Things I need to learn about

What have I learned this week?  Well, my friends, here we go:

  1. A reminder that I hate being sick.  Hate.  Hate, hate, hate.  Thing to look up later: What *is* the maximum volume that normal human sinuses can hold?
    1. In my initial, less-than-five-minutes attempt to find this out, I have discovered that there is such a thing as the American Rhinologic Society.  Add that to my list of things that shouldn’t be surprising but somehow are.
  2. I have learned that I need to learn more about tea.  I consumed vast quantities of tea this week–white tea, Darjeeling, lapsang souchong, oolong, green tea with jasmine, and my more normal orange pekoe.  I know that lapsang souchong has a whole thing about being smoked… and isn’t oolong fermented, maybe?  But all in all I have no idea what makes these teas different from one another.  There are a couple books in the collection at work that I expect to be reading by this time next week.
  3. Snowshoeing is fun.  It’s probably not best undertaken on one’s first day of (relative) health after being flattened for a week, but I couldn’t resist my first chance to try out that Christmas present.  Somehow I had expected to “float” more on top of the snow than you actually seem to, but I have confirmed with multiple sources that I was mistaken in that belief.
  4. I have begun to read The Weaver’s Idea Book.  I had no idea so many things were possible on my rigid heddle loom!  Stay tuned for lots of weaving posts.
  5. I have also begun to read Needlework.  Lots of broad strokes in this one; it’s your basic historical overview.  Plenty of good pictures, though.
    1. I’m learning that when it comes to western embroidery, I generally prefer the aesthetic of pre-1700s work.  That’s always good to know, I suppose.
    2. Also stumpwork (aka “raised embroidery”) is a thing–embroidery in 3d.  I need to find some kind of directions/tutorial for a stumpwork project that isn’t hideously ugly.  Who doesn’t need to up their embroidery game to involve three dimensions??
      1. AND, someone wrote this book, which I need to ILL asap: Stumpwork, goldwork and surface embroidery : beetle collection

So I guess this week has been more of a week for “Oooh, I need to learn about that,” than anything else.

Reading: Design is the Problem

I’ve been reading Design is the Problem: The Future of Design Must be Sustainable. LibUx was doing it as some kind of book club thing, and while I’m horrible at book clubs, I *am* open to book recommendations. So, Design is the Problem.

It makes pretty decent bedtime reading–engagingly enough written that I can stay awake for more than a couple paragraphs, not so thrilling that I will glance at the clock and realize that I should have been asleep hours ago.  I have a surprising amount of difficulty finding that balance, so it’s worth noting.  Also worth noting: I don’t have my ILLed copy of the book at hand, so we’re just going to pretend that my intent was to capture broad ideas and not worry about details.

Things I like as of right now, when I’m maybe 3/4 of the way through the book:

  • The focus on systems.  Systems make me so ridiculously happy.  Don’t just think of the system you’re designing in–think of the systems that system is a part of.
  • The idea that in nature, one system’s outputs are another system’s inputs.  No waste!  What would that look like in a library?  I keep trying to figure that out, and coming up with things like–I produce lots of data when I’m doing usability testing.  I do my best to share it, but I can’t force others to reuse it, and I don’t generally have time to reuse it myself.  Imagine if that were part of a larger process that I could dip into when I needed to and/or contribute my data to, and know that it would flow onward to someplace where it would see further use.  Being able to reuse others’ output, whether in usability data or anything else, would mean I don’t always have to start from scratch!  (And neither does anyone else.)
  • Building on that idea–the idea that a subsystem’s “waste” could actually improve the larger systems it’s part of.  Imagine a factory that purified a river instead of polluting it.  What would be the library equivalent?  Must figure this out.
  • The idea of river systems vs. lake systems.  In a river system, inputs come in, flow through, and pass right back out.  In a lake system, inputs come in and get used and swirl around and get reused, maybe several times, before they pass out of the system.  They contribute value to the system instead of just passing through.
  • Recognition of the fact that there are many kinds of sustainability: social, ecological, financial, etc.  Come to think of it, there are probably as many kinds of sustainability as there are kinds of systems.
  • The case studies.  I really enjoy the case studies embedded throughout the book; they take the abstractions and make them concrete.

Things I don’t like:

  • The footnotes.  I mean, I like footnotes in general.  Footnotes are good, right?  They often contain citations, and I like citations.  But the sources this guy is citing in his footnotes–!  Wikipedia, repeatedly.  And news articles.  I mean, nothing against Wikipedia and news articles, but seriously, these are the chief sources you use for your book?!  You couldn’t even be bothered to chase down the sources those sources cited?  My inner librarian is crying.

    Every time I say to myself, “Oh, that’s interesting!  I wonder where he pulled that from?” and then look and see it’s Wikipedia, I immediately begin to doubt the point he just made.  Is it actually true?  Maybe, but it just got added to the “Interesting but unverified” column in my brain.

Anyway–it’s worth a read, and possibly also worth further research to verify all the things the author relied on Wikipedia for.


Software for Visualizing Data

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, posting-wise–but all is not lost!  I am still learning fabulous and ridiculous things.  My latest rabbit hole is visualization software.

See, a year or two ago I volunteered to write a script to pull more meaningful data out of the spreadsheets of data generated by my library’s reference stats software.  The spreadsheets were in Excel, so I channeled high school computer class and wrote Visual Basic scripts.  Those scripts counted stuff up and threw it in tables.  Not nearly as fun as the Visual Basic project I did back in the day where you pressed buttons and an image moved around the screen, making annoying noises… but definitely more useful.

The problem?  We keep coming up with different questions to ask of our reference desk data.  I’m not particularly fluent in Visual Basic, and as much as I do enjoy coding, I don’t really enjoy coding in Visual Basic to manipulate spreadsheet data.  Plus the boring tables of numbers that are all I was able to output are, shall we say, less than inspiring.

As a result, I spent much of yesterday messing around with software that would help me slice, dice, and visualize my data.  For the record, “business intelligence (BI) software” is at least as good a search term as “data visualization software,” at least for what I was doing.

I started off with Google Data Studio, because I read about it somewhere recently and it seemed nice and approachable.  It did have an unintimidating interface, but I spent *way* too long fighting with it over whether my many columns of dates were actually dates.  I reformatted those suckers at least five times trying to convince Google Data Studio that, yes, actually, these ARE dates–but I still didn’t win that fight.  I was trying to find workarounds when I realized that the graphs GDS was showing me showed one subset of my data when I sorted them one way, and a different subset when I sorted them another.  Is it really too much to ask that it show me all seven days of a week, all at once?  I couldn’t find a way to make the graphs display all the data at once, the help pages were not helpful, and at that point I decided that Google Data Studio is not for me.

So I started playing with SandDance, because someone linked me to it ages ago and I remember thinking it was cool.  I think the interface had a bit more of a learning curve than Google Data Studio did–it took me a while to figure out how to include/exclude parts of my data.  I did get the hang of it after a while, but I was stumped by the fact that I couldn’t find a way to zoom in and look more closely at the graphs when I had a lot of bins going on.  My labels weren’t visible, which meant that I couldn’t tell what I was looking at, which meant it was fairly useless.

At that point I started searching for recommended alternatives, and a result I kept seeing was Tableau.  And, oh yeah, I *have* heard of Tableau. But ye gods, $999 for a personal copy of the desktop version, or $500 to use it online for a year?  The library is great about buying me software, but I would have to know for a fact that we were going to get some serious mileage out of this before I could justify that kind of money.

Except it turns out that there is Tableau Public.  If you’re willing to make everything you use Tableau for public, you can use it free.  So that’s cool.  I mean, I work at a state college so I’m pretty sure all our data has to be public anyw–oh hey, what’s this?  “Tableau Desktop is free for students and instructors around the world“?  Um, yes, please!

You actually have to get approved for the free-for-instructors thing.  In the mean time I’ve been playing with Tableau Public and all I can say is, why was I wasting my time with Google Data Studio and SandDance?  I can tell that there’s a lot of functionality I don’t know how to use yet in Tableau, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of me doing some basic stuff right off the bat.  And I can always read the labels on my visualizations!  And I can export them as PDFs that I could hand to co-workers even if they aren’t at all tech savvy!  And data doesn’t disappear and reappear depending on how I sort things!  And I can *manually* sort things, so that I don’t have to choose between having the days of the week show up alphabetically or in descending order of how many questions got asked!

In short, I think I may be in love.  This is so much more fun than trying to remember how to select a cell in a different column in Visual Basic.



I was reading The Discipline of Organizing the other night before bed.  It’s a good book for that; whatever site described it to me as a textbook sure wasn’t kidding.  It’ll knock you right out if I’m anything to go by.

Anyway–I made it to the page where Glushko is talking about names vs. identifiers (maaaaaaybe by skipping a goodly chunk of the book, but hush).  And there, on the page, was a mention of how there are different parts of an ISBN that mean different things and that’s why ISBNs work as identifiers.

That “ding!” you heard just then is the sound of my brain making a connection that had been lurking in there for lo these many years.  See, back in the days when I worked at a bookstore, I used to spend a lot of time typing in ISBNs for various purposes.  Nowadays, while librarian-ing, I just copy/paste the things and have done with it.  However many years ago, though, I was keying them in manually, and thinking to myself, “Huh, there’s definitely a pattern to this–all of these books have this big a chunk of their ISBN in common.”

For some reason I never investigated further.  Maybe because I was trying to read Paradise Lost at the time?  That took up all my extra brain power while I tried to figure out why anyone would care whether/what angels eat for dinner.  Who knows.  But this week, there was that line in the Glushko to jolt me back into wondering about ISBNs.

So, here you go.  How to read an ISBN.  Starting with 978 means it’s a book; following that with 0 means it’s in English.  Then you get to the part that tells you the publisher, followed by the chunk of numbers the publisher claimed for themselves so that each edition of each book they publish could get one, followed by a single check digit.

This also explains why publishers put all those annoying dashes in ISBNs; it tells you which chunk is which.  I suppose that means I have to forgive them for the fact that it means I can’t just double click on the number to select and copy it.

Also interesting to me–in the U.S., if you want an ISBN (or a block of them), apparently you have to buy them from Bowker.  Like, the same Bowker that does Books in Print.  That makes a great deal of sense, but I hadn’t ever thought before about where ISBNs come from.  It’s weird to me that you have to buy them from a commercial organization.  (Unless you’re in Canada.  Geez, Canada, stop making me jealous.)

How Not to Warp a Loom

I have a Cricket Loom.  Generally speaking, I am very fond of my Cricket Loom.  I am less fond of my Cricket Loom on warping days, and today was
a warping day.  The cat loves warping days, but I usually just end up swearing steadily as I try to figure out what I’ve screwed up this time.

Theoretically, warping a rigid heddle loom like mine is supposed to be easy.  I mean, check out this video:

Piece of cake!  Except it never quite goes that way.  At least, not for me.  Not so far.  I’ve done this three whole times now, and something different goes wrong every time.

Anyway, I feel like I should record some of what I’ve learned about warping my loom so that I don’t forget.  Possibly also to remind myself that I *am* getting better.  Or at least I’m making different mistakes, and eventually that should mean I run out of mistakes to make, right?

cat looking smug in front of *finally* finished, warped loom.
The cat likes to take credit for the warping, even though she had to be locked away so she didn’t chew through the yarn and pull everything crashing to the floor.

1. The first rule of warping is that you should never attempt it in the presence of a cat.  I don’t care how innocent the cat looks.  It’s a lie. Banish the cat and accept that the guilt of her crying “Abandonment!” is part of the warping process.

2. Don’t attempt to warp with your loom sitting on a small, not-terribly-sturdy tray table.  The table will tip over, your yarn will become a snarled mess, and you will not be happy.  If you *must* use the tray table because you don’t have anything else you can clamp the loom to, put a small (full) bookcase in front of it to prevent tipping.  See?  There’s a reason I need so many loaded bookcases!

3. If you’re doing direct warping, be careful not to pull the warp too tight while you’re doing it.  This will lead to nothing but misery as the warping peg slides around and eventually tips over, dumping your yarn on the floor.  Yes, this could probably be avoided if you had a second sturdy item of furniture to attach the warping peg’s clamp to.  Presumably if it were clamped, it would not tip over.  If, however, you have merely tied it with yarn to the back of a kitchen chair… well.

Pro tip: Vacuum before warping, so that if your yarn *does* end up on the floor, at least it won’t get covered in cat fur while it’s there.

4. Do not, under ANY circumstances, think that it’s a good idea to tie together two pieces of yarn so that you have enough length for your warp.  Those knots will catch in the heddles/beater and slow your progress to a crawl.  They have a good chance of also making unhappy lumps and holes in your finished weave, too.  So–no knots in the warp.  Not ever!  If you are going to switch yarns, do it on the apron rod.

5. Definitely attach your warping to the apron rods and not to any of the other horizontal rods in the loom.  Having to switch after you’ve already (incorrectly) warped eats boatloads of time.

6. Those rods at the top of the loom, front and back?  I forget their names, but they’re there for a reason.  The reason is that your warp should go over the back one, and you cloth should go over the front one.  You know what happens if your warp doesn’t go over that back one?  You get to find a way to take the warp off the back apron rod without losing the rest of your work, so that you can switch the apron rod’s position, so that the warp can go over that back rod.  That’s what happens.  And yeah, you can just slide off the two side apron cords, piece of cake.  But that middle apron cord?  Getting at that sucker means taking off half your warp.

Pro tip: You can slide that half your warp onto a pen to keep it in order while you slip off that apron cord and rearrange the apron rod’s position relative to that back rod whose name I really should learn.  Then you can slide the yarn back onto the apron rod.


I’m pretty sure I’ve learned other things, too, but they’re slipping my mind except for this one, which isn’t directly about warping:

Yes, you *can* make a very simple shuttle out of cardboard.  And it works ok.  But it would probably work better if you stiffened the cardboard somehow.  Maybe a double thickness of cardboard?  My improvised shuttles are bending because I put the yarn on them too tightly, and that makes them considerably harder to get through the shed.

Crocheting Left Handed

A few weeks ago I started running a series of crochet workshops designed to get complete newbies feeling comfortable enough to finish a very simple scarf.  I thought I was so prepared for doing this–I had supplies and helpers lined up.  I’d read up on crochet instruction online, and learned that lots of people recommend starting beginners on a pre-existing swatch, and crocheted enough swatches for everyone who signed up.

Now, I’ll grant you that starting people on a swatch is good because it provides them with an example of what single crochet will look like.  It’s easier to hold and work in than a chain is.  It lets them master something quickly and actually see some progress.

However, in a one-hour session with more students than crochet experts, we weren’t able to get anyone to the point where they were able to create their own chain and then crochet into it.  This meant that I sent everyone home without the ability to practice, unless they wanted to just keep pulling out the stitches in their swatch and doing them again.  So much for being able to see progress!  Lots of people left their swatches behind.  That, in combination with the attendance issues that have plagued these classes, has made me a swatch skeptic.

Anyway, where I really wanted to go with this post is that one thing I had utterly failed to prepare for was left-handed people.  I mean, yes, I’ve read all the suggestions about sitting facing them and having them mirror me; I’ve been told about using an actual mirror, even.  But neither of those approaches was any good for the two lefties who showed up to learn how to crochet.  They were getting thoroughly lost and confused trying.  It was no good.

My solution has been to learn to crochet left handed.  Earth shattering, right?  It’s been useful in a couple different ways, though.  For one thing, it reminded me of how wrong crocheting feels when you start out.  Nothing happens naturally.  You have to stop and consider each and every tiny little move of the hook.  The yarn snarls on your hand, or is so loose that it’s hard to grab it.  It’s hard.  

You kind of forget those things when it’s been 16 years since you learned a skill, you know?  So, yeah–empathy.

But also, being able to crochet left handed is fantastic for colorwork.  I read Carol Ventura’s More Tapestry Crochet several years ago.  She shows the differences between colorwork where you do it all right handed (or all left handed), and colorwork where you do a row right handed, a row left handed, a row right handed, and so on.  Alternating hands and thus directions makes your finished product look a lot better because now you have a right side and a wrong side.

At the time I first read More Tapestry Crochet, I looked at that suggestion to be able to switch hands with a combination of dread and awe.  Who was this woman that she could crochet with both hands?!  I would just stick to doing colorwork in the round so that I could avoid the problem.

For a lot of years, that was fine.  I got over my obsession with colorwork and moved on to other things.  (Fancier stitch combinations, better yarn, Tunisian crochet, knitting, embroidery, weaving…)  Then along came these left-handed would-be crocheters to remind me that I still have a ton to learn.

Well fine then, universe.  If these people can come to my class and learn to crochet when most of them are older than I am, surely I can teach myself to crochet with my off hand.

And I have!  I’ve spent a couple hours at this point doing really plain single and double crochet with my left hand.  Yesterday, I moved on to trying colorwork with alternating hands.  Here’s the practice I did, where I started off trying a pattern entirely right handed (the lower bracket), and then restarted the pattern alternating hands (the higher bracket).

the thing I practiced by crocheting

Yes, the colors are awful for colorwork like this, where it isn’t large chunks of each color.  This is a useful reminder to me that more contrast is better!  Still, I think it’s cool how much more finished the top part looks.  It actually was easier to follow the pattern when I was alternating hands, too, because it was so much easier to see what I’d done in the previous row.

So hey–trying to be more inclusive and empathetic with my students has improved my craft.  That’s pretty cool.

VR with my Phone

It’s been a crazy couple of days for me–on Friday I drove up to Malone to attend the NNYLN Fall Meeting, and today I drove south to Ithaca for fun.  These things are related to each other and also relevant to my theme of “interesting things” because of this “VR Photo.”

Yep, a “VR Photo.”  My first-ever virtual reality photo, in fact!  See, NNYLN gave every attendee a Google Cardboard.  Ok, actually an Unofficial Cardboard, but close enough.  I think it’s Unofficial Cardboard 2.0:

Cardboard VR headset

This was actually my first time trying out a VR headset.  I’ve had opportunities before, but I always passed–there was usually a long line, plus I admit to being slightly squicked out by taking a headset that just sat on the face of each and every person in that line and then putting it on my own face.  Having my very own headset solves both those problems.  Hooray!

A note on how this works, since I hadn’t known beforehand: The headset has a QR code on it that you snap an in-app photo of.  That pairs your phone and the headset so that you can look around in virtual reality and have what you see follow your head movements.  It also allows you to click on things using the big, clunky button on the top right of the headset.  Pretty cool for a mostly cardboard contraption.

Anyway, my initial reaction to trying out the demos with this headset is that it’s *hard* to get everything adjusted so that it’s more or less in focus.  And the emphasis is really on the “or less” part of that statement; it makes me feel like I’m going cross eyed.  I’m going to have to investigate further and figure out if this is a product of my eyes, my headset, the apps I’m using, or what.  Other models on Unofficial Cardboard’s site don’t seem to have adjustable lenses; I wonder if that means they would be better or worse for me?

Thus far all I’ve really tried app-wise is the demo in Google Cardboard, plus Cardboard Camera.  Cardboard Camera is how I took the picture at the top of the post, and I can view it in there too.  Viewing the VR photo does give a much better sense of the depth and impressiveness of standing at the top of Lucifer Falls than a normal photograph does.  And it’s kind of fun to have sound associated with it.

So yeah–virtual reality.  I should probably investigate it further, given the way it finally seems to be taking off.

Reading: The Paradox of Choice

I ILLed myself a copy of The Paradox of Choice, by Schwartz.  I forget exactly why–something else I was reading referenced it, maybe?  Anyway I’ve seen Schwartz’s TED Talk about this, I remember being intrigued by it, and before bed all I can read is nonfiction if I actually want to get any sleep.  Why not read the book?  Here’s the TED Talk:

And yeah… that moment with the “choice” of gender feels wrong to me, too.  I mean, I see what he’s going for.  But as I understand it, the only “choice” in being trans is whether or not to take the risk of being openly trans.  It’s a choice of being open about your gender, not a choice about your gender.


The TED Talk sums up the book pretty well, except it doesn’t name the concepts of maximizing vs. satisficing.  The idea with those terms is that maximizing involves you looking at each and every option you possibly can in order to make sure you get the very best one.  Satisficing is where you look only long enough to find an option that is “good enough.”

A satisficer won’t go to every clothing store within an hour radius of their home, looking for the perfect sweater; they’ll come up with some criteria and shop only long enough to find a sweater that meets those criteria.  A maximizer, on the other hand, will be the person who keeps finding sweaters that might work, but let’s just go check that other department or that other store or the outlet mall.  Just in case there’s something warmer/softer/cheaper/more exactly your size.

Schwartz ties these ideas in with the concepts he covers in his TED Talk, but the moral of the story is that satisficing is the way to go if you want to retain your sanity.  Figure out what’s good enough, and then don’t waste your time agonizing over whether you could have done better or whether someone else did do better.  You’ll end up happier with your decision even if objectively you could have done better.

He also recommends making “second-order decisions,” or decisions about when to even bother making a decision.  His example is the choice of whether or not to buckle your seatbelt when you get in a car.  Instead of having to choose each and every time you get in a car, just choose to be someone who always wears your seatbelt.

The librarian part of my brain spent the entire book wondering how to apply these concepts to information literacy and/or a library website.  Paralysis due to too many choices is definitely an issue with library websites–it’s the reason so many of us librarians are always going on about making our websites “more like Google.”  To a student who knows little or nothing about libraries, what is there to tell them whether they should search in this box or that box?  Or maybe they should click on this link that sounds like it might be relevant.  But there are these other links, too, which all presumably lead to important research-related tools and content, and–you know, it’s easier just not to pick.

Even once you’ve managed to figure out where to search on a library website, there’s a very good chance that you got hundreds of results.  Librarians used to brand ourselves as the only way you were going to find any information.  Nowadays we’re struggling to rebrand ourselves as the only way you can do a good job coping with the ridiculous number of choices you have in terms of information sources.

This also ties in to Living with Complexity, which I totally need to reread.  There’s that whole idea about how “complex” (having lots of visible options) is not the same as “complicated” (which involves being needlessly complex, hard to use, counterintuitive, etc.)  To a novice user, the difference between the two is incomprehensible, because the novice user doesn’t know how to choose between all the possibilities put forward by the visible options.

Even good library websites are going to be complex.  There are just so many things that people use libraries to accomplish, and so many tools customized to each of those tasks!  The question is, how can librarians tone down that complexity and provide just the right number of choices for non-expert users?  How can we simultaneously provide all of the most powerful tools we have for the users who need and expect them?

Questions, questions, questions.  Maybe I’ll get some answers as I move on to my next bedtime read: The Discipline of Organizing.  Somehow I doubt it… but I want to believe!

A side note about The Paradox of Choice that’s not really what the book is about: This book was published in 2004, and Schwartz spends all kinds of time on his example of the many choices available to anyone who wants long-distance phone service.  You know… for their landline.  I’m having an “I’m old!” moment here, because in my head 2004 is not actually that long ago, but ye gods, landlines?!  It just sounds so quaint.

Birds of Oswego

This summer I’ve been trying to learn the names of birds. I mean, everyone knows robins, crows, sparrows, bluejays, and the like. But I want to know all of them! The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s app, Merlin, has been a huge help. Here’s what I’ve seen:

Red Winged Blackbirds

I actually knew the male of this species already, because one of them used to dive bomb me every morning when I walked to grad school. You wouldn’t think something that size could be scary but ye gods, I understand the inspiration for The Birds after that summer.

Pro tips: Avoid their nests! Also, be aware that female Red Winged Blackbirds aren’t black and don’t have red wings. Well named, ornithologists.  Well named.

Double-crested Cormorants

I have no memory of seeing them in Oswego before, but the cormorants showed up in late summer and have hung around since. (Or at least, that’s when I noticed them.)

Cormorants are exciting because I’m pretty sure they’re in Island of the Blue Dophins, right? Doesn’t Karana make herself a cape from their feathers, or something?

Belted Kingfisher

I’ve only seen one of these, but its head feathers were every bit as fantastic as in the pictures.  Rock on, Belted Kingfisher!

Downy Woodpecker

Again, I’ve only seen one of these–but I’m very fond of it anyway.  Woodpeckers will always have a special spot in my heart after a childhood that involved plenty of Woody Woodpecker reruns at my grandma’s house.

Great Blue Herons

The Great Blue Herons mostly seem to like to hang out on the east side of the river, away from the river walk and my no-optical-zoom cell phone camera. Still, one of them *was* on my side of the river earlier this week. When I startled it, it flew away and took it out on a poor, unsuspecting duck who had been chilling in mid-river. The duck flew away in a mood.  Poor duck.

Green Heron

This one didn’t stick around long, but that’s ok; I hadn’t known there *were* Green Herons until I met it.

Bald Eagle

I only saw the eagle once, but I did see it! It was alternating between chasing and being chased by a seagull. I was worried for that seagull–it seemed out-matched. But it had several chances to escape and didn’t take any of them. Here’s hoping it knew what it was doing.


Again, I actually knew ospreys already.  Thanks, Osprey Cam!


And more! Also I’m going to add pictures to this post sometime when I have time.

So you think you can read music

Once upon a time I became kind of obsessed with Palestrina.  Not only did he write fabulous music for listening to on your headphones when you need to block out conversations from your office suite, he also wrote… well, fabulous music.  Everything I read says he’s most famous for Missa Papae Marcelli, so here you go:

(Incidentally, yes, the Tallis Scholars are also pretty fantastic.)

Being the geektastic, musical-when-I-bother-to-practice librarian that I am, I decided a few weeks back that I really needed to own sheet music or a score or something for some Palestrina music.  Surely, my reasoning went, if I had something that sounds like *that* to practice, I would carve out the time.  Wouldn’t Missa Papae Marcelli sound fantastic as a horn choir?  I could record myself on all the parts and edit them together, and improve my Audacity skills as well as my French horn chops!

So I bought myself the music using the power of the internet.  (How did people live before you could just order absolutely everything online?)  I waited in eager anticipation for my book to come, and then it did, and I looked at the music inside, and–

Beginning of sheet music for a Palestrina motet

I couldn’t read it.  I mean, I could sort of read it, but was I reading it correctly?  A decade of piano lessons definitely taught me treble and bass clefs, and I’ve heard of alto clef, but… I mean, *is* that alto clef?  And what are those funny arms sticking out of some of the treble clefs?  And why do some lines have a maybe-alto-clef PLUS also a treble clef with arms?  And if that’s alto clef, why is it moving around on the staff so much?

So it was time for some research, and boy did I learn stuff I wasn’t aware of.  Was I just not paying attention in all those music lessons?

Familiar old treble clef has another name: G clef.  And that name is because the position of this clef tells you where G is on the staff.  Who knew?  When you’re writing/drawing your own treble clef, you need to get the open part inside the swirly bit centered on G.  Otherwise you’re doing it wrong.

Better still, there used to be *other* G clefs, because you could move the clef around, center it on a different line, and thus declare that *that* line is a G.  Here’s the relevant part of the Wikipedia article on clefs.

But that still doesn’t tell me what’s going on with this Palestrina music.  Right.  So, it turns out that what I thought might be alto clef is a C clef, and it moves because it’s telling us a different position for C on the staff.  Ok so far, but why is it on a line that also goes on to have a treble clef?  And what’s going on with those funny arms on the treble clef?

Some more Googling brought me to this page on “chiavette” which is “a system of standard combinations of clefs used in polyphonic music of the 16th–18th century.”  So, that’s great–that *is* the right time period for Palestrina–but it doesn’t tell me anything about why all the lines in my book have treble clefs (and why some of those treble clefs have arms).

Pro tip: At this point in your research, don’t Google “treble clef arms” or “arms on treble clef” unless you want to look at lots and lots and lots of pictures of people who tattooed treble clef on their arms.  I don’t want to look at your tattoos of treble clef!  I just want to know what’s going on with the music in my book!

Moving on through several other search terms, eventually I made my way from “combination of clefs” to “hybrid clefs.”  And this–I think this is actually what I was looking for: “As for tenor singers, the strange custom has grown up in recent years for them to pretend that they are reading in treble clef, like sopranos, but actually to produce the sounds an octave lower! Sometimes, to show that the tenor’s treble clef is not a real one, it is printed as a double clef, the second one actually looks like the notation I'm trying to figure out!” (Learn to Read Music by Howard Shanet, 1956).

That… by golly, I think that’s it!

In short, I’ve spent several hours of my life searching the library stacks and Google, just to try to understand what octave these notes are meant to be played in.  But hey, the more you know.

Now I can get on with my plans to actually play this music!