Saturday, May 28, 2011

Questions, Answered

Q. In the past month we have answered many, many questions on the theme "Do you have books on [fill in career here]?", for a project assigned at school.

A. After years of torturing myself by searching for careers or occupations in the catalog, I've taped vocational guidance to my computer monitor. That brings up everything career-related, not just books with careers or occupations in the title.

Q. Do you own The Origins of Russian Conduct, a book by George Kennan?

A. It turns out the person is looking for the Sources of Soviet Conduct which was an article that has been published online.

Q. I saw the sign that says you can get books in other languages from other libraries. [Wow! Sign reading is a rare but welcome occurrence.] Is there a list of books in German?

A. You can look up German language materials in NJCat, a catalog that searches public and college libraries in New Jersey. A lot of German novels came up when we tried that.

Q. Actually, I want nonfiction about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall in German.

A. We looked up Cold War in the English-German dictionary at Wordreference.com, then looked up kalter krieg in NJCat as well as Berlin mauer. It turns out that the Morristown library and Drew University have books about the Berlin Wall in German.

Q. Another patron wanted books & videos on balance for seniors, but not yoga, Pilates or anything that requires equipment (like a balance ball).

A. The DVD "Sit and Be Fit Balance & Fall Prevention Workout" fit the bill.

Q. BASF Ultradur plastics are used in automobile manufacturing. What other brands of plastic are similar?

A. Dowell.com has a chart comparing different types of polybutylene terephthalate.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Un-American Origin of the Dollar

I was reading Vanity Fair and came to a part where an English boy on vacation in Germany was described as having a pocket full of dollars. I thought that was more than a little odd, so I looked up "dollar" in the dictionary to see where the word came from.

The German word for valley is "tal"; a taler or thaler is a person or thing from a valley. Wikipedia explains that "the Thaler (or Taler or Talir) was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years." It is short for "Joachimsthaler", the first of such coins, which were minted in the valley of St. Joachim (now Jáchymov in the Czech Republic) beginning in the 16th century.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Interview with John Romano, author of Your Digital Afterlife

Your Digital Afterlife, When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy? By Evan Carroll and John Romano
(Berkeley, CA, New Riders, 2011)

BH:  Today we welcome John Romano, co-author with Evan Carroll, of Your Digital Afterlife. John grew up in the Free Acres section of Berkeley Heights. Welcome back, at least in a virtual way, to your hometown and thanks for visiting us, John.

JR: Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be interviewed by the library that I remember visiting as a kid. I remember sitting downstairs at the library listening and reading along to the book and cassette tape of “There Was an Old Woman” a hundred times.

BH: You grew up in Free Acres, a part of Berkeley Heights historically associated with artistic, free-thinking people. You are trained as a graphic artist. Was Free Acres an artistic inspiration to you growing up? What led you into art and design?

JR: I think the spirit of Free Acres cultivates a feeling of openness and freedom that encourages exploration. I think that gives people the courage to pursue whatever they’re passionate about. For me it was design.

When I was 12, my parents took me to Gershon Benjamin’s house for art lessons. They got me into extra art classes in high school. Going to design school and becoming a designer was what I always wanted.

BH: The idea of organizing information, preserving it, archiving it and making it easily available to the next generation is a cause dear to a librarian’s heart. How did a designer/artist as you are become interested in this field of information management?

JR: In 2001, I helped clear out my grandfather’s house after he died. Later that year my son was born, and like most new parents, I took lots of photos and videos. The difference was that all mine were digital. So I began to wonder about the long-term fate of all these new digital heirlooms.

Digital technology provides lots of benefits, but we have to consider the long-term ramifications of the shift to digital. As a user experience designer, I’ve been trained to identify and consider the user’s needs. In this case it was a long-term need that most people haven’t considered yet.

BH: You begin the book with the story of a Viet Nam vet whose letters home are preserved by his family, compared to an American soldier killed in Iraq whose family wishes to gain access to his email accounts in order to preserve his legacy. The family did finally prevail after some legal battles. That was a great cautionary tale. Who cares about digital legacies besides family?

JR: Becoming a digital society means that we have to create social and legal structures to deal with digital assets. The emotional and familial value that heirlooms like photos and videos have is the most obvious kind. Social networking accounts like Facebook provide a powerful presence of the departed and often gain a similar value to the bereaved.

But digital assets and accounts can also have logistical, financial or historical value. Families that pay their mortgage and bills online run into trouble during the transition. Online businesses need to be transferred properly. Over longer periods of time these assets may become the artifacts that historians look to when doing primary research.

BH: I was patting myself on the back so to speak for having a list of online accounts and passwords that I gave to my kids and have all that kind of information all neatly arranged in a librarianish kind of way, but as your book points out, a list of passwords alone may not be sufficient (88). You point out that the law has not caught up with the digital reality yet which means the individual has to be more proactive than just making a password list. Thanks, John! Do you think legal cases and the awareness your book and website have created are beginning to make a dent in the situation of digital legacies?

JR: I think the situation is a complex one that requires the technology companies, online service providers, the government, the legal community, and consumers to all come together. Awareness from the book and media coverage is just the first step. The hard work of creating best practices for companies and protections for bereaved is still ahead of us.

But the situation can’t go unresolved. It will become more and more necessary to deal with as Gen X and the Millennial generation, who have spent significant amounts of their lives online, approach old age.


BH: You recommend having a “digital executor” who might be separate from the traditional executor of your will, someone tech savvy and willing. You also include in your book names of online services that help people create a “digital estate plan.” (87) You talk about how various internet sites like Facebook and Google and Yahoo and so on should, and some have, begin to think about after-death policies for their members who create content or participate in their social networks so that heirs won’t have to go through what the family of the soldier mentioned in the opening chapter had to experience to gather up his digital legacy. How do you get people to think about this, besides writing a book of course - which I hope everyone either buys or checks out from the library. How can you encourage awareness of these issues?

JR: While the media coverage (and hopefully the book) is helping, it can’t solve the problem.

Change can happen from within the online services community. Awareness can be created as more companies like Facebook and Google adopt policies that address death directly. The legal profession is another way. We are currently working with lawyers to find ways to address digital assets as people prepare their legal will.

But there is a long way to go before we have legal, technical and social structures in place to adequately deal with the problem.


BH: The first step you recommend is to create an inventory of one’s online life and digital creations.(103) Right there, I can hear many netizens start to hyperventilate about how much of their lives and stuff is out their in the ‘cloud.’ Having tweeted something like that to you, you answered:
 “When considering digital assets, ask yourself, "what is most valuable or necessary?" Secure those things first.”
That’s just so calm and rational. Are you one of those hyper-organized people or do you also feel a bit overextended in cyberspace at times?

JR: Me? Hyper-organized? (laughs out loud). No, I’m just as unorganized and overextended as most people, which is why we recommend for people to start with the most valuable assets. Asking people to inventory every online account, email and computer they have is unrealistic and unnecessary.

BH: I’m starting to imagine a t.v. reality show along the lines of “Clean House” or “Hoarders,” but dealing with people who have so many online bank and email accounts and passwords, not to mention social networks, photo-storing websites, blogs, tweets, wikis etc that they never leave home and develop agoraphobia and John and Evan have to come in and troubleshoot the situation. Sort of the the Collyer brothers for the 21st century. Thoughts?

JR: Most of the assets will disappear due to benign neglect. And that’s OK, as long as they aren’t valuable or connected to financial accounts. I wonder if a better show would be to follow Digital Estate Services. These guys are digital locksmiths that help the bereaved recover data from deceased people’s computers. Imagine all the skeletons that come out when looking in digital closets.

BH: Ok, I can see it now, “Digital Locksmiths:” a show that has the detectives sifting through digital assets to solve crimes instead of those gory forensic shows.

BH: I’ve read about Death Day on your website. Can you tell us about it?

JR: Digital Death Day is a small conference of people that come together to discuss these issues. Lawyers, archivists, librarians, technologists, entrepreneurs, and user advocates come together to identify opportunities and problems and talk about how to solve these issues.

BH: I remember one of my library school professors talking about people having too much stuff, and riffing on comedian George Carlin’s routine about “stuff” which in those days was physical stuff. So the idea of coping with too much stuff has morphed into too much information online, but the challenges remain - how not to become overwhelmed and lose or misplace things. What I liked about your book is that it gives very specific advice and solutions to the problem of getting ahead of “stuff’ getting out of control. I would advise people to keep your book on hand to refer to and as a sort of workbook to go through.
What has reaction to your book been?

JR: I think the idea of “emotional economics” is a strong one. Having too many photos or videos of an event just serves to diminish the value of any one of them. Curating your digital life serves to hone your collection and makes the things you keep more valuable. It’ll serve you during your life and make the job of going through your assets easier on your heirs.

BH: What projects are you working on now?

JR: We’re working with the legal community to address digital assets as part of the traditional estate planning process.

BH: thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, John. You have given us a lot to think about our digital assets and how to begin thinking about the future of our online selves.

Related websites:

http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/ John's organization Web site.



Friday, May 20, 2011

Nike Missile Site

One of the library's perennial reference requests is information on the former Nike missile test site and air base in Watchung Reservation. "With its radar and command on the Berkeley Heights-Summit border and its launching pad in Mountainside, the station was one of 19 Nike AJAX missile bases that ringed New York City, standing ready to blast invading planes out of the sky", according to a Star-Ledger article from 5-28-2000. The Nike air base was in operation from 1958 to 1963 (according to this website).

The subject is not covered in Berkeley Heights' local history books, so I searched The Dispatch, a local newspaper that we have on PDF. Anyone can come in the library and search this newspaper by keyword, although you have to search it issue by issue. Here's a picture of the NIKE exhibit in the lobby of the Summit Trust Company bank in August 1957. The rest of the article follows (yes, there are grammatical errors, which are not mine. The emphasis on electronic brains taking up entire trailers is mine.)

Click to enlarge

The exhibit consists of a mechanically operated model of various NIKE Units at the Watchung base. These consist of a long range radar which continually sweeps the skies for enemy aircraft target radar, then missile radar which is electronically operated launches the guided missile NIKE. The 2 radars follow the enemy guide the missile and explode it at the right moment. The electronic brain that control the system are housed in several trailers. All these units are shown in coordinated action in the exhibit.

Nike is the Army's first combat-ready supersonic anti-aircraft missile designed to follow and destroy an enemy target regardless of evasive action. It's the first guided missile system to help defend American cities against attack from the air. Named after the Goddess of Victory in Greek mythology, Nike is end product of eight years of intensive research, development and engineering in the field of guided missiles. Bell Laboratories, part of a service-industry team also including Western Electric, Douglas Aircraft Company, and the Army Ordinance Corp carried out this conception design and final development of Nike.


You can see photos of Nikesite Road, the former access road, here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Five Mysteries - American Style

I've been on a mystery reading kick for over a month, especially "cozy" mysteries, the kind modeled after Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, the amateur detective.  These five mysteries all take place in small towns in the south served up with lots of local eccentrics,  gossip, food and customs. The first three have amateur sleuths solving the crime; the last two have local policewomen doing the sleuthing.

Cockatiels at Seven, a Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews (2008) 9th in series.An old friend drops her 2 year old off with Meg before disappearing. Meg, a blacksmith by trade, has a zany family to create complications while she investigates murder in a college town in Virginia.

Paint the Town Dead, a Judge Jackson Crain Mystery by Nancy Bell (2008) 3rd in series. A real estate agent is murdered. Jackson Crain, the local judge, who wished he’d been a cop, helps police investigate in small town Texas.

Murder Past Due, a Cat in the Stacks Mystery by Miranda James (2010) 1st in series. University librarian and his Maine Coon cat solve mysteries in a college town in Mississippi. This book made me want to meet a Maine Coon cat, but being allergic to cats, the book is as close as I should get to one.

Death and the Walking Stick, a Trudy Roundtree Mystery #4 (2006) Small town Georgia police investigate murder. Trudy, the police officer has lots of meddling relatives and town busybodies to deal with. That goes without saying in this type of mystery.

Malpractice in Maggody, an Arly Hanks Mystery by Joan Hess. (2006) Celebrity rehab clinic opens in Maggody, Arkansas. Mayhem and murder ensue.

If you like: amateur detective + small town setting + zany villagers + very little blood and gore, try these authors.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Back to the Well

I read somewhere that it's ok to repost blog posts. Phew! So about a year ago and a year before that and in fact, every spring, I post about my misadventures with gardening. Here is the link to last year's lament which within it's text has a link to the year before and so on ad either inifnitum or ad nauseum or ad something.


This year, I started green bean seedlings from seed on the kitchen windowsill, figuring I would play to my strengths. My first foray into the bean universe was a fiasco, but things went better last year, so we'll see. It is raining to beat the band lately so I'm thinking growing pond mold would be the best bet at this point.

I have also already begun palming off extra chives from my garden to my colleagues. If you need chives, let me know. Herbs do well in my garden probably because the local bunnies and other varmints prefer their salads without herbal adornment. They take the lettuce and carrot and radish tops and leave the herbs. Thanks, guys and gals. I feel like a real-life Farmer McGregor (note the children's book reference; you can borrow a book for free if you can identify what book he appeared in.)
To further connect this blog post to our mission of "marketing the library", here's what you need to know about finding gardening books in the library:
the online catalog tells us that the top secret gardening code number is 635. Just hie on back to that area of the library stacks and get inspired to garden. If you have extra zucchinis at the end of the summer, bring us some and it might get its own slide show like Zucchini Visits the Library which you can watch if you scroll down to the bottom of this blog.

Happy Gardening and to All a Good Harvest!
My kitchen windowsill display midsummer



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee

Continuing on my Korean kick, over the past two days I gobbled up Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home, the memoir of Kim Sunee, who is now the food and wine editor at Organic Gardening magazine (according to her website). The book begins with her abandonment at 3 years old in a South Korean marketplace, where she waited for days for her mother's return, clutching crumbs of the food that she was left with. She was adopted by an American couple and grew up in Louisiana, but it never seemed like home. A recurrent dream of a younger brother left behind haunts her.

Sunee studies in France for her last year of college, which sets her on a path to eventually meet the man she sometimes refers to as Midas: Olivier Baussan, the wealthy founder of L'Occitane. The author tells you from the very beginning of their story that their relationship isn't going to last forever, so no spoilers here. It's interesting to watch Baussan repeat her original adoption in a way, but she resists being "saved", still terrified of being abandoned by someone she loves.

Trail of Crumbs is also a food memoir, with its delicious accounts of the roasts Sunee cooked for up to 30 guests at a time in the home she shared with Baussan in Provence, her grandfather's crawfish bisque and French-fry po-boys, and the unforgettable rotten egg soup she was served in China. There are recipes at the end of many chapters. I would recommend this to any Francophiles (or at least, anyone who won't be annoyed by lots of French dialogue, very occasionally untranslated). Although the memoir ends in her late twenties, her book has enough stories (and food) for several lifetimes.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Bards are Wandering This Way

The Wandering Bards will be playing Americana Gypsy Funk music live at Berkeley Heights Public Library on Wednesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome!

The five-man troupe plays a mix of blues, Gypsy grooves and foot-stomping party tunes. The Bards play a variety of acoustic instruments, such as the harmonica, kazoo, accordion, musical saw, jaw harp, bass, cajon, kalimba, steel pan, violin, guitar, banjitar and djembe.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Heroes: this month's book display

We are in awe of the Navy Seals' recent successful mission in Pakistan, so we put up a book display about heroes on the shelf near the Reference Desk. Read about Navy Seals; submariners; World War II, Viet Nam, and Iraq warriors; ordinary citizens and remarkable military heroes. Please celebrate our American victory by checking out a book from the library's tribute to heroes. You will be inspired.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interview with Laurel Hessing

Today we welcome Berkeley Heights resident Laurel Hessing to the blog. Laurel is well-known in our town as the historian and general force-to-be-reckoned-with for the unique single tax, 19th century utopian community which still exists in Berkeley Heights: Free Acres. One of the most frequent questions we get at the library Reference Desk is for information about the history and current status of this community of artists and free-thinkers. We will ask Laurel about that at the end of this interview, but today’s visit we want to first ask the author about her latest project in the theater world which debuts tomorrow May 5. 
BHPL: On May 5, Hanoch Levin’s Winter Wedding will open at the Theater for the New City. Laurel, you translated the play from the original Hebrew. How did you happen to get involved in translating the Hanoch Levin Play?
LH: I have known David Willinger (the other translator) for a number of years. He is a teacher of theater at City College and has directed several plays at Theater for the New City where my sister, Crystal Field, one of the theater founders, is also the Artistic Director. David Willinger heard about my work on a translation of Uri Felshin’s work from Crystal and asked if I would be interested in translating a modern play from Hebrew into English.  David Willinger obtained a copy for me in the original Hebrew from a collection of plays by the author at the Jewish Division of the NY Public Library. David had already translated the play from French into English as it had been translated and published in France, but the play was never translated into English. Ultimately he combined the best from both my translation from the Hebrew and his from the French. The play’s title in David Willinger’s production is “Winter Wedding”. 
BHPL: The play was written in Hebrew by an Israeli playwright who is very popular in Israel, but not as well-known here in the U.S. Tell us what the play is about and what attracted you to the project.
LH: I was fascinated by the dark comedy in the script and agreed to tackle the project. There is   a wedding as well as a funeral in the play. David  tipped  the balance toward wedding  in choosing a title, in order not to frighten away our audience.    “Winter Wedding” is a dark but funny critique of some hypocrisies that drive family values, relationships and ambitions. It is a play without a hero.  Every foible and foolishness you can imagine motivates each character.. They squabble and betray each other but as nasty as they are one can’t help laughing.  This dark satiric humor mirrors elements of the human soul.
BHPL: You mentioned your translation of Uri Felshin’s work. Tell us about that.
LH: I am currently working on the translation of Rabbi Uri Felshin’s autobiography which he wrote over the period of many years prior to his death in 1947.  He wrote in Biblical Hebrew and the original of the manuscript is in the archive in Jerusalem. He wrote about his journey from Russia as a child of seven in 1880 with his parents and one of his sisters to the Holy Land when it was administered by the Turkish government.  He lived in ancient Hebron and studied for the rabbinate in Jerusalem where he was ordained. He then served as the rabbi in the early settlements of Zichron Yacov and Metullah before he brought his family to the United States in 1906. The Rabbi was my grandfather.
BHPL: So, aside from the personal connection, the Rabbi’s work takes place in a fascinating time in Israel’s history.
LH: Yes, and the writing of Rabbi Felshin is a step toward the modern Hebrew spoken in Israel today; a step in the evolution of the language.
BHPL: Closer to home now, that is - closer than Israel or even New York City, tell us about your involvement with Free Acres history.
LH: This past summer The Free Acres Association celebrated its centennial. As part of the celebration I was the docent for an exhibit which I put together in which I displayed dozens of binders containing photographs, letters, and memorabilia dating from the founding of Free Acres in 1910.  I had collected and conserved these documents over many years.  I also created a history of each leasehold; which shows who had lived on each holding and when. My list gives the names, dates, and information about everyone and anyone who has ever lived in Free Acres so that people coming to the centennial were and are able to find the pages of memorabilia relating to their lives or the lives of their forebears in our community. This is an ongoing project because as you know, history never stops in one place.
BHPL: I believe you sent me a digital copy of that list of Freeholders for our local history archives. The library has a local history collection of books, papers and local newspapers, in hard copy and digitized, and our project is also a work in progress as you noted is always the case with history.  I often refer researchers to you if we can’t find the answer at the library. I remember an English biographer of Dylan Thomas spoke with you about the poet’s doctor who lived in Free Acres and you provided information which he previously had never come across. 
BHPL: Thank you for visiting the blog today. I’d love to have you back another time to talk further about Free Acres.

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim

The morning book group will meet on Friday, May 6 at 10:30 a.m. to discuss The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim. The Christian Science Monitor compared Eugenia Kim to Amy Tan and Lisa See and I agree. The Calligrapher's Daughter is based on the life of the author's mother which makes it all the more gripping.

Najin is the daughter of an aristocratic scholar who paints scrolls and screens commissioned by the Korean royal family. Her father, Han, is accustomed to traditional Korean life under the Joseon Dynasty, which ended after over 500 years when Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. Najin is born the same year, and she grows up in a very different world under the Japanese occupation. This book has everything in it - love, war, intrigue, history, strong women and interesting relationships. Now that I know a little more about Korean history, it makes more sense to me how the North Korean military dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il could even be possible.

Discussion questions and an interview with the author are available on the book's web site. LibraryThing has another interview with Eugenia Kim.

Eugnenia Kim is a graphic designer who got her MFA later in life to do justice to her mother's story. UPDATE: Originally I said that she was a hat designer, because I saw that LibraryThing listed 2 books under her name, one of which was a hat book. I missed the disambiguation notice that said the books were by 2 different authors.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Navteq Car Seen in Berkeley Heights

Today on my drive to work I saw a Navteq camera vehicle at the corner of Springfield and Summit Avenues. After some Googling around I found that Navteq is using these cars to record 360-degree panoramic views and GPS data.

(photo from PCMag.com)
I also read that Navteq is supplying the photographs for Bing maps' Streetside view. I'm much more familiar with Google Maps' Street View - try looking up Central Avenue, New Providence, NJ in the search box to try this out.

There are some amazing photographs out there that were taken by Street View, including Jon Rafman's collection at 9-eyes.com.