30 May 2010
Check it out: official press release for the LITA/Ex Libris writing award. Apparently my paper is “intriguing, yet practical and readable”. Sweet! (And to think, you all will be able to read it in ITAL in…six months or something.)
Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution, Mark Blumberg
(I confess it’s a bit early for me to write a review — I’m on page 206 of 256 — but I have easily a post’s worth of thoughts.)
So, I really ought to like this book. It has science! Evolution! Embryology! Biological anomalies, oddities, curiosities galore! I’m a sucker for that. But, well, he keeps calling me a freak, and that predisposes me to be skeptical.
Anyway, it seems that what he’s doing is saying that a developmental perspective on biology calls into question the modern, gene-centric consensus on how evolution works. It’s really hard for me to evaluate that claim, because, while I think I understand more about basic evolutionary theory than J. Random Person, I don’t know anything about the state of the discourse among biologists these days. So a lot of it comes across as tilting at straw men. Maybe they’re real men, but as they’re present only by allusion to something I’m unfamiliar with, they may as well be concocted out of air to give him something to overcome…
He also (except in one brief example) simply does not address the heritability of the developmental properties he discusses. Again, not familiar with the modern in-field dialogue on evolution here, but when I think of evolution, I think of it as something that happens to populations and demands heritability, whereas his discussion of development seems (at least without an argument re heritability) to focus on individuals. Let a million glorious dead ends bloom, but the first question I asked about my daughter was how many fingers and toes she had, and it wasn’t the same number I had, yo. (Balance of probabilities is that my polydactyly is a developmental, not genetic, event, but I really couldn’t say.)
He’s also just, I think, entirely dismissed transsexuality as a valid condition, and that’s a line I am fundamentally not OK with people crossing. (And all in a page or two, at that!)
This is all too bad. He writes well and, as I said, the subject matter is intriguing.
You, perhaps, will like the book. My reasons for having major issues with it are…uncommon, to say the least. Chances are you don’t have a striking anatomical abnormality or multiple transsexual acquaintances, some of whom you knew before they came out. So maybe those aspects of the book don’t come to dominate it for you. But really, your library contains many, many other books. Why not get one of those?
28 May 2010
Today, I’m reading a book. (Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution, by Mark S. Blumberg, recommended by my dear friend Erin, and one of rather a lot I suddenly have out from the library…)
I could go in a lot of directions with my thoughts so far (I just finished chapter 3, of 5), but instead I’m going to blockquote this:
When applied to odd-looking human beings, these words also say a lot about our desire to draw a sharp line between them and us. They are freaks. We, however, are just ordinary folks who popped out of the womb perfectly formed, all fingers and toes and everything else accounted for and in the right place, shocking no one because, after all, that’s how our bodies are supposed to look.
Except, see, I didn’t. I don’t know why finger and toe counts are always the shorthand people pull out for “perfectly formed”, but I didn’t pop out of the womb with the conventional number. And it is — more and more as I read this book — profoundly disconcerting to have the author constantly use “we” in a way that puts himself and the reader on one side, and all of those freaks with the wrong number of toes (or heads, or penises, or what-have-you) on the other. He makes it explicit, repeatedly, that he thinks freaks are marvels of developmental biology who have a lot to teach everyone about the marvel of biology that everyone is (and everyone, truly, is), but he also just keeps calling me a freak.
(From p. 140: “…these anomalies are transformed before our eyes. We no longer stare at them with horror. Our shock is replaced by awe. And, perhaps more important, by a sense of kinship.” See, I get how his explicit feelings here include awe. But I also see how his implicit perspective is that people, me included, are expected to view me with shock or horror. And that I — as a reader thus somehow included in that “we” — apparently should not feel any baseline kinship with myself. Seriously? My to-me-perfectly-normal, offbeat, quirky, hard-to-fit-for-shoes foot makes me an object of repugnance? Of self-alienation?)
The title of this blog is “Across Divided Networks” because I care about prompting conversations that span groups, that bridge, and expose, disparate assumptions. Usually, the networks I find myself bridging are those of LIS (my professional training) and CS (much of my social network). But I read and hear a lot of conversations these days about library advocacy, which includes a notion of bridging library and stakeholder networks. And, really, just being alive in the world, being a human who cares about more than hiding under a rock (or inside a carefully homogenous social milieu), necessitates bridging networks.
Which means I am often terribly sensitive to how the word “we” is used. Does the implicit group it describes truly exist? Is someone being marginalized and silenced because they don’t belong to the group, but fear to speak out against it now that it’s been named, and they’ve been presumed to be inside it? Does it blind the speaker of the “we” to the ways the assumed commonality may not exist? Does it — as here — accompany an explicit statement of solidarity, while communicating some sort of quiet condescension?
My foot doesn’t fit in established boxes. It blends in at a glance, but not on further inspection. It doesn’t have quite the same construction as, in all likelihood, any other foot on earth. It’s awkward, strange, and wholly functional, and mostly beautiful. I identify with my foot. I am finding it increasingly difficult to give Blumberg’s argument a fair hearing.
Riding the lovely, civilized train on my way to the ACRL/NEC conference the other day, I was reading the book Managing Humans by this guy. (So far quite good, recommended: funny, pragmatic.) And I was thinking about David Weinberger stuff and my presentation for LIS 415 back when, and suddenly I wanted to blog something, but I had no laptop charge, so I grabbed some paper and scribbled a bunch of stuff and am finally reconciling myself to the fact that if I wait until I have turned it into complete sentences it will never be a blog post, so I’m going to transcribe it here, and ask you all to fill in the blanks. (So yeah, this is what my brain looks like before I translate it!)
Rands (p. 106): tags (del.icio.us/Flickr are context which renders the content meaningful
me (tagging presentations)/LIS: tags removed from context have altered/no meanings
they are context, or they’re in context? cf. Weinberger — no clear distinction between data & metadata
org culture — these artifacts we create to communicate/provide context make sense only in org context
turtles all the way down
communicating context = explication of assumptions; # of assumptions you don’t need to explain determined by the region circumscribing the conversation
Flickr, del.icio.us, etc. — region circumscribing you, original tagger potentially very large; you can’t see how big it is & may make faulty assumptions
you may coincidentally share a discourse community but there’s no reason you’re already in one (though social technology infrastructure gives you means to discover/build one if you treat the clash of assumptions as the opportunity for a conversation rather than an occasion of outrage or superiority)
i ❤ social technology
4 May 2010
OMG I won the LITA award and I’m so excited I can’t think straight and my hands are shaking.
(This means I get my paper published in an upcoming issue of Information Technology and Libraries; (a peer-reviewed journal, yo) and I get an award presented at ALA Annual, which I am now going to, because I also get a big pile of cash.)
All that and LITA throws the best parties.
3 May 2010
My awesomesauce friend John sent me this link about Visa’s concierge service. Apparently they offer a free virtual assistant thing, and some snarky blogger decided to test the limits of this by, e.g., ordering a giant vat of cheese and getting help on his crossword.
1) OMG. The credit card that offers this is one I have. I have totally got to use this to make my life better.
2) …wait, you call up your credit card to get help on the crossword? Whatever happened to calling up a reference librarian? (Does Visa employ reference librarians? Or is it all outsourced to Bangalore? Or do they outsource to reference librarians in Bangalore?)
I’m reminded of Andy’s post about what might substitute in a world without public libraries. Now, I loved this post, because I’m a sucker for economics-style thinking, but I gotta say, “your credit card” was not on the list of options. Who’da thunk?
1 May 2010
I hate shoe shopping.
I know — this is grounds for eviction from my gender. But if you’d once gone into every shoe store in your hometown, asked if they’d sold your size, and they all said “no”, you’d hate shoe shopping too.
(I wear an 8.5AA, and basically no one sells — or manufactures — narrows. Note that I say I wear a AA, not that I am one, because in fact my left foot is a AAA or a AAAA, and my right is an AAAA in the heel but an A through the toes, because I have six of them. AA — which you note is the correct size for me nowhere — is my compromise. I was in my twenties before I realized it was possible to own dress shoes that did not make my feet bleed. Like I said, you’d hate shoe shopping too.)
Long story short: thank goodness for the internet. Maybe it’s not worth it for shoe stores, except specialty stores in major metro areas (thank goodness also for Nordstrom) to stock my size, but on the internet I can shop by my size and never have to see all those adorable shoes I will never be able to wear.
Funny thing, though: I was talking to @Zappos_Service yesterday and they mentioned that narrows tended to go out of stock as soon as they got them. Wait, what?
All this time I assumed that no one stocked my size because no one wears it, so there wasn’t an economic case for it. But apparently there is more demand for narrow shoes than vendors can meet and somehow the invisible hand is failing to make money off of this. Whuh?
I think what we have here is a problem of perception. When I talk to people who don’t wear narrow shoes (particularly people with wide feet) they don’t realize I have a problem finding shoes. They assume stores carry my size, and that finding narrows is easier than finding wides (demonstrably untrue). People, including shoe salespeople, will tell me that this brand runs narrow as if that is useful (it isn’t; please stop saying that).
So wait, how did my cranky rant have to do with libraries again? I mean, under normal circumstances I think of, e.g., Amazon as having a huge advantage over libraries on the long-tail front, for all that WorldCat and ILL and consortial borrowing help with that.
Eric Hellman posited recently that a library is a collection organized for the benefit of its community. And it’s that spirit that’s generally lacking in my shoe-shopping travails. The profit motive should be enough…but it’s not, if people misunderstand the nature of the problem. If they think that stocking 8.5Bs that “run narrow” will result in sales to the narrow-footed among us, they will merrily stock them as their AA and AAA and AAAA widths fly off the shelves, unnoticed. What’s needed is some sort of conversation, where I can say, so yeah, I have these mutant feet, how can we work together to clarify assumptions? to bend the rules for me? And it’s that kind of conversation that, ideally, libraries — human intermediaries — are well-suited to provide.
In other words, the internet works great for you if you’re in the long tail of stuff that gets made. If you’re in the longer tail of stuff that doesn’t — if you need some sort of DIY, bespoke, creative solution — libraries can, at their best, make that work.
Library sherpas are great and all, but maybe I’d rather library MacGyvers.