Thursday, December 13, 2007


Jessamyn West, in her December 10, 2007, blogpost, commented on a Slate article about Yahoo Answers. That was my introduction to that site. For a reference librarian, it's pretty interesting stuff. I signed up and started answering questions. My library is a specialized one, so there's only a limited range of reference questions. The questions on Yahoo Answers are closer to those asked at a public library desk; I find the broader range a nice change.

My observations after just a few days (also posted, more or less the same, as a response to West's post:)

Many of the questions on Yahoo answers could be answered with an online search (Barney or some other one -- see my 10Oct07 post for use of Barney.) I'm not sure why those posting didn't try that -- but, then, maybe they did, but had little success due to misspellings, which are surprisingly common in the queries. As the old question goes, how can you find a spelling in a dictionary if you can't spell the word?

Many of the questions are "ready reference" -- librarian talk for a reference question that can be answered with a quick look-up. A phone call to a local library would seem to work as well as a posting. That service would seem to be one in need of some marketing by libraries.

Just as in a public library, some questioners online want all their homework done for them, including assignments that ask for essays, not just factoids. One responder to a question in the former category outlined how the questioner ("asker" in Yahoo terms, grrrrrrr) could approach the assignment. I hope the questioner rated that response highly. Of course, as any public librarian knows, a lot of parents come in to do their kids homework for them. Or at least to check out the books with the answers. Maybe it's an improvement to have the kids themselves posting the questions?

In library school, a friend joked that there are five answers that can be used to answer all reference questions: the only one of the five I remember is "a member of the carrot family" -- my friend claimed she used that to answer any questions from her mother about the identity of a plant. So far I haven't had a chance to use it, but maybe it will come in handy soon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Remembering a Little Girl in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, with Donations to the Central Asia Institute.

In September of 1978 I was in Afghanistan as part of a London-Kathmandu overland trip with a British firm -- the coward's way of following the hippie trail. From Kabul we went up to Bamiyan. I decided I would skip a day-trip from Bamiyan to Lake Band-i-Amir (spelling can vary) and wound up instead joining another traveller I met at our inn in clambering around the hills surrounding Bamiyan Valley: in retrospect, more than stupid, as at one point we were above the valley, holding onto a cliff-side and moving sideways on a trail a goat might have had difficulty navigating. Fortunately, neither of us fell, (or, to be really honest, fortunately, I didn't fall -- after all, I had only met him the day before.) Walking back through the fields to the town after we survived, we met a small girl going home from school. She proudly showed us her slate, and our mutual incomprehension of the other's language didn't allow for much more, other than smiles. I've always remembered her, however, so proud of that slate.

Decades passed, wars came and went and came back, the Taliban blew up Bamiyan's giant Buddhas, women who weren't already wearing them were forced into burquas, and, in 1993, Greg Mortenson started climbing K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, in Pakistan. Injured in the climb, he was nursed back to health by the villagers in a small town. He promised them he would build them a school in appreciation, and, with Dr. Jean Hoerni, founded the non-profit Central Asia Institute to build schools in remote areas, first, in Pakistan, and then also in Afghanistan. One of the requirements for a village obtaining a school is that it be used to educate girls as well as boys.

More time passed, and one of the Sunday newspaper magazine-type supplements had a story about the Central Asia Institute. I immediately remembered the little girl in Bamiyan, whose fate I had always wondered about (and still do wonder about,) so I made my first donation to the Institute. One of the pleasant things about donating to it is that it's one of the very few (heck, maybe it's the only) non-profit I have ever donated to that doesn't then inundate a donor with mailings. Yes, they send the occasional one (maybe two a year?) but I feel that a larger percentage of my donations are going to the project than is the case with non-profits razing whole forests to make the paper for their appeals.

Mortenson's story, and that of the Central Asia Institute, has now been published: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time. It's been on the NY Times bestseller list for about ten months so far, and is available in paperback. I recommend it, along with donations to the Institute. I want other little girls to be proud of their school slates.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Autobody painting at home, thanks to science, magic, or technology

A few days ago I artfully managed to scrape my bumper as I pulled into a parking space. The bumper wasn't dented, but there was metal showing.

Looking for a paint touch-up, I went to the California State Automobile Association website to see what they had listed under companies giving discounts to CSAA members.

And there, dear reader, I discovered Dentpro. As with most things remotely related to technology (or science, or magic,) I am probably the last to learn of this type of service. Dentpro will send a van to where your car is (house or office) and repair small dents or do small painting touchups. Yes, they make house calls! And I got 10% off for being a CSAA member!

For me, the whole thing worked perfectly. I called on Thursday, November 29th, my call was forwarded to a local Dentpro franchise, and that franchise could come the very next day, hurrah hurrah. I was off the 30th because I'm working today. It took the tech less than an hour to paint, and the color matches perfectly. It is now the best looking part of my otherwise dusty car. He ran a tad late in arriving, but called to let me know -- I can wait for anyone if they will just tell me what's happening.

In any event, I was't going anywhere anyway. Yesterday was a banner day at the bibliotecaria's house (or should that be casa?) In addition to the painting, I had new windows/patio doors installed. Being locked in the bathroom during the window/door work and hearing strange loud noises traumatized my faithful cat; the loud noises traumatized me too, so I sat outside in my newly-painted car.

All in all, a very satisfactory day -- not as much fun for the money, as, say, joining the statistically inept in a casino (phrase is from The Economist's November 30, 2007, article on Indian casinos in California,) but, of course, better in the long run.

Postscript: looking for the wesite to create the link to The Economist, I first entered -- try it to see an economist who hasn't heard that economics is the dismal science.