Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Bard

The thing that makes Dungeons & Dragons really fun is the opportunity to create a character and bring him or her to life through interactions with others--the role-playing aspect that defines it as a Role-Playing Game (RPG). You can try out different motives, personalities, and perspectives and no one is harmed because it's all pretend. You can start with a basic character concept, but it always develops in unexpected ways once the game starts. So a while back when I wrote in my review of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys that some of his descriptions reminded me of Degolar, I meant the character and not myself. Some of the things described were characteristics I had in mind from the start and some just developed, but as I was reading Gaiman's descriptions of his characters (Anansi and his son, Spider) I thought he could just as easily be describing Degolar. I listened to the audio CD earlier because I could get it quicker, but now my turn has finally come up for the book and I can go back and find those descriptions to share.

In D&D, bards get their magic from their music and stories; that’s how they cast their spells, by performing. This book starts:
It begins, as most things begin, with a song. . . . That was how the world was made, how the void was divided, how the lands and the stars and the dreams and the little gods and the animals, how all of them came into the world. They were sung. . . . Songs remain. They last. The right song can turn and emperor into a laughingstock, can bring down dynasties. A song can last long after the events and the people in it are dust and dreams and gone. That’s the power of songs.
This book is about Anansi, or, more correctly, Anansi’s sons. Anansi is an old god from Africa, the figure who owns all the stories. Anansi is the spider.
Stories are like spiders, with all they long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another, each to each.
Our main character in the book is Fat Charlie Nancy. Charles, really, but his dad started calling him Fat Charlie as a boy and the name stuck even though he only went through a short period of being a bit overweight (the power of the storyteller to name things). After the death of his father, Fat Charlie learns he has a brother he never knew of, named Spider. And according to Spider, there’s only one way to grieve: with wine, women, and song. Degolar would agree.

In D&D, every character has an alignment, where they fall on a continuum grid between good and evil, law and chaos. Degolar is chaotic neutral. He’s definitely about his freedom and independence and isn’t too concerned with right or wrong. But he’s never intentionally harmful. Kind of like Anansi:
He is greedy, of course, and lustful, and tricky, and full of lies. And he is good-hearted, and lucky, and sometimes even honest. Sometimes he is good, sometimes he is bad. He is never evil. Mostly, you are on Anansi’s side. This is because Anansi owns all the stories.
Degolar is also a wanderer. He doesn't put down roots, just goes around looking for adventure and something fun to do. Kind of like Spider:
[Spider] had resolved to investigate the matter the next time that he could in any way be bothered to do so, unless something more interesting distracted him or he forgot. . . . His plans . . . were fairly simple and could until now have been summarized more or less as: (a) go somewhere; (b) enjoy yourself; and (c) leave before you get bored.
And I'll remind you one more time that the following description is only accurate in terms of Degolar the D&D character, not Degolar the blogger.
Spider . . . regarded women as more or less interchangeable. You didn’t give them a real name, or an address that would work for longer than a week, of course, or anything more than a disposable cell-phone number. Women were fun, and decorative, and terrific accessories, but there would always be more of them; like bowls of goulash coming along a conveyor belt, when you were done with one, you simply picked up the next, and spooned in your sour cream.
So, anyway, I don't know what that says about me, but now you know a bit more about the character from our game whose name I borrowed to create my online identity.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Different View of Kansas in the NY Times

Last May, my wife and I were in Liberal for the high school graduation of a former student. Her family was not able to get work in the U.S, but they were able to move her up with an aunt in KC. So she left them behind as a young teen and went to a new world. After a few years she fell for a guy and decided to get married. She followed him to Liberal to live with him and his family. Since she had no one else, we decided to support her at her graduation.

This story is about the large and still growing Hispanic community in Liberal and all of southwest Kansas.

For Latinos in the Midwest, a Time to Be Heard

"By 2000, the Latino share of the population of this town of 20,000 had quadrupled to 43 percent from 10 percent in 1980, reflecting a pattern throughout southwest Kansas.

"'They came to fill important jobs in the community and work, and people in our world respect hard workers,' said Donald D. Stull, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas who has studied the demographic changes across the region.

"Liberal got its name, the story goes, from the generosity of its founder, S. S. Rogers, who would give out water to settlers passing through. That welcoming spirit pervaded many prairie towns and continues to some extent today.

"Still, many people here who are not Hispanic take offense at the waving of foreign flags — during the rally here a few carloads of young white men drove past pointedly brandishing American flags — and chafe at hearing so much Spanish spoken on the streets. . . . "

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


n. The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something.

Hmmm...... As you may have noticed of late my posting has been, shall we say... sporadic? And it's not because I've been writing the proverbial "Great American Novel", or even reading it for that matter; it's been because of my compulsive need to escape reality, and escape it in a particular way (though apparently I've been improving my critical thinking skills all the while). Ahem...: World of Warcraft, Battlefield 2, Sim City 4 (Rush Hour), Painkiller, MVP Baseball 2005 (2006 fan-mod), NASCAR Sim Racing,.... I probably could go on. I am addicted to computer games. I submit for your consideration the following evidence:

1. I had the thought "maybe I need to stop playing games, they're taking up way too much of my time."

2. That thought was immediately followed by a flash of panic "But, but, but,... what will I do if I'm not playing video games, and I just bought this new one, and just downloaded that cool mod, and, and, and...."

3. That thought was immediately followed by a third: "You just panicked at the thought of not playing games. Dude, you are so addicted."

4. I bought a NASCAR game! If that is not indicative of a problem I don't know what is. I don't even like NASCAR.

5. Often I find myself playing for hours on end, despite the fact that I am not enjoying it.

6. Necessary tasks do not get done. Bills are left unpaid, kitchens uncleaned, books unread. All because I need to kill trolls in Stranglethorn Vale, or finish a homestand against the White Sox, or take Mashtuur City one more time. Sleep, what is this sleep you speak of?

So, long story short, I feel that I need to stop this compulsive behavior and consciously use my time for things that are truly important to me. And once again, the very fact that I'm finding this difficult to do is evidence of how important it is that I do it. So, that's that.

Not an Issue of Intent, but of Intensity

"I thought about mistakes I had made in the past. I thought about when things went wrong. And I realized it was never an issue of intent, but of intensity. I was a good guy, recall."

I've been reading the book Inexcusable, by Chris Lynch. It's told in a very believable first person voice by a graduating high school senior. A nice guy. Popular with the athletes, but still seen as a "cream puff" by those who know him. A hard worker. From a supportive family. He knows he never means any harm. Yet sometimes he can get carried away. Sometimes he lies to himself about it; sometimes he lies to his readers. But through the whole book he is trying to make sense of something he's done that is finally inexcusable. A very real voice. A very real character. Sometimes I can see myself in him and other times people I've known. I haven't quite finished it yet, but came across that quote today and wanted to share it. I recommend the book, to teen guys and everyone.

If my description is a little too vague, I really like the Booklist review on Amazon.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Freaky, but Cool

Scientists Probe the Use of the Tongue

In their quest to create the super warrior of the future, some military researchers aren't focusing on organs like muscles or hearts. They're looking at tongues.

By routing signals from helmet-mounted cameras, sonar and other equipment through the tongue to the brain, they hope to give elite soldiers superhuman senses similar to owls, snakes and fish. . . .

I Can't Quite Put My Finger On It...

...but it's almost as if something is, I don't know,... missing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Surely You Have More Important Things to Spend Your Money On

I saw a billboard for this site while driving I-70 tonight. It doesn't matter how many times they try re-spinning it, it's still the same thing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Well I Liked It

A while back I read The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, book 1), by Jonathan Stroud, at Hadrian's enthusiastic suggestion. It was quite good. Not brilliant, but really enjoyable. So when he told me he was disappointed with the second one, I moved it to the bottom of my list. When I was preparing to drive down to Wichita for Tri-Conference a couple of weeks ago I wanted something to listen to. Lo and behold, one of the few selections on CD was The Golem's Eye. I started it on the way back and have been hooked ever since. I finally finished it today and have to say I liked it even better than the first.

We're not the only ones to give it mixed reviews. Check Amazon, for instance, and you'll see that it was a starred review in SLJ yet Jennifer Hubert, reviewing for Amazon, said:
Stroud’s second book is far too long and gloomy, focusing more on the priggish Nathaniel and wronged Kitty than the dijinni readers have come to adore. Fans of Jonathan Stroud’s breakout hit, The Amulet of Samarkand, may be a little disappointed to discover that Bartimaeus features so little his second book. While Stroud cleverly uses the class war between the ruling magicians and the disgruntled commoners as a metaphor for current political and social clashes, the text suffers overall from a lack of the dijinni’s famous facetious footnotes. Avid fans are left skimming the slow parts and hoping that when Bartimaeus escapes his servile bonds he will be given more space to make them laugh.
That's much the same thing Hadrian said about it. I, on the other hand, found it very engaging. While still enjoying the facetious Bartimaeus, I appreciated the fuller development of their world. Kitty provided an alternate viewpoint to the too often annoying Nathaniel, and the class warfare created a lot of depth. I'm very caught up in these characters now and their part to play in the greater story of Stroud's universe. I can't wait to see what happens to them in the third book. (But first, To Kill a Mockingbird.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In Search of Content

I haven't felt the inspiration to post recently, so to fill in the downtime with something I'll offer a bit of Degolar trivia. For a few years in college I had a personalized license plate that read "PLAID." It was a reference to Spaceballs.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Books Everywhere!

I woke up in a decent mood this morning, but for some reason became very grumpy when I got to work. It’s not the job itself, and in fact I’ve thrived under similarly stressful circumstances before, but things sat wrong with me today. We were already short staffed and I was greeted at the door with the news that someone called in sick. I don’t have any supervisory capacity, but I had the ranking position of the three of us who were present and felt it fell to me to do something about it. So I started working on that while scrambling to get our normal stuff done, only to find I was unnecessarily duplicating work that had already been done. On top of that, we turned our cash register on to find it stuck in error mode and no one I called had the slightest clue what to do about it. Things turned out alright in the end, of course, but I got irrationally irritated in the face of it all. I’m pretty sure I didn’t take it out on anyone, but I certainly didn’t enjoy that couple of hours. I found my first smile of the day soon after we opened. A preschool girl (maybe 3 years old) was joyously bounding around the library singing, “Books! Books! Everywhere Books!” You can’t beat that kind of simple, honest, exuberance.

(Of course, I another factor in my mood swing might be the fact that I’m constantly failing in my attempts to become an ex-caffeine junkie. I hadn’t had any this morning and was feeling achy and stiff and generally kind of yucky, so I broke down and bought a Sunkist right before we opened. I have a feeling it was starting to kick in 15 minutes later when I heard/saw the girl, because now I feel fine. Regardless of the caffeine, though, she cheered me up.)

Isn't It Ironic?

I just wish she could stop trying to pretend there is a logic to her position and admit she has an agenda. Connie Morris, the outspoken conservative on the KS state school board, has made the news again. She pushed and pushed to get new standards passed that require evolution be questioned. Yet she is now meddling in a school in Wichita trying to get a science teacher to take down a depiction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who's doctrine contradicts evolution. Saying she wants evolution questioned and then getting mad about someone questioning it in a way that doesn't mesh with her particular dogma is contradictory. It would be so refreshing if she could find the balls to at least be honest and admit all she really wants is to indoctrinate our kids in Christian creationism instead of all the intelligent design bs.

Here's the article, by the way.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Barbossa Has Ruled

There be a new link on the sidebar about the next reading selection. Announce your intention to join the fray there.

Bow before me... or don't. Whatever.

So, I was thinking of becoming a god. The problem is that I'm not really that motivated or, for that matter, that good of a person (see the Mr. T thing below). So I'm thinking of being the god of Laziness. Not quite Bacchus (sp?) because he is also the god of wine and stuff. I'm thinking just the god of Laziness in general. Why broaden on the subject? And heck, that kind of fits in with my whole godly demeanor. So, if you want to worship me, go ahead. Crash out on the sofa with a 2 liter of soda and a bag of chips watching whatever comes on the tube. If not? Oh well. Like I care, really. I just don't have the energy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I'm Neo

A couple more quizes found by way of That Girl in Black:

This one's a more specific link. Find them in the list on the right.

Two Make Not a Group

As I'm sure you know by now, a few brave souls attempted a shared reading and online discussion of Moby-Dick recently. To my knowledge, four finished and three (with escorts) gathered to discuss in person. Captain Barbossa followed that with an invitation to leave the whale behind but establish ourselves as a sort of book club. I've accepted the offer. No others, although I wonder if that may be due to the fact that the discussion has been on the Moby blog and no one else is reading it. So here is the extended invitation with a link to our latest proposals. Respond at either forum and we'll see if anything develops.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Gaming Teaches Real World Skills

This is definitely something that will transfer to a work setting, no?

Scrap looms over Bully game

"As a troublesome schoolboy, you'll laugh and cringe as you stand up to bullies, get picked on by teachers, play pranks on malicious kids, win or lose the girl, and ultimately learn to navigate the obstacles of the fictitious reform school, Bullworth Academy."


There's an interesting conversation taking place over at the Camera Gal's blog.

Chronicle of the Conference

Some of the handouts are linked from the master schedule on the website.

The Mountain Top Experience of the MPLA Ghost Ranch Leadership Institute
Kansas is one of twelve states in the regional Mountain Plains Library Association. Jean is a past president and has always encouraged me to apply to their annual leadership institute at a ranch/camp in New Mexico. I’m definitely there for a week in the mountains and what I’m sure will be an excellent personal growth experience. I’m just not sure I’m interested in being a manager-type. Lots of responsibility, not as much fun, get all the crap, not much more pay--when compared to what I do now. Still, I suppose leader and manager are not exactly the same thing, and the personal testimonials at this session were enthusiastic. I might motivate to do the paperwork this year.

Research-Based Strategies for Teaching Early Literacy Skills to Children Birth to Five Years Old
Similar enough to the Every Child Ready to Read initiative that I would guess she was working from the same source material. We’ll be giving our own presentations on this soon enough, so it was good to hear it from another perspective. The main value of storytime is not that it teaches kids to read, but that it teaches the parents what they can do on a daily basis to help their kids learn to read. This was about not only shifting our emphasis in storytime to include the adults more but how to give presentations to just adults. Reinforces what we’ve been getting and was good.

Connecting Kansas Kids with Great Books: 2006-2007 William Allen White Awards Master Lists
Good booktalks, which is the main reason I went. I now have a bit of an idea about each book on the list and will be better able to help kids who are looking for them. But I sure wouldn’t want to read most of them. My first year I made it a goal to read everything on the list, but gave up after I got tired of being depressed by the seriousness of them all. This year looks no better. At least two-thirds are historical fiction, with the majority of the rest being about minority characters. They all sound like excellent books, but reading one after another gets awfully boring. How about some variety on the list? Something with contemporary characters that kids in Kansas can relate to? Not everyone reads historical fiction, you know, even if they do want to broaden their perspective or learn something from the book. Blech.

YA Best of the Year Book Talks
Good booktalks. I feel pretty up on things after hearing this, having either read or at least been aware of most of what they mentioned. My reading tastes do run toward YA (Young Adult, or teen, for our non-librarian readers), after all.

General Session: Guest Speaker Alan November
This is the national bigwig they brought in special, and he was very good. He was coming from an educational background/perspective, but broadened his topic to include everyone. His main focus was on the Internet and how to teach kids to be critical users. How to make them aware of things like (pops up third on the list in a google search) is owned by a white supremacist group and how you find that information with easyWHO?s. All about google bombing and how to find how much is being paid to land at the top of searches. Commands to find who is linking to sites. Good stuff to refresh and expand my knowledge. His goal is that students become more active in their learning by building a social network of human resources around the world to interact with and become producers of knowledge themselves instead of passive receptors. Use things like Skype to connect with international classrooms and compare perspectives or practice languages or the like. Take more pride in work since it will be publicly posted on a blog. He was overflowing with ideas and directed us to his website for more. Good stuff.

Alan November Breakout Session
(Instead of Wonderful and New Picture Books for Story Times and Programs or Prizes: What Keeps Kids Reading?)
Much of what I wrote about Alan November actually came from the two hours that followed during his breakout session. I enjoyed his general session enough that I cancelled my plans and went to this instead. I grabbed the handouts of the others to read, though.

Runescape Games in Libraries
Runescape is the most popular free MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). (Check out Hadrian’s recent enjoyment of World of Warcraft for a not so free one.) As such, we see many players at the library, many teens and preteens who don’t have money, computer access, or such on their own and use our resources. Some of them really get into it. This was a good session because one of the presenters logged on and showed us some game play, along with a detailed handout with a game explanation, glossary, and such. And he’s trying to get information from libraries and other groups who are interested in forming teams and challenging each other. Check out his website about it.

Amazing Space
I don’t think I’d ever describe myself as feng shui, but I do believe atmosphere and environment are very important. I’ve moved furniture and decorated each place I’ve worked. This two hour session sounded intriguing. I stayed for the first hour to hear the architect that has worked on many libraries in Kansas for the past 30 years. He had/has a lot of good ideas and it looks like he does good work. Not the most exciting presenter, though. He had lots of slides of floor plans and photos of the work he’s done. I couldn’t figure out an organizational scheme to the presentation, though, or a list of general ideas to take back to my location; it was just a random presentation of his past work. The second hour was going to be two libraries sharing their particular experiences in detail, but I skipped out.

William Allen White Children’s Book Awards
I was going to see the fashion show or the butt kicking librarians, but ran into T and joined her (as well as MacDaddy and EDH) to raise some ruckus at the WAW feedback session. My beef was none of the books have boy appeal and the others attacked the issue from other angles. They were courteous and receptive, but didn’t give any indication anything might change. Their recommendation to me was to send in my suggestions for the committee to read, but after talking to them I’m quite sure their idea of “quality literature” differs enough from mine that my suggestions would never get selected for the final list.

Those are the sessions I attended. I was planning on getting into the Angela Johnson author luncheon if I could, but she had to cancel after her mother’s surgery didn’t go so well. Instead I went with Scott and Kelly to see Jean’s new branch and ended up having lunch with her.

Aside from the formal sessions, the other benefit of going to a conference like this is making new connections and social networking. I branched out a little bit, but have to admit to sticking to people I already knew much more so. We had a rather large contingent, after all. There was much revelry each night and I became acquainted with my colleagues in new ways, so in a sense I did get something out of the networking, I’m just not sure how much of it can ever be discussed in a work setting. Very fun, though.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Random Thoughts

. . . from Tri-Conference:

Remember when I wrote about being excited to go to a conference where I knew people? First impression from last night: librarians like to party. Hard.

Wichita has made nice use of its rivers. Made for a very pleasant run this morning, following the trails along the Arkansas (ar-KANZ-ass) River. KC could learn something.

I might actually get around to applying for Ghost Ranch this year, the week-long MPLA (Mountain Plains Library Association) leadership camp in New Mexico each fall.

Storytime is fun, but it's really about teaching the parents what to do with their kids on a daily basis.

The people who select the books for the William Allen White award don't seem to know a thing about kids or what kids find appealing in a book. The most boring sounding selections ever.

Looking for Alaska is an awesome book.

We work for a very privileged library system.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

If You Haven't Been There Yet...

The internet is just full of sites hosting funny videos. Tonight I ran across another while searching for the now famous SNL video "Lazy Sunday". So, check out Milk and Cookies, especially this one. Is it wrong that that last video turned me on a little?

Drained, but the End is in Sight.

The funding is lined up, so that worry is out of the way, and now I'm simply marking time until that blessed day-- sometime in July-- when I leave the JOB and head back to school. I cannot tell you how much I'm looking forward to that day. Every day now, I come home from work just a little bit more drained by the experience. I leave with zero energy and usually quite agitated. It's not that my job is objectively so bad, it's not. There are worse jobs-- a fact I'm reminded of every time I drive by Liberty Tax Service and see the poor schlub who has to wear the Uncle Sam or Statue of Liberty costume out on the street corner begging for business. Simply put, the job just doesn't agree with me. It doesn't fit. It just isn't me. All the hours spent at my job feel like time that has been stolen from my life (bought actually, for way too low a price). It presents me with a stark dichotomy between living and working. Between my life, and the time I sell to my employer. It is 40 hours a week that I find difficult to integrate into the rest of my existence. And that, my friends, is no way to live.

But law school is just around the corner now. I hesitate to say that, fearful that somehow I might jinx it, might screw up the opportunity, and be stuck in my present situation. Frankly, I don't think my sanity could survive that. I know that law school is going to be a lot of work-- more than a full time job I'm told, but that doesn't bother me, because I think I'll be able to find something there that I haven't had since I last left the hallowed halls of grad school: integration. In college, and then again in grad school, I always felt that my life was of a piece. No matter how much I dreaded a particular class or a particular assignment, no matter how much work I had to get done, whether I was having a good day or bad, none of it ever felt like time that wasn't mine, a part of a life that wasn't me. Everything fit. I think I'm going to get that feeling back in a few months. I'm looking forward to it.

My Plan of Attack

Oh, and since I am sure you are all dying with curiousity to know what I will be doing for three days at Triconference (sarcasm), I thought I might share the sessions I've tentatively decided to attend (in chronological order):
  • MPLA Ghost Ranch Leadership Institute

  • Research-Based Strategies for Teaching Early Literacy Skills

  • Connecting Kansas Kids with Great Books: 2006-2007 William Allen White Awards Master Lists

  • YA Best of the Year Book Talks

  • Wonderful and New Picture Books for Story Times

  • Program or Prizes: What Keeps Kids Reading?

  • Runescape Games in Libraries

  • Amazing Space

  • Library Magic

  • And I can't find anything that sounds vaguely appealing or relevant for Friday morning
A selection of interesting ones I'm skipping (just to give you a full flavor treat):
  • Comics for Grown-ups

  • Wikipedias are Wonderful & Blogs are Beautiful

  • Growing Up Amish

  • The Bulgarian Connection

  • Sex, Blood & Graphic Novels

  • Give 'Em the Pickle

  • Meet Youth Services: The Musical

  • Tough Government Documents for Butt Kicking Librarians
And, with description included:
  • Librarians on Parade: A Fashion Show for 2006
    Fashions for the modern librarian will be modeled by the Librarian of South Central Kansas Library System. Take the time to see the newest styles for all ages, sizes and shapes.

Happy little trees!

And a Bob Ross painting game for Nintendo!

Did somebody slip acid in the water supply?

Off in Search of Adventure

. . . in Wichita. At a library conference. So actual adventure might be scarce, but you never know. The suitcase is packed and in the car, and as soon as I leave work today I’m heading down for Triconference. Which at one time I thought meant tri-annual, but it turns out to mean three organizations--KLA (Kansas Library Association), KASL (Kansas Association of School Librarians), and KAECT (Kansas Academic something something)--which come together for an annual conference. Members of the organizations (i.e. us) can apply to share their successes and good ideas as presenters and everyone else goes and steals from them. I’ve been to a couple of other conferences, but am excited because I expect this one to be different in a few ways. Two years ago I was lucky enough to be selected for the national public library conference, which was excellent, but from our system I was the lonely YS peon with a bunch of managers and admin types that I didn’t know that well. The presentations were awesome and I had people to hang with, but they weren’t necessarily friends. Last year Triconference was in town, so I saw people during the day but then went home and back to my normal life. This time there will be a lot of friends to see throughout the conference and nothing to do in the down time but party. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been going through the schedule and figuring out which sessions sound the best for me and such. I even found a Runner’s World article about where to run in Wichita. I’m all set and ready to go and can’t wait for the work day to end.

To the tune of the A-Team

Mr. T and three guys
Mr. T and three other guys
Mr. T and three guys
The old guy, the crazy, and the suave one.
(and repeat until your friends hat you)

This has been a message from that one guy, you know, the one with the hair... who says things...