An Open Letter to My Public Library

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Dear Librarians,

I’d like to thank you for the work you’ve done putting the library catalog online. The ability to reserve books online (and then renew them online when I don’t finish them on time) has been invaluable. It has dramatically increased my use of the library. Now when I need a book I routinely check the library first rather than ordering it from Amazon. It’s cheaper, the book gets to me faster; and when I’m done, the book no longer takes up space in my apartment. Excellent! Kudos all around.

And now you have eBooks so I don’t even have to go to the library to pick up my reservations! Regrettably the selection of eBooks is somewhat thinner and more oversubscribed; and yes, I know this is partially the publishers’ fault. Still, for the books that are available, it’s wonderful knowing that even the thickest physics text or mathematical tome isn’t going to weigh more than a small eReader or tablet. It makes reviewing calculus on the subway so much more practical.

I’d like to make a friendly suggestion for ramping this up a notch, making the library even more useful, expanding the collection, and increasing monetary donations to the library at the same time. Your circulating collection is large, probably one of the largest in the country, and certainly the largest one I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. Probably 90% of the time the book I’m looking for is available at one of your branches, and you helpfully bring it from wherever it is to my local library where I can pick it up off the reserve shelf. But there’s still that 10% of the time when you happen not to have the book I’m looking for. (And for eBooks that’s more like 90% of the time.) Sometimes that’s because it’s a relatively obscure technical book; but sometimes it just looks like a fluke. For instance, it’s the second book in a trilogy for which you have the first and the third, but somehow missed the middle (or it went missing). Or it’s a novel by an author, most of whose works you already have. It’s something that clearly fits in your collection but just doesn’t happen to be there yet. So off I surf to Amazon where I buy a book I only really want to read once, and that then is going to sit on my shelf untouched for years.

Here’s my idea: I’d rather buy the book for the library and than buy it for myself.

Google for Christmas

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

This morning I’m sitting at the computer pruning my address book for Christmas cards. (Yes. I’m running late.) As usual I discover a few incomplete addresses. Missing zip codes are especially common. I know there’s a zip code lookup finder on the USPS web site somewhere, but rather than Googling for it on a whim I paste an address into the Firefox location bar.


Bam! Up pops the complete address including zip code! Five or six more and I’m done. Easiest data cleaning I’ve ever done, and maybe a few more people can get their cards before New Years.

Happy 30th Birthday Internet!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

The Internet is 30 today. Exactly 30 years ago today on November 22, 1977 the first three networks were connected to become the Internet. These three were:

  • ARPAnet
  • A lossy packet radio network (the lossiness of this network greatly influenced the design of TCP/IP)
  • The Atlantic Packet Satellite Network (a.k.a. SATNET)

There were computer networks before this, but this was the first network of networks that deliberately attempted to connect heterogeneous systems without regard for platform. It was the thing which grew into today’s Internet. Except for one brief discontinuity in 1983 when the entire Internet was turned off to switch over to TCP/IP, there’s a continuous progression from then to now.