Cool data sets

A lot of really neat government data is just around, waiting for people to do things with it.  People use it for apps that geolocate stuff, mashing one set of publicly available data with another; Needlebase (retiring in June) has some really fantastic sample databases that use public data, and it’s really fun to explore how that’s linked.

There are a couple fascinating datasets that have been released recently, or at least have been updated with a fascinating interface.  The 1940’s census data is all over library blogs (libraries – both public libraries and specialized genealogical libraries – are a very popular starting point for ancestry research), and has actually been experiencing access problems because of unexpected demand.  The interface is really pretty beautiful, and obviously I’ve looked up my grandparents’ families and imagined a little about what they were like at the time this census was taken.  The one drawback when exploring the data, though, is that you need to zero in by location rather than by name or any other kind of data point; I know this is the way the data is organized, but it makes it a little difficult to navigate.  Obviously the NYPL has done something about this and created a pathway using 1940’s telephone directories, which is pretty simple and brilliant.

There’s also the 2011 Federal Taxpayer Receipt, which calculates what your federal tax paid for in 2011 based on either your tax information or your estimated income.  I love the way they’ve designed this interface, and it really helps humanize the data to see what my personal contribution was.  I wish I could see the data as one big set, though, and I also wish a large percentage of it had not gone towards ongoing military operations, but I do appreciate the transparency this information represents.

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Limping Goose

Every day at lunch I take a walk on the esplanade.  On sunny days, everyone’s happy, I get to pet a few dogs and watch the duck party, wave at a sailor or a gondolier, it’s great.  On cold days, though, everything takes on a weird poignance; I’m one of only a handful of people there, maybe one of the only people to ever notice or see certain things.   The marriage proposal written in chalk, for example:

Marriage proposal in chalk on the esplanade, 3/15/2012

Or some of the very first blooms:   Yesterday, it was a limping Canada goose.  I inherited what my grandmother calls my mother’s bleeding heart for animals by the side of the road, under bushes, in danger of being attacked by a hawk, you name it, so when I saw this goose limping I called Animal Care and Control, who I have on speed dial.  They forwarded me to the state wildlife line, who apparently knew exactly which goose I was talking about (“He’s been there for a couple weeks,” the guy said); then I was transferred to the lady who knew how to talk to someone who called up to ask them to help a limping goose.  The answer was “no,” but not in a sad/we-don’t-care way, in a we-know-what-we’re-doing-and-this-is-best way.  She explained that they’re federally protected animals (I forgot to ask why – I know they’re not endangered, but maybe they’re on federal land?  They’re such a pest that the federal government doesn’t want you to help them?   Unclear), that they’re very resilient (we both laughed), and VERY hard to catch (another laugh).  Basically, unless the goose is chasing people or looks ill to the point of contagious, they do nothing because after years of trying to find the right thing to do they’ve determined that doing nothing causes the least harm to the goose.   I was completely satisfied with this answer. What struck me was that after a little over half a semester in Evaluation of Information Services, I seem to have much more faith that an institution’s way of doing things has developed through methodological trial and error.  I’m always pretty likely to assume that the person who should know more actually does, but a year ago in this same situation I might have lost sleep that night, wringing my hands over the limping goose, but I didn’t.  I also was conscious of how much I appreciated this woman’s willingness to take a couple minutes to talk to me about why they weren’t going to do anything, and how much that little effort on her part meant to me.  I did thank her for that, which I think she thought was a little weird.

victory for me!

So for the last few weeks, there has been a cockroach living in the bathroom attached to our office.  I’ve never lived anywhere that’s had a cockroach problem; most of the cities I live in have other things, like earthquakes or mice.  I wasn’t really any more freaked out by it than I would be by anything else that moves across the floor very quickly making a scuttering sound, or might be in my shoe when I try to put it on.  Which is to say, it would be worse if it were spiders, but my imagination still runs a little wild.

It’s been okay though, because it’s mostly been confined to the little crack between the toilet and the bathroom floor, where it would run when you made loud noise or sprayed it with something you have on-hand (Lysol disinfectant, Windex, lemon-scented computer cleaner from the 80’s).   I would stomp when going in there, giving it time to hide, and my officemate and I would make jokes about bringing bagpipes or a tambourine into the office.  We were even brainstorming names for it.

But my officemate is out this week, which means there’s no one to make jokes with and I’ve developed some pretty serious paranoia.  Going to use the mouse?  Is that the mouse as you know it, or is there a cockroach on it?  Going to take a drink of water?  Is that your orange Nalgene or a cockroach swimming pool?  Where have his feet been?  On the keys you’re touching?  On this handkerchief you just got out of your bag?  On your lip balm!?!?

It also means she’s not eating at her desk, which means she’s not dropping crumbs for the cockroach over on her side of the room, which means I found him scuttering around on my desk looking for crumbs when I came in this morning.

Thinking quickly, I grabbed the hole punch and the lemon-scented computer cleaner, planning to stun him with the cleaner and then smack him with the hole punch.  For some reason I have this weird feeling that if I stepped on him – even in my clogs, which have a one-inch wooden sole – the feeling of crushing the life out of him will remain with me forever, burned into my sense memory, like that time I stepped on a mouse Zeppelin killed in my bare foot.  I can’t unfeel that.  So the hole punch was a good solution, until it opened, like it always does, and scattered hole punches all over the floor, creating a confetti distraction and giving him time to get away.

I chased him for a while, crawling under the desks and spraying computer cleaner, but he was too fast, it got in my eyes a little and I had a meeting to go to.  I hunted for him again when I got back, and then off and on throughout the morning – I caught up with him a few times and sprayed him with computer cleaner until he found another dark crack somewhere, but it didn’t even seem to be slowing him down, and I never got another hole punch opportunity.

Until I braved the bathroom a few minutes ago.  I figured that since he’d now had a taste of freedom and sampled the dark cracks in other areas of the office, he wouldn’t be caught dead trapping himself in the bathroom again. So I walked in with only minimal stomping to find him just chilling next to the toilet brush.  I backed out, slowly and quietly, grabbed the computer cleaner and rushed back in to spray the HECK out of him.  I don’t know what changed this time – the lemon scent created a lack of oxygen maybe, or I sprayed so much that everything was too slippery to climb on – but he was looking dazed, and started to run back to his little home.  I quoted some Samuel L. Jackson and kept spraying, when suddenly he turned sharply and disappeared behind the door.  I looked behind it, thinking he had just gone around instead of under the toilet, but he wasn’t there – and that’s when I saw him, out of the corner of my eye, scuttering STRAIGHT AT ME.  I sprayed CONTINUOUSLY, DIRECTLY on him until he turned white, but he never veered off-course; he ran directly underneath my one-inch wooden-soled shoe, and I CRUSHED him.

It felt AWESOME.  Now I have to go clean his corpse and approx. half a can of computer cleaner off the bathroom floor.

Update: Just flushed him down the toilet.  His body was SOAKED in computer cleaner.

Crafting event horizon

I have done something I promised myself I wouldn’t do.  I have been completely 100% sucked in by the world of Mormon housewife bl0gs.

It started with adding a few crafting feeds to my google reader so I would have fresh ideas for cool household decorating projects when evenings alone at home stretched out in front of me, and quickly escalated to the point where if there is not some sort of thrift store refashion/craft room redesign/neat-o sewing tutorial waiting for me every single time I check my reader, I’m actively finding new blogs to follow.

At this point, my to-do pinterest boards are so overcrowded that I would actually need to quit my job to achieve every DIY project that looks irresistible and SO ME when showcased by someone who has way more time than I do to both make it in the first place and then make it look good.  And then, of course, to put it on the internet – which, let’s face it, is no small percentage of the end game in these pursuits – I would also have to spend $$$ on a camera and probably take a series of blog photography workshops, which several of these ladies are hawking.

I’ll admit, I have not done enough research to determine how many of the women I follow are actually blogging from a married Mormon mom waste-not-want-not kind of background.  Some of them seem to own their own sewing businesses, which is great; some of them have recently published books, or offer consulting services.  I can say that I appreciate every single woman’s effort to put something on the internet that might guide, instruct, or help another person be frugal; there is an awesome community out there that seems to perfectly balance providing accessible instructional material with asking for compensation for services.   Libraries could probably learn a thing or two, and Martha definitely has nothing on the fresh, colorful big-pattern-friendly aesthetic popular on these blogs.

Anyway, shortly I will post a list of crafts I actually have accomplished in the recent months, but for now I’m going to choose three things that I will do or finish before we go to Sweden in August for my friend Andrew’s wedding.  I guess the idea is that putting it on the internet, even if only I read it, will force me to take ownership in some way?  Or I just like pictures, whatever.

Howard’s tie

I don’t even know when I started this.  Poor Howard!  I dragged him to Joann’s because I was so excited to get started and I wanted him to pick out his own fabric, and it’s still sitting half-finished in the yellow room.

Put a bird on it

I’m making a small one for our bedroom as a tryout, but I want to make a larger one for my grandmother for her birthday this year.  So far I just have about 3 or 4 hunchback birds sitting next to the sewing machine, and Grammy’s birthday is in a month.

My dress for the wedding

Collette Patterns Crepe Dress

Even as a “novice” level pattern, this will be the most advanced thing I’ve ever sewn by myself.  My mom and aunt helped me pick out the fabric, which I’m SO excited about, and will definitely have enough scraps left over for a necklace that will also match Howard’s tie.

eating grilled cheese on a summer night

I’m not much of a cook, but every once in a while a meal will just come to me like a dream.  My dream meal today capitalizes on everything that’s awesome to eat and drink in the summer – wishful thinking, I recognize, but not much else to do at present until summer starts cooking with gas.

  • Grilled cheese, adult-style: multigrain or rye bread, pepper jack cheese, sprouts (peas if you can wrangle them), fresh avocado spread all over the inside of the bread
  • Strawberry + radish salad: sweet enough to compliment the burn of the pepper jack, kicky enough to burn a little on its own.  Red enough to make you look like the kid from the True Blood theme.
  • Shandies, obvs
  • Watermelon popsicles, courtesy of our new Zoku popsicle maker, which is just the ISH
I can even imagine how this meal would be photographed – on a gingham tablecloth in the waning summer sun, green leaves + dusky blue sky up above, all yellow wildflowers in an old Coke bottle between two blue plates, no utensils; maybe some paper napkins held down by an antique farm implement, the corners blowing up flirtatiously to indicate a pleasant breeze.
Soundtrack: carefree summer jams.

cultural production i look forward to consuming this summer

While my first semester of working toward my MLIS is nothing like working toward my MA in literature, as the weather gets warmer I do feel a familiar desire to just bombard my eyes with blockbuster after blockbuster with little to no need to connect to my brain at all.  Here are the things I am pretty much just ecstatic to have the free time for this summer.  Basically in this exact order.

First things first: Howard and I have tickets to the Big Apple Circus for next Friday!  When I was little, my family and I used to go every year, and now that I live in Boston their tent signals the start of summer.

Big Apple Circus

Thor.  Looks awesome.  My aunt said I could take my 8-year-old cousin.  I told him the “elephant in the safeway bag” joke* the other night – he got the answer almost immediately, but didn’t understand it.  My aunt and uncle chuckled over it in sort of a “wow, you just told my kid that right in front of me” way – he brought up the subject of swears, I swear!  And I just figured that is what an older cousin is for – and then explained it to him.  He laughed so hard he almost threw up, maybe a little bit because it’s a decently clever joke but probably mostly because he knows it’s just on the verge of not allowed.

X-Men First Class.  Looks awesome.  Hopefully can talk my dad into going to see it opening night, Howard and my last night in San Francisco.  Either that or a matinee on the way to the airport.

Dave Eggar’s Zeitoun.  Non-fiction, so not technically cultural production (or maybe it is?  I’m notoriously bad and self-conscious about official vocabulary), also not a blockbuster (my definition of blockbuster = more explosions than content that might win some sort of award), and also I am currently technically reading it but will have to put it aside to finish final assignments.  And, obviously, see Thor.

The cover of Dave Eggers' Zeitoun.

Walter Simonson’s Thor Omnibus.  HOW LONG TIL THE LIBRARY GETS THIS I CAN’T WAIT.  Also probably all the library’s other comics.

Cover of Walter Simonson's Thor Omnibus

Probably just, you know, all of Smallville.  Ten seasons?  No problem!  Summer’s pretty long!

Tom Welling as Clark Kent

Friday Night Lights: Season 5.  Obviously.  Tim Riggins is in jail though; weird.  Also, rewatched Wolverine: Origins recently – he does not totally suck as Gambit in the way I remembered!  So that’s nice.  Does look washed out in those prison duds though.  And no Tyra because she’s Wonder Woman now, and baby Grace still has too big a forehead, and Landry has a huge neck now and will be gone!

Friday Night Lights

Aaaaand the rest of this show.  Only seen the first episode – honestly, the racy parts sort of freak me out, but the scary, violent and dog-related parts are pretty great.  They didn’t really have the technology for awesome explosions then, but they did have swords!

Yep!  I will be reading this too.  So much for “not connecting to my brain” – great in theory, but after a couple days I just need to think about exciting things like the Digital Public Library of America and Library 2.0.  That’s all!

The cover of John Palfrey's Born Digital

*A: How do you fit an elephant in the safeway bag?

B: [Some variation on] I don’t know, how DO you?

A: Take the “s” out of “safe” and the “f” out of “way.”

Tips: think about it, and say it out loud.

on a horse made of crystal he patrols the land

My cousin, who turns 6 on Friday, is really into presidents.  They did a unit  for President’s Day, and he was inspired and now keeps a poster of all the presidents above his bed.  Although he can only sort of read their names, he knows every single one by their portrait – he even has nicknames for some of them (“Maddy” – the name of their late cat – for James Madison, for example.  This shared name is what makes James Madison his favorite).  In fact, he can name any of the following details about multiple presidents:

  • full name
  • number in the list of presidents in chronological order
  • birthday
  • pets
  • whether or not he was “fascinated,” by which he means “assassinated” (accompanied by gun gesture pointing at own head)

Howard says that in high school, he knew an exchange student who was “fascinated” by civil war generals, but aside from maybe that kid and my 17-year-old cousin who had to memorize all the presidents for U.S. History last year, I don’t actually know anyone who knows more about the presidents than my almost-6-year-old cousin.  Which means that this year, for his birthday, he is getting president stuff from EVERYONE.

From his parents:

Lego white house

Lego White House.

From Howard:

President Adams' Alligator and Other White House Pets

Not old enough for Mo Rocca's expose. Maybe next year.

From me:

Obama paper dolls

They also have JFK and Lincoln. No Madison, though. JFK looks PRETTY RAD, as do the multiple paper doll books dedicated to Jackie alone. Michelle Obama has a bunch by herself too, obviously.

While I generally enjoy birthday parties (what’s not to love?  Cake?  LOVE that), I am just unprecedentedly excited for his birthday dinner on Friday night.  I mean, it’s so cool!  This little kid, really into presidents, encouraged by his family and getting all this stuff he’ll probably love!  What I kind of want to do is get him to work with me on an adventure story where the presidents are characters, and they have to solve a mystery or fight a monster.  Is he too young for this?

Probably.  Maybe this then:

Abe Lincoln riding a bear