Archive for October 22nd, 2007

Arthur Murray Book Club

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At the Boston Public Library each month, teenagers get down to the
vigorous techno thumps of the popular arcade game Dance Dance Revolution. The Norwell Public Library treats visitors to a monthly free dinner and a movie.

Borrowers in Andover take out portable, digital audio books so tiny that they can jog through the park or shop at the mall while listening to Dan Brown’s bestseller “The Da Vinci Code.”

And in Palmer, young patrons jostle for their turn to play Guitar Hero II, a video game that has replaced the more traditional karaoke nights in some bars.

from the Boston Globe

Long a fan of libraries, the Dowbrigade is all in favor of their trying to reinvent themselves in the digital age. When we were a kid, we remember spending many a Saturday morning in the Rochester Public Library, and it wasn’t to play games. It was to flirt with Lisa Sattinger, who as a 12-year old was known to wear pantyhose and play footsie under the library tables while perusing tomes on the Italian Renaissance and radioactive isotopes.

Last we heard Lisa won a genius grant, while we are still playing footsie with fate under the table of life. And while we strongly believe that in a world awash in electronic information we need people and places dedicated to cataloging, accessing and helping people use that information more than ever, we question such crass attempts to lure in new patrons.

Furthermore, libraries do not need such extreme measures to survive.  They are not in danger of extinction. The role of the library, and the librarian, are simply evolving with the form and function of the information they contain, getting closer to the Universal Library envisioned by Jorge Luis Borges.

But promoting Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero as ways to attract youth to the libraries strikes us as misconceived and counterproductive. You might as well post a sign over the door, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Couldn’t they at least try to get them to play games with a lexical component, like “Scrabble” or “Dungeons and Dragons”? Games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero not only fail to provide opportunities for developing reading and writing skills, they don’t even involve talking, or thinking.

You might as well offer slot machines, dog fighting and topless librarians! We thought one of the goals of a library was to promote literacy, or are we hopeless old fashioned?

Watch Out, MIT

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Frankel.Ferrofluid.jpg

A photograph of a 3 cm drop of ferrofluid, a suspension of magnetite in oil.

Harvard University today unveiled a brand-new website, HarvardScience, devoted to all matters related to science at the various schools, departments, institutes, and hospitals of Harvard University.Now, although Harvard is not as scientifically astute or as storied as its geeky neighbor MIT, it has indeed been the scene of numerous momentous moments in the history of science.

In 1689, for example, Godswabber Hackenthorne, a Calvinist predicator and Isaac Newton Professor of Alchemy, scientifically established once and for all that witches’ specific gravity is not necessarily greater than that of water in all cases, as anecdotal evidence had suggested for years.

Later, in 1875, pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James discovered the mind-clarifying effects of Nitrous Oxide, and began a scientific tradition of “huffing” between classes that continues to this day.

In the 1960’s iconic neural scientist Dr. Timothy Leary blazed a trail by turning Harvard Yard into a revolutionary “acid test”, engendering a psychedelic movement which transformed the American consciousness. For a while, he was actually paying undergraduates $20 to drop acid, in the name of science.

Then, in 1976, the Dowbrigade himself participated in a seminal investigation into the effects of cocaine and mescaline applied simultaeously to the nasal membranes, one to the right side and the other to the left, affecting opposing brain hemispheres.

Somehow, we doubt that any of these achievements will appear on the HarvardScience web site. We were born too late, and now is no time to rehash the past. However, now there is a place for milestones like these which occur in the future. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your computers.