Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Book Review: A Secret Edge by Robin Reardon

Book Title: A Secret Edge
Author: Robin Reardon
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Drama, Gay, Romance, Ethnic
Reading Recommendation: *****
Recommended Age: 16+

Jason Peele is a junior in high school who is just coming to terms with his identity as a gay male. When he meets Raj, a fellow track team member, sparks fly. In the early stages of their romance, Raj shares customs of his Indian background and talks with Jason about the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Gandi. Their relationship comes to a dramatic end when Raj discovers the switchblade Jason secretly carries with him to defend against bullies. Can Jason ever win Raj’s affection back? Will Jason keep his “secret edge?”

This is an excellent novel because it handles the coming out process, relationship issues, bullies, and the angst all of these can cause. The author does an excellent job of building suspense while at the same time exploring complex emotional and ethical issues that could speak to any teen, gay or straight. Robin Reardon has written a compelling story that avoids stereotypes and clichés.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Johann Gutenberg, Inventor of Moveable Type Printing

“A spring of truth shall flow from it…” –Gutenberg, 15th Century”[1]

Johann Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany[2]. His first name is also listed in some sources as “Johannes”[3]. Gutenberg’s father, Friele Genfleisch zur Ladem zum Gutenberg, was an upper class cloth merchant while his mother, Else Wirich, was a shopkeeper. Johann had an older brother named Friele and a sister named Else. Johann Gutenberg’s exact birth year is unknown. However, it was between the years of 1394 and 1404. Many sources list his birth year as 1400 for simplicity. Many years after his death, Mainz chose to celebrate Gutenberg’s birth on June 24, as this is Feast of St. John the Baptist Day[4].

As a young boy, Gutenberg’s nickname was “Little Hans.” We know little else of his childhood. However, certain judgments can be made based on customs of the day. He would have learned Latin in school as a young child. He grew up close to a mint where coins were punched and had relatives in the coin-minting business. Gutenberg may have attended nearby Erfurt University. The name “Johannes de Altavilla” is on the rolls for this school from 1418-1420 and this may be yet another variation of Gutenberg’s name[4]. At the conclusion of his schooling, Gutenberg’s first career was as a goldsmith[3].

Much of what we know about the rest of Gutenberg’s life is based on financial statements and court records[5]. His father died in 1419, leaving the estate to Friele, the older brother[4]. Gutenberg worked as a goldsmith in Mainz until 1434 when he moved to Strasbourg due to political unrest in Mainz[2]. There he dated a woman named Ennelin zur Yserin Thüre. Translated, her name means “Little Annie Iron Door.” Court records indicate a lawsuit was brought against him for failing to follow through with a promised marriage. The resolution of the court case is unknown. There is no evidence Gutenberg was ever married to anyone[4].

In Strasbourg, Gutenberg used his metalworking skills to create mirrored trinkets for the 1439 Aachen Christian pilgrimage. These items were quite popular at the time. Purchasers believed holding the reflection of a holy relic in one of these mirrored trinkets would allow the bearer to absorb the magical properties of the relic. While creating these items, Gutenberg secretly experimented with the creation of a printing press[4]. Gutenberg returned to Mainz in 1448 when his family home became available due to his sister’s death. Gutenberg’s printing press was ready by 1450. In order to fund his project, he borrowed 800 guilders from a lawyer in Mainz named Johannes Fust[2].

In order to mass-produce books, Gutenberg transformed a wine press into a printing press. He also experimented with inks until he discovered a preparation that would stick to both metal and paper[2]. Gutenberg adapted the coin-punching techniques he had witnessed as a boy into the basis of moveable type printing. In order to create a piece of type, he invented the hand-held mold where molten a mixture of molten lead, tin, and antimony is heated to 621°F. This piece of equipment would be used by type-founders for over 500 years[4].
The other key part of Gutenberg’s invention was the “form” which gathered the lines of type into a single metal frame. In addition to these 2 major printing innovations, Gutenberg refined methods in, “storing type, composing it, setting it into multiple pages, getting it on to a suitable press, making the right paper, manufacturing the best sort of ink, and then ensuring quality control…”[4].

The Bible was arguably Gutenberg’s greatest achievement in printing. He produced 180 copies of the Bible around the year 1455. The work was produced in 2 volumes totaling 1,275 pages and over 3 million characters. He justified the right margin, thus adding yet another invention to his impressive list of accomplishments. “The Gutenberg Bible remains a unique fusion of technology and Renaissance art”[4]. Ironically, Gutenberg saw no profit from it. Johann Fust, the lawyer who made a financial investment into Gutenberg’s Bible, sued Gutenberg on accusations of embezzlement in 1455. Fust won, and acquired the majority of Gutenberg’s printing equipment, becoming the predominant printer in Mainz[6].

After the year 1460, Gutenberg appears to have completely abandoned the printing business. The end of his printing career may have been due to a combination of the loss of most of his equipment and blindness[2]. Gutenberg did not receive accolades for his inventions until he was in his 60’s. In 1465, Archbishop Adolf von Nassau awarded Gutenberg an annual pension of 2,000 kilograms of grain and 2,000 liters of wine along with a tax exemption. These awards came with the agreement that Adolf could use Gutenberg’s printing press at any time[4]. The printing press was now seen as more than a literary tool—it was now also a political tool.

Fust, Gutenberg’s financial nemesis, died in 1466 of the plague. Gutenberg died on February 3, 1468 from unknown causes[4]. While Gutenberg’s accomplishments were not duly lauded in his time, many now consider his printing press to be one of the most significant accomplishments in history[7].

1. Hart-Davis, A. (2007). History the definitive visual guide: from the dawn of civilization to the present day. New York: DK Pub.
2. Steinberg, S. H., & Trevitt, J. (1996). Five hundred years of printing. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press.
3. Sider, S. (2005). Handbook to life in Renaissance Europe. New York: Facts On File.
4. Man, J. (2002). Gutenberg how one man remade the world with words. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
5. Open University. (2008). Retrieved June 14, 2008, from http://www.open2.net/historyandthearts/discover_science/gberg_man.html
6. Jean, G. (1992). Writing the story of alphabets and scripts. New York: H.N. Abrams
7. Schottenloher, K. (1989). Books and the Western world a cultural history. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland.

Image of Gutenberg from the Gutenberg Museum.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Check out the Advanced Search on Eventful

Brian Dear from Eventful contacted me with some helpful information on how to use the proximity search in Eventful (See his comments here).

After taking a closer look at the web site, I recommend using the Advanced Search for conducting proximity searches. Give it a try!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Worlds Collide on Facebook

I have used Facebook for about a year now. I enjoy the service and have used it to post photos and keep in touch with friends around the world. A couple of months ago, I began receiving friend requests from co-workers who found me on Facebook. How cool! I was excited and surprised at the same time. I had never told any co-workers I had a Facebook page--yet they found me through the magic of the internet. I am a little reserved at work, so Facebook provides a way for me to connect with co-workers on a personal level that I often do not take the opportunity to do face-to-face.

Imagine that....a web site that brings people together who see one another all the time, yet never connected on a personal level! While there are many things about the internet that divide us and separate us, Facebook is a good example of technology that can bring people together.

Einstein would use a Mac

I looked through the Overdrive audio titles on the Broward County Library web site and put a hold on an intriguing title, How to Think Like Einstein. I then proceeded to look at system requirements for listening to the audio book and found that Overdrives STILL only works on Windows PCs. This is incredibly short-sighted on Overdrive's part. Macs are gaining in popularity. Over 80% of portable music players are Ipods, and yet Overdrive only allows users to listen to the audio books through Windows Media Player.

No thanks... get back to me when you're thinking like Einstein. :)

Podcast Alley and the Library Geeks Podcast

Normally I use the podcast search built into the Itunes store to find podcast content. That's going to change! I recently discovered a great podcast search website called Podcast Alley. The site provides a convenient way to search a vast array of podcasts--much more than one would find through Itunes. Web sites like Podcast Alley are great when looking for podcasts about specific topics. For example, I looked for library technology web sites. I found several interesting ones, but Library Geeks is my new favorite. Library Geeks focuses on harnessing web technologies in librarianship.

The only rub I came across when using Podcast Alley was that subscribing to the podcast through Itunes was not intuitive. Perhaps Apple is equally at fault for not making this easy to find in Itunes. After a search in Itunes help, I discovered that a user must click on the "Advanced" menu, and then click on the "Subscribe to Podcast" option. The user then can paste the URL of the podcast into a dialogue box. Rather than use the "Advanced" menu, it would be easier if Itunes provided a button in the Podcast area of Itunes. That would have been much easier for me to find.

The Adventures of Super Librarian

Enjoy this cute cheesy commercial made by the McCracken County Public Library on YouTube. I'm not even sure where that is?!?! This is a light-hearted example of how libraries can use social web sites like You Tube to reach out to those who may not already be using library services. Most libraries do not have a huge budget, so it's definitely a plus that these videos can be made with little resources and be seen around the world. 

My guess is that many You Tube devotees are young people. It is important that we make contact with these future voters and tax payers now--in their forum. Putting library commercials, event videos, and even library tours just makes good sense.