Monday, November 30, 2009


An old friend and former co-worker told me that H-1B visas are still being doled out, even with unemployment figures as high as they are. This topic was of great interest to me just a couple of years ago. While I was a software engineer, I watched as jobs in my field were alternately outsourced, sent overseas, or undercut by immigrants with H-1B visas who typically worked for far less than the average American-born software engineer, at least during their first year or two here. This isn't a new phenomenon, but it only started becoming painfully obvious about 10 or 15 years ago. Just last year, I heard of a public library that hired a webmaster and sponsored his H-1B visa. So I thought it might make an interesting self-directed research project to find out how H-1B visas relate to unemployment in the technology sector and how the allocation of H-1B visas is decided.

I'll start with some figures from the Statistical Abstract, aka The National Data Book, a publication I discovered a few years ago at the Ruth Haas Library at Western Connecticut State University. Of course, it's all online now, but it was so much fun to flip through the pages of the Abstract from 20 years ago and discover a table of the employment figures for various professions, including engineers. That's the kind of serendipity that's hard to duplicate in an online database.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Got Windows 7?

My first Microsoft operating system was DOS, and after that Windows 3.0. From what I've heard so far about Windows 7, anyone who was using Windows Vista is very happy to upgrade to Windows 7. I've been reasonably happy with Windows XP; it's a stable product. I stuck with XP through the short life of Windows Vista, as did our ILS vendor, which hasn't yet had anything to say about Windows 7 compatibility.

But for once I am looking forward to trying out a new Windows operating system. Windows 7 could solve all my problems with the three wired public computers; they're running Windows XP but, as is so frequently the case these days, we have no media for them. Lenovo has a pretty neat setup by which they store an installable image on the hard drive, accessible only by a key combination and optional password. It provides a time-consuming but reliable recovery for a computer that has been hopelessly compromised by malware. A couple of our public computers have the security password set; I've tried all our standard passwords, but none of them work, so I'm pretty sure a patron must have set it, whether accidentally or deliberately I can't say. Both these machines have problems that make a reinstall necessary, but without media and without the password I can't do much. Buying Windows 7, with the media, solves two problems at once.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Think renters are immune?

When I was fortunate enough to sell my house in Connecticut this summer, I thought I would be insulated from most of the trickle down effects of the banking and mortgage crisis. And so I am—for now—but not because I'm a renter. I live in a building that has been in the same family for nearly 140 years. I'd hazard a guess and say that there is no mortgage on the property, and that it probably pays for itself and then some. It's in a neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes; Senator Judd Gregg lives around the corner, and author Dan Brown lives down the street. I'd hazard another guess and say that a multi-family dwelling like this one could not be built in this community today, nor could it have been for the last 70 or 80 years. So I'm safely housed. For now.

The History of the Internet In a Nutshell

Where are the serious Republican politicians?

I don't usually read Ross Douthat, but this headline caught my eye. Can serious politicians--of any stripe--get a fair hearing in this age of politics-as-entertainment? Are there any leaders in the Republican Party who are more interested in leadership than in celebrity? Douthat doesn't name anyone who fits that bill.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving menus

Mine will include barbeque brisket, barbeque beans, corn casserole, and hot artichoke dip. It will definitely not include any unfermented soy products.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to identify a phishing scam

An experienced patron who has had an email account for over a decade told me the other day that he'd received an email asking him to "verify" his account. He had created an "anonymous" account--not given his full name--and the message said that the service was purging these to make room for new accounts. I said to him, "You didn't answer it, did you?" and he said "Yes, I did." So he showed me the message, which asked for his password and his birth date. I had him change his password and his security question and answer, but the damage was already done, I'm sure. "They" now have his birth date and the contents of his address book--more people to phish. I asked him to call Equifax and put a three-month freeze on new credit accounts opened in his name, and I think he did do that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Library videos

The videotaping went well. And it really was a "taping." The Sony DCR-HC28 that I borrowed from the librarian at the junior high records to tape. The newer digital video cameras record to internal memory and/or SD cards, and can record for many hours. I had to change tapes after about an hour, and lost a few minutes of the program. A better spot for the camera would have been right on the center aisle, but the slide projector already had that spot. The room was packed, standing room only, or I would have thought about moving the camera after the slideshow was over.

The camera has two outputs: Firewire, and A/V (red/yellow/white, aka video plus left and right audio). I don't have easy access to a device that accepts either output. I could connect the A/V cable to the television, but I don't want to just watch it again, I want to get the tapes into a digital file on a computer so that I can edit it and burn it to a DVD. So one of my co-workers agreed to bring in her MacBook which, of course, has a Firewire connector built-in. I plugged the camera into the MacBook, started iMovie, connected iMovie to the camera, and off we go. I would have been awfully disappointed if I'd had to consult a user's guide for either the camera or the Mac. Say what you will about Apple--it's more expensive, it's a closed, proprietary system, etc.--but the out-of-the-box experience is great for most of the things that most people want to do with a computer. I had to give my co-worker back her computer for the weekend--I know how I'd be if someone took away my computer for a whole weekend--so the editing and burning will have to wait until next week.

Sony is having a sale today--right now--on the current generation video camera, the HDR-CX100. It's only $499, down from $599. I don't know how long the sale will last, but I will call the Friends president first thing tomorrow and see if she can release $500 now instead of $600 or $700 later.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In which I become a videographer

We're going to jump on the video bandwagon tonight and record a program being put on by the local Historical Society on the history of farming in this community. That's assuming that all the participants will consent. My goal is to produce a DVD of the event that we can then put into circulation. If it goes well, this could turn into a local history project. I've been wanting to do something like that ever since I started working in public libraries four years ago, and especially when I was taking Digital Libraries, but no one ever wanted to take me up on the offer. Maybe they thought it would take up too much staff time to support.