The Lit Maven

winking moonOn Saturday, September 29, 2012, northern hemisphere earthlings will be treated to a Harvest Moon, so named because farmers have traditionally used its super-bright light to harvest their crops late into the night. Corn, squash, and pumpkins among others are ready right now resulting in the Harvest Moon’s alternate name, Full Corn Moon. Rising around sunset, the moon is considered “full” when it is directly across from the sun in the sky. This will happen at 11:19 p.m. EDT and AT THE SAME TIME, will meet Uranus! A Harvest Moon (the full moon closest to the fall equinox) rises at closer intervals each night of the cycle than a “normal” full moon – approximately 30 minutes difference from night to night in New York City vs. the regular 50 minutes. 2012’s Harvest Moon is late – last year, it occurred on September 11 – but it is well within its range, September 8 to October 7. This is not a big issue, though. We enjoyed a Blue Moon in August, so our Harvest Moon can be forgiven for being tardy.

The moon, especially a full moon, has always been a source of mystery, romance and fantasy. Who has not heard of “The Man in the Moon”, Old Devil Moon or Shine On, Harvest Moon? Native Americans as great lovers of nature, have different names for every full moon in the year, such as Full Snow Moon (February) and Full Flower Moon (May). And – moon mythology? Alive and well, thank you, despite humans leaving footprints on its dusty surface. Not bad for the Earth’s only natural satellite! If you read this blog after the Harvest Moon, you still have something to look forward to. In October, there will be Hunter’s Moon, the first full moon after the Harvest Moon.

So, when you look on the harvest moon this week, think of William Blake and his sweet poem, “The moon, like a flower/ In heaven’s high bower/ With silent delight/ Sits and smiles on the night.”

I am not one to sing the praises of insects, although I have been known to gently pick up spiders found in my house and toss them out the backdoor unharmed. I like ladybugs (especially when they protect my rose bushes from aphids) and think that lightning bugs (fireflies to some) are magical. Every year, I make it a point to catch at least one lightning bug and hold it in my hand for just a moment before allowing it to creep up my fingers and, after watching it perch for a second or two, wishing it well as it flies off with tail alight. It’s one of those summer joys that adulthood diminishes. Another summer joy is the cicada. As if humans cannot feel the intense heat of a typical July day in Philadelphia, we are reminded by the buzzing of these big insects. There are over 2500 species of cicada in the world, but, since I’ve lived in Pennsylvania all my life, I know of only one – dark with transparent wings and a long-winded buzzer that adds a pleasant sound to an otherwise silent summer day. These are considered periodical cicadas since they make sudden appearances. They have the distinction of being the longest-lived insect in North America, discovered over 300 years ago. In some regions, they are called locusts, but they are unrelated to those biblical pests; instead they are related to leafhoppers and froghoppers or spittlebugs. Like these cousins, cicadas have crazy looking pointy things (proboscis) under their heads that they insert into tree bark or leaves to sample the sap. They are non-threatening to humans, but can mistake a human arm or leg as a tree limb and – watch out! – you can get inadvertently punctured. No harm done and no viciousness meant, but it may be a good idea to shake off your visitor quickly. Cicadas also have a tendency to leave their exoskeletons on trees after molting. In case you’ve never seen this, here is a time-lapse video for your enjoyment. Probably the most noticeable characteristic of a cicada, though, is its song. Let’s take a deeper listen. They’re not singing for us humans, although anyone who has ever heard a cicada song, knows it. Maybe that’s not completely true, though. One of my friends tells the story of the first summer she lived in Pennsylvania. She was born and bred in Massachusetts and never heard a cicada song. The first hot day of her Pennsylvania life, she heard the buzzing. Startled and thinking it was a dangerous situation having something to do with the electrical wires that ran along her backyard, she called the electric company. They arrived prepared to deal with the problem only to identify a cicada as the culprit. The truth is: these little bugs are singing to mate. As Professor Mike Raupp of the University of Maryland says, “It’s all about love for these guys.” Both males and females have tympals, actual parts of their anatomy (abdominals and ribs) that make a sound. It’s a true living musical instrument unlike crickets who rub their wings together (albeit another summer sound I love). Tympals are like a cat’s purring – a sound that resonates deep within the animal and is as beautifully musical as anything man-made. So, before these familiar creatures fade away with the tropical temperatures, enjoy them and know that, even though they are not singing for you, they are filling the still summer air with their own personal music!

Last November, Prancer came into our lives from Petsmart Charities, an in-store adoption program with the vision to find “a lifelong, loving home for every pet”. Prancer turned out to be the perfect kitty for our home. He was found two years before in Delaware roaming in someone’s backyard and spent a year and a half in a foster home with 19 other cats. I had not seen him before my son and I went to pick him up at our local Petsmart store. We had duly filled out all of the paperwork complete with decades long cat histories and veterinarians’ contact information. It took three weeks, but we got our kitty. I opted to adopt an adult cat; Kittens are cute, but prove to be a lot of work to train. I’ve always raised kittens, so this adoption of a mature cat was an adventure. At Petsmart, we took our first look at him through the bars of cat carrier. He is a big tabby male, white paws, white bib and a very distinctive white stripe down his nose. When we transfered him from the foster carrier to ours, I noticed his clipped ear right away. Rather than looking at it in horror, I found that it gave him a roguish, slightly off-balanced look that is adorable. I had assumed that his ear tip went missing during a fight or some other catastrophe that he survived in the Delaware wilds. Wrong! Clipped ears may mean that this cat was a member of the TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) Club. Also known as TTVAR (Trap-Test-Vaccinate-Alter-Release), this practice has advocates and opponents alike. Advocates say that neutering feral cats keeps down the stray animal population in urban areas and minimizes the risk of diseases including rabies, herpes and feline leukemia (which could effect healthy pets); Opponents say that stray cats are a natural predator of endangered species of birds and other small animals and should not be allowed to stay in the wild. In addition, they can spread parasitic diseases like ringworm and roundworm to healthy pets and humans. Since outdoor cats’ lifespans average 6-10 years, a single feral cat can potentially kill hundreds of birds, amphibians and rodents in its lifetime. Until I started reading articles and posts about TNR, I thought I was an advocate since the alternative is euthanasia. However, these feral cats more often than not lead miserable lives – out in the scorching heat of summer as well as the dismal cold of winter. Unless a cat finds a good hearted soul who will feed and care for him from afar, he may experience hunger on a regular basis. Feral cats are difficult, often impossible, to domesticate, so chances are they will never be adopted. Our Prancer is a lucky guy. He was young enough to be brought into foster care and grew into a healthy (albeit overweight) adult cat. He is friendly and lovable. He adapted well to our established cat, Todd. Todd has a story of his own. We got him from Rutgers University. A farming family set up a booth at Rutgers Days and gave a litter of kittens to college students who happened by. Although we are happy to have Todd in our midst, I wonder what happened to his littermates. There are hundreds of stray cats in and around the New Brunswick area surrounding the university. These cats are victims of pet owners not neutering their animals then giving away litters to college kids who cannot afford to care for these kittens (sure, anyone can set up a litter box and buy a few cans of food, but what about the hundreds of dollars for the vet?). The students go home for the summer, the parents don’t want the cats and so the poor animals are left behind on the street. The pros and cons of TNR will continue to be debated, but the bottom line is that humans have to take a stand. Don’t take a cat from anybody if you can’t care for it yourself; Do adopt from the ASPCA, a local shelter or a pet adoption agency. If you are lucky, you will find your own Prancer!

After all the hype (including those magazine covers featuring an endless bounty of Olympic hopefuls), the Summer Olympics are finally here.  My family treats the Olympics like a treasure – we get emotional, sad, surprised, angered and proud.  We not only cheer for our American athletes, but those from our ancestors’ birthplaces as well.  We remember countries we have visited or have read about, and we cheer them on as well.  We have thrown parties for all kinds of events – babies’ christenings, engagements, the Eagles home opener,  graduations, Halloween, and, these days, for a Phillies win – any Phillies win.  This year, the Olympics has given us a really great excuse to not only celebrate the Olympic athletes, but to celebrate countries of the world.  My husband and I decided, on a whim, to invite a bunch of people over to the house for an Olympic party.  We had 23 people – friends from various paths of our life and some family members.  I asked each person/couple to bring a food dish from a country (other than the US).  This could be a country that was visited and loved; that the ancestors lived in and loved; that has some kind of a special meaning; that you read about, researched or have wanted to visit.  We offered the American fare – hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork bbq – along with wines from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.  The Margueritas were representative of Mexico. The cheeses?  Denmark, Switzerland, France, England and Greece.  What did people bring?  Italy – a magnificent Antipasta; Greece – cucumber and feta dip to die for; Germany – potato salad that was dreamed about by all, I’m sure; France – eclair pudding; Ancient Rome – Caesar Salad (is that stretching it a bit?  Were the Romans even invited to the Ancient Greek games?  Who cares?); US – apple pie; England – blueberry muffin cake – yum!  To add some Olympic clout, I made small flags attached to toothpicks and laid them around the tables.  Not every one of the 200 countries participating in the Olympics had flags in my house, but I tried to get as close as I could.  There was a slight downside:  some people could not decide what to bring – so many countries, so much delicious food, so much interesting culture – and only one dish!  Everyone made an effort, though, and it was well worth it.  There is another Olympic weekend coming up:  instead of following the Olympics by yourself on your SmartPhone, invite some friends over and watch with them.  You will be warmed by a lot of happy faces!

DirectionsWe’ve come to the end of another Code Camp in the Philadelphia area.  Nothing is left of the 550 attendees, boosters, sponsors, students and staff that came to Penn State University, Abington Campus except lots of  pictures, memories and heads filled with new knowledge and ideas.  Featuring twelve tracks, from Architecture to Web Development, and  an Open Spaces Forum, attendees were treated to choice tidbits of technology like Windows 8, Azure, PowerShell, KnockoutJS, Razor and, of course, SharePoint. These terms were bantered around all day like pencils at an SAT exam.   Located in the Philadelphia suburbs, Penn State’s Abington campus is a woodsy oasis – a perfect retreat for a peaceful day of nerding.  And, nerding they did!  Some classrooms were filled to capacity – yes, I’m talking about YOU, Javascript and jquery!  Others, like the Lap Around Windows 8, were punctuated with gasps of wonder at viewing a beta before anyone else has seen it. The classrooms I visited as unofficial Code Camp photographer featured seasoned speakers presenting live demonstrations of code, Lares, Penn Statecode, code with attendees in rapt attention.   This is the beauty of Code Camp: learning about new stuff, manipulating the old, prettifying the ugly and phasing out the obsolete.   Want to find a job or a product?  Code Camp was the place to be!  Our 24 sponsors financed the event and spent the day meeting and greeting attendees, offering job opportunities and presenting products for enhancing productivity in virtually any industry.  Keyword for this Code Camp?  METRO, a tie-in to Windows 8.  Everything from the tall banners in the classroom hallways to the ending slides in the auditorium featured the metro feel inviting all to get ready for Microsoft’s newest bombshell.  Metro speakers touted intros, but also ways of creating applications using HTML5, jQuery, and WPF XAML.  Another popular trend?  The Cloud – plenty of buzz!  And, although Web Development is always a huge draw, the Mobile Apps track was not far behind – just don’t build apps and drive at the same time. And, let’s not forget Tools and Data (where the REAL developers hang out!), Architecture (for those who like to plan and build) and SharePoint (for practically everyone).   Throughout the day, breakfast, lunch and snacks were served in the Lares Building, an amazing stone faced structure that looks out over an idyllic pond.  The day was sunny and warm, perfect for Code Campers to stroll leisurely between Lares (food and registration) and Sutherland (sessions), Classroompassing the sculpture of the Nittany Lion on the way – breathtaking!  At the end of the day, attendees were treated to a description of Penn State’s Information Science and Technology program (IST students attended Code Camp in force, helping to direct traffic, handing out USB drives and chatting with sponsors), a heartfelt thank you by a surviving cancer patient’s father (on behalf of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, our charity) and prizes, prizes, prizes! Members from each group – boosters, students and attendees – won LogiTech headphones, Kindle Fires and XBoxes along with generous prizes from our spoGrand Prizensors.  The day was followed by a wrap-up party at The Brick House in Willow Grove with lots of smiling faces to be seen and compliments overheard.  If you attended, please complete the evaluation. This helps to improve Code Camp for next time.  Any negatives?  Yes, one being that the classrooms were too small and attendees were turned away.  Your PhillyDotNet board will work on that. Until then, join us for our monthly meetings, register early for the next Code Camp and stay tuned for more good things to come!

There’s a lot of chatter in technology circles these days about wikis and how useful they are in SharePoint 2010.  I spoke about this topic at SharePoint Saturday on February 4, 2012 at DeVry University in Fort Washington, PA.  While researching for my talk, I came to love wikis as obscure relations in the huge SharePoint family of capabilities.  My first reaction to this brave new wiki world was wondering:  why would I use a wiki?  Now, the question is:  why wouldn’t I use a wiki?  Wikis were invented by Ward Cunningham in 1995 and heralded the dawn of social media as we know it today. One of my favorite Ward  quotes is from an interview from 2003:  “Wiki is like a leaky bucket of information.  It’s losing information every day.  But more information is coming in, so the net is positive.  Even if it can lose things, wiki always has more to say than it did the day before.”  The beauty of wikis is that, in the purest form, anyone can contribute, edit and/or delete.  A wiki is simply a shared online database of linked pages designed to be used quickly and easily (hence the name Wiki from the Hawaiian Wiki Wiki meaning quick) and is a place to create, share, list, organize, solve, collaborate and establish. It is a crucial element of Knowledge Management in that it allows people to take thoughts and ideas out of their heads and put them in a tangible form so that others can view and comment on them. The best example of a wiki and something I use almost every day is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is great because it is written by the people for the people in the people’s language so that it is easily understood.  Changes can be tracked and viewed.  If incorrect or malicious information is written, it will most likely be removed promptly and replaced by correct information.   There are many, many wiki examples out there – just Bing or Google “wiki examples”.  I read Wikis for Dummies to get a good idea of what this crazy concept is all about.  So, what does this mean in the SharePoint 2010 world?  The concept of a wiki being a shared online database of pages that anyone can edit fits quite nicely into the SharePoint philosophy of collaboration.

 There are two ways to use wikis within SharePoint:  1) within a Team Site and 2) as an Enterprise Wiki Site.  What are the differences and how can each of these be used for the good of the project or of the corporation in which you are working?  Wikis can be used within a Team Site to encourage and foster ideas.  Again, the emphasis is more knowledge-based than content-based.  Unless a Project Manager is a control freak and views himself as the ultimate Supreme Being of a Project, a team can use wikis quite successfully.  A PM sets up the wiki and allows his team members to go at it – it’s a bit structured and features a one-to-many focus, that is, one person will add an idea or start a brainstorm and others contribute to it or start new ones, but the wiki only has one topic – the project at hand or the team involved with the site. Use it for brainstorming, design collaborating, training, data gathering, request tracking and encyclopedia building.  For example, the librarians at Wyeth in Content Services created a manual for policies and procedures that covered everything from ordering documents to handling reference requests to training colleagues on resources to cataloging electronic and hard copy books and journals.  At first, the manual was printed out and kept in binders – basically, 200 pages of verbage. If someone changed something, a new manual would have to be printed out.  The end result (other than wasting paper) was that changes were made infrequently and the manual was continuously out of date.  When we switched to a wiki, changes could be made quickly (wiki wiki!) and [almost] effortlessly. If someone made a mistake or entered incorrect information, it was easy for the rest of us to track her down like wild dogs and make her pay for her sins.  This resulted in our manual becoming chock-full of correct and current information all the time.  Since we added a table of contents, we could link to all the parts of the wiki and find items very easily.  This was so successful that other departments copied our efforts and their policies and procedures were up-to-date and usable, too. 

Wikis can be adapted on the corporate level as well within the guise of Enterprise Wiki Sites.  This means that the entire site is a wiki – capable of holding large quantities of information in various forms. It stands alone and informs employees about corporate activities, benefits and services, thus cutting down on need for new employee training sessions that can last for several days.  Everyone in the corporation can edit the content within.  Sound scary?  Sure it does, which means careful consideration must be given before this wiki form is used.  The benefits of an Enterprise Wiki Site is that the focus is many-to-many, meaning that every department/business unit within the enterprise can have its own say; it is truly collaborative – people can add, edit and delete, but also comment and share; and there is the page rating capability.  False information is kept in check through tracking.  If anyone changes information either innocently or maliciously, that person is known and becomes accountable. 

Whether you are using wikis within a team site or if you have an Enterprise Wiki Site, you can take advantage of versioning control – versions are carefully tracked and can be easily viewed by all.  As with other SharePoint capabilities, wikis are fully searchable. 

What are Wiki Best Bets?  DO respect everybody; get your content up on the wiki and show people how to use it and edit it; add navigation; monitor and repair incorrect information quickly; write with a neutral point of view, cite references if appropriate.  DON’T set too many rules; write anything inappropriate or forget to link.  So, there you have it – wiki away and have fun!

Back in 2003, a newspaper editor, author and blogger named Robyn Jackson came up with some scary factoids about American reading habits.  She used statistics from a website, www.parapub.com and painted a very dour picture.  In a nutshell, self-publisher Dan Poynter of Para Publishing noted that:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.
  • 70% of books published do not earn back their advance.
  • 70% percent of the books published do not make a profit.

Dan wrote a blog in 2008, however, that book industry profits were much higher than first thought.  Hmmm…

In 2007, a CBS News article, “Americans Reading a Lot Less” based on a 99-page study by the National Endowment of the Arts, noted that, while 54% of all 9 year olds read every day for fun, 72% of high school students are deficient in reading.  Watching television has taken reading to war and has won:  Of Americans aged 15-24, 2 hours a day is spent on television vs. 7 minutes on reading. Reading scores, even for the higher educated (college and above) have declined.  The article rambles on about how dire things are and how dumb Americans are compared to people of other countries.  Even a slight rise in book sales in 2006 did not make book industry pessimists happy.  It was blamed on the Harry Potter phenomenon – oh, there was another little bump earlier in 2005. I think that was the Twilight series.  Or, vice versa.  Doesn’t matter: there was a bump!

I am sure that the good people at Turn Off Your TV are saying that this is all due to television watching.  And, some of it is.  We watch too much television in our civilization and sometimes it drives me crazy.  But, there are other factors as well.

Very simply, life is too chaotic.  There is too much to do and we are bombarded day and night by information.  Those little fiber optic things are whizzing by us at amazing speed and we are grabbing them by the handful.  That said, I did some more digging for other answers. People are still reading – Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing extremely well, thank you, but how are people reading if the Book Industry is standing at the door of the poorhouse?

Ebooks!  Alison Flood in The Guardian, (article entitled “eBooks pass another milestone”), notes that “America’s ebooks enjoyed a 202.3% growth in sales in February [2011] compared with the same month the previous year…Print books fared much worse by contrast, with the combined category of adult hardback and paperback books falling 34.4% to $156.8m in February. The children and young adult category of print books fell 16.1% to $58.5m.” Amazon announced in January 2011 that Kindle Books outsold traditional paperback books for the first time in history this past year. As PC World noted, is this due in part to holiday sales in December?  Who knows?   Industry gurus predict that by 2015, digital books will comprise 50% of the entire book market and will plateau. (Does this mean that no more ebook readers will be sold or that those of us who have electronic book readers will stop buying books for them?)

I am finding comfort in numbers these days.  When I got my Kindle three years ago now, I was alone – the only one in my family, the only one in my department at work, the only one in my book club, the only one on the beach, in a train, on a plane to have one.  Now, they’re everywhere along with Nooks, Sony Whatever-They-Are-Called and others Who Shall Not Be Named.

We are a digital family.  We cancelled our Philadelphia Inquirer print subscription more than five years ago and read news online.  We also still look at the news on television, but wading through fires, robberies, murders and political upheaval gets a bit depressing.  Anything I want to know I a) go online and read about it; b) order and receive a book on my Kindle in seconds; c) ask a friend and/or 4) listen to the radio or look at television.  I don’t, sorry Print Publishing Industry, buy a newspaper.  The Philadelphia Inquirer was kind enough, for the past two Sundays, to leave a hugely obese newspaper at the end of the driveway.  Attached to the protective plastic bag was a little note that read, “Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer. You can have this paper delivered to your door every week, just subscribe.”  I thought, “Why should I pay for a print newspaper when I can get news for free on my computer (well, not exactly, I still have to pay for a provider!)?”  Print newspapers are great, though, for lining the floor underneath kitty litter boxes and throwing into the recycle bins for RecycleBank points.  Face it, Publishing Industry, you are going obsolete like typewriters.

Does it really matter how we read, though, if we are reading?  There are lots of forums dedicated to the battle between ebook readers and traditional book readers.  What’s great about living in 2011 is that we have a choice.  We can read anyway we want – we can even store audio books on our MP3 players and listen during our commutes or to drown out spousal ravings.

Let’s go back to kids not reading.  Here’s my reason for that:  Teachers still require students to read Dickens and Shakespeare.  All well and good, but has it ever occurred to anyone in the National Education Association to suggest that students read fun, contemporary stuff?  I am a Dickens fan and have read A Tale of Two Cities and Our Mutual Friend this past year.  I enjoyed every word – and there are a lot of them!  But, to expect a 16 year old to enthusiastically chomp through Great Expectations and spew out all kinds of interesting factoids about 19th century life in London is nonsense.  Has anyone in the educational system had the idea that the Disney Channel, MTV and ridiculous Jack Black movies are more appealing to teenagers than 19th century writers? And, don’t get me started on  Beowulf  Ugghhh!

What‘s the bottom line?  Get teachers to require interesting, contemporary reading.  Be an example to your kids: If they see you reading (with or without a cat on your lap), they will read.  Buy a Kindle and take 12 books with you on vacation in your handbag or backpack without the weight. Read to your little ones so they may form good reading habits – make a scheduled appointment if you have to, just do it!  Enroll your kids in your local township’s summer reading program.  Create a book club with 12 of your favorite buddies (even “non-readers” will enjoy the camaraderie and food).  If you insist upon reading print books, at least buy them at a discount by looking at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Albris seller websites – like mine!  Go the public library and discover books by browsing through the shelves.  The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter whether you read a book via paperback or Kindle, just read!