Friday, March 30, 2012

The Theft of the Lorax

Tonight I have a news item which I am going to examine which is truly sad. Yes, some of the less scrupulous may have laughed at this when they heard it in the news. Though in truth there really is nothing to laugh at here and it really makes me mad when I think of the disrespect. The item I am talking about is the theft of the Lorax statue from the yard of the widow of Dr. Seuss.

Is it the end of the world for her? Probably not. Of course it is insured. I am sure that she is set financially. There are some who will say that it is only material. Yes and no. I can see where, yes, it is only an object. It is replaceable. However, that is a testament to her late husband's work. Those people who stole knew exactly what they were doing and what they were going after. This isn't some Robin Hood-like 'justifiable' theft. This was stealing for the full purpose and intent for stealing a piece of unique art for sale on the black market. This was not some bumbling copper/bronze thieves. These were art thieves who targeted an old woman. Despicable.

Yes, if the Lorax were stolen and it ended up somewhere else on purpose like say on the front steps of city hall or on top of the police chief's car then that would only be a prank. It could be funny on a level if she had a sense of humor about it. In Holyoke, there is an establishment called the Yankee Pedlar Inn. (My Mother worked there for a time.) It is a beautiful landmark in the city. I have been inside it. It is truly a nice place. Well, they hay a horse in the front called 'Dobbin'. Poor Dobbin has been through so much in his tenure in front of that restaurant. It has been painted pink. It has ended up in the intersection in front of the Inn. It has actually ended up all over Holyoke. It is a piece of the city's pop-cultural history.

I wish that this incident were the case for the $10000 Lorax statue. It is not. This crime was grand theft larceny. This is a few years in jail if caught. These people, if caught, deserve their jail time. Not only for the theft of the statue but also for the terrorizing of an old woman who will fear for her safety. Finally, this was a crime against the legacy of Dr. Seuss who is part of this country's cultural heritage. While, in the grand scheme of the world's travails, probably not the worst crime, but still I had to take notice.

Monday, March 26, 2012

There and Back Again!

Sometimes it takes a long time for things to back to where they belong. It took Odysseus twenty years to get home after leaving his home for Troy. Halley's Comet graces our night sky every 75 years. So while normally books borrowed from a library are usually returned on time some books take a little longer. This little extra time may be a day or month. Sometimes that little extra time is 88 years.

Hey it took a little while but some books borrowed from a Dormont, PA school library in 1924 have made it home. This is a feel good story if there ever was one. I love old books, especially when those old books turn out to be time capsules. One of the books had a red rose pressed into the pages. I wonder what the story behind that was. Another had a note as the book passed from one owner to another. A fascinating story and family history for each book.

Not all those books were overdue library books but for those that were I'm sure that they were replaced. But heck it was the Roaring 20's and the printing industry was in full steam. So after 88 years these books which had traveled all the way to Arizona finally was returned to the (now) Dormont Historical Society.

I just would like to say that, no, I am not advocating waiting 88 years to return books. These books were not his and he was doing the right thing (if going way out of his way to do it). He is a saint here. Still though, it is better late than never. Oftentimes a story like this will dig up a little history as well which was discovered in the article. In a way these books were saved in a time capsule which returned to us. 

Now if only Paul Kaminski (the man who found and returned the books) had a Delorian with a flux-capacitor built in he could had sped along the highway at 88 miles per hour gone back in time and returned those books on their due date.

Meanwhile I'll be here waiting until I am... yes... 88 years old and await Halley's Comet's return (with some overdue books of my own I am sure).

Here is the link to the CBS 2 Pittsburgh Article

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Complete Albert Einstein Archives To Be Digitized and Catalogued

I love his room!
Today's item of note is a happier note than my last entry. Some of you may think that I have a thing against technology or its use in research. That could not be farther from the truth. I got into computers at a very young age and I am very pro-technology. I just seek a balance. I see the direction that we are moving in as culture-less which in my opinion is a very bad place to be.

There is a balance which can be struck and here is a perfect example. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has announced that it is digitizing their archive of Albert Einstein materials. Everything from his research notes to his fanmail to his love letters. Previously only a small portion was available online. Now the first 2,000 documents (roughly 7,000 pages) are available now. His collection includes 80,000 items in total.

Here is the link to the archives.

The funding for this effort is credited to the Polonsky Foundation UK. They bankrolled the effort to get Isaac Newton's works digitized and made available as well. Also part of this effort are CalTech and Princeton University (his adopted home in the United States). They are focusing an initiative to publish annotated commentary on the Einstein collection.

This is excellent. This is what we need more of made available. Not everybody can gain access to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem let alone their archives. This will allow people around the world to access Einstein's world. They can not only learn about his ideas and what he thought of them, but also the man himself and the world he lived in. Yes, there is already tons of material available, but these are his personal notes, unblemished and pure.

This is where the balance should lie between the digital and material world. Allowing access to what otherwise could not be accessed. I've said it before and I'll say again. Anything which only saved in a digital format is frail as a piece of glass and easily broken. Don't build a world on it.

Here is the article: From The Guardian UK

Friday, March 23, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica Folds Printed Edition After 244 Years.

There is an item which recently passed in the news that I wanted to comment on. It has to do with the recent revelation that the Encyclopedia Britannica after 244 years is going to stop printing its encyclopedia volume set. In my early years growing up if there was one thing in my bedroom that stood out it was my bookshelf. On that bookshelf were at least 4 or 5 different sets of encyclopedias. I had medical encyclopedias. I had science and technology encyclopedias. I had the World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica Sets. My parents loved buying them and then bought them for me. I spent so many days just looking through all the articles. My favorite article without a doubt was one on the periodic table of the elements. It was a 60's era listing. It was arranged in the typical fashion with all the colors denoting various properties and groups. I was so fascinated by all the names. All I wanted to be was a scientist when I was a child. Alas, that road was not to be for me.

This news item is a sad note. Ultimately it was inevitable. The economics just isn't there anymore. I have been wondering for some time now how long at-home encyclopedia sets were going to be viable. I have to say that this is not a good development. I am not just being a Luddite on this point. The encyclopedia had been the mainstay of primary student research for over a century. Sure the teacher wanted three other books, but really, were those books every cracked open save just to get the bibliography info? Students just paraphrased what they read in the encyclopedia. Imperfect, but still, it was the start of basic research training.

Now all this is moving online (has been for over a decade). Yes, the encyclopedias are available in the library, but soon they will be out of date and eventually will just be relics. I'm sure that the other major brands will follow suit. Now why is this bad when all the data is available online? I know that some of you already know the answer to this question. The Internet is hardly a source a neutral unbiased data. Yes, unbiased data does exist on the Internet, but will young students be able to discern where the bias lay amidst the blogs, news clippings, forum posts, press releases and spin that exists all over the place online. Those old Britannicas were fairly unbiased in their articles.

It is true that Britannica will still be published online (a fee-based service), but will it still hold its catbird seat amidst the storm of what the Internet holds. Sure, advanced students in high school and college will have the training to differentiate, but will the younger students have that mental acuity? The first place they'll go to is the Wikipedia and while a tool it is by no means a reference (yes, citation needed). Sure, teachers (provided that they themselves aren't trying to steer their charges in a political direction) will point to approved sites to glean research. However, all those other sites will be there and students will read them and be influenced. While, of course, not texting or browsing social networks or playing MMORPGs. It is all very muddy.

On the article itself after reading it while I understand the business reality I truly hate Britannica president Jorge Cauz's reaction to the event. While he may have held off as long as he could by his comments he didn't seem all too upset about it. If I have to point to a personality type which I loath it his attitude that people out there (like me) just don't understand. People like me are just a bunch of throwbacks to an earlier era. I knew that it was coming. I understand. I just have more respect for an era which he seemingly (I may be wrong) couldn't give a damn about ending! Yes, you want to position your company for the future, but please give us - the people who gave you a job to begin with - a little more respect before you kick us out the door and down the stairs. I invite you to read the article and judge for yourself.

Knowledge is a grand thing. The Internet has it all, but an era is passing. There will be advantages and disadvantages, but one this is certain - the days of sitting in a library with stacks of books at your table are dwindling away and I don't like it one bit!

Here is a link to the article.

Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books - CNN Money