Pandemic Library Tech: Converting YouTube Captions to Facebook Captions

Our library’s front-facing services and programs have been entirely digital for two months now. One thing that has taken us entirely too long to figure out has been how to provide decent captions / transcripts for our videos.

Sure, YouTube and Facebook can auto-caption all the video you live streamed through them, but it looks to me like Facebook requires you to tell it to do that for each video (based on this) and even then the captions are… well, they’re auto-captions. YouTube’s captions are better, but again–auto-captions. Not always intelligible, and definitely not as good as what you’d get from an actual human doing the captioning. But who can afford a captioning service?

Better *still*, YouTube and Facebook use different file types if you want to just upload some manually corrected captions to them. So if you have one video in both places, you can’t just correct a file once and use it in both places. Nope. That would be too easy.

So we’ve been trying to figure out a workflow that would let our less tech-savvy library assistants work on captions and transcripts for us. We’re making progress, but that’s not actually in a place where I want to share it. (One major consideration is: Who are we comfortable giving enough rights on our Facebook page that they can access captioning tools? Facebook page management is not for the technologically squeamish or the person who will fail to notice when they’re acting as the page vs. when they’re acting as themself.)

What I want to share is some quick and dirty regex for converting YouTube caption files (.sbv files) to Facebook caption files (.srt). Is this the most code efficient way of converting between the two file types? Absolutely not. Have I built in much in the way of protections checking to see if the original file was well formatted? Nope. This is, I emphasize, quick and dirty. Also it’s the first time I’ve used PHP in… gosh, several years, I think. Probably the past-me who was fluent and spent all kinds of time coding would cringe.

That said, I didn’t find example regex when I was looking, so… yeah. Anyway, without further ado:

//turn all the non-html new line characters into <br> so they'll display on this page
    $pattern = "/[\r\n]{1,2}/";
    $replacement = "<br>";
    $convertMe = preg_replace($pattern,$replacement,$convertMe);
    //turn the commas between the numbers into arrows
    $pattern = "/(\d)\,(\d)/";
    $replacement = "$1 --> $2";
    $convertMe = preg_replace($pattern,$replacement,$convertMe);
    //put the leading zero on other places it's needed, and comma-ify the //milliseconds
    $pattern = "/([0-9]{1}:)([0-9]{2}:[0-9]{2})\.([0-9]{3})/";
    $replacement = "0$1$2,$3";
    $convertMe = preg_replace($pattern,$replacement,$convertMe);
    //now number the captions for facebook / .srt
    //count how many <br><br> there are, so we know how many captions
    $howMany = substr_count($convertMe, "<br><br>") + 1;
    //the first caption is its own case
    $convertMe = "1<br>" . $convertMe;
    //number all the rest of the captions
    //first, fill an array with all the numbers we'll use
    $pattern = "/<br><br>(\d\d:)/";
    for($i = 2; $i <= $howMany; $i++){
        $replacement = "<br><br>" . $i . "<br>$1";
        $convertMe = preg_replace($pattern, $replacement, $convertMe, 1);

Pandemic Library Tech: Planning for Limited Patron Visits

My library is still in working from home mode. After WFH mode there will be a time where we’re all back in the building (maybe in shifts?) getting stuff organized, and then a further time when our only physical interactions with patrons will be… well, not interactions at all. We’re planning on having some sort of contactless pickup for a while. (How long? Who knows? We’ll have it for as long as we need to in order to keep our patrons and employees safe.)

Anyway, after contactless pickup mode ends, we’re anticipating a time when we do let patrons back into the building, but only a limited number of patrons, and only for a limited amount of time. The question becomes: How will we manage that?

Happily I have a genius co-worker who was like, “Hey, what about those pagers that chain restaurants give out so you know when they’re ready for you?” And then I kicked myself, because I’ve even worked at a library that had some of those pagers before, and that STILL never occurred to me. (My previous library used them originally to notify students when there was a laptop available for them to checkout, and then later to notify students when in-demand reserve items were available. So a pretty different context. But still–why did I not think of this??)

Anyway that’s my library’s plan. We’ve ordered a set of Microframe Slimline Vibrating Pagers for each of our branches. We chose this particular product because:

  • The Town procurement office, when we asked what they could turn up, only found us some other company that was going to charge us an ongoing monthly fee to make the pagers work. (You can’t see the face I make at the thought of ANOTHER monthly service we would have to keep up with, especially during a time when the budget is likely to be scarily tight. Please, no!)
  • My previous library bought the equivalent of these pagers from Microframe 15+ years ago. Of the 20 they bought, only about two have died so far.
  • The amount of time my previous library has had their pagers might be a giveaway, but did I mention–there’s no ongoing service charge for these! You buy the full system once, and it’s yours to use forever.

Anyway, the plan for how we’ll use them works like this:

  1. Patrons wait outside the library in a socially distanced line until it’s their turn to come in.
  2. You (the patron) can come in when we have a pager to give you. We buzz the pager so it’s vibrating when we hand it to you, and have it set so that it will automatically go off again 25 minutes later. (Re-page function for the win!)
  3. We explain that this is what it looks like when the pager goes off. When it goes off again, you need to bring back your pager, checkout your materials, and leave.
  4. When you bring the pager back to us, we ask you to wipe it down with a sanitizing wipe before you hand it to us.
  5. We give the pager to the next patron in line.

It’s an easy way for us to keep track of how many people are in the building. It’s an easy way to remind people to come back to the desk and get ready to leave. It’s good for privacy because we’re not linking this to anyone’s phone or anything. It’s good for equity because we’re not *requiring* anyone to have a phone or anything.

Possible drawbacks? A patron could set the pager down and walk away, intentionally or not. I’m not worried about finding the pagers again–they can be triggered to go off until you find them–but it’s very much just an honor policy thing for patrons to actually hold on to the pager and return to the checkout area when they’re supposed to. Also I suppose someone could steal their pager, though I can’t think why anyone would want to.

Nifty bonuses to this system? It sounds like we’ll be able to put some kind of customizable, swap-out-able, promotional material or instructions on each pager.

Also, I have plans for these things when/if we get back to doing live, in-person events again. We used to give out boring paper tickets for our storytimes. How much cooler if you could hand a kid a pager that will vibrate and light up when it’s time to head over to storytime? So. Much. Cooler.

So, yep. That’s why my library is buying restaurant pagers.

Pandemic Library Tech: Phone Reference

When we all first started working from home, we didn’t worry about getting phone reference up and running. Chat and email were a lot easier; we’d start there and see how it went.

Since then, our reopening to the public has been pushed back until at least June 29. And you know what that means? That means it’s time to figure out phone reference. Not all of our patrons have access to (or the knowledge to use) chat and email.

Ideas I Considered But Threw Out

  1. Just have the normal reference phone forward to the reference librarian(s) on duty

    This idea failed because IT informed us that our phones can only forward to one number at a time. Technically I guess we could maybe swap out which phone got forwarded to, every time we switched shifts? But that sounds like a lot of work, plus having only one person able to answer the phone for reference isn’t ideal. This one might be worth looking into if you’re a tiny library, or you’re flat broke and have no other options.
  2. Google Voice

    It seemed like genius–just create a free account and every everyone login and monitor it from their computer during their shifts. The thing I forgot? Privacy. No way I’m letting Google listen in on our patrons’ calls / save their voicemails / anything of the sort. Nope. Not happening. I’d rather do without phones.
  3. MightyCall

    I started looking for cheap options that would let us ring all 8 of our working reference librarians’ phones at once, without having to pay by user. MightyCall looked super promising, and I got really excited by their offer for 3 months free for non-profits, municipal government, etc. It sounded amazing! But then I read their privacy policy and got a little worried… so I emailed them and asked a bunch of stuff about privacy.

    They were really great about getting back to me, but their answer was that they’re not HIPAA compliant, your calls and voicemail get saved “temporarily” as data on their servers, and they would absolutely hand that over to law enforcement or other governmental requests.

    So… that’s a nonstarter. Reference phone calls need to be private.

Product I Think We’re Going With

It’s not finalized yet–I’m still waiting for a few more details from the vendor, and then I need to sort out which budget line will pay for this–but I think we’ll likely be going with Talkroute. They are HIPAA compliant as long as you don’t use their texting or voicemail-to-email features. I have an email out to them about what exactly that entails, but I doubt I’m likely to do better.

If my library got Talkroute’s “Plus” plan, we could have calls ring simultaneously to the computer of as many of our 8 reference librarians as we wanted. We could also do some handy-sounding things like having a special message that patrons would hear if they called outside of the hours that we’re offering reference. And $39 / month isn’t hideously expensive (pricing page here).

Update 5/16/20: Talkroute doesn’t actually mean “there is no limit” when they say the Plus plan has “unlimited” talk minutes. Based on our estimated use (phone reference is pretty darn popular for us), we’d have to go with the Enterprise plan… which is $99 / month rather than $39. Expletives. Will we do it anyway? Maybe. Talkroute seems to be the best on privacy, and every other vendor I’ve been able to turn up has the same asterisk next to where they claim they offer unlimited minutes. WTF, vendors? WTF?

Ye Olde Express Lane Software, Receipt Printers, and Windows 10

We have lots of receipt printers in the library.  Some are attached to staff checkout stations (basically regular computers); some are attached to self checks running Express Lane.  We no longer have support for Express Lane, and all the hardware associated with it is… 6+ years old? Maybe 10+. I’m not actually sure.  Anyway the Express Lane self checks are where our current problems are. 

The Saga of the Children’s Room Self Check

Back in November, the self check in Children’s started acting up.  The receipt printer button disappeared from the software. Switching the receipt printer (a Star TSP 100 Future Print) to a different USB port made the receipt printer button show up again… but it broke the RFID pad. 

We went back and forth for a while with one or the other working, before getting the RFID pad up and running and accepting that there wouldn’t be receipt printing from that station anymore (at least temporarily). Telling Windows to update drivers didn’t help; upgrading Windows from 7 to 10 didn’t help; telling Windows not to manage printer preferences didn’t help. 

When I got Windows 10 on there, a giant queue of old receipts did start to print out, and had to be canceled.  I was also able to print test pages on the printer. But the “print receipt” button did not show up in the Express Lane software at that point, and we were unable to find a way to make it appear.  

A week or two later, I shuffled receipt printers around so that the nicer receipt printer on the self check (where it wasn’t doing any good) could go to another computer where it WOULD do some good.  The Star TSP 100 Future Print was perfectly happy on the other computer after I manually downloaded its drivers to make the computer recognize it as a printer. And the Star TSP700II that I put on the Children’s self check was immediately recognized by the computer AND it made the “print receipt” button show up in Express Lane! 

I tried to do a checkout, and a job was sent to that receipt printer–I could see it in the printer’s queue. But it didn’t ever print, even though I let it sit there for upwards of 15 minutes while I was doing other things. 

Current Status: Baffled

Self Check #3 at Main Circ (Save an OXPS File)

Meanwhile, Windows 10 updates were rolling out throughout the library.  I put Windows 10 on a self check upstairs, which had previously been playing just fine with its receipt printer (a Star TSP743II).  After the update, the “print receipt” button continued to exist in Express Lane… but if you hit it, you’d get a Save window instead of having a receipt just print out. 

The file type it was trying to save was .oxps, which I read doesn’t play with Windows 7.  I knew that receipt printing used to work in Windows 7, so I told Windows to use .xps instead of .oxps.  This did nothing except change what file type I’m asked to save when I hit the “print receipt” button.

Telling Windows to update the receipt printer’s drivers accomplished nothing.  Manually updating the drivers from Star’s website did get me a newer version of the drivers, now featuring a way-too-wide right margin that’s cutting off the text when I print a test page.  The “print receipt” button still shows up in Express Lane, but it’s bringing up a save dialog rather than actually printing the receipt. Switching back to .oxps didn’t fix any of this.  

Current Status: Baffled

Ridiculous Slowness at a Branch

We also installed Windows 10 on a self check at one of our branches.  On *that* self check, I have a report that the receipt printed… after a 5-minute wait.  That’s clearly not going to cut it from a patron’s point of view! The printer model there is a Star TSP700II.

Current Status: WTF


So basically… we have 3 self check stations running Windows 10.  All of them are now connected to a Star TSP700II receipt printer. 

  • One prints receipts after a ridiculous, unusable delay.
  • One tries to save the receipts instead of printing them. 
  • One does nothing when you tell it to print a receipt.  

On the bright side, I know that Express Lane recognizes Star TSP700II receipt printers. Woooo?


Factoids I forgot to include yesterday:

  • Until yesterday, both Self Check #3 and the Children’s self check were using driver version I manually updated Self Check #3 to version 3.6a yesterday; that’s when its margins got wonky.
  • I tried making it so that the Children’s self check couldn’t put USB devices to sleep to save power, just in case that’s what was happening. It didn’t help.
  • Also I noticed today that the Children’s self check had Microsoft XPS Writer listed as a printer and Self Check #3 didn’t. I figured out how to get XPS Writer to show up on Self Check #3… but it didn’t change the fact that Self Check #3 still asks users to save the .oxps file.

Current Status:

  • 1/9/20: Still baffled. Self Check #3 still asks users to save the receipt file. Children’s self check has moved on to not even putting a receipt in the printer’s queue (?!).
  • 1/21/20: All three self checks at main circ are doing the try-to-save-a-file thing when you tell them to print a receipt… but the self check in Children’s has had a miraculous recovery. It works. (But WHY?!?!)

Another reading update

I’ve been terrible about keeping track of what I’m reading lately, I know.  I just–and–I was–ummm… Yeah.  Well, anyway, here’s some of what I remember.

Conan Doyle for the Defense

I picked up a copy of this one at the local bookstore because, I mean, Margalit Fox.  How many authors can make you have a favorite prehistoric writing system?  But that is exactly what Margalit Fox did in The Riddle of the Labyrinth (love that book!), so when I saw that she had a new book out, and it was nonfiction about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle getting involved to free a man who had been wrongly convicted of a scandalous murder… How could I possibly pass that up?

In the end I think this book could have been rather considerably shorter than it was without suffering any.  It’s still a story worth knowing, though.  Just maybe get it from the library instead of buying it in hardcover.

Tell Me How It Ends

The college’s reading initiative picked this book for this year, and Valeria Luiselli is coming to campus to talk about it.  So when I was scrolling through NYPL’s ebook app and this one popped up, and I didn’t have anything else particularly in mind to read… Well, why not be a good campus citizen and read it?

Tell Me How It Ends uses Luiselli’s experience translating for the unaccompanied refugee children making their way to the US, and the framework of the questions those children have to answer so that lawyers can decide whether to argue their case, to make you feel the inhumanity of US immigration policies.  It’s a fabulous book–well written, well presented, really important topic–but it left me wanting to scream at current and recent US politics.  I bet it would pair really well on a reading list with Haven.

What I Found In A Thousand Towns

A student came to the reference desk this week asking for a bunch of books focusing on small town America.  Our library didn’t own most of them, so I was showing the student ILL, and they were reading out titles and authors for me to search–and then they said “Dar Williams.”  I started typing, and then I stopped.  “Wait.  Dar Williams??  I love Dar Williams!  She wrote a book?”

Whichever prof told that student to read this book, thank you!  This is another one that I was able to get through the NYPL ebook app.  I haven’t finished yet, but I’m psyched for the section talking about the Finger Lakes (since I’m very fond of the Finger Lakes in general and Ithaca in particular).

The book looks at different ways that small towns become actual communities–the kind of place where people know each other and are involved in things and take pride in being from there.  The kind of place where downtown isn’t full of sad and empty storefronts, but instead is a place where people actually go to live and work and eat and shop and play.  Because Dar Williams has been playing in all kinds of places since (apparently) the ’90s, she has interesting firsthand perspectives on a number of before and after stories.  Also I love the motley assortment of people she talks to about their towns/stores/projects/etc.

This book also makes me want to up my game at connecting people and making things happen.  I mean, I already have had a couple of notable (if relatively small-scale) successes in that arena–but this makes me want to scale up and really contribute to the efforts underway to revitalize my town.  Hmmm…

PastPerfect software

My library’s archives/special collections uses PastPerfect to catalog their collection. PastPerfect seems to be a popular choice with museums and archives, and presumably the people choosing it know more about their needs than I (Coordinator of Library Technology) do.  So we’ll forgive PastPerfect its outdated-looking interface.  I have more trouble, though, with forgiving all the errors we’re getting from PastPerfect right now.

Almost certainly these errors are because none of us at my library really understand the technical requirements of the software… but there’s no technical documentation available, a single support call costs $85, and if I’m reading their website correctly, support for my library for a year is going to take a $540 bite out of our budget.  Ouch.  I get that they need to make money somehow, and they still sell their software out of a box like we’re in the 90’s again, which means there aren’t any ongoing subscription costs, but still.  Ouch.

Are we going to pay that?  Yes, sadly.  Can we pay that right now?  Of course not–it’s currently the end of June, and who knows when we’ll be allowed to spend next fiscal year’s money?

So right now, no support, and lots of errors every time our Special Collections folks try to backup their work.  (I mean, really, why would archives/special collections want to do a silly thing like backing up their work?  Sigh.)

I’m also baffled by my inability to find people writing about their experiences working in PastPerfect.  What search terms do I need to add to get something other than the software’s official site, Wikipedia entry, a couple software comparisons, and a bunch of non-technical stuff with a target audience of “general public”?  So here’s what I know, in the interests of

  1. Organizing my thoughts so that maybe I can find an answer before next year’s budget is available, and
  2. Sharing my experience in case someone else is having these problems.

Our Setup

We have PastPerfect 5 plus its Network Addon.  Desktops in our Special Collections area, plus two librarian laptops, have PastPerfect installed on them.  The actual data lives on a drive share managed by campus IT.

We went to this setup a few months ago.  Previously, one of the computers down in Special Collections was designated the “server computer” (it’s the computer one part-time staff member usually sits at) and it was where all the data lived.  This was annoying, because no one could work in PastPerfect unless that computer was turned on.  Switching to the drive share meant that the librarians could work from their laptops without going to Special Collections to turn on the server computer.


Every day:
  • When the former server computer turns on, a homegrown script runs a full backup of all files on that machine that are associated with PastPerfect.  That backup is saved to the shared drive.
  • Someone on the former server computer uses PastPerfect’s backup features to manually run an incremental backup of all changes anyone made to PastPerfect that day. That backup is saved to the hard drive of that particular computer.

Note to self: Are we doing recursive backups that reflect each other to infinity?  Or is it ok because the manual backup uses PastPerfect’s own backup tools, which presumably only grab content from the appropriate directories?

  • Campus IT backs up the drive share.  I *think* this is daily, but I don’t know that for certain.
  • Manual, incremental backup to an external hard drive stored elsewhere in the building.
  • Full backup to an external hard drive that we store offsite.  (Or at least, offsite-ish.  It’s still on campus, but at least it’s in another building.)

The Errors

A couple weeks ago I was told that there had been an annoying error popping up for a while when PastPerfect opened:

Shared history couldn’t be opened.

There didn’t seem to be any negative effects; everyone was still able to do their work and access everything they needed, backups still ran, and no one was worried.

Then one of the computers gave an error during a manual daily backup:

A minor error occurred but the backup file was created anyway.

Have you ever read a more useless error?  “Something went wrong and it was important enough that we thought we should tell you.  However, we’re not going to tell you what the error was.  We’re not going to tell you whether anything you care about was impacted.  We’re not going to recommend a course of action you should follow to deal with this, or to prevent it in the future.”  Awesome, PastPerfect.  Good job.

Later update: Apparently this means that someone else was using PastPerfect at the same time, which is of course a big no-no.  Here’s the PDF documentation from PastPerfect

We started talking about paying for PastPerfect support, but a bunch of people were going on vacation, and it was only a minor error, so presumably it could wait for us to all be back at work.

Then we got this one:

You have just encountered a minor error. Try pressing Continue to proceed.

If pressing Continue a few times doesn’t work, you can choose Quit Program and restart the program from Windows. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Error Information: Error #1104 Error reading file [[file location on shared drive]]\master.dbf.
[[file location on shared drive]]\ACCNDEFT.DBF Rec 1
Version 5.0E6

It also told us this had been recorded in the error log, and provided a phone number for customer support.

Later update: Here’s the official documentation for error #1104.  PastPerfect blames wifi / bad networking.  I’m checking with our Special Collections folks to see if they were trying to work over wifi at the time, but I’m pretty sure they were on a wired connection… not that that couldn’t still be slow.  Sigh.  

I suppose I should be glad that at least this time we were given a course of action, but as soon as we hit Continue on that error, we got:

Error backing up multimedia files
[[giant list of files]]

…and hitting ok led to a repeat of the first error, only at line 891 instead of 1138…

…and then there was some confusion about when PastPerfect said backups had run…

…so we tried the backup again, and this time there were MORE of the same errors.  Lines 891 and 1138 are not my friend, the same multimedia files failed to backup (but I guess it’s good that it’s still trying, even though it’s an incremental backup, because those files haven’t been backed up after all).

Oh, and now we’re starting to get exciting errors just from opening PastPerfect–before we even try to back things up.  There’s all the same stuff about this being a minor error, press Continue, etc., and then:

Error #12 Variable ‘FRMBACKUPREMINDER’ is not found.
[[file location on drive share]]\MASTER.DBF Rec 1
Version 5.0E6

Later update: Here’s the official documentation for error #12.  If we were trying to look at a report, it would be related to invalid field names.  What does it mean when you’re trying to run a backup?

and then

Error #1940 Expression is not valid outside of
[[file location on local machine]]\MAINSHOW.DBF Rec 2
Version 5.0E6

and then that repeated, and then

Error #1939 WITH/ENDWITH mismatch.
[[file location on local machine]]\MAINSHOW.DBF Rec 2
Version 5.0E6

Then Error #12 again, but this time on the local machine and Rec 3.

Then #1940 again, but line 889 and Rec 4.

Then #1940 on Line 890 and Rec 5.

Then #1939 on Line 891 and Rec 5…

…and then we quit.

Fun!  Fun, fun, fun.  Happy Friday to all.

Reading: Arithmetic

So I mentioned a while back that I was reading Arithmetic.  I did pretty well with it for a while; Lockhart has an engaging writing style, and his was by far the best explanation of thinking in anything other than base 10 that I’ve come across.

…But, yes, there’s a but.  I’m nearing the end now–I’ve just gotten to the bit about fractions–and I’m flagging.  I’m no longer wowed by the different perspectives you can take on how all of this works, and I’m starting to think he’s annoyingly glib at times.

I’ve spent some time as I read Arithmetic trying to decide who I would recommend this book to.  It’s not really for children, for all that I think children are the ones who could benefit most from the different takes on how arithmetic works, and interesting points of view as those takes are explained.  Adults can just use a calculator if they don’t enjoy doing the arithmetic themselves, as Lockhart points out every few pages.  Kids, though–kids are stuck in school math classes where they’re graded on this stuff, and not tracked into the actually interesting math until/unless they master arithmetic.  But this isn’t really a book for kids.

Maybe it would be good for the parent or tutor of a kid struggling with math?  Or anyone who teaches math to elementary schoolers, I suppose.

Anyway, I’m not 100% sure whether or not I’ll finish this one.  I might.  But then again, I’ve already stumbled across Music and the Making of Modern Science while trying to find stuff to buy for collection development.  I’m not sure I can justify buying it for the library… but I can certainly justify ILLing it for myself!  Maybe this one will be the bedtime reading I’ve been waiting for.  It could be, right?

In other news, I think I saw a house finch yesterday, and I’ve definitely seen crocuses in bloom in two different places.  It’s spring!  And See You Around has been on repeat in my office and apartment for the past couple days.  That has nothing to do with spring, but it’s always nice to have new music as you usher in a new season.

Plastic Bags

My library teamed up with the local Zonta Club to celebrate International Women’s Day with our own totally-not-a-Maker-Faire-because-that’s-trademarked-or-something Maker Madness event. I had a table at the event that focused on plarn.  You know, plastic yarn–cutting up old plastic bags and reusing them for whatever fiber craft you’re feeling that day.  I put out a call for my co-workers to bring in plastic bags for me and WOW did I end up with a mountain of plastic bags in my office.

For me, as for so many others, the obvious path to take with plarn is crocheting. Here’s the turtle I crocheted as one of my sample items:

turtle crocheted out of old plastic bags

I also have a few bowls I’ve crocheted–one many years ago, and one the morning of the event because I’d gotten woefully behind on prepping for it.  Having only two (small!) samples didn’t seem like enough; having three (still small!) samples was at least 50% better.

Anyway I didn’t feel like trying to teach people to crochet in that setting; experience has taught me that that needs at LEAST an hour, and no one is going to stay at a single booth of a not-a-Maker-Faire for an hour.  So I taught people to do finger knitting with plarn.  I also talked up the fact that hey, plastic bags are polluting the world like crazy, and if you’re going to still use them at the store, at least have the decency to reuse them after that.  And I started telling them about all the things I’ve heard about other people using plastic bags for–embroidery, knitting, fusing them together with an iron and doing stuff with that, you name it.

Some people had heard all this before, but others were blown away by the mere concept.  So that’s one reason I’m writing all of this down.  The other reason, of course, is that even with all the people I taught to finger knit, I think I used less than a quarter of the plastic bag mountain that is now in my office.

So search of inspiration to kill off Mount Plastic Bag, here are some cool things I’ve come across online that reuse plastic bags in interesting ways:

  1. Knitting plarn into garments (not meant for actual wear, but still, holy crap these are amazing).  I will never be that good.
  2. Crocheting it into sea creatures.  I suddenly have feelings of inadequacy over my turtle.  I had no idea!
  3. Fusing bags together to make a raincoat. That… that is so cool.
  4. Fusing bags together to make mandalas.  I would totally hang one of those on my wall.  Do you suppose I can achieve a similar effect on my own, with my mountain of mostly white, off-white, and gray bags?  Sigh.
  5. Rolling beads out of plastic bag strips.  People combine beading and crochet, or beading and embroidery all the time… what if I used plastic-bag beads on my plastic-bag crocheting?  That could be super fun.
  6. Fusing plastic bags to make jewelry.  I’m not much of one for jewelry, but most of what I make ends up as gifts anyway…
  7. Heat-gunning plastic bags into containers.  Cool, but I’m not loving the likelihood of fumes.
  8. Wrapped plastic-bag basket.  I had actually hoped to have a basket to show off on my table, but didn’t finish it in time.  I was following(ish) instructions for a woven basket (meant to be made from willow) rather than a wrapped on, but this is equally cool!
  9. Plastic bag embroidery.  I’ve actually been wondering if I could embroider *with* plastic bags rather than on them–but maybe I could do both?  It sounds like embroidering onto fused plastic is the way to go…
  10. And of course there are all the normal projects you see everywhere–a crocheted bag made out of plastic bags, or a rug, or coasters, etc.

Anyway the moral of this story is that I need to get a move on with all these bags I’ve got right now.  There are way too many cool possibilities for me to let them gather dust.  (Even once we’ve accounted for the ones that will probably be co-opted for cleaning litter boxes.)

Scaups and Mergansers (I think)

I mentioned last post that I’ve been seeing lots of white-winged scoters and long-tailed ducks down at the mouth of the Oswego River, of late.  Well, today I think I identified two more birds currently hanging out there:

  • Greater Scaups
    I’m not 100% sure of these; they might be Lesser Scaups.  But I lean toward Greater because their heads aren’t a funny shape, as far as I can tell.
    Two birds that are probably scaups, in the water.
    It’s *so* easy to tell from the photo, isn’t it?  Whatever kind of scaups these are, they’re shy.  They start paddling away from the edge of the river while I’m still at least 20 feet from the bank (and it’s not like they were right on the bank to begin with).  I’m going to have to dig out my binoculars, probably, if I want to get a better look.  Sigh.
  • Common Merganser
    I’m increasingly less certain of this identification. It might have been a Red-breasted Merganser; I think I’ve seen those before, right?  It’s definitely something with those awesome head feathers though, and those seem to be a merganser thing.  So at least I’m reasonably sure that I’m seeing some kind of merganser.

    Do I have a picture of these mergansers?  Well… no.  For some reason the mergansers won’t pose for me.  Very inconsiderate of them, in my opinion.

Reading: Keywords in Sound

I was doing collection development at work the other day, and because I’ve gotten all new areas, I was rummaging around an assortment of other libraries’ websites, Amazon, Gobi, etc., trying to get a feel for what’s out there.  Music and Math in particular seem bound to lead to things I want to read; I’m already finding titles that call out to me.

Keywords in Sound was one of those titles.  I mean, read the description:

In twenty essays on subjects such as noise, acoustics, music, and silence, Keywords in Sound presents a definitive resource for sound studies, and a compelling argument for why studying sound matters. Each contributor details their keyword’s intellectual history, outlines its role in cultural, social and political discourses, and suggests possibilities for further research. Keywords in Sound charts the philosophical debates and core problems in defining, classifying and conceptualizing sound, and sets new challenges for the development of sound studies.

How do you *not* want to read that?  I was really excited when the book came in through interlibrary loan.  (I couldn’t actually justify buying it for Music, so it had to be ILL.)

So I got it home and started reading–

–yeah, either sound studies are not for me, or this wasn’t a good choice.  I’m three or four keywords in now, and it’s just not cutting it.  The keywords I’ve read have been… ummm… acoustemology… and… errrrrrrrr…. body, I think?

I’m not retaining much, apparently.  And I’m not even enjoying not retaining it.

Fortunately, my next ILL request has come in: Arithmetic.  Cross your fingers for me; I could really do with some bedtime reading that I actually like.


In other news, there have been white-winged scoters and long-tailed ducks down at the mouth of the river for a few weeks now, and I kind of love them.

Three white-winged scoters and a long-tailed duck