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Doctor Who, Delicious, and the Commonplace Book

Once again, all my worlds colliding in interesting ways this week.  For starters, I got Mark watching Doctor Who — he’s working his way through Season 4 with Doctor David Tennant on Netflix Streaming, and whenever the red envelopes show up, we slowly work our way through Season 5 with Doctor Matt Smith.

What the heck could this possibly have to do with and Commonplace Books, you ask?  Excellent question. Here goes…

In the Season 5 episode “The Time of Angels” River Song reappears with her intriguing blue TARDIS book, which basically serves as her commonplace book of all things Doctor-related.  But I didn’t think of it as her commonplace book till I saw some tweets coming out of THATcamp about digitizing them, plus Amanda Watson’s Ngram comparing commonplace books to scrapbooks. On top of all this, I’m reading Steven Johnson’s new book Where Good Ideas Come From (*highly* recommended) and I just came to the part in chapter 3 where he talks about the magic of commonplace books, particularly in regards to Darwin, who wrote copious notes and re-read them later to compare with other notes.

So with my brain churning around questions about commonplace books, a seemingly unrelated event happens — rumors spin out of control about my beloved bookmarking site riding off into the horizon, and suddenly I (and thousands of other people) start really thinking about where to keep our treasure troves of both useful and forgotten links (I’m toying with both Diigo and Pinboard, for what it’s worth…).

But then tonight I came back to Steven Johnson, where I’m still in the middle of musings about commonplace books – especially John Locke’s system of indexing his books and the Enlightenment habit of treating text as a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, here-and-there kind of thing.  And I realized that these commonplace books proved invaluable to their writer-owners because they held everything … reading notes, letter drafts, observations, recipes … sound familiar?  How many times have you tried to devise a Thing To Hold All Thoughts for yourself?  Be it a filing system, a gadget, a piece of software, or a website — many of us are constantly waging this battle to reinvent the commonplace book in a digital age.

I realized that I don’t need a Delicious replacement.  I need a whole bloody completely different way of doing things.  What can serve as my commonplace book?  My home laptop…? My Evernote account …?  Do I go back to paper journals…?  Right now I have ideas and snippets and quotes scattered across all of these places, which means I have a hard time finding that one recipe I’m thinking of or that one short story I have another idea for. So the good news for me is – Delicious and Yahoo aren’t the problems at all. The bad news is – I need to think about a much bigger picture and do my future self a favor by making up my mind and condensing my workflows.

Speaking of the future … a bit ironic that River Song is still using good old paper as her commonplace book centuries from now, isn’t it? *


*Yes, I know it’s fiction, silly.  But I also know the writers can dream up things like sonic screwdrivers and time-eating stone angels, yet they still trust memories to paper.  I find that very, very interesting.


WARNING:  This is a nonsense brain dump. Nothing here is backed up by anything.

Thought experiment:

What would it be like to have no sense of history?  Example:  peasants of the Dark Ages did not know about the Middle Ages, and the Middle Ages peasants did not know about the Roman Empire.

What would this be like today?  If we only had the stories of our grandparents to go from, if that much?  If our historical view of the world ended with sixty years in the past, that would mean we would have no Jane Austen, no Isaac Newton, no Leonardo da Vinci.  Can we even imagine that?  A world without a past?  What would we even have today if our cultural memory only reached back fifty to sixty years… no popular culture as we know it, no literature, no science, no clue about where we’ve come from, what our family was like in previous generations, or how our ideas had developed.  A world without record-keeping, without archives.

This train of thought began while I was listening to the history of Saint Francis for the New Employee Orientation — a man born in 1182 C.E.  1182.  Over eight hundred years ago.  How do we possibly have any reliable material or sources about a poor hermit from eight hundred years ago?  How have we even built our histories of two thousand years ago?

What would our mental models be like if we had no concept of the 1920’s?  Of two world wars?  I wonder just how backward we would be right now if humans kept no histories.  In my own imagination, we would be no better or further ahead than the earliest city developments — just a collection of people selling things, people running things, and some people growing things around the edges.  In a world without any history, I imagine every day would be the same — there would never be news of new developments or inventions.  There would be no newspaper / news sharing of any kind because isn’t that a form of record-keeping?

I don’t know if I could successfully map out this thought experiment in my mind.  I see history everywhere – literally, everywhere.  Our apartment is full of it, my very job depends on it.  How would we have any universities without teaching about the past in one way or another?  It’s all history.  Everything we read, everything we study.  How old does information have to be, to be considered history?

I’m also thinking about two very different stories — Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn and Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.  In Ella Minnow Pea, a small island community has a statue of the man who came up with the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” – a phrase famous for containing each letter of the alphabet.  One day the letters on the statue start falling off and the imbecile community leaders decide this is a sign from the divine that they must stop using those letters in all communication, written and verbal.  Anyone caught using the banned letters would be beaten severely, possibly die.  In Logan’s Run, we see a dystopia where anyone over the age of 21 must die.

What if some administration somewhere started deciding that we had to completely remove certain years from our history?  We would no longer teach or learn about 1066, when the Normans invaded England and gave to English it’s lovely French twist.  We would forget all about 1865, and thus, no one would ever know what happened to that one tall President … what was his name?  Or maybe we would cut out 1933 and 1934, making the whole Second World War even more bizarre and confusing than it already is.

But this is just a crazy thought experiment.  A what if.  The scary part about what-iffing … I always have a feeling in the back of my mind that every what-if is possible.  That if I’m crazy enough to think of it, someone somewhere is crazy enough to try it.

And then that leads me to other scary thoughts … what part of history HAS been erased?  What pivotal events or people HAVE been cut out from the archives and textbooks we depend upon for our cultural memory?  There are plenty of articles and books out there about the manipulation of American textbooks alone.  Fortunately, for most of the information left out of modern day textbooks, there are other sources to get the missing pieces.  But what about history going waaayyy far back?  Reading Philip Pullman’s book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ has me second-guessing all kinds of historical moments that have become mythical for us now.

I’m very grateful to historians for keeping the curiosity alive and continuing to dig, to ask questions about the past.  But at the same time, I get overwhelmed by how much we really don’t know.


About a week ago, Mark  – of “habitually probing generalist” fame – and I tied the knot.  We were married at the courthouse here on our 2-year anniversary and then out at Lake of the Woods we exchanged vows, surrounded by a few friends and family.

The honeymoon, unfortunately, will have to wait a bit.  Four weeks from now, we’ll be in Sioux City, Iowa – our new home.  As soon as our wedding guests left town, our nice & neat little living room turned into a maze of boxes and packing materials.

I am looking forward to a shiny new job in Sioux City – I’ll be a librarian at Briar Cliff University.  In the back of  my mind, I’m also having fantasies about learning new hobbies from the simple (cooking at home!) to the much more complex (sewing! with a machine!).

Between now and then, we will see Mark’s daughter get married and I will go the ALA conference in D.C. with about 18 librarians from 4 different African countries.  The next four weeks will go by so very fast, I’m already feeling the whiplash.

5. you have to fight an urge to offer uninvited help when you overhear conversations at the coffee shop / post office / in line

4. you create spreadsheets / databases… at home

3. an ex has ever accused you of loving them for their books / bookcases / bookshelves

2. you wear corrective lenses (ooo, stereotype.  But no really, do you?)

1. when you hear a movie based on a book is coming out, you read the book anyway

If you can think of 5 more clues to librarian-tude, please share in the comments.

The good:
…this quote from a news story I read this morning:

“The rarest of all commodities in this world is love. It is that thing that we all yearn for at some level — to be simply loved unconditionally for nothing more than who we are — not what we can get, give or become.”

The bad:
It’s from the S.C. governor who admitted to having an affair with an Argentinian woman.

The ugly:
Their emails to each other have been made into a news story ( )  and what sounded like a very beautiful relationship has come to an end because of politics.  I actually feel very bad for the man.  He certainly made a lot of bad decisions but I think the worst one was choosing to go back to the career and give up the love. When he says he spent a week crying in Argentina… I kinda believe him.

In a few moments I will attempt to juggle the following spinning plates:

– start preparations for cooking mini pot pies (leave the butter out to soften) while I…

– start importing recent photos, while I…

– get logged into the various websites I need for a work project, while I…

– listen to my “unrated” playlist in iTunes and add ratings.

On your mark… get set… go!

I fall prey to the New Year’s reflection & introspection tendency as much as anyone else. It’s been a strange week of having to look backward in order to look forward.  I’m applying for jobs and trying to beef up my resume and cover letters, but doing so requires going back through my scattered paper and digital memories to assemble a list of Great Things I’ve Done To Convince You To Hire Me.

But the memories are all mixed up, so with the records of job projects there are also notes from the personal side of life.  In my paper journal for last year, I found this entry:


Monday 29 October 2007

While waiting for a bus home, I imagined that aliens had asked me what I would like to see happen in the world, what would I want them to do if they were set on doing something to change us.

I would ask the aliens for a moment which required a build-up.  For several weeks beforehand, people might find themselves planning trips, slightly adjusting their routine, changing their routes home from work.  Then one day, the Moment comes.  At this Moment, everyone in the world will turn and see beside them the person they will love all their lives, and they will recognize this person for who they are, what they will mean to each other.  All around the world, people will embrace, introduce themselves, or laugh to find they’re standing next to their spouse and had the right answer all along.

I don’t believe we each have one specific “true love” person out there.  I think each of us has the potential for lifelong happiness with a variety of people, but circumstances will only put us in contact with very few of them… hopefully at least one of them.

What the Moment would do is open our eyes and finally reveal to us something we might have already known, or something we would have never suspected and been oblivious to otherwise.

It’s the oblivious possibility that bothers me.  What if I’m walking by my person on the street and not even seeing who it is?


Now, over a year later, I would amend that wish just slightly.  I wish for a Moment in which we all have a eureka moment and realize what IT is that each of us are so gosh-darn good at, and we’ll be able to use that knack to be helpful, productive, and happy.  I think both wishes are pretty similar — they’re simply about finding some missing piece of information about ourselves.

Things I want someone to make for me:



1. a camera umbrella that attaches to the tripod mount but still allows me to attach any tripod, too

CHECK:  someone has already made this!

2. a program that gives me slick graph reports of my iTunes library, kind of like Trends in Google Reader or like this guy’s pie chart or something that combines all these programs together with easy GUI goodness.

Which artists do I have the most music from?  Which artists do I skip the most often? What are my top genres by frequency in playlists? I need to know these things.

For once, I’m satisfied with a silly online test score:

Your Score: the Wit

(57% dark, 23% spontaneous, 21% vulgar)

your humor style:
CLEAN | COMPLEX | DARK – You like things edgy, subtle, and smart. I guess that means you’re probably an intellectual, but don’t take that to mean pretentious. You realize ‘dumb’ can be witty–after all isn’t that the Simpsons’ philosophy?–but rudeness for its own sake, ‘gross-out’ humor and most other things found in a fraternity leave you totally flat.

I guess you just have a more cerebral approach than most. You have the perfect mindset for a joke writer or staff writer.

Your sense of humor takes the most thought to appreciate, but it’s also the best, in my opinion.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Jon Stewart – Woody Allen – Ricky Gervais

The 3-Variable Funny Test!

What a day of coincidences…

This morning was my first time using Awaken – a little Mac application that wakes up your computer at a specified time, begins any playlist you chose from iTunes and gradually increases the volume over whatever time you set for it. So that went off at 4:30 this morning so that I would get up and get busy on the million and one things I needed to do this morning. And it actually worked! I actually got up!

THEN – we had an earthquake! And I was awake for the whole thing! Well, I was groggy. But I woke up very quickly after that. Know what I thought it was at first? I thought it was some incredible killer Midwestern wind that was going to finally blow over the cardboard house I live in. I’ve always thought that an earthquake would mean rattling and breaking and shattering sounds, but I didn’t get any of that. To be honest, I enjoyed it and was really hoping for some aftershocks. And did I do any of the things I woke up so early for in the first place? Of course not. I was on the phone and on chat like a silly high school girl. (Gosh, Napoleon…)

And today just happens to be the day of the GIS Workshop at GSLIS, which I signed up for a couple weeks ago. And you know the earthquake will be a big topic!

Is that cool or what?

Update 4/20/08: I just learned from Writer’s Almanac that the day of the Illinois 5.2 earthquake was the anniversary of a powerful 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.  That one also happened early in the morning but I don’t think anyone slept through it.  History is a small world.

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