Sunday, April 25, 2010

What's on My Reading List?

I love to read, and always have. One of my earliest memories was when I was about five years old, staring at the newspaper, wanting to know what it said. Now I read constantly and a little bit anxious if I don't have my "next book" stacked up and ready to go.

Here is what I'm looking forward to reading next:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larrson.
I really loved the first two books in this trilogy, and was excited to find that I could order this from Amazon.UK and not have to wait until the middle of May to read it. There is a queue of my friends who have asked me to pass this to them when I finish. Here's what Publisher's Weekly said on about the book:
"The exhilarating conclusion to bestseller Larsson's Millennium trilogy (after The Girl Who Played with Fire) finds Lisbeth Salander, the brilliant computer hacker who was shot in the head in the final pages of Fire, alive, though still the prime suspect in three murders in Stockholm. While she convalesces under armed guard, journalist Mikael Blomkvist works to unravel the decades-old coverup surrounding the man who shot Salander: her father, Alexander Zalachenko, a Soviet intelligence defector and longtime secret asset to Säpo, Sweden's security police. Estranged throughout Fire, Blomkvist and Salander communicate primarily online, but their lack of physical interaction in no way diminishes the intensity of their unconventional relationship. Though Larsson (1954–2004) tends toward narrative excess, his was an undeniably powerful voice in crime fiction that will be sorely missed. 
(Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)

Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel by Yann Martel.
Honestly, I resisted the Life of Pi and didn't read it for a long time. Once I did (on a trip to India) I loved it and recommended it to everyone. Here's the Publisher Weekly review:
Megaselling Life of Pi author Martel addresses, in this clunky metanarrative, the violent legacy of the 20th century with an alter ego: Henry L'Hôte, an author with a very Martel-like CV who, after a massively successful first novel, gives up writing. Henry and his wife, Sarah, move to a big city (Perhaps it was New York. Perhaps it was Paris. Perhaps it was Berlin), where Henry finds satisfying work in a chocolatería and acting in an amateur theater troupe. All is well until he receives a package containing a short story by Flaubert and an excerpt from an unknown play. His curiosity about the sender leads him to a taxidermist named Henry who insists that Henry-the-author help him write a play about a monkey and a donkey. Henry-the-author is at first intrigued by sweet Beatrice, the donkey, and Virgil, her monkey companion, but the animals' increasing peril draws Henry into the taxidermist's brutally absurd world. Martel's aims are ambitious, but the prose is amateur and the characters thin, the coy self-referentiality grates, and the fable at the center of the novel is unbearably self-conscious. When Martel (rather energetically) tries to tug our heartstrings, we're likely to feel more manipulated than moved." (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
I participate in a neighborhood book club (The Ladies of Irvington Road) and a couple of our members actually don't like fiction ( I KNOW - what's wrong with them!) so we are always looking for good nonfiction to read. This is going to be one of my picks for nonfiction. Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say:
"Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about faith, science, journalism, and grace. It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women—Skloot and Deborah Lacks—sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah's mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line—known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta's death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot's portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people. (Feb.) "
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich.
I will admit that I have a hard time reading Louise Eldrich. I never am able to stick with her. But I keep trying, and will give this book a go. I recently discovered that Louise Eldrich and I are both from the same band of Ojibwa (Red Lake and Pembina) and our progenitors were both present at the signing of a treaty with the US government. So I kind of feel like she is a relative and I should be supportive of her work. Kind of silly, I know, but there it is.
Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say:
"Erdrich's bleak latest (after The Plague of Doves) chronicles the collapse of a family. Irene America is a beautiful, introspective woman of Native American ancestry, struggling to finish her dissertation while raising three children. She is married to Gil, a painter whose reputation is built on a series of now iconic portraits of Irene, but who can't break through to the big time, pigeonholed as a Native American painter. Irene's fallen out of love with Gil and discovers that he's been reading her diary, so she begins a new, hidden, diary and uses her original diary as a tool to manipulate Gil. Erdrich deftly alternates between excerpts from these two diaries and third-person narration as she plots the emotional war between Irene and Gil, and Gil's dark side becomes increasingly apparent as Irene, fighting her own alcoholism, struggles to escape. Erdrich ties her various themes together with an intriguing metaphor—riffing on Native American beliefs about portraits as shadows and shadows as souls—while her steady pacing and remarkable insight into the inner lives of children combine to make this a satisfying and compelling novel."Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

This Time Together by Carol Burnett.
Carol Burnett represents a time of innocence to me, a time when none of the sad or bitter or disappointing events of my life had happened yet. Here's what Kathleen Hughes of Booklist writes:
"In her second book, comedy legend Burnett looks back fondly on her long and successful career in short, easily digestible chapters that part the curtain on her private life. Told in a chatty, intimate way, the stories encompass the star’s childhood; early days as an actress doing bit parts in New York City, appearing on game shows and various variety shows; her 11 years hosting The Carol Burnett Show; and life after the show ended its run. Readers will enjoy the comical reminiscences included, such as how she once used her famous Tarzan yell to disarm a mugger, funny interactions with fans who recognize her on the street, and the origin of famous scenes from the show, such as Scarlett O’Hara in a curtain-rod dress. Burnett doesn’t shy away from sad subjects and occasionally touches on personal losses. She also dishes about her famous costars and friends, including Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, Julie Andrews, and, of course, Carol Burnett Show regulars Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner. Fans of both the show and the actress will enjoy this mostly lighthearted though sometimes poignant look back at Burnett’s career."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Need Some Perspective? Watch this!

Everything *is* Amazing!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Free or Almost Free Tools

I just returned from TechEd 2010 in Pasadena, California. I heard about some really kick-ass technology tools, new to me and maybe new to you. Definitely worth checking out. This batch is all free, so there is nothing to loose in trying them.

Here they are in no particular order:

Jing - Jing has been around for a while, but they sure have souped it up. You can capture anything on your desktop (including a video or photo from somewhere else) and add call outs. You can record yourself clicking on software and record a voice track with it. You can upload the result to a shared location Jing makes available for you, or anywhere else you want. And it is FREE FREE FREE. Jing Pro gives you even more and it's only $14.95 a year. Uh huh. I know -- you can only make videos that are five minutes long, but I think that's actually a feature. Longer videos make my eyes roll back in my head. Say what you need to say and stop.

Sky Drive - Sky Drive gives you 25G of storage for FREE. And it's up in the cloud where you can share it with anyone. I'm thinking of a project that I'm working on where I need to make a variety of files available to people all over the world. I'm going to throw them up on Sky Drive.

Google Websites
- Am I the only one who didn't know that Google makes a really easy, slick, cool website creator available for FREE? FREE! And the templates are like they were hanging around listening to my innermost desires. Well, ok, not my innermost. But pretty close to there! That project I mentioned earlier? It's going to live in a Google website.

Irubric - Irubric is a rubric creation tool that is FREE -- and it is a pretty good looking program too. I saw a presentation that the creator of this product gave, and I honestly don't understand why the guy is giving this away but I am very glad he is! I am hoping to develop a rubric to use for performance evaluations next year, and this will be the product that I use to do it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TechEd 2010 - Pasadena, California or Lift Up Your Eyes

My head is buzzing from my trip to California to attend the TechEd2010 conference. This was my first time attending, and it's not surprising that you have never heard of this little jewel of a conference. The conference is put on by the Community College Foundation, which sounds like it out to be a national organization. And for community colleges. Since NTID is "the nation's community college" I was hoping that the presentations would be targeted to the same audience that we serve. But it seems that the conference is actually only marketed to schools in California. And the economy (especially for public schools in Cali) being what it is, there weren't that many people there. One of the presenters told me that he is on their board of directors and the conference is loosing money. When I suggested they might want to broaden their view and go after community colleges outside of California, he just sighed wistfully. It made me think how often we actually keep ourselves from succeeding because we don't raise our chins and look towards the horizon rather than at our feet. I know I was guilty of that for a long time.

But a couple of years ago I realized that I could actually do whatever I wanted to do. If I could conceive it, I could reach it. All that is necessary is to have the gumption to actually move and the discipline to not stop moving until you reach your goal. And you will have some failures, maybe a lot of them. So what? It really doesn't matter. Just take a step back and look at the situation and move forward. It really breaks down into four steps:

1. Decide where you want to be.
2. Start moving there.
3. If you stumble, stand up and keep going.
4. Don't stop till you get there.

I have about 4 more blog articles to write about the cool products and software I saw at the conference. So I'll get off of this philosphophical jag. But this was maybe the most important lesson of the conference. It's one I have to be reminded of regularly.