The Unbrowsable Library

My last post about libraries got me thinking. Libraries are trying to change to adapt to the times, but are all the changes for the better? Here's one example: the new University of Chicago library will have no books that you can browse. When you want a book, you go to a computer terminal, click on the the listing of the book you want, a robotic arm in an underground chamber brings up a metal box that contains the book you want and about a hundred others to the circulation desk. The librarian pulls out the book you want and has it waiting for you at the circulation desk. It should take about five to ten minutes. All very high-tech and wonderful, but it saddens me. For me, part of the joy of going to the library is to browse what's on the shelves. To be looking for a book and find a better one is pure joyous serendipity. To have to know what you're looking for before you find it would for me kill a lot of the joy of the library. Yes, the new U of C library is better for the staff and the books, but is it really better for the patron?

Thinking Out Loud About Libraries

The other day we went to the newly expanded and re-opened Union County Public Library in Blairsville. I admit it, being a bookworm I've always loved libraries. The new library is much improved from the old one, but this and other libraries are changing. The most-used room seems to be the computer lab, which Lora reports as being full on her last visit there. They now have paperbacks and old books they give away or sell for dollar-store prices. Probably only around 5% of the floorspace is dedicated to adult non-fiction. Other idiosyncrasies can be chalked up to the local demographics rather than the changing times, e.g. Lewis Grizzard volumes outnumber Tolstoy six-to-one, and they still have VCR tapes to loan. In any event, the library is changing, but can it change enough? Is it a dead-end or will it still be of value in the future? Some say the library will be obsolete by 2020, replaced by the web and the Kindle. If that day comes, I shall mourn, and put my library card on the 'things past' shelf next to my slide rule and cassette tapes.

Like old Tube Radios

Well, what goes around, comes around. Remember in the old days of tube radios and TVs? You'd have to plan your viewing or listening pleasure ahead of time. You'd turn on the set, then sit around and let it warm up for a while before you could enjoy the program. Then came transistor radios and instant-on TVs. Push a button for instant gratification. Nowadays the good old days are back again. If I want to listen to the news via the Internet at the top of the hour from an Atlanta radio station, I first fire up a browser, the enter the url in the address bar, wait for the page to load, click on the 'listen now' button, wait for the player window to open and the player to load, connect to the station, then listen to the pre-roll commercial, then finally listen to the program I wanted to hear. How simple is that? Yes, it makes the old tube radios seem like a pleasure by comparison!

Entertaining Vigilantes

The other night we watched the first few episodes of Leverage, which we're enjoying so far. For those unfamiliar with the made-for-TNT series, here's the plot outline: they're vigilantes. So this got me thinking about vigilantes in entertainment, alone or in groups. Clearly Bronson's Death Wish is a lone vigilante. I wouldn't count the Count of Monte Cristo as one, as it was all personal revenge for him. So not too many loners, probably because you can't have too much good dialog. Vigilantes in media often come in pairs: The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, the Green Hornet and Kato. I'll let you decide if the Knight Rider is solo or not. How about Don Quixote and Sancho Panza? And of course, vigilantes come in packs. The prototype of these would be Robin Hood and his Merry Men. More recently we have the Mission Impossible team, the A-Team and now Leverage. So how do you like your vigilantes? solo, duo, or in a band? My guess is that Vigilantes in entertainment are more popular when people feel oppressed and powerless. But are there cultures where vigilantes are more popular? If so, is there a cultural solo vs. group vigilante preference?

The Most Wonderful Small Electric Appliances

In shopping for a new waffle iron on Amazon the other day, I came across the most wonderful line of small electric appliances made by Smart Planet. They include the electric corn dog maker, the electric mini-donut maker, the electric donut-hole maker, the electric waffle cone maker, and most impressive to me, the electric pigs-in-a-blanket maker. (only 12 left in stock, order soon!! 5-star rated!) Lora said we'd need to add a new room to our house, just to store these beauties. I'm guessing a new electric sub-panel as well. What's really frightening is that Amazon reports that the pigs-in-a-blanket maker, the the corn-dog maker and the mini-donut maker are 'frequently bought together'. Wedding gifts, maybe? or the opposite: what a newly-divorced guy would buy for himself?

Lawn Statuary

vegas elvisIn our morning walks, we sometimes pass a nearby house (doublewide?) with a concrete statue of an angel out front. Not the former 'lawn jockys' of my youth. Between Dahlonega and Gainesville is a company that makes lawn statuary: turkeys, dinosaurs, pigs, all the concrete statuary you need to make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood. I need to stop by and talk to them about my proposed product. My idea is simple and should be a best-seller: Elvis. Particularly the 'Vegas Elvis' with the white jumpsuit. One could embed colored cut-class gemstones in it. I'm telling you, we could make a fortune. I can just see the Elvii among the vinca right now.

AC/DC

Today I was driving past a 1 Megawatt solar power installation and got thinking about power distribution. One of the troubles with solar is that solar panels put out DC, while our homes use AC. The whole AC/DC fight goes back to Edison/Westinghouse/Tesla/Steinmetz, etc and is a longer story than I can go into here. Edison wanted to run homes on DC, everybody else knew the only way to conduct electricity over long distances was AC, so our homes run on AC. All well and good until rooftop solar power shows up, generating DC. The traditional solar setup then stores the energy in batteries, runs an DC-to-AC converter, synchronize it to the grid, and use it.

But let's look at how we use it once it comes out of the receptacle. My computer changes that AC wall power to DC for the machine. So does my cell phone charger, battery charger, TV, amp, PS3. In short, everything in my house except lights and things with motors changes the AC to DC before it can use it. When LED lighting comes about in the next few years, move the lights to the DC column as well. So here's my radical notion: start transitioning house current to DC. Initially this would be a separate 12 volt distribution system in the house. Once standards are set, then electronics manufacturers could start making alternative DC adapters in addition to the AC adapters (power bricks) we now use. There's already lots of manufacturing capacity and engineering knowledge built around 12 volt DC systems, since that's what cars run on.

The advantages of this system are numerous: solar power would be much more efficient and economical since you don't have to convert their output to AC, power supplies (and power bricks) would be smaller, cheaper and more efficient. And best of all, we start to truly get the benefits of the long-touted 'smart-grid' systems because storing DC in batteries without having to convert it back to AC reduces complexity and loss. Did I mention that 12 volts DC is much safer than 120 volts AC? All in all, when we convert to LED lighting a few years hence, I think it's time to take a serious look at wiring homes with DC.

I'm sure hundreds of people have thought of this before, but I don't have a link into their fountain of knowledge. If anybody knows of a reference, drop me a note or post a comment to this blog entry.

Hurricane Season

Yesterday started the Atlantic Hurricane Season. So everybody load up your 10-gauges, get that license and head for the Gulf. Hope everybody bags their limit this year. Be safe and have fun!

What Waffle House Should Offer

I was walking along Peachtree a while back and saw it was standing room only at Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles. I did some investigation and found the wikipedia article on chicken and waffles. It occurred to me that this would be a prime dish for Waffle House to serve up. True, it's generally fried chicken, which WH doesn't do, but it can be done with grilled chicken and gravy. How about it, WH team? You're famous for experimentation and shifting the menu around. Give it a shot!

The Death of the Bingo Card

The other day at Home Depot I bought my annual copy of Fine Woodworking (Hey, I can dream, can't I?) and found inside a blow-in postcard that proclaimed that this was "The Last In-Book Request Card" sometimes called a "Reader Response Card." You remember those? In the industry they were called "Bingo Cards." For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, an advertiser in a magazine would pay a few dollars extra to be assigned a number on that card for that issue. The ad would be amended to say "Circle number 47 on the reader response card for more information" or shoehorned into the smaller ads as just "Card #82." The cards were called Bingo Cards because they had a large matrix of numbers on one side, one per advertiser. We, the readers, could circle up to about 20 of the numbers that corresponded to the ads we were interested in and mail the card back to the magazine's fulfillment house. We'd then receive further product information or a catalog from the advertiser by return post. I remember as a kid filling these things out from magazines like Popular Electronics. Now it appears that those days are rapidly fading. Now we're directed to each advertiser's website, or to the FineWoodworking.com/Marketplace url. Another form of print advertising thus yields to the immediacy of the web. What will I do with this last card? I'm tempted to circle my maximum allotment of numbers and mail it in as a last hurrah. But instead I'm going try to keep this issue with the card as a memento of days gone by, when we eagerly awaited the postman's rounds bringing us word from the outside world.

The Engine's at Which End?

The other day the 'check engine' light came on in my car, so I took it in to the Trusted Mechanic who plugged it into his diagnostic computer to 'pull the codes' and decipher what the machine was complaining about. We reminisced about the simpler times when the most complicated instruments in a mechanic's toolbox were the timing light and dwell meter. He got the results from the computer, which was that the gas cap wasn't on tight. I tightened it up, he cleared the errors and the car's been humming happily since. But wait a minute: if the gas cap's not on firmly, the 'check engine' light comes on!?!? On my car the gas cap's at the opposite end of the car from the engine. There was nothing wrong with the engine! How hard would it be to replace the 'check engine' idiot light with a simple 80 character display that would say something helpful like 'tighten up your gas-cap, genius'? A current story says that car buyers are favoring high technology over horsepower in car-buying. If by 'high technology' one means communication in clear English rather than arcane computer codes and idiot lights, count me in.

Get with the plan, Professor!

Merry Christmas Eve, all! I just submitted an idea to the Mythbusters forum, starting with:

There have been several suggestions for Gilligan's Island Myths: mostly about recreating the idiotic contraptions the Professor cooked up. How about the One Big One that he didn't do, namely: Given the contents of a boat similar to the Minnow in the 1960s, and native island materials, is it possible to construct a radio transmitter? Assume the transmitter the ship was provisioned with was totally destroyed.

We'll see if it gets any traction.

God Bless us, every one....

The Secret of Great Party Mix

One of our holiday traditions is making Chex Party Mix. As a Christmas present, here's our variation. Start with the original recipe, but tweek as follows:

  • Leave out the bagel chips. I know it says 'original recipe' but come on! Any of you remember such a thing as 'bagel chips' back in the '60s?
  • Cut back on the wheat Chex to about half what they say. Make up for it with more rice and corn
  • Only use about half the mixed nuts, make up for it with pecans. Yum!

Enjoy!