Sunday, May 30, 2010


It’s too soon to know how we’ll be affected by the oil in the gulf. Scientists have never seen a spill like this one: the oil is being ejected so violently in water so deep that oil and water are actually mixing. Add to that the dispersant British Petroleum is using, and you get huge clouds of emulsified toxins suspended in the water column, poisoning whatever swims into them. No one knows how many toxic plumes there are, how big they are, or where they’re moving. That’s what we don’t see.

What we do see is the sheen of oil on the surface of the sea and the sludge washing into wetlands at the worst possible time of year for the animals that live there.

What we will see after the clean up, if cleaning up is possible, is the oil reemerging, dredged up by hurricanes. And we’ll see the familiar parade of CEOs, regulators, politicians, and their lawyers sputtering into microphones.

And then will come articles, books, and documentaries about the spill and its human and environmental toll. Until those are written, we’ll have to make do with analyses of previous spills:

If this tragedy in the gulf doesn’t change the way we consume energy, nothing will, and maybe nothing will.

Friday, May 28, 2010

New Thrillers

Michael Gruber can inform readers on subjects in which they never knew they had an interest while telling a really good story. His previous novels have explored SanterĂ­a, salvia, forgery, and a "lost" play by Shakespeare. His latest thriller, The Good Son, is more serious and considerably riskier than his previous novels, but just as fascinating and entertaining.

Sonia Laghari is an American Jungian analyst and writer, fluent in many languages and religions, who converted to Islam when she married into a wealthy Pakistani family. She has a fatwa on her head for violating Islamic law by going on the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, dressed as a man--and then writing a book about her experiences. Despite this, Sonia has returned to Pakistan to host a conference on peace where she is kidnapped by terrorists. Sonia begins chipping away at the psyches of her captors using Jungian psychology. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Sonia's son, an ex-Delta fighter who is now part of a secret military intelligence-gathering team, begins a covert campaign to rescue his mother.

More new thrillers:

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni
Thriller based on a literal interpretation of a passage in Genesis that describes angels interbreeding with human women to produce powerful hybrid beings called Nephilim.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
The third volume in Stieg Larsson's immensely successful Millennium trilogy - crime thrillers about a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who works for the magazine Millennium, and his sometime partner Lisbeth Salander, an appealing character who is a tattooed bisexual computer hacker.

The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer
The Tourist, Stenhauer's 2009 bestseller, is being made into a film starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. The Nearest Exit is the sequel to that stunning spy novel, and, if anything, it’s even more complex.

The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams
Middle East political thriller by a Washington Post reporter revolves around government secrets, duplicity, and Islamic extremism.

These are popular books so be prepared to place a hold. You may place a hold on a title that is "Coming Soon". See the Library's Good Reads for more recommended spy thrillers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don’t be Afraid of Sadness

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair”
Witches in Macbeth.

One of the definitions of Oxford English Dictionary for the word “sad” is: affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness. When in the dictionary, this feeling appears to be so rational and controlled but when we think about it and the way we experience this emotion, it could be deep and soul tearing or it could be more like having a fish bone stuck in your heart. It could also be almost imperceptible, like one of those days when you are not particularly cheerful and more in the blue side of your mood. The reasons? A never ending list that varies in importance that could include: a broken heart, the morning news, the departure of a loved one and also a book.

As you already know, there are some books which life wrenching plots bring you to tears, sometimes during the whole book, sometimes at the end of it. In several cases, you knew the story was a sad one beforehand, but in others, sadness strikes when you least expect: the main character of the story dies or something terrible happens that just leave you speechless and teary, even when the book has a happy ending. Nevertheless, you keep on reading because of the beauty of the story.

When I was very young I thought that the purpose of art in all forms, including literature, was to fill my soul with happiness. Later in life I learned that this wasn’t necessarily true and that the goal of a piece of art, in this case a book, wasn’t always linked to the elicitation of joy. I learned then that if I wanted to enjoy beauty in all forms, I shouldn’t be afraid of sadness.

Some examples of beautiful sad books are:

Monday, May 24, 2010


I recently watched (again) Dersu Uzala, Akira Kurosawa’s 1975 film taken from the 1923 memoir of Captain Vladimir Arseniev, a Russian surveyor who explored the mountains of eastern Siberia in the early 20th century. Dersu, a forest-dwelling hunter, comes upon the surveying party at their camp fire, sits down and lights his pipe, and in the years and field trips to come, saves their inexperienced hides more than once. It’s a swash-buckling wilderness adventure, the biography of a man with a great heart, and the chronicle of a friendship.

If you’ve been meaning to catch up on your Kurosawa, APL has an extensive collection of his movies on DVD. We also have critical essays, books on “the making of”, and biographies, including Kurosawa's own: Something Like an Autobiography.

Here are links to APL's copies of just Kurosawa's most famous films; search FindIt for even more (notice Dersu Uzala isn't here; until APL can order another copy, we can get it for you through interlibrary loan):

Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior)

Throne of Blood
Seven Samurai
Kurosawa (a documentary about the director)

Kurosawa did not make impenetrable art-house films (not that there's anything wrong with that!); his movies are accessible and current; his subjects: change, perception, relationships, fear, greed--the way humans operate. If you're not familiar with Kurosawa, borrow a Kurosawa movie from APL and find out why he's so admired.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Internet Privacy

While putting private information on the internet has become more and more common, measures to protect that privacy have not. As I’m sure many of you have heard in the news by now, Facebook’s privacy policies have recently been brought back into question. With some recent changes allowing Facebook to share information with third party websites in order to better advertise things to you, a great number of people are angry and plan to abandon or protest the site. In fact, May 31st is Quit Facebook Day, and a Facebook Protest has been set for June 6th. After reading about Facebook’s changes, I noticed that my privacy settings had been changed so anyone who wanted to could find out my hometown, read about my interests, find out who my siblings are, etc. I was shocked – I keep just about everything on my profile private and I never would have thought to re-check my settings had I not read this article alerting me to the fact that Facebook had gone as far as to change my settings so I had to "opt-out" once again.

Facebook is not the only major website out there that has collected and/or used information you provide them in a potentially compromising way. Just a few short years ago AOL released information about people’s search histories in a way that made the individuals easy to identify. Google has also compromised privacy a number of times, memorably with the release of Google Buzz, but more recently for collecting a large amount of data via Wi-Fi networks around the world.

There are some out there who say that simply not posting personal information will provide people with a sufficient level of privacy protection. However, if you make an online purchase, it is highly likely that data has been kept and stored by that company. If you use Netflix, your viewing history has been kept and stored. If you like the recommendations Amazon provides you, those, along with the info used to come up with them, are kept and stored too. Not to mention that if you have a Facebook account, you have already agreed that anything you post there may be stored and kept, even after you remove the information.

While these individual bits of info may not be terribly compromising, when put in tandem with the info you have provided to other websites, it could become so. Particularly in the face of this article from The Economist, it is pretty clear that an extremely large amount of information is being collected and stored by large corporations which are actively seeking the latest technologies and professionals to eventually analyze it and use it to their advantage. What all of this means currently is still unclear, but one thing’s for certain, just about everyone could use some good information on internet privacy:


The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?

Privacy: The Lost Right

Securing Privacy in the Internet Age

Using the Internet Safely for Seniors for Dummies


De-Anonymizing Social Networks
The authors of this article found that even when Twitter and Flickr accounts were stripped of their identifying information, those people could still be identified 30% of the time by correlations examined in various accounts.

Deleting Your Facebook Account (FAQ), CNET
A FAQ about how to delete or deactivate your Facebook account

Facebook Privacy: 8 Ways to Protect Yourself
Complete with handy slideshow detailing exactly where to go on Facebook to change your privacy settings.

GetNetWise: Privacy
A guide to protecting your priavcy online

How to Quit Facebook Without Actually Quitting Facebook, Lifehacker
Interesting post from the popular blog, Lifehacker, on ways to protect your privacy on Facebook without deleting yourself entirely.

How to Stop Worrying About Privacy and Love Facebook, PC World
A good article on the privacy changes Facebook has made.

Predicting Social Security Numbers from Private Data
The authors were of this artcile were able to accurately predict all 9 digits of Social Security numbers for about 5 million people in the United States. They were able to do this only using information on the public record.

Tech Secrets: 21 Things ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know, PC World
This is a very interesting article about the different ways information transmitted via the internet is collected and the ways you can protect yourself.

The Tell-All Generation Learns When Not To, at Least Online, New York Times
Article noting that despite public perception, it is typically younger people that are most proactive about protecting personal information.

White House and Google: Cozy as Charged, Fortune
Detailing the close relationship between Google and the US government

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How I am learning Spanish

My family has been in Texas for 150 years. Throughout my life I've lived in communities where I hear Spanish daily. I've been to Mexico many times. I watch plenty of Mexican soccer broadcasts. So, why then is my Spanish so embarrassingly incomplete? In retrospect, perhaps studying Dutch in college wasn't the most prescient choice.

My grandfather is the most fluent Spanish speaker in the family. He learned the language through decades of farming. While I enjoy gardening, I have no plans to become a commercial farmer, so I decided upon another--and more romantic--way in which to improve my Spanish. I read Spanish poetry. Allow me to qualify that statement: I read Spanish poetry with English translations juxtaposed on the other page. While I still must supplement the Spanish with the English, each poem provides a little victory as I need the English version less and less. I am incredibly far from fluency, but at least when I’m there, I’ll sound like a poet.

Below are some of my favorite poets whose works are conveniently available in Spanish/English editions.

Mario Benedetti’s Little Stones at My Window/Piedritas en la Ventana

Roberto Bolano’s The Romantic Dogs

Federico Garcia Lorca’s Selected Verse

Pablo Neruda’s Ceremonial Songs

Pablo Neruda’s The Captain’s Verse

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Trouble with Cell Phones

Feeling run down, perhaps it's your cell phone? Once again, Americans are showing a concern for the environment and are scrutinizing the purity of the foods they eat and the chemicals they use to clean and how all of this plays into their overall health and well being. But what about the purity of the electronic products we use everyday? We all know of the intense effects of microwave radiation on food, but what happens to the human brain as we ostensibly hold, "tiny, low-power, microwave ovens, without walls," to the sides of our heads? A recent article published in GQ entitled, "Warning: Your Cell Phone May Be Hazardous to Your Health," outlines a great deal of scientific research that supports this alarming premise as well as the government and industry forces at work to discredit the findings. As the article's author admits, "It's hard to talk about the dangers of cell phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist." However, to the author's credit, there was also a time when smoking was considered completely safe and non-addicting, asbestos was thought to be a good non-cancer-causing home insulator and DDT a harmless and reliable pesticide.

Never being one to base important decisions on a singular source of information, I ran a couple of simple searches using some of the Health and Medicine databases available via the Austin Public Library. I've listed the article titles as well as the database I found them in so that you may find them for yourself and read the full text.

Health and Wellness Resource Center
"WHO (World Health Organization) Study Finds Cell Phone Usage May Cause Brain Cancer"
"Strong Signal for Cell Phone Effects: Nothing You Do For Children is Ever Wasted"

Consumer Health Complete
"Health Risks From Wireless Technologies"
"Growing Concern Over the Safety of Using Mobile Phones and Male Fertility"

Health Reference Center - Academic
"Cellular and Cordless Telephones and Basal Cell Carcinoma: A Case Report"

Friday, May 14, 2010

LinkedIn at the Library

Social networking sites are trendy and many of them may not last. LinkedIn , however, has proven its worth and is likely to continue. LinkedIn is a handy tool for job-seekers, recruiters, and entrepreneurs looking to make fruitful business connections. You can be invited to join the site by a friend or colleague, or you can join up yourself in just a few minutes. To get started you will need to write a profile that shares your work experience,educational background and other professional credentials. Your profile is like an online calling card - once you fill it in you can link to it from your company website or put the link on your business card, then colleagues and clients can easily review your credentials and develop a level of trust in your abilities. There are industry and business groups you can join and then get names of potential contacts within the organization.

Faulk Central Library is now offering a Social Networking (Web 2.0) class that inlcludes LinkedIn. The class is offered every fourth Monday 4:30 - 6 pm. The next class is May 24. There is no need to register - just show up for the class. (See the Library's complete computer class schedule)

Books at APL :
Sams Teach Yourself LinkedIn in 10 minutes
650.1302854 Ru 2010

How to Succeed in Business Using LinkedIn: Making Connections and Capturing Opportunities on the Web's #1 Business Networking Site
025.0665 BU 2009

I'm on LinkedIn, Now What???: a Guide to Getting the Most out of LinkedIn
658.311 AL 2009

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jim Marshall - Portrait Photographer

Even if you have never heard of legendary rock photographer Jim Marshall - you have seen his photographs. - Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire on stage at Monterey, Johnny Cash on the Folsom Prison stage, and Miles Davis boxing at Newman's Gym. He died this past March. His obituary in the New York Times explained that in 1960 Mr. Marshall had a chance encounter with John Coltrane who asked him for directions. Marshall replied that he would take him to his destination if Coltrane would let him take his picture. So began a career of photographing rock and jazz musicians in their own environment, not in a studio.

APL has two collections of Marshall's photographs:

Jim Marshall: Jazz

Not Fade Away: the Rock & Roll Photography of Jim Marshall

Amazon had 3 other books by Jim Marshall that the Library doesn't own, so I clicked on "Suggest a Title" on the Findit toolbar and suggested that we purchase 3 more of his collections.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Day after day more people come to L.A.
Shhh! Don’t you tell anybody the whole place slippin’ away!
There she goes!

Where can you go when there’s no San Francisco?
Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho.

(Shango, late 1960s)

I grew up in Riverside, California, about 20 miles south of where the San Andreas Fault cuts through San Bernardino. While the rest of the world worried about nuclear annihilation, we California kids had an extra problem: any minute the western side of the state was going to break off and sink into the Pacific!

A school mate of mine was in Anchorage in 1964 during the horrendous 9.2 Alaska quake, but the strongest one I ever felt was centered in Sylmar in 1971 and measured 6.6. We were taught to stand in a doorway during a quake, but I never remembered to do that in time. After the Sylmar quake shook me awake, I lay in bed and watched my window twist in the wall. Californians are tough. Earthquakes? Pah! Now tornadoes—those are scary!

It might seem like the earth is shaking more frequently and more violently these days than it has in the past, but according to the US Geological Survey, things are normal. If you’re fascinated by geologic events, unexceptional or fantastic, APL can sate your curiosity.

Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis: Projects and Principles for Beginning Geologists, Matthys Levy.

The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, Nicholas Shrady.

Richter's Scale: Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man, Susan Elizabeth Hough.

Tectonic Faults: Agents of Change on a Dynamic Earth

And have another look at liblairian's post about the volcano in Iceland.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Proposition 65 and Your Health

I got a really interesting reference question last week about a California Proposition 65 warning on a water heater. A woman called the reference desk (you can call, too, anytime we’re open at 974-7400, option #3) and told me she found in her new water heater’s use and care manual a Proposition 65 warning reading:

“California Proposition 65: Warning: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

She wanted to know what this warning meant – specifically, which chemicals were in her water heater, so she could research them fully. I had never heard of Proposition 65, so I had no idea what to tell her or where exactly that information could be found. I took down the model number of the water heater and her phone number so I could call her back after I did a bit of research.

I first wanted to have some understanding of what Proposition 65 actually was. Essentially, it’s a 21-page list of chemicals the Governor of California is required to maintain and re-publish at least yearly. Any amount of any of these chemicals found in household products or industrial appliances require a business to put a Prop. 65 warning on it.

With that understanding out of the way, I went on to try to figure out which chemicals happened to be in this particular product only to be thwarted by this statement on the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) website that basically reads that businesses are not required to report why a Prop. 65 warning has been added to a product.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to find this information that easily and I had to refer the customer back to the company that manufactured the water heater. She had mentioned this not being successful in a previous attempt, so I utilized the always helpful ReferenceUSA (requires an APL library card to access from home) to get her the telephone number for the corporate headquarters rather than the customer service 800 number.

I was surprised the information this customer sought was not publicly available and easy to find, especially considering how much info has been released over the past years about chemicals linked to, as Prop. 65 states, “cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm”. Just yesterday, a press release was put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) announcing the President’s Cancer Panel report on Americans’ exposure to chemicals found in the environment, household products, cosmetics, and foods. The report indicates that the incidence of some cancers is on the rise for “unexplained reasons” (in fact, 41% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer) and it is believed by many scientists that this rise is linked to the rise of chemicals used in our day-to-day products and environments, many of which have been linked to hazardous effects on human health.

While it seems virtually impossible to avoid harmful chemicals altogether, the resources below found on the internet and provided by the library can help you make better decisions about the products you are purchasing or may already have in your home. Not to mention the knowledgeable reference librarians just a click or phone call away ready to provide you with helpful, quality information!

The EWG provides several great resources. I used the below links (plus what is linked to within the above paragraphs) to help write this blog post:

Cosmetics Database
The cosmetics industry is largely un-regulated (for a good article on this click here), so no company is held accountable for the ingredients they put in their products. This database can help you determine the level of risk associated with using certain cosmetics.

Health Tips

Household Products Database
US Dept of Health and Human Services database that provides “health and safety information on household products”

Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk
The full report of the President’s Cancer Panel just released April 2010.

Shopper’s Guide on avoiding produce high in pesticide residues
According to research, by avoiding the “Dirty Dozen” (or, making sure to buy organic the foods on this list) and sticking to the “Clean 15”, you can reduce your pesticide consumption by four-fifths. Pesticides have been shown to cause many types of health problems in humans (for example, see Health Problems Pesticides May Pose by the EPA and Pesticides and Food, a research guide created by the Library of Congress)

Tap Water Database
Find out more about how your local water supply ranks and a guide to choosing a good water filter.

ToxRefDB: Toxicity Reference Database

A new database provided by the EPA - you can search chemicals by name to find out more about any effects they may be known to have on human health.


Panel Sounds Alarm on Environmental Cancer Risks
From CBS News

US Facing ‘Grievous Harm’ in Air, Food, Water, Panel Says
From The Washington Post

President’s Cancer Panel Calls for Fundamental Shift in Chemicals Policy
From PR Newswire


The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being

Dangerous or Safe?: Which Foods, Medicines, and Chemicals Really Put Your Kids at Risk

Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health

The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances

How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace

Not Just A Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

My favorite artist made buildings.

My favorite artists are architects. I like art that you can walk through. I like art that provides an imprint on the landscape. I prefer to spend a day walking through a city than a day inside a museum.

My absolute favorite architect is Antoni Gaudi. The Catalan dynamo unabashadly crafted intricate buildings and plazas dripping with reflections of nature, God, and humanity. Each of his works contains a beautiful interplay of stone, tile, iron, and color. His creations did not have straight lines nor did they configure to the rapidly mechanizing world of the early twentieth century. A patron concerned with the lack of straight lines in her Gaudi-built home once asked him where in the house she would be able to place her dog kennel. Gaudi recommended she purchase a snake.

The best art mesmerizes us. Gaudi's work makes me smile.

While I can't offer a getaway to Barcelona, I can recommend some excellent Gaudi resources available at the Austin Public Library.

Antoni Gaudi, 1852-1926: from Nature to Architecture


Gaudi: the Man and His Work

The Designs and Drawings of Antoni Gaudi

Catalonia: a Cultural History
provides context for the era and culture in which Gaudi lived, along with an interesting chapter about Gaudi and an exploration of modern Catalonia

Modernismo: Architecture and Design in Catalonia
a big beautiful book about Gaudi and his contemporaries

John Ruskin's On Art and Life
a little book advocating for the architectural approach that Gaudi lived by

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Micro breweries are very popular. People have been making beer in their garages for some time now. This same trend holds true for wine making.I have heard of people fermenting grapes in their bathroom for this purpose. Most recently, I have heard that micro distilleries are on the rise. It is becoming trendy to sip very potent, home made spirits of the kind that were once most associated with American rural communities. All of this insight and information began to ferment in my own mind and over the course of a few days I got to thinking about a very old, traditional Aztec spirit known as pulque.

Pulque is harvested from the maguey cactus. The heart of the plant is cut and scraped out to form a well. Over the course of a few days the liquid contained within the plant's thick, succulent leaves begins to drain into this well. The liquid is then collected, much in the same way as it has since antiquity, and stored in large steel tanks and allowed to ferment. A film that does a good job in documenting the process is entitled, Que Viva Mexico!

I wouldn't be surprised if in the not too distant future you see pulque, which is also typically flavored with a variety of natural fruit juices, appearing on the menus of some of the more trendy restaurants around town. Until then, you can read about how pulque figures into ancient Aztec mythology as well as its culinary use.

El Maguey y el Pulque en los Codices Mexicanos
Tequila! : Cooking with the Spirit of Mexico

Mexico Cooks - Excellent blog posting on the subject

Brewing beer at home:
How to Brew: Ingredients, Methods, Recipes, and Equipment for Brewing Beer at Home
The Everything Beer Book: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Enjoy the Best Beers, Even Brew Your Own

Home wine making:
From Vines to Wine: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine
Winemaking: Recipes, Equipment, and Techniques for Making Wine at Home