“You could make my mother weep.”

I have a new coworker. He’s not that new anymore, but he’s just now proving he has a place in this blog which is why the mention comes after the fact. Anyway, “Harry” the library’s token man/Republican recently left for the greener pastures of academia. I was sorry to see him go because he appreciated my humor (mostly it is wasted).

Last week, after a doubletake where I actually wondered if the new guy might possibly be a Harry clone in terms of personality/demeanor (and because I actually called him Harry, embarassing), I witnessed something horrible.

The new guy–I’m going to call him “The Bear” because, well, it’s hard to explain if you don’t know him but I can’t say more–so, “The Bear” was packing up discard boxes. I knew something was off when he asked me to hold a box in the air while he taped it. My “off feeling” was confirmed after the box was filled and “The Bear” began taping it closed.

He pulled off a strip of tape about 18 to 20 inches long, cut the strip, put down the tape dispenser, and then tried to tape the box (you know so it would stay closed) without closing it. After watching this for a few minutes I finally stepped in and held the box closed for him because it was too awful to behold.

(Keep in mind that my mom has been selling on ebay for over five years, so I know A LOT about packing.)

Miss Print: “My mom would weep if she could see you trying to do this. Have you ever packed a box? Ever?”

The Bear: “You say that now, but when I moved it looked like professionalists did it.”

Miss Print: [skeptical] . . .

The Bear: “Bad professionalists, but still.”

Indeed.

“It’s a big metal big thing.”

Enter elderly patron looking for our bookdrop to avoid the giant line (thinking about which just makes me even more happy to be on vacation!). “Lisa” our intrepid YA librarian sought to describe the bookdrop that the woman had passed without realizing upon entering the library.

Lisa: “It’s a big metal big thing.”

Miss Print: *audibly laughs*

Lisa: “What would you have said?”

Miss Print: “I don’t know. It’s a big white metal thing?”

Eventually another patron pointed the confused patron in the right direction and all was as it should be. Still amusing though.

“Do you need a ride?”

This is one of those horrible moments where I had no idea how to answer this question and move on.

Once again in the elevator at MU (perhaps a sign I should stick to the stairs).

I step into the elevator and hold the door for a man (probably a homeless or habitually drunk man if his appearance was any indication) in a motorized wheelchair. The door closes and I wait awkwardly trying to keep distance between us because, honestly, he doesn’t look super clean.

Man: “Do you need a ride?”

Unfortunately I didn’t hear him the first time and mistakenly asked him to repeat the question.

Man: “Do you need a ride?”

Miss Print in her head: GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Miss Print out loud: “No. No. I think I’m good.”

The elevator opened and I had been prepared to let him out first, but then he said ladies and again asked if I needed a ride. I jetted and didn’t look back. Unfortunately he seems to remember my face and said the same thing when he saw me in the library today (thankfully I was behind the circulation desk and he was a few yards away from it.)

How I do what I do

I love this post’s title. Just saying. Anyway, in an ideal world, this blog includes at least one weekly review (and soon it will again!). Since I also work and am taking three graduate courses at Pratt, most of the books reviewed of late are not ones I’ve read recently. Some are books I don’t even remember reading the first time because it was so long ago. But I still review them, usually, without rereading.

The way I do that is starting at Amazon.com to pick up reviews, and a general blurb. I often disagree with the majority or most helpful reviews there, but it’s a start. If I still need help, I pull my ace in the hole: Google Books–a site that is the closest thing to magic that I have found online since my discovery of goodreads (thank you Tyler who probably doesn’t know about this blog for that viral email invite!). If you aren’t familiar with Google Books, it is a book digitization project which offers limited previews of tons of books. These previews usually include most of the book with only a few gaps as well as a search in book option. With that, I am able to skim a book without having to find a physical copy of said book (which saves a lot of time) so while it isn’t a replacement for real books (and no digital medium ever will be as far as I’m concerned) it’s definitely something.

So now you now.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Non-Fiction Review

Don't Make Me Think by Steve KrugNowadays, most students are faced with the world of HTML and computer science at some point in their academic careers. For me, the first time was in CIS 101 in college. (Yes, there was a second time. It turns out grad school does not assume computer literacy). Although it isn’t always part of the formal curriculum, usability is always an underlying theme in technology classes even if it is just a question of whether the HTML textbook is actually written in gibberish or not. Usability is also one of the few fields where anyone, even the computer illiterate, can be an expert.

The idea behind usability is simple: Look at a given design and see how accessible it is for users. Anyone can have an opinion on usability and everyone can provide input. All it takes is a clear head and the patience to look at what works (or doesn’t) and why. If you use it, you have information about its usability. To get back to the subjects of Computer Science and technology, usability has lately been applied to the world of Web design.

Usability consultant Steve Krug lays out all of the basics about Web usability in his book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2005) currently in its second edition, published in 2006 after the first edition sold nearly 100,000 copies.

As far as titles go, there are few that offer as clear a picture of the book’s content as this one. Krug’s main point throughout his 185-page guide is that good Web sites don’t make users think. Unlike college, Krug posits that using a conventional website should not be an intellectual exercise. It should be simple, it should be neat, and it should be self-evident. In other words, if a user cannot identify the site’s purpose, and where to start on said site, just by viewing the homepage something has gone horribly wrong.

Krug details how to fix such problems and how to avoid them with usability tests. That may sound self-serving save for the fact that Krug also explains how to conduct usability tests on the cheap without the benefit of a usability consultant such as himself.

Written in short chapters packed with illustrations, this book is designed to be approachable and easy to read. Krug is serious about Web usability, but that in no way means his book is stodgy or dry. Examples of usability at work are littered with cartoons and the text maintains a sense of humor. My favorite chapter title (and subtitle) “Usability as common courtesy: Why your Web site should be a mensch” might offer some idea of what tone to expect from this book.

Of course, taking a computer class to meet a core requirement in college doesn’t always lead to work in the field of Web design in fact most of the time it leads to an entirely different career. But, in today’s technology-driven culture, doesn’t everything come back to the Internet eventually?

It might just be working as an intern at an online magazine, or a starting position where duties include entering data into online spreadsheets, or it might just be writing your own blog on a site like WordPress or Blogger. Wherever your path leads, knowing something about Web usability and how good Web sites get that way can only help. As more and more information moves to cyberspace, with websites being created and updated all the time, it’s important to be prepared by knowing how to analyze not only the information found online but also how it is presented. Don’t Make Me Think is one tool that can assist Web users in that preparation.
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition

“Do you read a lot?”

I attract lunatics, there is no other explanation:

After a harrowing jaunt through various forms of NY transportation, I finally made it to work. I stepped into the elevator as a man appeared to be stepping out. I pressed my floor and leaned against the wall waiting for the elevator to close. The man stepped back in looking confused as he stood across from me.

Man: “You look nice.”

Miss Print: *nods in a vaguely friendly vaguely standoffish way*

Man: “Do you read a lot?”

Miss Print: “I work here.” [Best way to totally shoot the guy down.]

I later directed the man to the floor he wanted to be on because apparently he doesn’t read a lot (at MU anyway) and had no idea where he was.

Michael Crichton, we’ll miss you

I was checking my twitter account during my break at work, when I heard the news shortly after it broke. Michael Crichton, the mind behind Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain to name just two of his extremely well-known novels (turned movies), died after privately battling cancer at the age of 66.

The world has lost an excellent writer, even more depressing was the fact that when I told most of my library coworkers, their first response was “Who’s that?”

In addition to creating stories that have shaped a generation of popular culture (just look at this strip from xkcd, and this one, and this one, and this one, to see what I mean), Crichton lived the ultimate success story: Deciding he couldn’t live from a writing career and that despite being 6 feet 9 inches tall(!) he was no good at basketball, Crichton decided to become a doctor. During medical school, he published novels under various pseudonyms, which eventually led to The Andromeda Strain, his first hit, in 1969.

Crichton’s film and TV credits include the creation of ER as well as co-writing the screenplay for Twister.

If you want to read more, fellow twitterers pointed me to articles at the Associated Press and BBC News.

Good deed of the day

I wound up coming into work today at the wrong time because my long-standing Wednesday hours were changed and I didn’t remember. But in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t such a bad thing because I was near my apartment building at the right time to do a good thing.

I was rounding the corner on my walk to work when I heard a woman somewhere behind me calling “Lily, Lily!” By the second call she was sounding frantic. I turned around and saw a woman and a small Daschund (possibly a puppy) in a red and green plaid dog sweater running toward the corner and, worse, the street. My guess is the dog slipped her leash or bolted before it could be fastened properly.

I stepped in front of Lily, who then tried to swerve around me, but I just moved over too. Her momentum slowed, the dog lost interest in her stint of freedom and returned to her owner who thanked me. It wasn’t much, and I probably could have done more (like grabbing the dog which I didn’t think of), but in this case it was enough. And it was the right thing too. All in a day’s work.

The Unusual Suspects: A (conflicted) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Unusual Suspects by Michael BuckleyI received the first two books in Michael Buckley‘s Sisters Grimm books as a gift. The premise of the series sounded incredibly promising and exactly like the kind of thing I would love. Even the covers are great. Unfortunately, I was not as impressed by the first book, The Fairy Tale Detectives, as I had hoped. Still, having The Unusual Suspects (2007), the second volume, in hand I decided to soldier on.

The story opens not too far after the first book. Sabrina (age 11) and her sister Daphne (I think age 7) have adjusted to life with their unusual grandmother in Ferryport Landing. When social services finally catch up with Granny, the children find themsevles enrolled in school at Ferryport Landing. That goes for Puck, nemesis to Sabrina and character of Twelfth Night, who features a larger role in this story as he becomes closer (in a literal sense) to the Grimm family.

Sabrina is already angry enough and preoccupied enough by her missing parents and, according to her, her own completely unaided efforts in trying to find them without dealing with school. Sabrina, in fact, wants nothing to do with school or the creepy Everafters who are teaching there. Sabrina’s mistrust of the institution is confirmed when a teacher and the school’s janitor turn up murdered under very strange circumstances. However, in order to investigate with her grandmother and Daphne, Sabrina is forced to go along with the whole student thing for a bit longer.

If the snark wasn’t indication enough, let me point out that I am not a great fan of the Sisters Grimm novels. The more I search online, the more I seem to be in the minority. Parents love them, School Library Journal loves them, and I have yet to find a child reader who doesn’t love them. But I just don’t.

The reality of these books compared to the potential they books had before I read them falls painfully short. Buckley has several excellent side characters (Mr. Canis and Ferryport Landing’s Mayor are my two personal favorite characters out of either book) with excellent side stories, but that isn’t enough. While certain details are fleshed out, the main characters remain flat. Daphne is adorable and probably would have done better with more page-time. Puck, while entertaing is also often annoying (something Sabrina and I do agree on). The characters also never communicate. Granny, while awesome, never really knows what is going on with Sabrina. Although that doesn’t matter much since Sabrina will clearly never listen to anyone about anything. Ever.

Which brings me to Sabrina, our main character. I acknowledge that Sabrina is dealing with some heavy stuff, but I hate how angry she is. Buckley makes such a point of her anger (in the first and second books) that this one trait completely absorbs Sabrina’s whole personality. All I see is an irrationally angry eleven-year-old. This unattractive trait is further emphasized in The Unusual Suspects. As a result, when it becomes apparent that an Everafter (one of the fairy tale creatures that populate Ferryport Landing) is responsible for the school killings, Sabrina seems bent on blaming all of the Everafters for the actions of one. No matter how nice any of them are to her. I don’t know about anyone else, but that sounds a lot like bigotry to me.

Even if I did like Sabrina, the tone of this novel was as erratic as that of the first novel. Buckley takes on a lot in these volumes, but not in a cohesive way. The murder scenes are described with accurate guts and gore. Meanwhile Sabrina’s emotions are flattened to one word: anger. This creates an unbalanced narrative that sometimes feels like the children’s novel it is and sometimes feels much darker. In my view, the writing isn’t targeting a consistent audience.

Readers will have to judge for themselves, but after finishing this novel I have decided to wash my hands of the series (even though this book does end on a cliffhanger), finding that no matter how hard I wish for the characters to develop a bit more or become more self-aware, they never do.

Best Costume of the year, runner up

I keep forgetting things I wanted to post about Halloween. So, in addition to the super Clark Kent costume (pun well intended), I had a runner up for best costume. A teen came into the library in a black t-shirt and pants. He had red paint on his hands and face to simulate blood. And. He had a nail through his head. Not a real nail of course, but one of those headband nail things that people use on Halloween.

So, this kid was checking out books and I had the good fortune of being the clerk to help him. (Yay!)

Miss Print: “That doesn’t look too good. Does it hurt?”

Kid: “Yeah, it’s pretty bad. It’s been keeping me up all night.”

I checked out the kid’s books and he left, but not before I had a chance to advise him to take some Tylenol and have someone look at his head (all of which also amused his Mom, I’m so cool). Hee.