Wednesday, December 14, 2005

skimming the top of the ocean

How much information is available on the web if you know where to look? So often when we think of finding information - or even images - online, we turn to the trusty Google. As invaluable as it is, however, this search engine doesn't take us deep into the many repositories of information easily accessible via the Internet. I'm not any expert in such matters, so today I was trying to imagine how many of these vast, significant resources must be available that I don't know about.

I started along this line of thinking when I clicked on one of my favorite browsing sites - the New York Public Library Digital Gallery. This gallery "provides access to over 415,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of The New York Public Library, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more."

Today their home page featured digitized images from their collection of Walt Whitman manuscripts. Whitman, with his wandering style and love of rewriting his poems, would make for fascinating study if one could sit down with his manuscripts. But just getting to browse the images provided online is a joy.

Another wonderful site for digitized images of American people, history, cities, landscapes, music, documents, inventions, etc. is the Library of Congress American Memory collection. This eclectic, democratic collection contains many wonderful images from Peoria taken by Works Progress Administration photographers - including many haunting black and white photos of Peoria's famous red-light districts.

One of my favorite images of Peoria comes from the collection of panaromic shots taken in the early twentieth century. This one of Bradley University (then Bradley Polytechnic) seems to capture well what the campus looked like in its earliest days. Search for your favorite city, town, state on the LOC site and maybe you'll uncover a treasure, too.

I remember hearing too that Google is working with prominent academic libraries to scan their holdings and create a searchable database from that. One trembles to think of the possibilities for literary, geneology, history and many other searches.

For now, libraries and governmental entity sites seem to be a great place to go if you want to stop skimming the surface of the web and start scuba diving!

Monday, December 12, 2005

winter fever

I have not blogged much the past few days as I have been laid low by fever. Stretched out on the couch by the fire, too tired to hold a book, I have been watching the birds out the window. The last bag of bird seed I bought was a disappointment, filled with fat red seeds birds do not favor, a stingy handul of sunflower seeds, millet, which they do like, and a sprinkling - like salt at dinner - of cracked corn.

Nonetheless, the weather has beed cold, icy, and windy. Digging for seeds among the snow-covered bushes, I suppose, has beeen no easy task, so the birds have attended my ill-stocked feeder. We have had several types of sparrows this winter. The house sparrows have been joined by chipping sparrows, with their rust-colored berets, and the large Harris sparrow. I have also seen one, with white and yellow stripes, that I do not know.

We also have a healthy population of cardinals, which one never tires of observing. One bird I don't see often anymore is the blue jay, a noisy creature known for demanding peanuts at the back door and tormenting the cats, but it is a bird I enjoy having around. We have a narrow wooded bluff at the back of our house so also enjoy many woodpeckers, nuthatches, and small hawks.

I must be feeling better because late this afternoon I realized that the birds had emptied the feeder. I put on coat and shoes and went outside. The dogs pranced around excitedly, hoping this meant I was going to play with them or walk with them back to the woods.

The cold damp air tingled inside my nose. The ice and snow crunched beneath my feet. I listened to the outdoor sounds - the squirrel chewing out the dogs from its perch on the power line, the wind, the birds, the cars and trucks, the bird seed tinkling into the feeder.

Having to stay indoors for a few days can be tedious, but I did enjoy being reminded of the simple joy in the smells, sounds, and sensations I find walking out the back door.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I love my chair, but…

A few years ago, when we moved to these basement offices, one good thing happened. I got to choose my own chair from a swanky office furniture store. I selected a cushioned, comfy, wide one with a back that reached above my shoulders. I can stretch out in this chair. When my neck feels sore from sitting and typing all day, I can lean my head back and relax those tense muscles. I love my chair.

Today, however, Slate provided a sumptous review of other office chairs available. Seth Stevenson declared the high-tech Aeron chair passe´. Well thank goodness I didn't fall for that trend!

He heaped praise, however, on the Liberty. Wow, I thought, it is not only beautiful but looks like you could really get some work done from that perch! Liberty! Freedom from sore muscles and confined hips. Stevenson writes: I can't say enough about this chair. The child of design legend Niels Diffrient (who has worked with the studios of Eero Saarinen and Henry Dreyfus), the Liberty is as functional as it is elegant. This sit is the bomb."

The price is a mere $955.

Take my word for it. A good chair is a good investment, especially if you spend most of your day in a cubicle. Check out your best options on Slate.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, Austrian researchers have discovered that caffeine keeps people alert by acting on the part of the brain involved in short-term memory.

As you know, I love coffee. When people ask me how I can sleep at night after drinking several cups of coffee during the day, I ask how they function without a cup of joe in the morning. I think if I didn't have coffee I would want to sleep all day. As it is, I require more sleep than most people, I think.

The Tribune article noted that average daily caffeine consumption for Americans is equivalent to over four cups of coffee per day, or three times the world average. So, I guess I'm not alone.

The Austrian researchers used an MRI to test brain activity before and after caffeine consumption. They found increased activity in the frontal lobe, where memory is located, and in the cingulum, which controls attention.

"The increased activity means you are more able to focus," a researcher said. "You have more attention and your task management is better."

Isn't science wonderful to explain these things to us?

One lump or two?