain special indulgences.

The basilica is also notable for its original carved cypress door panels, one of which is the earliest known depiction, (430 AD), of the Crucifixion of Jesus.

The "door panels" link is from Sacred Destinations, which has another great article on St. Sabina's, and a nice gallery of photos.

The photos of the basilica, by Allie Caulfield, and of the door panel, by Jim Forest, are used here with permissions extended by Creative Commons licenses.


Data Plans and Techno-Gypsies

I feel like I'm becoming one of those old men who sends his children newspaper clippings, but nonetheless, As Data Flows In, the Dollars Flow Out, by Jenna Wortham, in the Sunday Style section of the NYT was thought-provoking.  The family featured in the article spends about $5000 a year for all it's digital media needs:  BlackBerrys, cellphones, DirectTV, broadband Internet, NetFlix, Xbox and PlayStation subscriptions.  The sum of these is one's data plan.

"It used to be that a basic $25-a-month phone bill was your main telecommunications expense", but this year, says Wortham, the average family will spend something like $2000 for these kinds of services.  I calculate that my wife and I currently spend about $1980 a year for phone and cable TV/Internet services, right in the ballpark.

Remember when getting a busy signal repeatedly when you tried to call someone usually meant that they were online?  We just used the phone line we already had, at no extra cost.  Not that I'm nostalgic about it.

For information workers like me, as for white collar workers in general, online access is everywhere now.  Most of my workday is spent online, using the library equivalent  of inventory and point-of-sale programs, and databases, e-mail and search engines.

Not so for our public-access workstation and wireless laptop users.  They don't have jobs that come with a desk and a PC.  They can't afford a "data plan".  They often give up the traditional home land-line,  with a cell phone as their only telecommunications device.

Back in the '80's, "techno-peasant" meant someone completely unskilled with computers, and you don't hear the term now. I was one of them, listening to Kraftwerk and wondering if I would be left behind in Computer World.

The new techno-peasants are these digital gypsies.  Far from being clueless about technology, they are often very good at using the Internet services they seek.  But $2k a year is not an option for them.  56k dial-up, even if they have a land line at home, is simply inadequate with today's data-rich Web.  They must use our public-access PC's, or get a laptop and use our free wireless access.  As a "tribe" they know where all the local "hot spots" and public access PC's are.

I estimate that a solid third of our public-access and wireless users are not library card holders, and only come to the library for Internet access.  A few have only the most basic skills, and don't even know how to save their work to a portable disk or drive.  The experienced users have equipped themselves with a Flash drive and a cheap pair of earbuds.

One young man I know, Richard, worked his way through school at FAMU on our public-access PC's, in his sweat pants and dreadlocks.  Now he comes in with a suit and a haircut.  So it can be done. 

Then there are the elite, the laptop owners, who can stake out our power strip-equipped carrels all day if they want.  We have a homeless man whose brother gave him his old laptop.  He got it working with a wireless card, and now has unlimited access at the library.

It can be unnerving.  We've got this one kid who spends all day every day in a carrel with his laptop, sometimes playing games, sometimes watching shows.  He's got earbuds, but when he's watching something funny, he erupts into loud laughter, back there in the 900's in the non-fiction wing.  We have to remind him where he is.  All the library is for him is an access point to somewhere else online.  It's just very strange.


The Spirit Intercedes For Us.


...we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

-St. Paul, The Letter to the Romans, 8:26.


Some Online Government Services

Several years ago the president of the Florida Library Association asked reference librarians at Florida  public libraries for information about government agencies commonly accessed by the reference staff and public-access computer users.  I updated the list for new staff at our library, and thought I might as well post it here, in case anyone can use it.  I've added links and details for each agency after the initial list.

Local, state and federal agencies library staff and patrons commonly access online.

City of Tallahassee
Leon County

Access Florida, (Florida Department of Children and Families)
Florida Agency for Health Care Administration
Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation
Florida Department of Corrections
Florida Department of Elder Affairs
Florida Department of Financial Services
Florida Dept. of Health & Vital Statistics
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
Florida Department of Revenue
Florida State Courts
Office of the Attorney General of Florida
State of Florida.com Florida Regulated Industries Guide

Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education
National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
SafeLink Wireless
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
U.S. Internal Revenue Service
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
U.S. Small Business Administration

Services provided by each agency, (most in demand).

Leon County Property Appraiser - Property searches.

Leon County Clerk of Courts - Legal forms, (e.g. quit claim deeds), passports, marriage records.

Access Florida - Food stamps.

Florida Agency for Health Care Administration - Inspectors' reports on nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation - Job searches, unemployment claims.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services - Complaints, gardening, licenses, permits, registrations, credit reports.

Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation - Business licensing, esp. contractor's licenses.

Florida Department of Corrections - Inmate searches.

Florida Department of Elder Affairs - Caregiver and housing searches, Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

State of Florida Vital Records - Apply for birth, death and marriage documents.

Florida Department of Financial Services - Insurance Consumer Advocate, insurance fraud claims, Arson & insurance investigator, bail bond agent licensing.

Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles - Driver Licenses & Florida ID's, vehicle tags, titles.

Florida Department of Revenue - Register to collect and/or pay taxes.  Usually for sales tax exemption questions.

Florida State Courts - Family law forms, Rules of Court.

Office of the Attorney General of Florida - Consumer complaints, fraud hotline.

State of Florida.com, a commercial site, has a very useful Florida Regulated Industries Guide that helps find what state agency regulates what, though it is old and suffers from link-rot.

Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State - Embassy and passport information.  Country information, travel warnings and alerts.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor - Career and job searches, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Consumer Price Index.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Food and medicine safety questions, vaccination updates.

Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education - Student loans, FAFSA HQ.

National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Health information, clinical trials, PubMed journal articles.

SafeLink Wireless - A U.S. government supported program for income-eligible households providing basic cell phone service.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - Visa issues.

U.S. Internal Revenue Service - Tax forms and questions, e-filing.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration - Genealogy and military records.

U.S. Small Business Administration - Small business planning and help, loans.

The types of assistance reference staff are providing to access agency services.

AccessFlorida has to be the number one agency requiring major assistance to users.  Many persons applying for public assistance are illiterate.  The Department of Children & Families now has a service center for Leon County at 2810 Sharer Road, Unit 24, where residents can get help applying for assistance online.

Safelink Wireless similarly draws applicants who are unable to apply for themselves.  Enrolling is simple, and reference staff will do it for them.

The Department of Corrections inmate search is frequently used, but doesn't require much help from us.

Users need an e-mail address if they require a reply from the agency.  Often someone will have started work on an agency web site on their own and reach the point where they run into this obstacle.  We then help them get an e-mail address to enable them to continue.