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

Reading: Thinking in Systems

I don’t remember why I decided to ILL Thinking in Systems. I think it must have been cited in something else I read; maybe Design is the Problem?  Regardless, I did ILL it, and it was fantastic bedtime reading. Many thanks to Nazareth College for having a nearly three-month checkout period. Seriously: Much appreciated. Provided that I don’t forget to throw the book into my work bag tonight, I will even be returning the book early!  That makes me feel all accomplished and smart and stuff.

The only downside to this book was that I don’t (yet) keep a notepad and pen at my bedside, so I didn’t jot down any of the fabulous quotes in this book. And because I read it right before bed every night, I know that I’ve forgotten some of the best bits. The book is copyright 2008, but the author died in 2001, and–I mean, are we sure she didn’t have a time machine?  Because wow she had some quotes that feel very, very timely.

Anyway, what am I taking away from this book?  The “systems zoo” was interesting, with its examples and simple diagrams of various types of systems:

  • Systems with competing balancing loops
    Think thermostat heating a room. The temperature is the stock, and the thermostat tries to keep the room warm even as the temperature outside tries to cool the room down.
  • Systems with competing AND reinforcing balancing loops
    Think population. The birth rate reinforces population growth, and the death rate competes with it.
  • Systems with delays
    Think inventory in your store. You buy more inventory to respond to what your customers have bought (and what you think they’re going to buy), but it takes time for the new stock to show up. How much of a delay you put on your orders for more stock affects oscillations in what/how much you have on hand.
  • Systems with a renewable stock constrained by a non-renewable stock
    Think oil economy. The oil is non-renewable; your oil company’s capital is renewable. The amount of capital you have (after you start) both affects and is affected by the amount of oil you extract.
  • Systems with a renewable stock constrained by a renewable stock
    Think fishing. Your fishing company’s capital affects and is affected by the population of fish. (Which is a population system–so the fish’s death rate is competing with their birth rate to control how many fish there are.)

If you think about systems rather than just events, you get into why things happen, which is truly a thing that I love. But how do you figure out the limits to your system?  You don’t want to think about too small a system, or you won’t learn much. But you also don’t want to think about too large a system, because you’ll get lost in waaaaaaay too much information that’s only tangentially related to whatever it is that you care about.

“Ideally, we would have the mental flexibility to find the appropriate boundary for thinking about each new problem. We are rarely that flexible. We get attached to the boundaries our minds happen to be accustomed to. Think about how many arguments have to do with boundaries–national boundaries, trade boundaries, ethnic boundaries, boundaries between public and private responsibility… It’s a great art to remember that boundaries are of our own making, and that they can and should be reconsidered for each new discussion, problem, or purpose.” (p. 98-99, author’s emphasis)

Swoon. And then she has a section on “system traps”: resistance to policies because the goals of sub-systems don’t align with the goals of the larger system(s); everyone’s beloved tragedy of the commons, where because people get all the benefits but only part of the negative consequences for over-using something, they over-use the resource; the drift to low performance, where we all say “well, given x, can you really expect any better?”; escalation, where we all keep responding a little more strongly in opposition to each other; the trap where the rich keep getting richer because one of the rewards of success is more of whatever it takes to become successful; shifting the burden to an intervenor whose “solution” to a problem isn’t really a solution; trying to beat the rules; and seeking the wrong goal (think: assessing the wrong things).

She offers ways out of these traps, but if I’ve managed to phrase them right in my summary, I think the ways out are generally pretty self explanatory. Once you’ve realized what kind of trap you’re facing, anyway.

She also offers a list of places to intervene in a system, albeit with the caution that we often have a tendency to “pull the lever” in the wrong direction. That reminds me of an obstructionist co-worker I once had, and how everyone just kept excluding her from more and more decisions because she argued about everything, but that just made her more and more obstructionist. When I shocked my boss and brought the obstructionist to the table intentionally, she worked with the team on the project instead of obstructing it. Seeing the larger system FTW!

Anyway, one of the last sections of the book is about places you can intervene in a system. Stock, buffers, reinforcing loops, delays, presence/absence of information, overall goals, and more. I liked this part, but really once you’ve gotten your mind wrapped around the system and are thinking of it as a system, I think these are also pretty obvious.

The very last section of the book is “Living in a World of Systems,” and offers a series of maxims that made me want to jump up and down and say, “This is what I’m trying to do!”  I don’t think any of them are earth-shattering on their own, but I quite like the list. This section of the book seems like it might make a good reading assignment for… something. Anyway, here are the section headings:

  • Get the beat of the system.
  • Expose your mental models to the light of day.
  • Honor, respect, and distribute information.
  • Use language with care and enrich it with systems concepts.
  • Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.
  • Make feedback policies for feedback systems. (This one I think needs translating: Make dynamic, self-adjusting rules to control your system.)
  • Go for the good of the whole.
  • Listen to the wisdom of the system.
  • Locate responsibility in the system.
  • Stay humble–stay a learner.
  • Celebrate complexity.
  • Expand time horizons.
  • Defy the disciplines.
  • Expand the boundary of caring.
  • Don’t erode the goal of goodness.

In short: This book is who I want to be when I grow up. And you can see why it’s so chock full of quotes that feel relevant right now, even if I didn’t transcribe those quotes. So much of my problem with current events is that I feel like the people in charge are not even seeing the whole system, much less understanding how its various parts play together, how those parts affect people who aren’t the same as the people in power, thinking about the future, etc.

Anyway. Thinking in Systems is good stuff, and I recommend it.

Reading: The Tea Book

I’ve lost some time lately to little things like, oh, introducing a second cat to my first cat, plus discovering that NYPL library cards are available to anyone who lives in NY state.  So many ebooks of fun, fluffy, escapist reading!  So convenient to download while preventing growling cats from killing each other!

But I’ve also been following through on some of the things I said I needed to learn about, when last I wrote.  Specifically, I have now read The Tea Book: All Things Tea.  Scholarly?  Heavens, no.  Unbiased?  Again no–this was written by some people who own a tea company.  So I can’t really blame them for the pages that discuss things like which of that tea brand’s teas are best for whatever mood, etc.

It did, however, serve me well in giving me a very brief history of tea drinking, some recipes, and explanation of the differences between green tea, black tea, and white tea.

In short–most of the difference is in how the tea leaves are processed after they’re picked.  There *are* some exceptions to that, like how white tea seems generally accepted to involve younger tea leaves / buds, and matcha tea involves shading the tea bushes for a couple weeks before the harvest.  Also you drink the entire leaf with matcha, instead of filtering it out, which makes sense of the fact that when I tried matcha this week it tasted like, well, leaves.  (It does taste nice in a milkshake with coconut ice cream, though, FYI.)

Anyway the difference between green tea and black tea is that black tea is allowed to oxidize (more) before they heat it to stop that process.

Plus everyone makes a big deal out of where the tea was grown, including considerations like elevation.  That part really sounded a lot like reading about wine.

And… now I know.  I’m also intrigued by some of the recipes in The Tea Book; I hadn’t previously considered cooking with tea.  That now seems like a grave oversight.  Culinary adventures, here I come!

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.

 

ISBNs

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.)