Wednesday, October 28, 2009

November is National Novel Writing Month

Have you heard about National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo? I've done it for two or three years and plan to do it again this year.

So, for those who don't know, what is NaNoWriMo? During the month of November (until midnight, November 30th - participants may need every last hour they can squeeze out of the month), the goal for each participant is to write a 175-page (50,000 word) novel. Have you ever tried to write something and found yourself stalled, worried about whether it was any good or whether anyone would actually like it? Have no fear, because NaNoWriMo is all about quantity, not quality. If you don't want to share what you've written, you don't have to. No one has to know that what you've written is awful, mind-numbing garbage. I have to say, that's kind of liberating.

Of course, even with that kind of freedom, NaNoWriMo still isn't easy. It's hard to overcome the inner critic. It's hard to make yourself type that much when you're tired, can't figure out what you're going to write next, or just don't want to type after spending your day at a computer doing homework, work, or whatever else. It gets really, really easy to say, "Sure, I'm so-and-so many words behind on my NaNoWriMo writing, but I'll get caught up." Trust me, that turns into, "I'm so far behind, I'll never get caught up - I might as well watch this YouTube video of a cat walking on a piano."

I've participated in NaNoWriMo several times, but not once have I written 50,000 words by the end of the month. So far, the best I've managed to do is 12,000. However, I'll try again. My mantra will be, "it's ok for my writing to suck." Maybe I'll write that on a post-it note and stick it somewhere near my laptop.

Some NaNoWriMo participants make this month a really social thing. They'll form a regional group, meet for writing sessions if they can, encourage each other via email. There are general NaNoWriMo encouragement emails at least once a week. One year (maybe all years, but I only really paid attention to the emails one year), these emails were written by well-known authors - I think I may still have Neil Gaiman's encouragement email saved somewhere. Although I read the emails, I never really got into the whole "region" thing. Maybe that would help, though. I signed into my account (which needed updating - Colorado Springs was still listed as my region) - it looks like the best I can do as far as regions go is the Dallas/Forth Worth one. It has 2,012 members right now.

Sometimes getting a few more words written can take help. As I've mentioned, some people get involved with the regional groups. Here's what I'll be looking into for sure:
  • Tea - I guzzle herbal tea when I'm at home on the computer writing for hours at a time. This habit started when I was in grad school. Writing papers always gave me the munchies, and I didn't have the money to snack continuously (plus, walking is, and always has been, my only form of exercise). Lacking the funds for lots of chips, cookies, and whatever else, I bought tea samplers. A box of tea takes longer for me to get through than a box of cookies.
  • Music - I am an enormous nerd. My favorite online radio station is Radio, which mostly plays J-Pop, J-Rock, and anime music. Even though I know only a handful of Japanese words, I have listened to this radio station so much that I can sing along with some of the songs. Scary, huh? This year, I think I may also give the offerings of Classical Music Library a try, once I'm able to access it off-campus (there seem to be some problems with that right now). I don't know much about classical music, so it's hard for me to think of composers or styles of music I might like, but that's where Classical Music Library's themed playlists come in handy. Today I tried "Music to Write To" (or "Music To Write With", can't remember right now) during work and really liked it.
  • Books about writing - DSL has lots of those. For starters, try the subject headings "Fiction--Technique", "Writer's block", and "Creative writing" (that one's good in a subject browse search, since there are lots of useful subdivisions, although subject keyword is good too and only a little daunting). I may have to lay off these, though - they tend to encourage me to procrastinate. Plus, these books get me to thinking about how awful my writing is, and then I start to freeze up. Not good. But I may at least try Writer's block busters [PN171 .W74 H68 2008 - still In Process, so it would need to be rushed] or something similar.
  • Fruits Basket as background noise - Fruits Basket, which started out as a manga series and was made into an anime, is a comfort series for me. I had it on in the background when I was a stressed-out undergrad working on my thesis. I always took a break to watch the episode where Shigure tried to avoid his long-suffering editor and made the poor woman think his manuscript wasn't finished yet.
Since I can't even keep up a once-a-week schedule with my book blog, I don't know how well NaNoWriMo will go this year, but I'll try.

The "teachable moment"

"Every time we teach someone about a resource, an angel gets its wings."
-- Dewey, on reference librarians and the "teachable moment," Unshelved, 10/28/09

I don't often have to answer real reference questions at the reference desk, but, when I do, I usually try to remember to explain what I'm doing and why as I try to answer those questions (although that may not be an option on the really, really busy days...). For the most part, I figure that if I tried to cram all our services down our users' throats whenever they came near me, they'd probably try to run away like the poor patron in Unshelved. Still, I can't help but get excited when someone actually seems to be interested about learning something and hearing more about what we have to offer.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another animal sighting

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, a hawk landed on my porch. I saw it through my window - I was maybe 2 feet away from it, which was more awesome than scary, since there was a window between me and the hawk. I got to look it right in the eye, think "I wish I had my camera right this second", and see it fly off. Even if I had had my camera, I wouldn't have been able to take a picture fast enough. I'd need a camera installed in my eyeballs. By the way, raptor's eyes are creepy. I don't think I've ever been looked at that intently before.

A few minutes later, I looked out the window again and saw a squirrel sprawled on one of the steps up to the second floor of my building. I had previously thought that maybe the hawk had swooped down for something and missed, landing on my porch, but then I thought that maybe it had dropped the squirrel and tried to go after it again. I was a little bit freaked out by the idea of having to enter and leave my apartment with a dead squirrel staring at me, but it seems the squirrel was either an unrelated animal sighting or just stunned. When I left for work, it was already gone.

Big Kitty is gone

I'm writing this post, wondering if Big Kitty will prove me wrong. "Big Kitty" was the not-quite-a-name I gave the cat I mentioned in this post. When I came back from the conference, Big Kitty wasn't there. I put some cat food outside, figuring he might have gone off somewhere to mooch off of someone else, and the food was still there in the morning. The food was still there when I finished grocery shopping and when I went to bed. It was gone by this morning, but I figure Narrow Kitty (my not-quite-a-name for the skittish stray cat that occasionally tried to steal food from Big Kitty) was responsible for that.

So, it's been two days, and I still haven't seen Big Kitty. I suppose I should be happy about that, since I'll no longer have to worry about him when it's cold and/or rainy outside, but it makes me feel kind of teary-eyed. He'd gotten in the habit of escorting me to and from the laundry room and mailbox area. Now it feels weird going without him. I miss him, and I hope that the reason he's gone is because someone took him in and finally gave him a home.

I really should move somewhere that will let me at least have a cat, but the idea of moving is too exhausting. Rats are nice, but there's something to be said for a pet that lives longer and can join you when you're doing something in another room. I also miss sleeping with a pet curled up at my side. If I fall asleep while my rats are out, I risk having one of them test me as a possible food source, chew holes into my clothing, and try to push me off of the bed (usually Bear does this - he hates it when I fall asleep and stop paying attention to him).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Not for those with arachnophobia

Isn't this spider horrific-looking? Its abdomen is only 3 or 4 mm wide, so it's not big, but it still makes me shudder. It lives in my apartment, behind my front door. It usually hides right by the door frame.

Unless I shine a flashlight on it (or use my camera's flash), it looks dark brown or black, and its markings aren't very visible. Its shape made me think, at first, that it was a black widow spider, but I eventually realized the coloring was wrong.

Anyway, I posted pictures of the spider on BugGuide (an extremely awesome resource, although not something I'd recommend as an authoritative source - if you really want to scare yourself, do a search for Granbury). The general response was that it's probably Steatoda triangulosa. S. triangulosa is nifty, in that, from what I've read about it, it eats things like fire ants and brown recluses. However, I will probably either kill or remove it in a few days. I was told that it's a female, and I don't want to risk an egg sac in my apartment. Also, even though I haven't ever seen it move from its tiny space behind my front door, I'll be sleeping in my living room while my mom is visiting, and I'm not sure I can sleep peacefully knowing that a spider is only a few feet away from me.

If I'm going to have "natural pest control", I'd rather that the gecko living in my dining room window either invited a few friends over or had babies.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Searching with wildcards

I wish it were easier to find out the wildcards that can be used in the library's catalog. For future reference (mine or someone else's), ? can substitute for a single character (the example in the OPAC help info, if you can manage to find it, is wom?n, which will find instances of "woman", "women" or, not mentioned on the help page, "womyn"), while $ is used for truncation (educat$ finds "education", "educate", "educates", "educating", etc.). I don't often use substitution, but I love truncation. According to the help page, you can also add a number after $ to limit the number of characters matched. I've never done this before, but it has great potential if you're searching for variations of a very short word.

A day or two ago, a student who had been conducting individual searches with every variation of words beginning with "educat" was very grateful when I showed him how to use $ in our catalog. Of course, then we moved on to Academic Search Complete, where truncation is accomplished with an asterisk. I tried to show him how I was able to find out which symbol is used for truncation, but I have to say, although I, personally, had an easier time with EBSCO's help pages than with our catalog's help pages, it can still be a little daunting.

Web of Knowledge includes, at the bottom of its search fields, examples that use asterisks, which is what it uses for truncation, but there's nothing near those examples that explains what the asterisks do. So, while I applaud them for trying not to bury their truncation information in their help pages, they're effectively still burying the information in their help pages. Just like everyone else.

Is there a database/catalog/etc. out there that communicates wildcard information in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-find, non-daunting way?