Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Practical Suggestions for Improving Things

This post is going to draw together a number of different ideas from a variety of subjects, so it's going to look pretty scattered, but ultimately, it is a common sense way of thinking.  The conclusions are also applicable to many different situations, so stay with us, in case the application that's relevant to you doesn't pop up right away.

Whenever anyone goes into a new job, or undertakes a new task that has to be done repeatedly, such as, for instance, a new teacher who has to teach some low-level class every semester, or a programmer who has been assigned to churn out an entire pile of little programs, all of very similar type, (the similarity aspect is not really pivotal,) there is a tendency to make little adjustments to the task, to make it easier on the worker.

Often, junior employees get assigned the less interesting jobs, because (for obvious reasons) the other jobs have been long desired by more senior workers, and they jump on them the minute they become available.  Initially, the new worker takes on his or her new task with some enthusiasm, but fairly soon the tedium of it sets in, and presently all s/he wants to do is to get the job off his/her desk, get the item off the agenda, get the idiot kids out of his/her classroom.  S/he'll never see them again, and good riddance!

But life is unfair, and one fine day, the employee gets to work on a new task, where the old work, shoddily done, suddenly reappears.  "Who taught you guys Trigonometry?"  You did, teacher.  Or "Who wrote this crappy piece of code?", or Who passed this zoning ordinance?  Or Who set this fracture?  You never expected that shaving that little bit out of the unpleasant task long ago would affect your future performance.

It's not just that shoddy work is, well, shoddy, which is obvious.  But rather that a new employee does not realize that shoddy work is not only bad in principle, but that it is a liability for him or her in an immediate way.  A new teacher might fall back on tweaking the details of a course to make things easier for herself.  But the consequences of the tinkering affect those who inherit the same students in future courses, that is, downstream.

The same principle holds, even if the tinkering is a well-meant improvement.  In actual fact, the phenomenon is part of a larger picture and a larger problem: How can one improve an entire multi-step process, without precipitating a domino-effect serial catastrophe?

Most people are not familiar with the idea of computer programming, except in the most general way, but, you know, it is such a useful concept that it should interest everybody.  Just a few examples will get the idea across.

A central idea of a program is the sequence of steps.  Not every segment of code proceeds sequentially (one step, followed by the next step); sometimes the sequence has to be changed in response to some situation that crops up, and a good program anticipates these, and has these responses built-in.  But ultimately, sequential code is the backbone of programming.  Here below is an image of a pseudocode program that does something symbolic, I believe.  (Many programming languages have a somewhat common design, so that generic programs in a sort of fictitious language can represent a solution to a programming problem.  This language is called pseudocode.)

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/256190328_fig2_Pseudo-code-of-the-ABC-algorithm-24
As you can see, the program proceeds in steps, though some steps are compound instructions that require repetition (such as Step 6, for instance), and other steps are also repetition steps, where that loop has been manually set up with jumps, such as Step 5 through Step 12.  (It could have been done with a FOR instruction, as you might have guessed.)

A junior programmer might only need to dash off a short program, and never see it again.  But depending on various circumstances, the program may need to be tweaked.  In fact, most experienced programmers will tell you: tweaking is almost all there is.  By this they mean that the vast majority of programs need to be adjusted, either to improve efficiency, or handle outmoded hardware being replaced with new hardware, or obscure faults in the code that were never revealed for years (or many days, anyway).

Imagine a programmer staring moodily at a long program, which has to be modified to do the same job in a slightly different way.  As you can easily see, changing the last few steps of the program is much easier than changing the first few steps.  The downstream steps can be more easily changed, and in fact the code can be trial-run.

[Note: we are not advocating just changing the last few steps only.  If the changing is to be done a little at a time, changing the last few steps first, and then checking that the whole program works, makes sure that at least that last segment is fault-free, after which you can go on to look at the earlier steps, incrementally, working backwards to the beginning of the program, or block of code.]

Another analogy.  Suppose a school or college has decided to do away with a certain course.  Before the course is actually removed from the catalog, it is best to modify the most downstream courses to respond to the planned removal.  If you start at the lowest-level courses that depend on the course that is planned to go away (the upstream courses), the downstream courses must respond not only to the course targeted for axing, but the other altered courses as well!  Particularly, if the changes are to be made one course at a time, you have to start at the highest level course.  In fact, the highest-level courses can be changed without any domino effect, as is obvious.  (Changing the highest-level course, the last course in that stream that a student is likely to take, could certainly change the overall effectiveness of the curriculum, but it will probably not interfere with the preceding courses.)

Now for something slightly different.  A decision can be made on either theoretical grounds, or based on experience.  Experience, of course, is the greatest teacher.  If you lie down on the railway tracks, just for fun, and get run over, you're obviously never going to do that again.  But we can be taught to avoid risky behavior, and that is what we call education.  Education gives us a tool chest of theoretical principles that obviates the need for experience.  Unfortunately, when it comes to making changes, the experienced worker is in a better position to figure out in what sequence changes can be safely made, because the theoretical analysis of the situation can only work if every possible factor is taken into account, something that an inexperienced worker will find very, very difficult.

An area in which it is very difficult to see all the factors that impinge on a decision is, surprise: local government.  In fact, any sort of government.  Suppose it is desired to save money by reducing the services provided to abused women.  (Presently, at least in Pennsylvania, many counties provide temporary housing for abused women and their infants, until arrangements can be made for them to find secure homes for themselves.)  If the number of shelters are gradually reduced, abused women in the future will need to live in the abusive relationship for lack of a place to go to, and if the abuse escalates (as it often does), firstly, police officers will be called upon, to defend the victims; secondly, hospital emergency rooms will see an increase in the incidence of battered women needing treatment, thirdly, school truancy officers will need to investigate whether children are not attending school for truancy or for a parent unable to get them ready for school.  So it is very possible that a change intended to save money, actually results in an overall increase in costs, possibly placing more of a burden on other departments somewhere else.  (Some politicians are perfectly satisfied with this Moving Expenses To Other Departments game, but it is foolish and immature, and such politicians must be removed speedily.)

Those of us who have no occasion to be familiar with these matters have no inkling of how, for example, issuance of zoning variances could affect the noise level in a neighborhood (of course, the plutocrats who can afford homes far from the industrial zone do not care, and they expend great effort to ensure that they control the decisions of whose consequences they are immune), or how industrial effluent can hurt fishing streams, unless it is carefully treated, or how rural roads can be degraded by heavy trucks going to and from the industry.  The big picture is important.  But some big pictures are really too big, because the smaller pictures are more complicated, but the big-picture dreamers are very intolerant of complexity.  Some of the "small stuff" does need to be sweated.

Lots of things to think about.

Arch

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wonder Woman: Multiple Thumbs Up [Note: A Few Tiny Spoilers]

Yes, we went to see Wonder Woman last night, and had a spanking good time.

Don’t get me wrong: I could see spots here and there that I felt could have been done differently, and better.  But man, it was just a lot of fun!

I’m not going to spill a whole pile of spoilers, but I need a little something on which to base my explanation of the features of the movie.

Firstly, the star of the movie is Gal Gadot, who has already played Wonder Woman in an earlier movie, Batman vs. Superman, or something like that.  The interesting point is that she has a slight Israeli accent, but she exaggerated it a little for the role, and all the actresses who played Amazons (a legendary —or mythical— tribe of women) adopted a slightly exotic accent, which made beautiful sense, because the one thing we could say with confidence is that Wonder Woman would not have an accent from the American Midwest!

Gal Gadot, secondly, is a beautiful woman, neither annoyingly slim nor dreadfully muscle-bound.  She did not look like a body-builder, nor an athlete (which would probably have been fine), but rather like a dancer.  She was supposed to look like a typical woman, who was of course a trained fighter, without any obvious physical peculiarities.  She had medium-short hair, the bright eyes you find in someone who is confident and aware and curious about the world around her.  But you discover very soon that she is not a genius.

Mini Spoiler No. 1:  The Amazons live in an island (or cluster of islands; traditionally Atlantis, but I think they changed its name for the movie) which is magically hidden away from the rest of the world.  After Zeus, father of the Gods, created the world, and mankind, and his fellow-gods, in the course of time, apparently, mankind and the other gods unleashed destruction on the Earth, the chief agent of which was War, the god of which was Ares (which they pronounce “Aries” in the movie).  Ares was unstoppable, and, says the narrator, things got so bad that Zeus had to create a tribe of women with special powers, to guard against the eventuality that Ares would arrange for the destruction of Mankind through cataclysmic wars.  (Of course, just as the Amazons were hidden from the rest of the world, the World was hidden from them, so it was unclear how they would find out what that bastard Ares was up to.  But they do . . .)

Mini Spoiler No. 2:  The story is set in the last weeks of World War I, which was called “The War to End All Wars” at that time.  A plane crashes into the water just offshore from where the Amazons lived, and our girl Diana is, as always, prowling around, exploring in the night, and sees the crash, and that there is a person entangled in the wreckage.  Unable to get free, the occupant and the remnants of the plane sink into the water, and Diana  fearlessly dives in to rescue the pilot.

Mini Spoiler No. 3:  Against the wishes of the Queen of the Amazons (Hippolyta), Diana’s mother, Diana sets out to escort the rescued airman to his people.  She is clothed in typical Amazonian gear, basically boiled leather armor (or perhaps some magical armor), the golden lasso, a magical sword, called the God-Slayer, and a headband, which Hippolyta gives Diana at the last minute.  On this journey, the airman explains to Diana what is going on: some bad guys are unleashing death and destruction on vast numbers of innocent people.
Wide-eyed Diana gasps, and says that this has to be the work of Ares.  “You must take me to him,” she says seriously, and declares that she will fix matters right up.

This is the charm of this movie.  There is a minor clash of cultures: the bronze age environment that still pervades the island of the Amazons, versus the machine-gun, airship culture of World War I.  Rather than the tribal wars that ravaged the world of the ancient Greeks, ostensibly orchestrated by Ares, there is modern warfare with huge collateral damage and civilian casualties, with groups of nations arrayed together against other groups, with fighting forces on each side numbering a thousand times the entire population of the Greek world.

Diana blinks, but she clings to the belief that the principle is the same.  People would not fight if Ares would not incite them to violence.  Ares is still orchestrating the war.  If Diana destroys Ares, the war will fizzle out.

Straightening this out is the sub-plot of the movie, or perhaps the main plot.  The airman brings Diana to London, which is the center of civilization as far as he is concerned, and Diana must deal with the cultural dislocation head on.  It begins with having to equip Diana with late Victorian clothing that is appropriate for a woman of her rank and habits, a way of covering up the enormous long-sword that she tends to constantly brandish, and the magical gauntlets that go up her forearm.  (The movie manages this with style, though the calf-length dress skirt is very innovative for the times, outside a playing field.)

It is fascinating to watch Diana’s expression closely as the Origins of the Amazons is drilled into her.  She looks frankly a little skeptical, I think, and even a little amused.  But when she sees the horrors of the front line first hand, her dismay is absolutely unfeigned.  That alone, I believe, qualifies the acting in this movie as either brilliant acting, or the directing as brilliant directing.  Diana is not a fool.  But the audience is always a couple of steps ahead of her, as it should always be in good drama.

The airman, Steve Trevor, puts together a team of specialists to get them to the front, where Steve wants to destroy an armaments factory, and, of course, Diana wants to confront Ares, whom she is confident about finding where the fighting is thickest.  While they lie and cheat their way to no-man’s land, the men browbeat her into doing it their way, but once they get close enough, Diana is not having any more of these namby-pamby war conventions.  She wants to get in there and have a confrontation with the real problem boys.

Ultimately she must conclude that war is a human thing.  The tales of the Greek Gods are ponderous attempts to anthropomorphize human tendencies, strengths and failings, and Diana must confront the fact that even if she destroys the embodiment-of-war-of-the-moment, war continues.  Steve tries to explain that fighting for peace is a lifetime commitment, but he does not have the time.

However, even when she is kicking serious butt, Diana is all fluid grace, even if it is very determined fluid grace.  Perhaps real wars cannot be fought like that, but man, if we had a choice, and if the cameras are on, that would certainly be the way I would like to kick butt.  Whoo!

If there is going to be a sequel, sell me a ticket.

Arch
‘’—“”

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Another Two Cents' Worth

It is annoying to face each day beginning with a deluge of vitriol about the Trump Administration.  Not that they don't deserve a lot of vitriol, but that it is saddening to realize that those who feel obliged to give us this information and opinion do not realize how wearying it is.

There are many lessons to be learned from the events of this most recent (leading up to November 2017) campaign season, but we must be careful that we learn the right lessons.

1. Electoral College.  Some disgruntled (or any similar word; pick your own) liberals and / or Democrats are thinking that the Electoral College should be dumped.  I, for one, am not sure that this is a good thing.  If the Democrats had come out and voted, it would not have been an issue.

2. Some disgruntled liberals and Democrats (SDLD) blame the fact that the Democrats lost the election on picking the wrong horse; in other words, if Bernie had won the nomination, they feel, Trump would never have won.  On one hand, this could be true, because younger liberals are not happy with the path the Democrats have taken since Bill Clinton; there seems to be too much compromise with Business, Wall Street, and Big Banks.  But remember: any choice by the Democrats that removes the private sector as a source of employment will see problems.  Unfortunately, the private sector, by its very nature, hates to increase employment, which they think we don't know.  So this is a problem, without a ready solution.  It is hard to see how Bernie Sanders would have handled the employment problem quickly or efficiently.

3. If anyone thought that a typical business mogul would find running Washington D. C. a piece of cake, we now know the answer.  It does not help that Donald Trump was not the smartest businessman who ever lived; he was just good at winning by intimidation in his chosen area.  The presidency does not respond to that sort of approach.  On the other hand, the constant stream of disinformation pouring out on Twitter and Fox News does have a disruptive effect.  We must wonder: can laws be passed to limit the amount of fake news that can be put out, or are we stuck with disrupting media stories for henceforth?  This is a serious problem, because if lies cannot be battled with truth, it is almost impossible to arrive at valid conclusions.

4. One of Trump's biggest failings, (taking him, for a moment, seriously as a President) is his propensity--with a lot of his like-minded followers--for demanding a simplified view of the world.  Of course, it is natural to want to simplify the messy world we live in.  But it can't be simplified to the level that Trump likes, without losing lots of essential properties that need to be looked at.  The same is true of everybody.  We're surrounded with unreasonable demands for simplification, and we just can't deliver.

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just for Showing Up: Consolation Prize

It is becoming increasingly common for young people to win prizes in many contests just for participating.  It is true that very young folks feel awfully disappointed if they win nothing at all, e.g. at a Halloween costume competition, and so there are consolation prizes.  But it used to be only for tiny kids, say under the age of four, that these consolation prizes were factored into the design of the competition.  But today, even college kids, and even adults feel entitled to something for just showing up.

gradeinflation.com
One of my pet peeves is that students sometimes take one of my courses and expect to earn a grade of C just for attending.  There are other grades, they forget, e.g. F.  To my indignation, some faculty frown upon colleagues who grade too rigorously.  Giving too many Fs, apparently, is an indication of inflexibility.  Colleagues: it is easy to give everyone a passing grade.  It is good for the school (one criterion of the quality of a school, especially for marketing purposes, is the expected number of years a typical student will have to spend in order to graduate--the fewer the better), good for the professor (at least in some schools; in others, an inflated grade distribution is probably not considered to be ideal), and good for students who just don't have time for classes.

Some cynics, of course, try to tie in this expectation of a Gentleman's B (I know; it used to be a Gentleman's C, but grade inflation has taken place) with other entitlements.  An entitlement is an unearned, but expected, benefit, and usually refers to an impoverished member of society who is perceived as not sufficiently exerting him or herself.  Those who collect Food Stamps, for instance, are viewed by some as being encouraged to continue to be unproductive.  A lot of fiscal conservatives take on the mindset of business executives, and judge how deserving underprivileged citizens are from the point of view of whether they benefit the economy.  It has suited those who consider that all governance should be modeled on business management to judge the value of things on their utility to the "company", or the nation.  I am not able to support my conviction that this is not appropriate in making socio-political decisions, but all those who argue against a single-payer health care system, for instance, feel that it is better to allow the health insurance industry their healthy profits than to enable the poorest and most vulnerable among us better health care (at the cost of the taxpayer).  In addition, this sort of fiscal conservative views government bureaucracy with grave disapproval, and they anticipate that the bureaucracy that would go with a single payer system will be enormous, and not surprisingly.  So: no government health care just for showing up.  (Unless you're a congressman.)

I wonder how these same fiscal conservatives would react if their children were not given passing grades just for showing up!  They figure that they are the customers, and they deserve a good grade because they pay the fees.

Part of the problem is that the present-day transactional approach to education is based on the belief that the teacher must do all the work, and the student only needs to be a passive recipient of the lesson or the course or whatever.  If the student does not succeed, the perception is that the teacher is to blame.

In the earliest grades, we must grant, the teacher has a greater share of the responsibility.  On the other hand, in the earliest grades, the students are so diverse in their readiness to learn that the teacher can only do so much.  In later grades, the students tend to be organized in cohorts where students of similar levels of advancement are in class together, and they can all be expected to absorb the material at the same rate, more or less.  But some are more motivated than others, yet they expect the same grades, and many are disappointed.  This is where the "consolation prize" concept comes in.

There is no resolution to this sort of expectation.  Teachers will increasingly take the easy way out, and give out higher grades just to avoid the annoyance of arguments with students (and their parents).  In the short run, these higher grades will make the customers happy.  But one wonders what will be the implications in the long run.

Arch

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Wonderful Art of Lucy Montgomery

Lucy Montgomery --or L. M. Montgomery-- was the author of the series of children's books that began with Anne of Green Gables.
Green Gables is short---and most of them are just about 200 pages long---but how astonishingly powerful the writing was!  We have the intense personality of the main protagonist shoved right in our faces, while we split our sides laughing!  If I've known one person like Anne Shirley I've known a dozen: total space cadets with runaway imaginations who can barely stop talking for a few seconds!  Many of them are delightful to meet (briefly), but they're impossible as undergraduates.
A few years ago, dozens of them signed up to be Physics majors at our school.  I despaired; I had to teach them trigonometry, and they tended to relate to the subject in strange ways.  Luckily for everyone, many of them switched to other majors, such as Archeology, or Psychology, or even Religion, all of which were better suited to their mystical propensities.
To get back to our heroine, Anne Shirley: what distinguished her was a charm that not every Anne wannabe has.  Most definitely, it is a combination of Anne's charm, her hot temper and her stubbornness that carry us through that first book to its end.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Animals in Our House

Currently, our home is also home to two cats and a dog.

Let’s start with the latter.  He is a large boxer-mix called Hank.  He was an amazing specimen until he hurt his spine trying to chase a cat.  (He tripped on something, or tried to jink just a little too suddenly, and he was rolling on the ground, howling in agony.  That was several months ago; he’s most good now, but he doesn’t have good control over his hind legs.)  But he can get up to quite a fast gallop, and unfortunately he gallops up the ramp we put in for him, back when he couldn’t walk, due to the injury.

He and the little Pit Bull female next door are in lust.  She occasionally comes over and whines at our back door, asking whether Hank can come out and play.  Hank, on the inside of the door, keeps saying: yes, I can!  I can!!  Tell her yes!  But we don’t want her getting pregnant, and we don’t want him hurting his spine again in the throes of passion, and his human, Fred, doesn’t want him to be de-nutted.  I don’t know what the thinking is, there, but it means we have to be very careful that Hankie does not service any fertile female, simply on principle.

A photo of Hank doesn’t do him justice, because a lot of his charm is how he looks at you, and wags his tail, and rockets up and down the ramp with his ears flapping!  In many ways, he’s the archetype of an old-time family dog.  He isn’t a big slobberer, though he certainly is very food-focused, and doesn’t leave the dining room when a meal is in progress.  If we toss him a viand, he is likely to take off from the ground and catch the morsel in mid-air, as if he were grabbing a low-flying bird.

The older of the two cats is a (neutered) boy called Bigfoot.  This 16-pound ambulatory ornament is a striped cat with a coat of dark grey and tan and gold and touches of off-white, and lovely solemn eyes.  He hates to be rushed, except to rush towards his favorite snacks, which are cheese, and smoked meats.  The mere odor of these sorts of foods, or even the refrigerator door opening, tend to inspire him into joining in long arguments with you, where he says such things as “Mack!” “Mrrp!” “Frrp?” and so on, and you can echo these things to him, and he comes back with something else, and it goes on.  After about six of these exchanges, he sits down and stares moodily at the floor.  Sometimes he sort of rises, defying gravity, like an Indian Rope Trick, and reaches towards the kitchen counter-top with his paw.  He doesn't really expect to snag anything, but he can’t help himself.  Because he is a castrato, he has a high soprano voice.  (He would probably have the same voice even if his equipment were intact, I suppose.)

He’s mostly a spectator of the passing scene, but he is such a grand-looking cat that it is rather intimidating just to be peacefully observed by him.  He’s totally harmless, and is sort of resigned to being picked up (if you’re strong enough), and being carried around for a while, after which he tires of it and wants to be put back on the floor.

The most junior member of our menagerie is a three-year old little lady called Lola.  For some reason my wife got it into her head that she wanted a white kitten, and we went out all the way to Danville, and discovered this tiny entry—she wasn’t actually a kitten; she was practically full-sized.  She was very unhappy at being put in a carrier, but we brought her home, and she zipped out of the carrier and hid under some furniture.

After several months spent as a classic scaredy-cat, Lolz (as I called her) began to explore the house, and the outside.  She finally got up the courage to hiss at Bigfoot, and take over the bed of Hank on occasion.  (I just can’t figure out why dogs allow cats to annex their beds as needed.  It defies reason.)

Now, Lolz has discovered the upper floor.  At present, her most favorite thing in the world is to zip upstairs when she finds the stairs door open for even a second, and settle down on our bed, my wife’s and mine, and go to sleep.  She has also found out how to use the toilet.  We’ve caught her squatting down on the seat and taking a peaceful dump.  But she also drinks from the toilet.  I sincerely hope she knows when it is safe to drink out of.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Libraries, and those who Love Them

For decades, the institutions (or the Institution) called libraries have suffered gradual loss of support from their communities, and their sources of funding.  Initially, libraries were collections of books, for the benefit of those who could not afford their own copies of important books.  Often, libraries were the nucleus of universities (even if the university was not built around the library, at least the university considered its library--or libraries--the symbolic nucleus of the institution), and many other institutions have at their center a library, for example the US Office of Patents and Trademarks.

There are many obvious reasons why the use of libraries is in decline.

People do not read very much anymore.  Even if they do, they don't all read the same books; at one time, there were the important books everyone had to read; today, one reads what one likes, and there is simply such a variety of books being published that the annual acquisition process for the library is become a great gamble.

People are also reading online, and reading e-books.  Once, too, the trend of making movies out of works of fiction became common, we never needed to read anymore; even more convenient than reading the Cliff's Notes, we could watch the movie.

Some of the greatest books were written at least fifty years ago, and while some modern authors are inclined to improve on them, some of those classics can simply not be improved upon.  The authors writing today are no less capable than their predecessors, but the sheer volume of literary output can be expected to result in the best of the new books being a smaller proportion compared to the whole.  Self-publishing is now common, further aggravating the problem.  (I myself use a self-published book to teach out of, which is used only at my institution, so that I, too, am contributing to the destruction of libraries in my own small way.)  Entropy has reared its ugly head, and those who have loved books forever, and librarians, and teachers of literature, are all up in arms, opposing the trend towards decline of libraries.  My faceBook news-feed is full of desperate pro-library propaganda.  On top of everything, Government support for libraries has declined, along with every other good thing that the government should support, but doesn't.  It's almost as if our representatives are saying, We've read the books; the rest of ye find other things to do.

Alongside the libraries which are in survival mode, are the librarians.  Training of librarians initially had to expand, to include use of Internet-related resources: databanks that were accessible online (and some of them only online), volumes only available at select libraries, but deliverable to clients via network, and searchable indexes.  These are all things that computers made possible, and librarians are highly knowledgeable front-ends to these information services.

But of course, as libraries come under pressure to defend themselves, so do librarians.  At least part of the hostility of librarians is directed towards e-books; essentially a piece of data which is an electronic version of a book, sold or made available for free by various sources, such as the Gutenberg Project, which is in the process of making available electronically every book that has gone into the public domain.  Once the process of transforming all books into e-books nears completion, they feel, their jobs will be in jeopardy.

I cannot be the only one who believes that the jobs of librarians are not as much in jeopardy as they fear.  Certainly, paper books are going to be far fewer in number.  Some books will continue to be triumphantly paper: children's books, picture-books, such as collectors' books for such image-oriented items as record-sleeves, or fashion magazines, or comic-books, or even books on automotive repair, or even any sort of repair (though a lot of support for do-it-yourself repair is coming to us through video).  But librarians have been adept at delivering strategies for locating the help their clients need, and one can expect that to continue.

But if most fiction becomes available electronically, I don't think that it a tragedy, and certainly not from the point of view of the landfills.  I regard my own collection of books with horror; eventually most of them will definitely have to be put in a landfill, since no one in my family, or among my acquaintances, are interested in some of the older books.

However, for things to be ideal, we simply have to get away from our modern tendency to throw away our electronic devices.  (This is not going to happen under the current leadership, but one can always hope . . .)  The thought of every pen available being a disposable item, every camera, every telephone, every TV set horrifies me: they all get eventually thrown in the landfill.  I have a tablet that I used as a e-book reader, and I see no option but to throw it out, because it cannot be upgraded; obsolescence appears to be built in.  American Industry, which triumphantly ushered in the modern industrial age, has also guaranteed that the single business that will not be at all under threat is the trash business.

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