The Wild Robot

An uncharacteristic thing has happened to this librarian lately: I haven’t felt much like reading. Of all the strange happenings in our world right now during this COVID-19 pandemic, this was yet another unexpected experience. I have no shortage of reading material. I have a reliable device I can use to download a variety of digital books. This seems like the perfect time to work my way through that looming stack of print books on my table waiting to be read.

And yet, my heart is just not in it. I sit down for about five minutes and then I am distracted and put it down and go do something else.

There has been one exception, however. I happened to be in the middle of reading The Wild Robot by Peter Brown with one of my children before bedtime each night before all this began. The chapters are short, and at one chapter a night, it was taking us a while to work our way through this 279-page book about a robot stranded on an island. But each night I read it aloud, the Wild Robot and its island populated by many animals and no humans endeared itself to me more and more.

You might think that reading a book with no humans in it during a pandemic is a lonely choice in an already lonely situation. Or perhaps on the contrary, you think it is a logical and fitting choice to read about being stranded on an island when it often feels exactly like that as we are isolated in our homes. I think there was something reflective about this mechanical protagonist who gradually (though paradoxically) becomes more humane through time and experience that captured my interest and my heart. Human interaction right now -when it does happen- is less warm and personal, more technological. Somehow the mirror image of a technological being becoming more warm and personal through challenging life experiences was a sort of balm to my woes.

Brown’s writing made reading effortless for me once again. His animal characters have unique personalities. The events that happen on his remote island, both tragic and joyful, are magically relatable. I have always been a fan of anthropomorphism. I am even more so now.

I wish I could point you to a digital version of this title that you can download immediately for free through the library, but our library currently only owns this in print. If you would like to request it for purchase in digital format, you can log into your library account using either the Libby or Overdrive apps and request this title. Be aware that it ends on a cliffhanger and you will probably want to read its sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes.

In the meantime, here are some similar books with anthropomorphic characters available digitally when you log into Overdrive with your Davenport Public Library account that you may enjoy:

Question for You : Do You Still Use Traditional Travel Guides?

In this day and age, with technology so ubiquitous and most of us carrying a tiny super computer around in our pocket, is there still the need for paper editions of travel guides? Do you still check out the latest edition of Fodor’s or Rick Steve’s guide books for recommendations on hotels or tips for avoiding long lines?

There’s no doubt that technology has changed the way we gather information, including planning for a trip. GPS guides us, GoogleMaps shows us locations and nearbys, blogs and Instagram are full of inspiration and tips and pretty pictures, every tourist board and Chamber of Commerce has a website promoting their location and there are multiple apps for nearly every city, museum or activity. Why would you still need a more traditional paper guide?

Technology offers a lot of pros. It has the ability to update information quickly and frequently (although, just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s accurate – it pays to do your research!) I find Instagram a great source of reality by following people who live in the city/locations I’m interested in (Paris, London and Amsterdam are my current favorites) Unlike tourist boards who show only perfect pictures of amazing scenes, the people I follow show the less-than-perfect (although, who are we kidding, those cities are still pretty awesome!) – bad weather days, off-the-beaten-track sights, ordinary people, quiet details. They’ll often post about coffee shops or cafes that aren’t in the guidebooks, or tiny shops worth searching for, or street art and local events. I find a lot of creative photography inspiration in these posts and they help give me ideas on what to look for when visiting.

That said, I still like to carry a paper map, partly because I love just looking at them and studying them and partly because they give you an overview of the area – it helps me to get a grasp of the unique geography of where I’m at. And I still look at paper travel guides (my favorite are Rick Steves; they have never steered me wrong) – I do a lot of flipping back and forth through the book as I compare areas of the city/country and what’s available from eating to sleeping to transportation. Rick Steves (and most of the other travel guide companies) also has an active online presence; I take advantage of both. I think, for me, the question can be answered the same as it can be for ebooks vs paper – there’s room for both.

Now, what about you – do you still use paper travel guides? Or have you gone completely online?

Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue

Journalist David Pogue has written a series of books sharing some tips and tricks to make life easier.  I started with the ironically titled Pogue’s Basics. Life : Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Day.   Some critics say they already know this stuff. Good for those geniuses. As for the rest of us, there are some very useful things to pick up in Pogue’s books.

For instance: you can tell whether your upcoming exit from the interstate will be on the left or the right by the placement of the exit number on the sign. If exit is on the left, the little sign displaying the exit number will be on the top left. If exit is on the right – you guessed it- the little exit number sign will be on the right. There is a helpful picture in the book that best explains this. This knowledge helped me navigate with aplomb on a recent trip to Chicago.

Another useful tidbit I took from it was the tip on placing my vehicle’s key fob up against my neck fat when attempting to unlock it from across the parking lot. It will unlock from a greater distance, and can be useful during those times when you forgot exactly where you parked. Pogue says this technique works because the fluids in the head act as a great conductor. I say it’s nice to know my neck fat is good for something.

Pogue’s suggestion for getting a lost dog back: place a toy and/or blanket with the scent of home on it outdoors, near where the pet was last seen. Leave it there for 24 hours. The pet will most likely follow his or her nose back toward it. I hope you never need this particular piece of information.

There are lots more suggestions that you’ll just have to check the book out to learn. If you like this book, you might also like Pogue’s Basics. Tech: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life. It will tell you, among other things, what to do when your cell phone falls into the toilet. You can thank me for this recommendation later. Preferably not with a handshake.

The Thing Explainer : Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe

thing explainerThe Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe is an unusual book. I have never seen one quite like it. Its full-page diagrams contain details of complex things using only the most common 1000 words (which are listed alphabetically at the back of the book.) Topics range from the human torso (“bags of stuff inside you”), to a helicopter (“sky boat with turning wings”),  oil rigs (“stuff in Earth we can burn”), and washing machines (“boxes that make stuff smell better”), to name just a few. It is hilarious and educational at the same time.

Munroe’s elevator is a “lifting room.” He doesn’t neglect to inform that riding one while facing the back wall is likely to make others think you are strange. He still manages to provide a thorough explanation of its mechanical workings.

I suppose some parts of the book could be construed as bringing too much irreverence to what are usually regarded as important and serious topics. For instance, according to Munroe, nuclear bombs are “machines for burning cities.” If you have a certain sense of humor and are even a little bit interested in science, however, you are more likely to find this fresh, almost child-like approach endearing.

The book’s temporary residence on our kitchen table at home sparked some delightful conversations among all ages.

Randall Munroe is the author responsible for the xkcd webcomic.

Citizenfour

citizenfourI have a guilty secret to share. Sometimes I go weeks without paying attention to the news, only checking the surface for sports scores or when a major event happens that is all over social media. As a result, when I’m busy or stressed, I can have no idea what is happening in the world outside my personal bubble. My news-watching habit was pointed out to me when I checked out the movie, Citizenfour, to watch one day.

The person on the cover didn’t look familiar, but the plot sounded promising: a behind-the-scenes look into privacy invasions by the NSA. I started watching and wondered continuously who this “Citizenfour” character was, a person conversing with director Laura Poitras and later with journalist Glenn Greenwald through incredibly encrypted and secure channels, one who was telling them that the secrets they had to share would blow the lid off of a huge governmental conspiracy.

Even when Poitras and Greendwald flew to Hong Kong to meet Citizenfour at the hotel room where he had been camping out, I still had no idea who he was, but the topic was fascinating. Hundreds upon thousands of classified documents that he had taken from his contracting job with the NSA that highlighted evidence of mass numbers of both indiscriminate and illegal privacy invasions that the NSA had perpetuated over many years. That tickled my brain. Things were starting to sound familiar. I then looked closer at the face on the screen. Edward Snowden! That’s what this was about.

Citizenfour follows Snowden’s decision to hand over thousands of classified documents that he gathered while being on loan to the NSA about many different secret programs and projects that the NSA and other governmental organizations had put together, as well as some information about the programs that other countries were a part of, all under the guise of surveillance after the tragedies of September 11th. What I found to be interesting about this documentary was that Snowden wanted the focus to be on the information contained within the classified documents and less on the person that was leaking them to the press, himself. The interactions between Snowden, Poitras, and the journalists that he came in contact with while in Hong Kong highlight the varying degrees of secrecy, intelligence gathering, and electronic surveillance that Snowden was seeking to expose to the world. Unplugging the hotel phone, hiding under a sheet to type in his password, talking through notes passed back and forth may seem to a passing person like signs of paranoia, but as Snowden highlights throughout this documentary, the government is capable of tapping into anything and everything, whether we choose to believe it or not.


If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out the materials below!

after snowdenno place to hide1971odyssey of an eavesdropperthe shadow factory

Frugal Librarian #40: 12oz of wi-fi

There are a number of variables that can screw up the wi-fi transmission in your house: overall distance, changes between levels, idiosyncrasies between hardware manufacturers, or maddening and unpredictable interference in the walls.  If your supposedly “plug-and-play” router is more like hours of “trial and-error” maybe this DIY extender from Discovery Channel is just the ticket.  What else are you going to do, use the internet in one set location like it was 2001?

We can only assume the parabolic setup is the same as the increased strength sound is given by the folks on the NFL sidelines holding parabolic dishes.

I’d add onto the list of ingredients a little masking tape to blunt the edge of the razor sharp aluminum, because, well, you’ve got enough problems with wireless without an emergency room trip, right?

NOTE: We don’t know if this works, it just looked interesting.  Please consider these tips, which include a tinfoil parabola.

Check out library eBooks on your Kindle!

It is finally here – our library’s eBooks are now available for Kindle users through WILBOR! It’s really easy to use- just log onto Wilbor with your Davenport Public Library card and start searching for eBooks.  Simply choose the Kindle version of the book you would like and after you complete the checkout process you will be transferred straight to Amazon.  Log in to your Amazon account, choose where you would like the book delivered and the next time you connect to a wi-fi network – voilà –  your eBook will be waiting for you.

For additional information, visit the WILBOR site for tips, tutorials and frequently asked questions or please contact the Reference Department at the Davenport Public Library.