Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘news articles

Wise Bread had one of those articles, listicle really, you have to take with a shaker full of salt. This time it’s “5 Easiest Ways to Score Free eBooks.” Yes, I know the economy is bad, and people need to save money, but I think folks who see this need to keep their expectations seriously low. The bottom line is that, unless somebody somewhere paid for it, you are not going to be reading authors like Grisham, Rowling, and Clancy in free ebooks. Here are some of the things to keep in mind the article does not really tell you or just conveniently forgets:

  • A red flag for me: “Throughout elementary school and college, I controlled the costs of books primarily by utilizing my public library. I haven’t stepped foot in a library in three years.  .  .” . Maybe she may want to consider stepping back into her local public library. Many public libraries today feature ebooks, often via Overdrive. Your library card entitles to access to your local library’s ebook collections, and those collections do feature various current and older but interesting books.
  • The whole Kindle family library and borrowing ebooks from family and friends. This may be free for you, but you are basically mooching off someone else who is paying for their ebooks. Now, I am not against borrowing per se, but let’s not fool ourselves and say this is free. You may not have paid for it, but someone else did, and I honestly have to wonder if telling people to mooch off someone else’s ebook subscription is really the best advice. You are basically telling people to let some other sucker pay for the ebooks you want to read. When it comes to the ethics, well, your mileage may vary.
  • I loved the euphemism of “non-professional stories online.” This is basically amateur writing you find in places ranging from Amazon to other websites where writers of various levels of skill self-publish. Now before you get your hopes up, for everyone one self-published author who might get plucked out of obscurity and become famous, like the guy who wrote The Martian, you are going to find tons and tons of seriously bad dreck that is self-published. This includes fan fiction by the way. So if you feel like taking your chances, and you really, really need to feed your reading addiction, go right ahead. Just don’t go expecting to find the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King in those places. The author of the article does admit that “you can expect to find some sub-par writing due in part, to the fact that individuals of various skill levels publish on these types of sites.” That is a polite way of putting it. Believe me, as part of my reading I do for reviews, I have come across my share of these “non-professional stories” where I honestly hope those writers did keep their day jobs.
  • Public domain books. There are various places to find these, but keep in mind, these are mostly what people call classics. If you want to save on reading old books, the kind you may have had to read forcibly in school, then the various depositories featuring public domain books are for you. The other thing you find in the public domain sites are forgotten books. A few may be gems waiting to be rediscovered. A lot are forgotten for a reason, and they likely should stay forgotten. Having said that, you can find some curious items if you have the patience to look (or you have some good sources on your RSS reader to alert you of such things) such as my recent find of Pagan Passions.  (I will have a brief comment on that book in a future post). Looking through sources of Public Domain books is a lot like panning for gold, except you may often find more duds than nuggets, but well worth it when you do find that one gold nugget. If you are interested, the author of the article does provide a nice link to a list of Public Domain sources for books.

At the end of the day,articles like this come and go every so often, and there are quite a few out there such as here and here, and heck, even some public libraries are getting in on informing patrons about these options, like this one here. As a librarian, I tend to be happy to promote free books but skeptical when they make it sound like you can read anything you want that you might find in your local bookstore. That is not even close, and I wish that reality was made more apparent.

The bottom line is that tips like these are good for you if the following is true for you:

  • You are a very avid reader who is not too fussy about what you read.
  • You are a reader willing to take a lot of chances on what you may find to read.
  • You understand that you are not going to get the latest bestsellers or other very popular books for free unless someone else has paid for them. So if you do as the article states, you will (politely I hope) be mooching someone else’s accounts where they did pay for their ebooks.
  • You have to be willing to put in some work. Whether it be finding someone to give you access to their collections that they paid for or search through Public Domain sites to find something, you have to put in some effort finding and then selecting what you want to read.
  • You have to be willing to lower your standards a bit. Sure, as I said, you may find a gem here or there, but you may end up reading a lot of dreck too. How much dreck are you willing to go through in the interest of finding the one gem? That is a question you are thrifty reader have to answer, or as they say, your mileage may vary.

By the way, don’t be like the author. Go visit your public library once in a while. I may have a small bias given I am a librarian. However, I work for an academic library, and even I visit my local public library once in a while to get my fix of more pop-type of books. Plus my public library also has DVDs, so you do get some pretty good free (as in your tax dollars help pay for it) entertainment options. In addition, if you want e-books, as I mentioned, your local public library likely has its own e-book collection, and the selection will likely be better and better curated than a lot of the stuff you will find out there on the internet. This is especially true when it comes to those “non professional stories.” In the end, I am not saying to avoid reading free ebooks online if you can find them. I am saying to adjust your expectations of what you may find accordingly. Oh, and visit your public library once in a while. Your local friendly librarians will be glad to see you.

I tend to read list articles like this one, “16 Everyday Things You Shouldn’t Be Paying For“, with a big grain of salt. Once in a while, they will have some good tips. However, more often than not they reek of either privilege or say things that are less than bright and/or practical. This one caught my eye a while back because of some of the assumptions it makes. So, let’s look at some of the items on their list.

  • The one on wifi outside of the home is fairly spot on. If you must, you are likely to be able to jump on a free wifi spot, as long as you have a device, and you understand that public wifi is usually not secure. In other words, do not do things like your banking online on a public spot. As for internet in the home, yea, you pretty much still have to pay for it because expecting to mooch off a neighbor should not really be an option.
  • Condiments and napkins. Really, the advice is to just go to restaurants, etc, and just help yourself to the condiments and napkins? The part that cracked me up was this one: “Even more expensive commodities like sugar, jams, and honey can be found if you’re looking hard enough — like those packets and individual jars that are common at the resorts and hotels that you may visit on vacation.” So, how much did you spend on that vacation so you could get the jams and honey? I thought part of the point of this piece was to be frugal. If you are staying at some resort where they hand out little jars of jelly, you are probably not being as frugal as you could be. And what happens if I need jelly now? Do I need to book a vacation so I can get some?
  • The books thing is pretty spot on. Use your local public library as much as possible. You will not get argument about that from this librarian.
  • Computer software? That can vary in quality. But one thing that I would point out is that things like Google Drive you have to be able to access online. Have a few days of bad Internet (hell, we had a full month of barely functioning Internet at our workplace recently, and all hell broke loose since the powers that be said, “don’t worry, it’s all in the cloud. . . “, and no one could get to the damn cloud, but that is another story), and you can kiss your productivity good bye. I am not saying you can’t go generic on some stuff like MS Office, but if it is Internet dependent, and your connection is less than stellar, well, is it worth it?
  • Which leads me to the one about cable. Yea, cutting the cord is becoming the trendy thing to do. Thing is in order to do so that you can use a streaming service you need a good internet connection. Guess who for the most part has a monopoly on that fast internet connection so you can Netflix and chill? Yep, your cable conglomerate. So you are not really cutting the cable unless you want to go back to dial-up. It does amuse me when I ask folks who say they cut the cable where do they get their entertainment from, and they say the internet (that they pay the cable company for). Can you save some bucks? Maybe, maybe not. Depends really on your situation. Also, not everything is on Netflix, and no, not all television shows get put up on the net for free for you to stream.
  • I love the idea of free museum days. Just one problem: they are often on weekdays when most of us have to work for a living. And no, taking a day off is not always an option.

As I said, articles like that really need to be taken with a grain of salt, a big grain of salt.

(Crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian)

We come to the last post in the 2014 Holiday Post series. Tomorrow is Three Kings Day (also known as Epiphany to many), so for Puerto Ricans like me we are still in holiday spirit (unlike other quitters who took down the Christmas three on the 26th of December). Anyhow, I like ending the year looking back a bit. I will say 2014 is a year that I am glad to leave behind. From losses in the family to terrible news nationally and around the world, it is a year I won’t miss much. When I do this post, I try not to pass on just the usual stories. Let’s have a bit of fun with it I say. So, here we go: what the hell happened in 2014?


Because we still feel like we have to recall the news

  • Mother Jones has a nice compilation of the biggest news stories of 2014 in photos. If you don’t want to read a lot and get the power of photos, this may be for you.
  • Getting the news via The Daily Show is a tradition for many smart folks by now. Here is a year in review using Daily Show clips. Story via TruthDig.
  • John Oliver is fast becoming another source of serious news and commentary. You know the state of journalism is down the toilet when the best journalism right now more often than not comes from the comedians. Anyhow, here are some of Oliver’s best rants. From student loans to Ferguson to Net Neutrality, John Oliver not only said it, but said it well and showed he was well informed, unlike every other so-called journalist out there. Story also via TruthDig.
  • Overall, as Mark Fiore points out, it was a “year in crazy.”


Civil Rights and Equality

2014 was not a good year for civil rights, equality, and progressive politics. Sure, there were some good points, but there were also a lot of very bad things.


Money, Dinero, Moolah, Benjamins. . .

Whether it was the bad economy or money in politics, moolah was in the news quite a bit.

Pop Culture

It is not an end of year compilation without some pop culture stuff.


And there we have it, a small sampling of what the hell happened in 2014. Thanks for reading. As always any and all comments are welcomed (within reason). Also stay tuned to my end of year reading report, coming up soon.


This article from The New York Times on the work that the public libraries in Queens, NYC do caught my eye. It is about how they cater and meet the needs of a very diverse polyglot population. I will admit that if I was single with nothing to lose, so to speak, this would definitely be the kind of librarianship I would want to practice: in a diverse multicultural setting where various languages thrive. And I’d be happy too if they sent me to the Feria de Libros in Guadalajara to buy Spanish books (haha, that’d be a bonus). In the end, much of it would be low salary in relation to cost of living issue for me; I probably could not afford to live then in relation to what they pay. Certainly not an academic setting, but maybe the community-mindedness in me, the opportunities and challenges for things like outreach, like instruction (to an extent), working with diverse people that have clear and significant needs are things that make this kind of work appealing to me.I think for a bilingual librarian like me who is comfortable working with diverse populations and is willing to keep on learning this could be a good job.

Anyhow, just some random thoughts.

So I wake up this morning, turn on the news, and lo and behold U.S. Forces finally caught and killed Osama Bin Laden. There are a lot of links out there with the story, and as I am writing this, details continue to emerge. However, I tend to be interested in the more quirky and curious angles of the story. I suppose at the end of the day, this is a small way for me to remember the event, in case anyone asks me where was I sort of thing. For the record, I was at home, getting ready to go to work. I first found out when I turned the tv first thing in the morning to one of the local channels to get the usual weather report and quick local headlines. I usually keep my weekends as free of hard news as possible. Given how crappy news tend to be as of late (not to mention that I can’t stand most of the talking heads and pundits that pretend to be journalists), I try to keep myself blissfully distracted over the weekend.

So, here are some links that may be of interest:

I thought this was a pretty neat list. I don’t agree with all of it, but there are some very good items. The two items I would emphasize right away are:

The first one on statistical literacy. This is a must. We need as a society to do a much better job in teaching people about statistics, how to figure basic ones out, and how they are used and misused. I liked the suggested assignment of comparing a liberal blog versus a conservative blog. This assignment is very good, and it should be something an average, well-informed citizen, “well-informed” being the key concept, should be able to do:

Daily Kos Versus
Find three examples of the same set of numbers presented in entirely different ways on the liberal blog Daily Kos and Andrew Breitbart’s conservative Big Government site. In each case, show which source is using the more aggressive spin and determine which side—if either—is being more honest in its presentation of the facts.

How often are you watching the news, and you get pundits debating back and forth about the latest numbers of such and such from the CBO (that’s the Congressional Budget Office). You think to yourself, “well, the CBO is nonpartisan, so the numbers must be good.” Sure, the numbers are probably fine, but you have to pay attention to how they are actually being used. And then you have figures and polls from all sorts of agencies, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, so on, which often have a bias or a particular agenda. I am not saying that some of those agendas are bad (personally, I think working towards things like social justice are important), but you still have to keep those things in mind. Expanding on that, this is where I would add a good course on information literacy, where you learn to evaluate information, more than just the statistics. So, if it was me, I would do more than just statistical literacy. We need broad ranging information literacy.

Second, I definitely like the Post-state Diplomacy course. Folks in the U.S. need some serious education on international affairs and how the world works right now. The folks at Wired write:

“Power has always depended on who can provide justice, commerce, and stability. Successful insurgents aren’t just thugs; they offer their members tangible benefits—community, money, education, and a sense of order (even if the rebels are the ones creating disorder in the first place). We must learn how they gain loyalty, even if our goal is to undercut it.”

Again, I don’t think the folks at Wired go far enough. It is not only about diplomacy, although that is extremely important. The statement above is not really a new idea; it is an idea that not many people understand or may be aware of. But we also need coursework on global awareness and citizenship, and I would also add geography.

The rest of the article is worth reading as well. Each skill description does include a “reading list” (I put it in quotes because some of the suggestions may be links to videos or other non-print material) and some questions you may want to consider. Whether you do some of the assignments or not, thinking about them may help you expand your horizons a bit more.

(Crossposted to The Itinerant Librarian)

The Humanist magazine recently had an interview with secular humanist, feminist, and registered nurse Marie Hartman, better known by her stage name of Nina Hartley (don’t worry, it’s the Wikipedia entry). In the interview she discusses her philosophy of life, her work (no, it’s not just porn), porn, and outlook on life. What we get is a very intelligent and thoughtful woman. She also lists some books she enjoys reading, which as a librarian and reader, I do find interesting. An interesting line from the interview: when asked what is one thing that people may be shocked to learn about her, she replies: “They may be shocked to know I’m a doting aunt and a devoted daughter.”

And yes, if you must know, I have seen and enjoyed her adult work too. Anyhow, the interview is worth a look.

A hat tip to Pharyngula.

May 2020


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