The Neurological Rebellion

Click to see the migraine art show

The picture above is from an art collection by painters who suffer from migraines. When I first saw this picture, it sent a real chill through my body; it was the same sort of visual auras that I get preceding a migraine headache. It’s all the shimmering jagged lines that slowly make their way from a tiny point in my vision to a full crescent at the edges of my vision. As it advances out of my vision, I know what comes next. You can’t even close your eyes and make it go away; even in the darkness of closed eyelids, it is present, always shimmering as it changes shape.

As a male migraine sufferer with visual distortions, I fall into a double minority of the condition (and, as an aside, I am at a higher risk of stroke in a family that has a history of it). My headaches appeared in groups with years between them; my doctor friend has speculated that, due to their timing, they were appearing when my body was “switching life gears” (as in, beginning of puberty, end of puberty, mid 20’s, late 20’s, and now in my middle 30’s). There have been a few random headaches now and again, and I am hoping that the one I had today is just a blip on the radar.

In the past, I’ve had clusters of attacks to the point where I had to go on medication to prevent them. I traded being my emotional wellbeing for relief, for the drugs were also anti-depressants that numbed me to any large emotional variations. The headaches finally stopped, but it was a long time before I felt safe enough to stop taking the preventative. It only happened once, thankfully, but it lingers at the edge of my thoughts as I think about the headache I had today. The previous episodes were more spread out over months; hopefully that means I won’t be getting another for awhile. [crosses fingers]

This is the second time I’ve gotten a headache while I was at work. When you look at a computer screen and can’t see the words around the cursor, that’s when the trouble sets in. In years past, before the pain medications I have now, that would have been a moment of dread for I knew what would await me: nauseous, uncomfortable, and a magnitude of pain that has been likened to being second only to childbirth. As I will never rise to the top of that chart, it is nice to know that I have risen to the highest ranks of pain possible for a male human being to experience. (Take that, torture!)

So, I took my medication of consisting of a Percocet derivative combined with caffeine and drove home. My visual distortion was minor this time around, so I was able to see the road and my speedometer as I made my way back to a darkened bedroom. Even with the pain meds, I still get the light and noise sensitivity which can make the headache last longer. I got home without incident and hopped into bed to try to sleep away the headache. It’s a day gone, but not one in discomfort or pain.

In my migraine experiences, sleeping away the headache is a better alternative to just resting. Some of my bad headaches have given rise to confusion and the inability to shake a thought out of my head. It’s bad enough to be stuck in bed trying to shut out all the light in the room and not move; it is even worse when your mind can’t let go of something. From horrific to erotic and all the possible things between, it’s like having an earworm in your mind’s eye that just won’t go away. Sleep usually provides relief, although the dreams that come from it can be pretty intense and strange as well.

I know a good number of friends who suffer from migraines to one extent or another. Whether it is the occasional attack or a chronic condition, I really feel for them. Personally, if I was to put myself in the migraine spectrum, it would be on the “Pacific Rim volcano” level. Where it can be dormant for years, there is always a risk of explosion. I don’t know when it will go off, but I do know that it tends to be devastating when it does happen. I hope as I get older that I will have less headaches as my father did, but I can’t count on it.

On the other hand, it has taken all of the stress out of my presentation on Friday at the Northeastern chapter of the Pennsylvania Library Association Spring Workshop. These headaches can sometimes remind me of the importance of now; that is, that worries of the future are nothing compared to living in the moment. I’ve been stressing over the presentation because I’m excited to give the talk and I want it to go well. I’m all set to go, it’s just a matter of doing it. (Ok, I’m not completely set, but everything about the talk is done. Just one last detail with the breakout sessions in the afternoon, but that’s it, I swear!)

In the past, I used to worry about getting headaches in the future and would plan accordingly; now, I’m going to try to press ahead. If it happens, well, nuts. If it doesn’t, then even better. It’s a hard thing, but I am trying my best.

Birthday Memento

This is the telephone message that was waiting for my grandfather at the New York City hotel he was staying at the night I was born. His mother (my great grandmother) had called and left the message. After my grandfather died, I found the notice in his Bible. He had kept it for all those years.

And I’m really happy he did.

Jobs: Dirty & Otherwise

Mike Rowe, host of the wonderful television show Dirty Jobs and the other unknowing half of my secret bromance, testified in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday this week. He was testifying about the importance of skilled and vocational education in the United States. Salient quote:

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of "higher education" to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled "alternative." Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as "vocational consolation prizes," best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of "shovel ready" jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a "good job" into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber if you can find one is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.

It’s worth reading his entire testimony if you have a chance. It’s very short and to the point.

As I was reading his words this afternoon, I was thinking back to when I was a teenager and my parents had me tested for an aptitude or career or whatever it was called. The testing was done over at Drexel University and had all kinds of problems on it: word, numbers, shapes, logic, and so forth. When the results came, there were two occupations that scored highest.

Before I reveal them, go on and take a wild guess as to what they could be. I don’t think anything will guess either of them. Seriously. Go on and guess.

From their extensive testing, my intellect, talent, and abilities were judged to be best suited for… plumber or advertisement executive.

Now, upon hearing this news, imagine two adults and one teenager simultaneously giving each other the squinty eyed “WTF?” look. This was news to all of us for at the time I had an interest in the sciences (even though I was taking honors math and AP history, go figure). Even as a kid, I had never showed an interest in anything like that; my previous kid ideas for a future career before the science interest were auto mechanic and architect.

Plumbing? Marketing? What?

In reading that testimony today, I thought back to that career aptitude test. I think I would have been happy (and certainly more school loan debt free) as a plumber; I’m not sure I can say the same about advertising executive but I’d like to imagine that I’d be good at it. Perhaps I have found ways to use those aptitudes for the field of librarianship. (Isn’t finding and making hidden pipe connections behind walls kind of like making connections between two resources that aren’t necessarily obvious? Isn’t building brand and reaching out to different markets a lot like the advocacy we do [or try to do] at the library?)

What Mike said reminds me of the Ken Robinson “Do schools kill creativity? TED Talk that I’ve linked to before. There is an emphasis on pushing toward academic achievement when the individual’s interests and talents indicate otherwise. And now there is evidence that we are doing it to the detriment of the trade skills and the future of manufacturing in this country.

For myself, I’ve always advised people to go after what interests them; if it doesn’t lead to college, then so be it. College is nice and I certainly had a good time but it is not necessary for all the different talents and careers that are out there. It might take require taking the year after high school to wander, but it’s a year well spent if it gives a person a better sense of career direction. The idea that there isn’t time, that people need to hurry up and start their lives by going down this rote academic path, is absolutely ridiculous. And I hope within my lifetime that will change.

When I was talking with my father about the Mike Rowe testimony, he recalled what the commencement speaker said to his class at his graduation from Williams College. It went something along the lines of saying that “while [they] were lucky to get this liberal arts education, it was not something that should allow them to look down upon people who did not have it. The world needs philosophers, but it also needs plumbers. For if the philosophers tried to take up plumbing and the plumbers tried to take up philosophy, that neither would be able to hold water. Each role is important and necessary to the continued functioning of society at large.” I thought that was a marvelous sentiment.

There was certainly a “Road Less Traveled” moment for me in thinking about this. Would the term “mover & shaker” be a term for a pipe that vibrates violently when the toilet flushes upstairs? Would I still have an award winning blog, even if that award was coming from Marketing Today? Perhaps. At any rate, I still get to investigate strange smells reported to the staff (it can never smell like lavender, can it?) and I do get to write press releases and design publicity materials. I guess that’s close enough. It may not be a dirty job, but it does work for me.

(Note: Mike also wrote an op-ed piece for Politico.)

The Almighty Antithesis to Narcissism

wilw-tweet

Inspired by Wil Wheaton’s tweet, I set up this wiki.

The short version is that it is a call to action for people to donate the cost equivalent of a Charlie Sheen ticket to charity. There is a short list of possible places to donate, but as I note in the wiki, it is not an exhaustive list. The important thing is to donate.

I encourage people to share the wiki with others and spread the word.

Let’s make a difference.

SunSpec: Nearly Non-Existent

The helmet in the picture above belonged to my great-grandfather, Bayard Randolph Kraft Sr. From the design, you can guess that it was the helmet he wore while serving in the Army during World War I. He served as a medic, on the front in France to aid and evacuate the wounded and dying. Given the descriptions of trench warfare that have been written, I can’t even imagine what that was like.

In picking the helmet up, the first impression I get is how rough the metal feels under your fingertips; it has a gritty feel to it akin to very coarse sandpaper. The padding within has hardened over time and the chin strap buckles are pretty worn and frozen into place. The helmet doesn’t feel heavy, but it has a certain weight to it, one that makes you think that you’d be protected if something happened. But given the relatively thin metal involved, it’s a fleeting bit of confidence.

But this helmet is more than a war souvenir from a relative. It’s the story that goes with it that makes it an important sentimental piece.

As the story goes, my great-grandfather was moving through the trenches to get to where there had been a German assault. When he came to an intersection in the trenches, he paused for a moment to figure out which way to go. He did not realize it at the time but a German sniper saw his head poking out above the trench walls at the intersection. He took aim on my great-grandfather during his momentary pause.

As the sniper fired, my great-grandfather heard a noise to his right and turned his head to look at it. The bullet entered the helm by his ear, grazed his left temple, and exited through the front of the helmet, knocking him over in the process. What you see of the helmet above is the damage the bullet caused on its way out. The edges are still sharp, even after nearly a hundred years.

When I think about the generations that proceeded me, there are certainly an innumerable amount of close calls that must have been experienced stretching backwards through time. It’s a little different when you have the evidence of a close call in your hand, especially when it is just slightly remotely removed in connection to a great-grandparent. I can remember my grandfather wearing the helmet and telling the story dozens of times for family and friends. I can actually retell it by heart, that’s how much it impressed me as a kid and later as an adult.

For me, it’s a bit strange to look at this helmet and see the moment of time it represents. It’s a moment where the other outcome means that I wouldn’t exist. It’s one thing to have come and gone, it’s another to be a ‘never was’. And since the universe has a habit of not noticing such transactions, it is truly an isolating thought. It has an Alice in Wonderland quality to it as an “impossible thought”; how can one imagine something like that?

I’ve added a few pictures to show you the helmet and how it looks on someone (it’s not one of those ‘smile and take a picture’ sort of moments).

I’m curious if there are others out there with similar family tales. I’d love to hear them or if people have other thoughts on non-existence.

Dream Big

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch or listen to the President’s State of the Union address last night. I was in bed feeling ill after an otherwise good day. I was following it on Twitter as people tweeted the points they liked and made their own observations about the proceedings. There was something in the tweets at the end of the President’s speech that stuck in my mind and compelled me to look up a transcript of the address hours later. It was people talking about the ‘dream big’ ending to the speech. I lay in bed for a long time, staring at the screen of my laptop as I let the words sink in. A couple of things came to my head.

Does libraryland have dreamers? The answer came back as an immediate and resounding yes, but current conditions call for realists. Realists in the sense of keeping library issues grounded to the limitations of staff, facilities, and funding. People who can tell the profession and the public about the consequences of funding loss, the smaller resources, and the diminished services. It is a time for serious people; those who can crunch numbers, present bare facts, and engage all parties for the continued use and funding of libraries. What does it matter if the library has a mobile website or video games or employment assistance computer labs if they can’t keep their doors open? Numbers are king as door counts, program attendance, items circulated, and database accesses drive advocacy efforts.

Without a doubt the realist has an important place in the overall picture. You need to have someone who can ensure the future through the basic necessities (in this case, money). But for all the worries, concerns, and other issues, do librarians give themselves enough time to dream about the future?

To that question, I wish I had an answer. My instincts say no but my brain says that the jury is still out. Which, to me, brings up more questions instead. When people dream about the the future of the library, do they think of the next financial year? The technology that exists now that they want to incorporate into their collection? The programs they’d want to schedule next month, next summer, or the next year? What they want to accomplish on their state association or ALA group at the next annual conference? How far into the future do people think when they are asked to dream about the future of the library?

These are all good thoughts on future concerns, but for myself, it is still a bit smallscale. Where are the big dreams? Or, more importantly, what are the big dreams? What are the visions of fulfilling the mission of the library in twenty, thirty, or even fifty years from now? Will it still be a place? Will it be entirely person to person focused, whether physical or virtual? What is the future of information access? How will the library be involved in the lives of members of society?

It’s important to remember that dreams are not about accuracy but about possibilities. No one knows how technology and communication will change in those periods of time because they are moving along so quickly. But to deny dreaming big under that reasoning is to deny most (if not all) future thought as well. I hope that after reading this that you take a moment, clear your mind, take a deep breath, let go of the immediate future, and just dream big for libraries. Maybe just your own, maybe just your type, or even the field as whole. But just stop for a moment and dream.

And if you do, dream big.

Sunday Recollection: Snow Days

This particular winter has been consistent in offering snow to the southern New Jersey area where I live. While this is not an unusual winter occurance, it does not match my recollection of the area when I was a kid, staring out the window and hoping for a snow day. In fact, I can remember only a few years where snow days were declared including one particularly heinous ice storm that froze the entire area. Otherwise, it was rare to have a white Christmas and even rarer to have a day off from school due to the snow.

My new great memories from some of those snow days was when my dad took my brother and I over to the next town to sled down a huge hill. You have to take into consideration how flat southern New Jersey is; it’s the kind of flatness you see when you are west of the Appalachians. Any sudden change in elevation to make a sledding hill is quite remarkable and therefore highly desirable. I can only describe the length of the hill in kid terms which would make it ‘oh my god it goes on forever!’ with a wide toothy grin and mad gleam in the eyes. (I won’t sully it with actual measurements either.) As it was one of the few sledding hills in the area, it would be jammed with people as well. The part of the ride down I remember is that it had some (for lack of a better term) moguls where the hill slope met the flat runoff area. After accelerating down the hill, the resultant bouncing could be called ‘tailbone crushing’ or ‘fun’ depending on which mental age bracket you were in. After the runoff, you’d trudge off to the side and march back up the hill. Repeat until you had to use the bathroom or couldn’t move your legs anymore.

I realize that this is less speculation (as my previous posts) and more of a recollection, so I have changed the title of this entry to reflect that. I’m wondering what your favorite snow day memories are as a kid. I have a feeling I would have seen you out on that hill with me, hanging on for dear life as the sled hit maximum acceleration right before the bumps that could sending you flying.

Sunday Speculation: For the Love of the Game

Photo by Erik Mallinson/Flickr

There is no denying it: I am a gamer.

I adventure in World of Warcraft. I take capture points and blow up people in Team Fortress 2. My iPad is full of games from World of Goo (SO. GOOD.) to Scrabble to Warpgate to- well, you get the point. Lots of games.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at a pretty young age. My mother’s family was big into card games and my friends would play lots of a board games. With the advent of Atari and then later Nintendo, the console game system started to feature into my play activities. A family Commodore 64 was where my brother and I would play even more games. College had a combination of console (Playstation), computer (the first Command & Conquer blew my mind and lots of Quake), and some other games (Hearts and a violent card game known simply as “Egyptian Ratscrew”. Don’t ask.) Post college saw involvement in live action roleplaying games (also known as LARPs) in addition to the other platforms (console, computer, board, card) listed above.

Gaming has been a part of my professional life as well. I worked to co-create a video game collection in my library system. The circulation for the games has been tremendously successful. I’ve been pretty proud of that and work towards giving people a new way to look at the library as well as a chance to see what else we have to offer.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of articles that talk about the importance of play in development (both human and other animals) and the benefits it has on mental acuity. Personally, I’ve never understood while people give up on play so easily. Or maybe it’s just that the concept of play changes over time for some people.

So, I have a simple question: how do you play? What do you consider to be play? And how has play changed for you?

Why I Write

Adrian: Why do you wanna fight?
Rocky: Because I can’t sing or dance.

Rocky (1976)

For me, writing reminds me of the bleeding techniques of early Western medicine; it was a school of thought regarding the draining of excessive humors from the body in order to reach a better state of health. In applying this principle to my blog, it is a matter of giving voice to ideas, thoughts, opinions, and commentary that would otherwise be rattling around my brain pan, demanding to be let out or returned for use by some other higher brain function.

As much as I grew up being a reluctant reader (I basically stopped at Encyclopedia Brown), I have been a reluctant writer as well until the last couple of months. There was always a willpower barrier that required to be overcome to even start a post, nevermind finishing one. For a long time, a writer’s block would mean that all work would come to a screeching halt until the proper wording, phrasing, or transition had been constructed. Frustration would take hold and the post would live as a draft while the roadblock was dealt with.

From my experience, draft status is somewhat of blog post Purgatory, a limbo in which the fate of an entry is measured by the mettle it would require to finish it. Some drafts never move on to Publish status as thoughts and opinions change on the subject or it is found to be wanting of certain support criteria. Others are able to survive the process and appear as a fully formed and properly birthed internet prose. They do serve as a memory lane for me where I can look at some of the ideas I had before that never made it out of this step.

As time has progressed, I’ve gotten better about the writing process. Fewer posts see time in the draft stage and most will make it out into published status in one sitting (albeit a long sitting, but still). To relate it back to the opening metaphor of this post, I have become better at diagnosing which humors are affecting the body and how best to treat them. My personal epiphany has been to shift my mindset and stop treating writing as a solo act and approach it more as a complete series of steps. As a doctor would listen to the symptoms, perform tests, and make a diagnosis, it is a matter of undertaking the process.

And a process it is, I would heartily agree. My brother, a talented fiction writer of his own right, refers to it as ‘laboring in the wordmine’. Writing the words into the computer would appear to be on the easy end of the entire system. Finding the words, expressing the thoughts, the arrangement of sentences within and how they relate to those that precede and those that follow, the flow of the paragraphs, all in service of an overarching concept or story or point. The construction of everything before your eyes right now is the result of writing, adjusting, re-writing, re-phrasing, and re-positioning. I’d offer a calculation as to the time consumed, but it is nothing compared to the urge to get it to be right in one’s own eye.

A friend of mine asked me how I wrote, what motivated me, and why I wrote. There is no way to answer her simply. I hope that this post offers something of a clue towards her questions, but in closing I can offer her this additional explanation. For me, writing is freedom. I can organize and arrange my words and thoughts in ways that make sense in an overactive thought process. I am more honest, more true to myself here than I am speaking or behaving since I can properly express myself in the perfect vacancy of the computer screen. I feel lucky to have this gift, for it makes me feel in tune with other people and with the world.

For me, writing is life. An expression of myself that is both pure and raw. It is myself on display for all who care to gaze. In public or in private, it is the best measure of who I am and what I believe. It doesn’t get any better than that. And that is why I write.

Selling Myself. Literally.

In creating a Facebook Page for myself, it has afforded me the chance to try something on Facebook that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile: create an ad and run it. (I have similar designs to do one on Google since I read Eric Hellman’s eBook pirating post, but that will wait another month.) I took it as a great opportunity to run an ad experiment and see how it turns out. Perhaps experiment is the wrong term here; that would imply a hypothesis and controlled variables. However, I’d like to get a dataset and use it as a starting point for further refinement. So, perhaps it is more of an adventure than an experiment, but that doesn’t mean that discovery doesn’t happen.

The ad!That’s the ad I designed on the right. I thought leaving the same title and picture as my Facebook Page would be a good start. The only part of the ad that I was uncertain about was the wording of the ad. There are not many times in your life when you are sitting at the keyboard of your computer and pondering the question, “What kind of wording would entice people to click on my ad that features my name and part of my face?” I made a few attempts at some different phrasings (there is a character limit on the ad), but this one seemed like the one that made the most amount of sense considering the content of the Facebook Page. This isn’t a complete sell on the content, but just a bread crumb trail to the main course. So, with the wording done, I moved onto the next section.

Here’s where you get to figure out who you want to see your ads. I set it for the United States without designating a specific area. My low end age would be 23, the youngest age that someone could graduate with a Master’s degree. Gender didn’t matter, so I left it as ‘all’. You can target people by their interests and likes; I was rather unoriginal and picked two words “libraries” and “librarians” as my two words. (It should be noted that as you click on buttons and write in words, there is a sidebar that recalculates how many people your ads could potentially reach.) This brought the number down from 137 million to roughly 250,000 people; for some perspective, according to the ALA there are 150,000 librarians in the US and 192,000 other library staff.  (It should be also be noted that keywords operate on an OR settings. In other words, it will gather up anyone who has libraries OR librarians as a like or interest in their profile.) Sounds like I’m in the right ballpark, so I moved on. You can choose to target certain connections or non-connections on Facebook. I opted to pick people who not already connected to my Facebook page, lowering my potential reach ever so slightly. I skipped by some of the advanced targeted features (no, I don’t want to target people on their birthdays, thank you) and went down to the pricing.

And here’s where I had to get my wallet out. You can set your budget limit on either a lifetime basis or a per diem. Since this was an experiment, I opted for a budget of $30. I picked a date range starting on December 1st and running to December 28th, a four week period. I figured that was a reasonable price over a reasonable time period to see how this works and then fiddle with it. You can buy ads a couple of different ways: you were pay by the click on the ad or by the number of impressions (read: times the ad is run). The clicks are a set amount, but you buy impressions by increments of one thousand.  You can see the advantages and disadvantages of each: pay per click is more expensive but you only pay for anyone who acts on the ad versus pay per impression where I can generate thousands of ads and hope that someone picks my ad.

Since you bid on ad space, this brings up a whole new predicament; you have to set a maximum bid you would offer for advertising space. You can go with the suggested bid (a safe move), use a higher bid to ensure more coverage and more advertising risk, or use a lower bid that is budget friendly but possibly not going to run as much. Since this is an experiment, I opted for the suggested maximum bid and just let it fly. This was $0.71 for 1,000 impressions, a decent number considering the scope of this endeavor as well as the duration. I wanted to see what this would look like over time, so I went with it.

So, after ponying up my credit card and doing the other Facebook ‘paperwork’, my ad was submitted for approval by their ad team. In an hour or so, I got the approval email. And so, I hopped on the advertising interface to see what it looks like when it’s all done. Here’s a screenshot of the impending campaign.

Click to embiggen

Since it started on Wednesday, I’ve checked on a couple of times. The early data is that my average bid is coming in much lower than my maximum bid; my maximum bid is $.71 and my average bid is $.19. At present, the 11,508 times the ad has been displayed and a total of 8 people have clicked on it. I’ve roughly spent a quarter for each click.

Naturally, I’ll be following this as the month goes on. I’m jotting down some notes to see how things pan out, so I’ll see. I’ll certainly be doing a blog write-up on this when it is complete. In the meantime, I’m curious if anyone has seen library or library related ads on Facebook.

(I sheepishly admit that I have an ad blocker on Chrome and Firefox, therefore defeating my own advertising purposes. I wonder how much of a factor that is for the ads that run.)