Friday, October 30, 2009

Arctic Freeze or Melt?

A recent report from the CU-Boulder's Snow and Ice Data Center concluded that the Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the third-lowest recorded since satellites began measuring sea ice extent in 1979. Most of the 2009 September Arctic sea ice is thin first- or second-year ice, rather than thicker, multi-year ice that used to dominate the region. The scientists warned that they are seeing "a downward trend that appears to be heading toward ice-free Arctic summers."

I really enjoy reading stories set in the Arctic and other cold climates. My all time favorite is Smilla's Sense of Snow (1993). Place a hold on one of these newer titles to learn more about and appreciate the Arctic region.

Arctic adventure stories

Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler
Unabridged CD

Freezing Point by Karen Dionne

Stephen Coonts' Deep Black: Arctic Gold

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child
Large Type
Unabridged CD

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Horror movies that make you laugh now

Do you remember those horror movies you saw when you were a kid that gave you nightmares? Have you seen them since? If you haven’t, you should watch them, and you will discover that instead of being horrified like in the old times, you will laugh out loud.

Most of these movies are known as B-Movies, low budget films made mostly during the 50s and 60s. This is the era of mutants and all sorts of oversize creatures on the big screen: giant ants, lizards, and evil or extraterrestrial monsters. According to those studying what’s behind horror movies, these films represent the fear about the idea of an atomic bomb and communism, in other words, the Cold War in general. Movies during this era were also competing with television, and films were trying to offer a different and unique experience that would draw more people to the movie theater instead of staying in the comfort of their home watching TV. The B-Movies “category," however, covers all decades; for example, Evil Dead from the 80s is considered by some a B-Movie as well.

I know, your significant other might cringe when she/he sees you coming home with The Curse of Frankenstein, but hey, why not have a good laugh this Halloween with a movie that was supposed to scare you? Here are some titles Austin Public Library has for you to check out and watch while eating candy corn:

In case you want to read about horror movies, how to make them, or how they are related to culture, here are some ideas:

For more information about B-Movies in general, including horror films, you can visit:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Central Library - Special Edition

The regular schedule for posting the APL BLOG is Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, including holidays. Today we have a special edition blog because this evening at the Manchaca Branch we begin to plan for the new Central Library.

We need your ideas for the new Central Library building. Please join in the discussion at one of the five input meetings with the design team. If you are curious about what the trends are, please check out a book or see the plans and designs for other new city libraries.

The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities

Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love: Treasured Libraries of the United States and Canada

The Thriving Library: Successful Strategies for Challenging Times

Place of Learning, Place of Dreams: A History of the Seattle Public Library

A Library Story: Building a New Central Library (youth book)

New Central Libraries

Darien Library

Minneapolis Central Library

Monday, October 26, 2009

2009 National Book Awards finalists

The National Book Awards announced its 2009 finalists earlier this month. This year’s finalists are an interesting bunch, notable for their topical diversity as well as their lack of big names. There was no room in the inn this year for literary giants such as Philip Roth and Lorrie Moore.

The winners will be announced in Manhattan Wednesday, November 18th. 193 publishers submitted 1,129 books divided among the following four categories.

Fiction (236 entries)
American Salvage (Bonnie Jo Campbell)

Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann)

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
(Daniyal Mueenuddin)

Lark and Termite (Jayne Anne Phillips)

Far North
(Marcel Theroux)

Nonfiction (481 entries)
Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook (David M. Carroll)

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Sean B Carroll)

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Greg Grandin)

The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy - on order (Adrienne Mayor)

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (T.J. Stiles)

Poetry (161 entries)
Versed (Rae Armantrout)

Or to Begin Again (Ann Lauterbach)

Speak Low (Carl Phillips)

Open Interval - on order (Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon)

Transcendental Studies - on order (Keith Waldrop)

Young People’s Literature (251 entries)
Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith (Deborah Heiligman)

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Phillip Hoose)

Stitches - on order (David Small)

Lips Touch: Three Times - on order (Laini Taylor)

Jumped (Rita Williams-Garcia)

Friday, October 23, 2009

What is human?

Wednesday night the Graphic Novels Book Club met to discuss The Surrogates volumes 1 and 2 by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele. It's been made into a movie currently out in theaters and stars Bruce Willis. I haven't seen the movie, but the books were very enjoyable and left me thinking about technological advances and their effects on society and humanity. The books take place in a future where most humans live vicariously through surrogates. Surrogate technology allows people to purchase a sort of android that they link up to from the safety and comfort of their homes and use to live life for them. Humans can feel everything the surrogate feels, so it truly seems as if you are living your life as another person. Living life through a perfect looking, super intelligent, physically strong surrogate that you can design yourself may sound ideal, but it definitely raises some good questions: Is part of humanity lost by living through machines? Is there "good" technology and "bad" technology? Where is the line between the two and who draws that line? What kind of world would it be if no one was ever living life as themselves?

In the technological world of today, it is not too hard to believe that one day we really could have something similar to surrogate technology. There already exist virtual worlds and games, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, where players interact with one another and the virtual environment through avatars that are designed by the players themselves. It is estimated that somewhere between 20 and 30 million people spend more time involved in virtual activities than in real world activities, so it really isn't a stretch to say that someday many more millions may be spending most of their time in virtual worlds as well.

Finally, consider the androids developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro. They look like humans, fidget like humans, and can be used as doubles to be sent out into the world to do your bidding (read the full article here). Japan and South Korea have been developing androids for some time now and are really moving the technology along. While Ishiguro says it is unlikely that anyone could ever create an android that humans would mistake for human for more than several minutes, no one can say whether or not the further development of this technology would propel us into a world full of surrogates.

Explore the topic further with the library's excellent resources and these websites:

Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots

Journal Articles and Websites
"Android Science"
Article from Scientific American about Ishiguro's androids and his pursuit of android science.

*Requires an Austin Public Library card
Before our lives become virtual reality, we will have augmented reality in which computers will anticipate our needs and project information relevant to our needs as we interact with real world things. Our current realities will, therefore, be augmented by computers. Check out this demo and prepare to have your mind blown.

"Meet the Remote-Control Self"
Article about Ishiguro's android modeled after himself (see above picture). This is the one that is most similar to a surrogate as described in the graphic novel.

"Virtual Worlds - Past, Present and Future: New Directions in Social Computing"*
*Requires an Austin Public Library card
Comprehensive article outlining the history of vitual worlds, social implications of virtual world participation, and surveys of a number of Second Life users.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Romania recently dedicated a memorial in memory of the 300,000 Jews and Gypsies killed in the country during the Holocaust. Since WW II, Romanian governments, including the Communist Pary, have denied or ignored the fact that a holocaust had occurred in Romania. President Basescu said at the ceremony that it was the "nation's duty to recognize the genocide."

Romania was also in the news recently for being the birthplace of the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. German novelist Herta Muller, who received death threats in her native Romania after she refused to become an informant for the secret police during Ceausescu's totalitarian regime, had a father in the Waffen SS, the crack combat troops of the Nazi Party.

The Library has some recent novels about Romania and a diary written during the holocaust in Romania.

Blood of Victory by Alan Furst
Espionage in war-torn Romania and France.

Journal, 1935-1944
Diary of a Romanian Jew

Little Fingers by Filip Florian
A young archeologist investigates a mass grave filled with skeletal remains that is discovered in a small Romanian town.

Train to Trieste: a Novel by Dominica Radulescu
Like the heroine of her debut novel, Dominica Radulescu escaped from Romania in the early 1980s to come to the US.

Zoli by Colum McCann
Beautifully written story chronicles the imperiled world of the Slovakian Roma from World War II through the establishment of the Communist bloc.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sam Maloof (1916 - 2009)

Sam Maloof led the kind of life I have always wanted to lead. For sixty one years, he ran a highly successful woodworking business that put craftsmanship ahead of all else. So much so, that he and his three longtime assistants only produced 100 or so pieces each year. This comparatively low, slow level of productivity never hurt his bottom line though. People, including three U.S. presidents, were so eager to own one of his functionally distinctive designs that they were willing to wait years for the privilege.

The Austin Public Library has some items featuring Mr. Maloof's work. One in particular includes warm, inviting interior and exterior photographs of his home which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. All of this acclaim is to be expected of a person who was awarded a Genius Grant by the MacArthur Foundation in 1985. See for yourself what many others already know.

The Furniture of Sam Maloof

Contemporary American Woodworkers

Craft in America [videorecording]

Fine Woodworking (Oct. 2009)

Interior Design Magazine (online)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Looking Back at the Vietnam War

The Spanish American War of 1898 was the first war fought overseas by the United States, and we have been intervening in foreign countries since then. This fall will mark the eight year anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan by American forces. Some critics of US involvement in Afghanistan compare it to the Vietnam War. Perhaps we should look at that war to help us decide what to do about Afghanistan. Below our some suggestions, and always keep in mind our full-text databases with articles from all perspectives.

New books about the Vietnam War

They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967

Vietnam : Explaining America's Lost War

Vietnam: the History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975


The Things They Carried - beautiful, anguished collection of linked stories about the men in Alpha Company.

Tree of Smoke - comment on the Vietnam war without a whole lot of battle scenes. Readers who know the history of the Vietnam War will recognize its arc - the Tet offensive; the deaths of Martin Luther King and RFK; and the fall of Saigon.


Good Morning Vietnam – through the true life accounts of D.J. Adrian Cronaue we see the strict and ridiculous bureaucracy that can at times reign over military policy.

Platoon - based on director Oliver Stone's firsthand experience as an American soldier in Vietnam.

Apocalypse Now - captures the paranoia of the soldiers.

We Were Soldiers - first engagement of American soldiers with the North Vietnamese enemy in November 1965.

The Quiet American - finest of the Vietnam prelude movies largely on the strength of Michael Caine's masterful performance.

A Bright Shining Lie - based on reporter Neil Sheehan's Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller about the life and times of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann who exposed false casualty figures being reported by General William Westmoreland in Vietnam.

Casualties of War - neglected Vietnam film based on a New Yorker article exposing a war atrocity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let's talk about silent movies

A while ago, I watched Metropolis. This marvelous silent film was released in 1927 and directed by Fritz Lang. It was my first time watching a silent movie that wasn’t a comedy. I had to concentrate a little more, but this is one of the most fascinating and engaging movies I have seen. To watch a silent movie certainly requires an extra effort because you are following a plot written to be communicated basically with expressions and body language. Watching this movie was a very interesting experience indeed when movies nowadays are so different and full of magnificent sound, color, and special effects.

Since color film wasn’t available during the time silent films were made, some of those films were tinted manually, and when films were shown they usually featured live bands playing along with the movie to add some background sound. Something else that is different in comparison with the movies today is the price for a big production. Back in 1920’s a “big movie” would cost a little bit over $100,000, nothing compared with the millions and millions that big productions cost now. Unfortunately, a lot of these movies were recorded in nitrate film, which is extremely flammable; therefore, those movies have been lost. In some cases, the remaining movies are so damaged that they are hard to enjoy and appreciate.

Silent movies, however, are not something from the past. Currently there are some directors working on silent films all over the world like Jan Svankmajer and Andrew Legge. Some contemporary silent movie titles are: Femerlin’s Song and Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish

Every year, Belgium is the host of the Brussels International Festival of Contemporary Silent Film that shows short and full length silent movies. If you haven’t seen one, would you like to give it a try?

Here are some of the titles of silent movies that Austin Public Library has available:


Beloved Rogue

Hands of Orlac

Red Kimona


The Battleship Potemkin

Pandora’s Box

In case you want to read about this topic or silent movie stars here are some ideas:

The Silent Cinema in Song, 1896-1929: An Illustrated History and Catalog of Songs Inspired by the Movies and Stars, with a List of Recordings

Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture

Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom

The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol

Silent Film Sound

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Flu

If you haven't heard all the flu news going around, excuse my pun, then you must live in a hole. If you turn on the news or read the paper you'll see vast amounts of information on the seasonal flu, H1N1 (otherwise known as "swine flu") and even the avian flu. You're probably asking yourself, "what's the difference between the three?" and "should I get the flu shot?" Personally, I think everyone should get it, especially if you work in a public place. However, that is your own decision to make. You should do the research and the library is the perfect place to start.

I've got a list of links and database pages for you to go through. Don't be afraid to click around. You'll only learn more and be more informed before you go get that shot. Or don't go get that shot.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page dedicated to all things flu.

The government's website on the flu, seasonal, avian and H1N1:

The Austin Public Library's health and medical databases. Click on the [more] links next to each database to learn more about those databases. You will find a plethora of information in those databases.

If you're in Texas, look around our Department of State Health Services site for flu info.

Google Health has a nice page set up for all the flu information you need.

If you want a little history and background information and you don't have access to a computer, check out some books on the topic. Below are just a few of the many available at the Austin Public Library. Check our catalog for more!

Dread: How Fear and Fantasy have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu
by Philip Alcabes

A Cruel Wind: Pandemic Flu in America, 1918-1920 by Dorothy Ann Pettit

The Great Bird Flu Hoax: the Truth they don't want you to know about the "Next Big Pandemic"
by Joseph Mercola

And, finally, if all of this just completely overwhelms you, pick up the phone and dial 2-1-1. Choose a language and press 6 for all your flu answers!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Living on the Moon

This morning at 6:30 AM two spacecrafts hit the moon's surface near its south pole in an effort to find water. The extremely cold crater the spacecrafts, Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), successfully hit this morning may reveal ice under the moon's surface. Unfortunately, though the impact was successful, the plumes the rockets were expected to create did not appear as anticipated and people looking through their telescopes and watching live coverage streamed from NASA's website were somewhat disappointed. However, NASA officials are encouraged by the success of the mission and expect that the analyses to come, using the footage shot by LCROSS' and LRO's many cameras, will provide evidence of water on the moon.

Finding water on the moon is a precursor to colonizing the moon. Colonization would be greatly facilitated the more natural resources can be found on the moon. After Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon in 1969, talk of lunar colonies increased exponentially and, to many, it seemed only a matter of time until humans were living on the moon. However, after 40 years without a lunar colony being established, the subject is breached more often in science fiction novels than among scientific communities. Nevertheless, there's ample interesting information on this subject and the most recent lunar missions on the web, in books, and in our databases. Here are some links and titles for you to explore the topics further:
Interesting article about how living on the moon would be made possible

Details of the LCROSS mission from

Pictures of the LCROSS and LRO's impact; also, includes a link to the video footage of the impact (look to the right of the screen)

Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century
"Papers from a NASA-sponsored, public symposium hosted by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29-31, 1984"

Moon Mines, Space Factories and Colony L5*
Example of a typical 1970s era article about space colonization.
*Requires an Austin Public Library card

Interesting article about what would have happened if Congress had approved an extensive lunar exploration mission proposed by NASA in 1967.
*Requires an Austin Public Library

Why NASA Should Bomb the Moon to Find Water: Analysis
In some of the articles I read there was an occasional mention of controversy regarding the LCROSS mention; however, I only found lay people expressing concern over crashing the rockets into the moon - I couldn't find any expert or scientific opinion that the mission was potentially harmful or concerning.


Beyond Earth: The Future of Humans in Space

Distant Worlds: Milestones in Planetary Exploration

NASA/Art: 50 Years of Exploration

Completely unrelated to the topic at hand, this book is about the NASA Art Program that was begun in 1958 and includes works from a diverse bunch of artists from Andy Warhol to Norman Rockwell.

Spacefaring: The Human Dimension

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Nobel Prize in Literature

*UPDATE* It was the favorite's year. Herta Muller won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.

October finds us deep into the football season and rounding the corner into autumn. Halloween is fast approaching and the baseball playoffs start today. That is all ancillary for me today. At some point tomorrow afternoon, the Swedish Academy in Stockholm will award the Nobel Prize in literature. Unlike the Pulitzer, National, and Booker, which are awarded for a single book, the Nobel is bestowed upon a writer for a lifetime’s worth of notable writing. An American has not won since Toni Morrison in 1993 and many think that will not change for awhile, as last year, a key Nobel figure declared that America was exceedingly insular and this lack of engagement with the world precludes any of our fine writers from taking the prize. I disagree and hope one of several deserving American writers takes the prize.

The Swedish Academy maintains a strict secrecy, but that hardly keep folks from speculating. The frontrunners this year are Israel’s Amos Oz, Germany’s Herta Muller, Syria’s Adonis, and a triumvirate of Americans: Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and Thomas Pynchon.

You may watch a live webcast of the event here.

The Austin Public Library owns numerous works from each considered writer.

Amos Oz
A Panther in the Basement
Rhyming Life and Death
Where the Jackals Howl

Herta Muller
The Appointment
The Land of Green Plums
Traveling on One Leg

The Pages of Day and Night
Transformations of the Lover

Philip Roth
American Pastoral
The Ghost Writer
Portnoy’s Complaint

Joyce Carol Oates
Black Water

Thomas Pynchon
The Crying of Lot 49
Gravity’s Rainbow
Inherent Vice

If past experience is any guide, favorites don’t win the Nobel. Perhaps this is a favorite’s year. Whether or not one of these writers becomes a Nobel winner, they are all incredible writers with a certain beauty in their sentences and their stories.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Mercedes Sosa

CuriousOrange, the Monday blogger who frequently writes about Latin America, is out sick today, but I know he would want me to write about Mercedes Sosa, the beloved folk singer from Argentina, who died this weekend. The Library has many of her recordings, and you just need to watch a video of her singing the lullaby, Duerme, Negrito, to make you want to listen to them all.
To see all her recordings at APL, click "Duerme" above to see the album's listing, then click "Find more by this author" on the left-hand side.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. She and the Lady Lindy (her airplane, named for Charles Lindberg, the first man to fly across the Atlantic) disappeared in 1937 during an attempt to fly around the world. The last anyone heard from her was a radio transmission in which she noted that she was about to fly through a storm. Theories abound as to what actually happened, including the seemingly unlikely, such as her being a spy and faking her own death; but one theory is about to be tested by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR, pronounced "tiger"). In 1940 human remains were discovered on Nikumaroro Island, not far from where Earhart may have crashed, that officials determined could have been the remains of a Caucasian woman. Unfortunately, the remains have been lost, but another discovery of some 20th century makeup items have made a number of people hopeful that with a DNA test artifacts like this may reveal whether or not Earhart was stranded on Nikumaroro Island. TIGHAR is on a mission to explore the island for any items they can find for DNA testing using a DNA sample provided by a member of Earhart's family.

Despite what TIGHAR may or my not find out on their mission, Earhart's iconic status will not change. Her position as female in an industry almost exclusively made up of men, her attractiveness, and her flying adventures and ambitions are still appealing to us today. She was certainly a celebrated figure in her own time and challenges the image many had and still have of a woman in the 1930s. Despite her celebrated status, this quote, after one of Earhart's flights, printed in a 1932 edition of the New York Post, reveals what was surely a number of people's attitude at the time: "About all she has proved is that well-known phenomenon of nature that a girl can't jump quite as far as a boy can."

A wealth of information on Earhart and her disappearance exist in print, in our databases, and on the web. Check it out:


Amelia: Theatrical Trailer
Upcoming movie about Amelia Earhart's life and disappearance starring Hilary Swank who some claim looks just like Amelia Earhart. I'll leave you to be the judge of that...

The Earhart Project
TIGHAR webpage about the Earhart mission that includes links to all kinds of information, including images, about Earhart and the island.

George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers
An amazing archive of Amelia Earhart's papers, pictures, correspondence and more digitized by Purdue University Libraries.

The Last Takeoff
This is the full video of Earhart's last takeoff from Lae, New Guinea in 1937. This is the last time anyone would see Earhart and her flying companion and navigator, Fred Noonan, alive.

Newsplayer: Amelia Earhart
A video of Amelia Earhart discussing one of her recent flights.

On the Future of Women in Flying
Audio clip of Earhart speaking on women and flying.

Solving the Mystery of How Aviator Amelia Earhart Disappeared

Article about the TIGHAR mission from The Observer


Amelia Earhart: The Sky's No Limit

Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance