Virtual Reality, Virtual Worlds

What's going on in the world of virtual worlds?

Snow Crash (1992) -- Okay, follow this: Facebook recently bought Occulus VR -- the Federal Trade Commission said OK -- because of course we all want to live in the Occulus Rift. OVR's CEO even mentioned the Metaverse, which is where things get done in Neal Stephenson's amazing book, Snow Crash.  

Snow Crash is credited by some to be the model for Second Life, introduced in 2003, where users' avatars can create their own islands or buildings or whatever else, and interact with everything and everybody. (There are plenty of other virtual worlds, too, and yes, there's a journal about them).

Reamde (2011) -- Neal Stephenson again. I'm only about 200 pages in (it's 900+), but the world of T'Rain seems to have an infrastructure that's far more solid and detailed than most others. I can't wait to get back to it. Yes, we have it, so dive in.

Disclosure (1994) -- Written by Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame, this story of corporate back-stabbing describes a pretty cool virtual world for its time. And the movie (Michael Douglas, Demi Moore) is incredibly fun.  Get the book through our new Borrow Direct service.

Ready Player One (2011) -- Our world is a broken-down, overpopulated mess, but if you have a computer, you can go to OASIS, a fantastic virtual existence. Now the genius billionaire who created OASIS is dead, and if you can solve the puzzles that he left, it can all be yours. Warning!! This is going to become a movie so read it as soon as you can! Get the book through our new Borrow Direct service.)

If you put the phrase “virtual worlds” into the catalog as a TITLE, you get more than 200 results. But you can explore the topic more precisely by choosing any of the interesting related subject headings:

Which virtual world (in any medium) would you choose to move into and become a citizen?

Mythbusters II: Librarians & Holiday Breaks

readingonbeachWe’ve already dispelled the myth about Gilman’s will dictating the height of campus buildings and the one about the library sinking under the weight of all our books. Time to dash another popular belief: that librarians get the same breaks as our students…not so! Sure, we receive the standard holidays, but otherwise some might argue that winter is even busier than the academic year as we scramble to tie up loose ends and prepare for the spring semester.

Here is just a smattering of the projects your librarians are working on this January:

  • Teaching classes – Our librarians lead instructional workshops throughout the spring and fall semesters, and Intersession is no different. Jennifer Darragh, is currently teaching “Baltimore by the Numbers,” Yunshan Ye is heading "Library Research and Research/Grant Proposal Writing" and Heidi Herr is leading a class on Special Collections materials called "Cheap and Not too Tawdry." We're already thinking ahead to spring semester as well, reaching out to faculty to plan library instruction sessions and tailored research help at point-of-need.
  • Updating online information – Our popular LibGuides platform, which delivers subject-specific resources and guidance on everything from Africana Studies to the Zotero citation management tool, is due for a system upgrade. Liaisons are busy working behind-the-scenes to update content and deliver the information you need when we launch version 2.0 later this month. Same great service, shiny new interface!
  • Making decisions on books – Librarians purchase books on behalf of their students and faculty all year ‘round. We also spend a great deal of time curating the collections housed in the building to ensure you have the resources you need in the places you expect. Sometimes we have to shift things around to make room for new acquisitions. For example, our Reference Wall on M-level is a collection of our most popular general reference books, and we’re currently bursting at the seams. We’ll spend this break flagging some of the older or underutilized materials and move those to make room for those volumes you need at your fingertips.
  • Planning spring semester services – Say that three times fast! The Information Desk on M-level of the Eisenhower Library is staffed by graduate students 70 hours per week. Librarians too are at your beck and call, both at the Reference Office and through our virtual Ask a Librarian portal. As you can imagine, keeping all of these services running smoothly requires advanced planning and coordination!
  • And yes, even spring cleaning – Let me dispel one other myth: our jobs aren’t all glitz and glamour! Every January, library staff volunteer to spend a day deep-cleaning the illustrious Peabody Library so that you can enjoy the space dust-free. If you’ve never been, listen to the JHU Class of 2013 and add it to your bucket list! It’s easy to catch the JHMI shuttle to the historic Mt. Vernon neighborhood.

We’re happy to entertain other myths, rumors and word-on-the-streets, so send them our way. And if you’re on break, enjoy the time off. We have one heck of a spring semester planned for you! Happy 2015!

Sci Fi News – New Books and Movies

It's so important to keep up on the science fiction news, especially when you've made it to Winter Break.

William Gibson, the author of Pattern Recognition and The Difference Engine, has a new book out entitled The Peripheral. It involves time travel, and rented bodies called "peripherals." Um, it's sort of hard to describe (no surprise when discussing Gibson); here is author Cory Doctorow's review on BoingBoing. We have quite a few of Gibson’s books; please help yourself.

In other science fiction news:

  • Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel), written this year and short-listed for the 2014 National Book Award, is a dystopia set after a pandemic. Twenty years after the Georgian Flu wipes out most of humanity, a troupe of actors and musicians travels what remains of America, giving shows and surviving.
  • And speaking of pandemics, you may already have heard that Stephen King’s The Stand, written in 1978, will be divided into four movies. The book has about 823 pages, which comes to about 205 pages per movie -- this is a risk, but certainly better than stretching the 317-page The Hobbit into three (not very good, IMHO) movies, at 105 pages per movie.

Okay, this has nothing to do with science fiction but it does involve libraries and how awesome they are: treat yourself to the hilarious video of the Nashville Public Library staff singing to All About That Bass.

Library Tourism

At some point, we all travel and explore new places. While you're globe-trotting, don't forget to visit libraries! Seriously, some libraries are tourist attractions and well-worth a visit. Even the New York Times has recognized this insider's tip!

You could start close to home, in Washington DC, at the Library of Congress. The Jefferson Building, near the Capitol, is considered by many to be the most beautiful building in the city. See the Gutenberg Bible! See Thomas Jefferson's library! they always have a featured collection on display. And it has a great gift shop!

Further afield, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York has a fabulous exhibit space, beautiful architecture, J.P. Morgan's private library, and a great gift shop. This library/museum also always features exhibits from its treasures.

Going west? The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA has art collections and botanical gardens in addition to the library. It's known for a splendid collection of the history of science, among other things. It also hosts exhibits, and has a great gift shop.

Going abroad? The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is a fabulous space to visit, with exhibits, great collections, a spectacular view, and - a gift shop! The British Library in London is in relatively new digs. And the national library in Florence, Italy - Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze - awaits you too. In Madrid, the Biblioteca Nacional is a destination. You could even visit the National Library of China in Beijing, Russia in St. Petersburg!

Sure, all these libraries have great websites, and their catalogs are online. But it's not just about the books (although they have fantastic collections). Experience the space, the architecture, the exhibits, and, well, the great gift shops!

A Celebration of New Year’s Celebrations

When the crowds gather at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on the evening of December 31, and the live music begins playing, and the fireworks bring the night sky to vivid life, we’ll be participating in one of the most longstanding rituals that mankind has yet devised: celebrating the arrival of another new year. In observing that most nations follow the Gregorian calendar, Wikipedia calls the New Year’s celebration “the closest thing to being the world's only truly global public holiday.” Yet that assumption of unity is belied by the rich variety of ways in which the New Year is celebrated around the world.

Many cultural and religious traditions, relying on the lunisolar calendar instead of the Gregorian variety, choose to celebrate their new year on other dates and in other waysChinese New Year is perhaps the best known of these alternative folkways, due to its colorful public celebrations infused with an aura of ancient ritual and belief. And there’s no better way to immerse yourself in this fifteen-day-long holiday than to view the video First Moon, a rich, lively illustration of how the new year is celebrated by the world’s most populous nation. It’s available in VHS format from the Sheridan Libraries; but if you don’t have a VCR, why not view First Moon on the spot in the MSEL AV Center on A-level?

Another lunisolar new year’s celebration with an age-old lineage is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (literally, “head of the year”). A central aspect of this holiday is the re-rolling of the Torah scroll (the first five books of the Old Testament) back to its beginning to recommence a year-long reading of its contents. If you'd like to see some of the library's old and rare copies of the Old Testament in the Hebrew language, pay a visit to our Special Collections Department. A shofar, or traditional ram’s horn trumpet, is also blown during the celebration. Unlike the more public Chinese New Year celebration, the Jewish New Year is focused on the place of worship and the home, where festive holiday meals often play a central role.

In Islam, the New Year is also part of that religion’s lunar-based liturgical calendar. The Islamic calendar, or Hijri, dates from the year in which the prophet Mohammed made his famous journey from Mecca to Medina. In contrast to many other new year’s celebrations, Muslims are likely to observe the new year of the Muslim calendar in quiet contemplation and remembrance. If you’d like to become more familiar with the life of the prophet, use Catalyst to put a request on the library’s copy of the DVD “The Message (Al-Risalah).”

These are just a few examples of the celebratory genius of the human spirit on display as one year ends and another begins. Indeed, one website dedicated to New Year’s traditions provides informative summaries of 62 different national, ethnic, and religious versions of the event.

So why do we make such a big deal about this arbitrarily-defined day? It’s because the New Year—wherever, whenever, and however its arrival is observed--infuses us with a sense of new possibilities and new beginnings, the chance to start over with a clean slate. It reminds us that we live in a universe of repeating cycles and continual renewal, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Janus-like, it fills us with a deeply-felt admixture of nostalgia and hope.

Have a happy and hopeful New Year!

Christmas Celebrations

Every December, the Homewood Museum is decorated by the Homeland Garden Club “in the spirit of” Christmas at the turn of the 19th century. Arrangements of magnolia leaves, evergreen boughs, and holly decorate tables, window sills, and fireplace mantles. People would decorate their window panes with boxwood sprigs; and mistletoe was hung around the house. The phrase “in the spirit of” is used for two reasons. First, colorful flowers such as roses and carnations as used by the garden club would not have been available, and poinsettias were not introduced into the country until 1828. Secondly Homewood, a summer house, was shuttered up every winter, and owners Charles Carroll Jr. and Harriet Chew Carroll would be in their Baltimore townhome. In all likelihood they would have celebrated Christmas in an English/Southern fashion, attending parties and dances, though little is known as to how the family actually celebrated the holiday.

During the Federal Period (1789 -1830), Christmas was not universally kept. In the book Christmas in America, Penne Restad quotes Elizabeth Drinker who divided Philadelphians into three categories. “There were Quakers, who make no more account of it than another day, those who were religious, and the rest who spend it in riot and dissipation." In many places, especially large cities, Christmas was a rowdy affair complete with wassailers and mummers who would visit and enter the homes of the wealthy to extract drink and money. Other activities included card playing, horse racing, nine-pins, and cock fighting. There was little gift giving, and when it was done it was for the children who were given Christmas boxes that would hold small gifts. If adults did exchange presents, it was often a potted plant or perhaps a gift book.

In the South, from Baltimore to Georgia, Christmas celebrations were more similar than they were in the Northern states. On Christmas Day, stores, and banks were closed. The harvests were in, animals were slaughtered for meat, and the beer and wine was ready to drink. There would be a yule log burning and lots of special foods to eat. Throughout the South, the shooting of guns at dawn announced Christmas Day. Some owners allowed their slaves to fire guns or use explosives to announce the day. At plantations and in Southern cities, there were parties, dinners, and dances to celebrate the season.

In addition, the celebration of Twelfth Night was popular most often in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. The Carrolls observed the day; in 1812 Louisa Carroll wrote in her copy book that the family had attended a Twelfth Night party. For many couples, it was the opportune time to marry, one famous couple being George and Martha Washington.

Slave owners varied in how they allowed their slaves to celebrate Christmas -- from no celebration to the giving of wine, food, and time to prepare and enjoy their own festivities which included music and dancing. Gifts to slaves varied from small items to money. At Hampton Mansion, the Ridgleys gave slave children Christmas gifts which Eliza Ridgley recorded from 1832 -1850. To see the names of slave children and their gifts, scroll to page eleven of this PDF.

As times changed so did Christmas celebrations, but that is material for another blog post.

Fairy Tales for Christmas Holidays

As a young girl growing up in Indonesia, I remember that Christmas was one of my most favorite times of the year. My parents bought us a small Christmas tree that my siblings and I decorated. Every evening, during the month of December, my mother would read to us fairy tales from the story books that we borrowed from our school and local libraries. After sunset, we would light small candles in our living room and turn on the Christmas lights on the decorated tree to set a magical ambience for the fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm were among the authors whose works we read the most.

If you feel like taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting some fairy tales from your childhood, this is a great time to do it! A quick subject heading search in our library catalog displays several fairy tales from different countries such as AfricaDenmark, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and Norway. Or if you prefer to read only Christmas stories, they are available too. You can also search for works by Hans Christian Andersen, Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm using our library catalog.

Interested in seeing some rare editions of the fairy tales? You can visit both the John Work Garrett Library and the George Peabody Library.  You can do subject keyword searches for “fairy tales” limiting each to the Garrett holdings and the Peabody holdings.

As always for your viewing pleasure, several cartoons of the famous fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid are available. Recently, when I was searching for the Sing Sweet Nightingale song from the famous Cinderella cartoon, I was pleasantly surprised to find it several languages – Italian, Russian, Norwegian, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Swedish, and many more.

Apart from rare books in our libraries’ collection, there are also several freely available online resources. For example, the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Children’s Literature has a good collection of fairy tales and Christmas stories. Another academic library that has a good digital collection of fairy tales is the University of Southern Mississippi Libraries. If you would like to know about other resources, take a look at the SurLaLune Fairy Tales, the Project Gutenberg, and the Children’s Books Online.

Last but not least, you may also be interested in viewing images from Vintage Fairy Tale and Fairy Illustration Before 1970 group uploaded by Flickr members. This set has an excellent collection of illustrations. Now, that you are in the mood to read some fairy tales, I recommend that you also check out the Best Christmas Of All, and Joy to the World from Disney’s Very Merry Christmas songs.

Wishing You Happy Holidays and a Wonderful New Year!

Season’s Readings, Guilty Pleasures (and Gift Ideas)

Why do I love these lists so much? Every December, I look forward to the various year-end lists of best books put out by newspapers and other periodicals. True, they are a great place to find something to read, and to get gift ideas for that difficult person on your list. But there's something else that makes them irresistible to me. Maybe it's just that I love checking off items on a list, and seeing books I've read over the past year appear on the lists makes me feel like a schoolgirl again, getting invisible brownie points from an invisible teacher.

Here's an unusual twist: the New York Times this year asked writers what was the best book they read, and it could be from ANY time period. Much harder though to check off books from this list!

Peruse all these lists to see what you might want to read, now that all those papers are (almost?) finished, and what you might buy for your Mom or brother, your roommate or best friend, for Christmas or Hannukah or whatever end-of-the-year festival you celebrate. Festivus anyone?

Okay, I can't resist with such a captive audience. The best book I read in 2014? (Not FROM 2014 mind you). Has to be Strunk and White's (and Kalman's) Elements of Style. Read, or re-read, this one and you'll find yourself reading everything else in a new light!

Let there be Light!

As our daylight hours dwindle, I am always reminded of Dylan Thomas. Not because he wrote "A Child's Christmas in Wales," but because of his poem "Do not go gentle into that good night." Thomas of course was writing of a much more permanent darkness, not the perennial shrinking of the day's sunlit hours, but still, I always "rage, rage, against the dying of the light" at this time of year.

The Winter Solstice, which occurs on December 21 this year, is the shortest day of the year. The good news is, days will very slowly get longer and longer, until the Summer Solstice in June. But if you can't wait that long to bask in bright light, walk, bike, or drive over to the Hampden neighborhood for one of Baltimore's weirdest traditions: Miracle on 34th Street.

Now in its 64th year, this block-long display of lights, moving figures and sculpture is definitely a one-of-a-kind holiday experience. Some call it "gaudy, ugly", and some call it "awesome, beautiful". Either way, go see it and decide for yourself. It's part of the Hopkins experience!

Snowflakes keep falling on my head…

While I know those are not quite the lyrics for that song, I can't help but want to twist the words around slightly this time of year, particularly when the sky is gray and hats, gloves, and wooly socks are necessary. Even with the rigor of the semester ending, it is hard not to be on the lookout for that first, exciting snowflake of the season. However, that simple, beautiful, delicate little snowflake is actually quite a spectacular bit of science.

Snowflakes have fascinated scientists for a long time. In 1611, Johannes Kepler wrote, "Now Socrates has to say how far a flea can jump. Our question is, why snowflakes in their first falling, before they are entangled in larger plumes, always fall with six corners and with six rods, tufted like feathers." To read more of Kepler's pondering on snowflakes check out his Vom sechseckigen Schnee: Strena seu de Nive sexangula, or, if your German is not up to par, you might enjoy the very short but page turning 1966 English translation.

Snowflakes start as supercooled cloud droplets. Those droplets freeze and as they move through different humidity and temperatures they develop their unique shapes. Most snowflakes exhibit a six-fold radial symmetry, with each arm of the crystal structure growing separately. Most snowflakes are not perfectly symmetrical because of the number of variables that change as they make their way through the atmosphere.

Probably one of the most well-known snowflake researchers in the U.S. was Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. Bentley photographed thousands of individual snowflakes and was the man to declare that no two snowflakes were the same. Check out the beautiful pictures of snowflakes in the classic book Snow Crystals. To read more about Bentley, his biography by Duncan Blancard provides insight into Bentley's singular passion for snowflakes.

Inspired by Bentley, Ukichiro Nakaya, a Japanese physicist and glaciologist called snowflakes "letters sent from heaven." He went on to study snow crystals and produced over 3,000 photomicrographs  by which he established a classification of natural snow crystals. Snowflakes and snow crystal formation continue to be an active field of study. To learn about the latest research do a search in General Science database for full text articles on snowflakes or search the library catalog.

Snowflakes are also a traditional symbol for winter and wintery conditions. I know every winter I always watch White Christmas and sing along with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen as they extoll the virtues of snow. However, as winter wears on keep in mind the words of native Baltimore singer, Frank Zappa, "...watch out where the huskies go and don't you eat that yellow snow."