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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Alternate Texts

Paper or plastic?

May 30, 2007 Booking Through Thursday

  • Do you read e-Books?
  • If so, how? On your computer, or a PDA?
  • Or are you a paper purist? Why?

Now this is an interesting question with which to begin my Booking Through Thursday entries!

While I try to focus on using audiobooks now, ebooks have been a great alternate format for me since 2001 when I first found some Adobe Acrobat Reader ebooks. Adobe Acrobat had a “read aloud” function at that point, which helped me greatly.

In 2002 I found MicrosoftReader ebooks and also discovered the free version of the Overdrive Readerworks program for turning electronic texts into MicrosoftReader ebooks. Microsoft now has an add-in for Word which also allows you to make your own books quickly and easily. This can be a great way to store and use class notes for future use and study. These programs have improved dramatically over the years. MicrosoftReader has a text-to-speech function and now has many features that allow you to take notes, write in the margins, add bookmarks, and highlight text while you read. You can also view and search your annotations or markups from the annotations list, rather than flipping through the pages to find the bits you thought were important.

I also make use of the ebooks available through my public library which has a subscription to NetLibrary. This is a MARVERLOUS resource for those of us who have a hard time returning books to the library on time! The book checks ITSELF back into the library at the end of two weeks, so you never have to worry about it! Now how cool is THAT!

These ebooks are compatible with my screen reader software, JAWS, and also allow you to add your own notes which are saved on the system, even after the book is “returned” to the library. Additionally, my public library also has down-loadable eAudiobooks through NetLibrary which play on a variety of media players like Windows Media Player or Winamp and which also check themselves back in after two weeks.

With the progressive loss of my functional vision, I’ve been forced to go looking for alternate text formats. In the last two years, Rehabilitation Services for the Blind have provided me with the equipment and software to make my own electronic texts efficiently and at need. I do this by using a high speed scanner and the educational software program Kurzweil 1000. With practice, I can now scan a two hundred fifty page book in about 45 minutes. Kurzweil has some additional features which make it an excellent tool for anyone who needs or wants to work in electronic format. It allows me to skim books, reading only the first sentences of paragraphs, take notes, and add hyperlinks between sections of a book, so I can jump to related sections. This feature is somewhat like writing “see page 67 for another example” in the margins of a print book.

Several organizations have been creating online e-texts for many years now. Project Gutenberg has been around for decades provide plain “vanilla” texts, that is, electronic versions of texts in plain text or ASCII 2 format that any computer can display in any word processing program, even low-tech programs like notepad or very old programs. They are also expanding their collections to offer audio version of texts in Mp3 format; some are electronic audio like the ones I can make at home with the program TextAloud Mp3 and my AT&T Natural Voices. You can try a demo of these voices at the following page: which is part of their research section. The demo at the Natural Voices homepage is currently down.

I’ve gathered a number of other sources for electronic texts, which I’ll include in a list of links in the sidebar sometime in the next few days. I’ll mention two of the free ones here. First, the Free E-Text Center at the University of Virginia provides more than 2,100 books in MicrosoftReader format, Palm format, or HTML. Many include the illustrations from the older versions of books or from the original classics such as A Christmas Carrol by Charles Dickens or Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This was one of the first electronic libraries using ebook formats for the general public.

My other favorite source for electronic texts is the Online Books Page at the University of Pennsylvania. These books are all in HTML format, but convert easily to MicrosoftReader format with the free add-in. Aspects of this Library that I really enjoy are the “Celebration of Women Writers Project,” the “Banned Books Online” project, and their “Award Winners” project. They also have an extensive listing of free periodicals available on the web, many of which are strictly historical archives, like The Gentleman’s Magazine 1731 – 1907 or The Galaxy which was an entertainment magazine from the mid-19th century which was eventually absorbed by Atlantic Monthly. People looking for free books should check the Microsoft site from time to time; one year, Microsoft gave away two books per month as a way to promote the use of MicrosoftReader – it was a great way to collect some very interesting books!

One source to purchase ebooks that I have found very reliable and quite reasonable in price is Fictionwise offers membership discounts, newsletters, rebates, and of course, free and continuing storage of your books, should your hard drive crash or your download disappear in any other type of traumatic event, such as an over-enthusiastic spasm of the delete key [grin]. Books from Fictionwise come in MicrosoftReader, Palm, and Acrobat formats. They also have “multi-format” books which any computer can access without proprietary software. The majority of books (including the large sci-fi and fantasy collection) are current titles. If you are considering the purchase of any book that might be in the public domain, check the free sites first. It will be cheap at Fictionwise, less than $10, but if you can download it for free for a little effort – it will be worth it!

Originally, I read my ebooks on my Jordana PDA, which allowed me to magnify the font to a comfortable level and which remains the most portable format I have for electronic books. Now that I’m working on a laptop, I use it for most purposes, including reading ebooks, since it allows me to access more formats from the single device and use the complete programs. The MicrosoftReader for the PDA will not accept the text-to-speech add-in, so I can’t have the PDA read aloud. This is very frustrating, and from time to time, I e-mail Mircosoft to hassle them about it, but so far, I haven’t gotten a response!

My personal collection of electronic texts is increasing rapidly with the use of the high speed scanner. For those concerned with copyright issues, I can give you a bit of information. Most of the free online libraries are working from versions of books which have aged into the public domain. The public library service through NetLibrary has current novels and non-fiction books as well as classics, but this is a service the library pays to access, and the authors are paid just as when the library obtains a paper copy or audio copy of a book to lend. Because I am copying library books for my personal use only and need to scan them into an alternate text to access them, my personal collection does not violate copyright law, so long as I don’t distribute the books to others.

Both Acrobat and Microsoft and other developers such as Franklin have been working on systems for allowing people to “loan” e-books to each other which would involve denying you access to the copy while someone else uses it, but none of the systems I’ve seen can be described as user-friendly. They are all clunky and often full of bugs by all reports, so I’ve not gotten into sharing my ebooks yet.

My house is still filled with actual paper books that I can lend out to others. While I’ve greatly reduced my purchase of paper books, it hasn’t been eliminated. Some books I want for their maps and other materials which do not appear in audio versions or which don’t show to advantage on the screen. Others are gifts or items I’ve acquired as part of my collection of older books. I particularly love to collect the “pocket books” which made up a significant part of my grandmother’s library and are still handy to carry about. The age of the book adds to my pleasure in reading, as do many of the illustrations, and they make it worth my while to hassle with a magnifier. I love the connection with my grandmother and the history involved in collecting old books, and I’ve never shaken my love of the dusty, dry smell that comes from the leaves and collects in the back sections of the nearby university library [smile].

My “inner librarian” died a quick death when I first discovered the wonders of taking notes in the margins of books in college. She wasn’t very reliable anyway, since most of my books from childhood include broken off corners, fudgesicle smears, and other indignities [grin].

As an educator myself, I encourage students to do “active reading” which involves a variety of ways of interacting with a text as you read, including note taking, highlighting, underlining, outlining on paper or in the margins, making use of paperclips, sticky notes or sticky flags, and, most especially, re-reading and THINKING about important passages whenever they are studying a text, rather than just reading for recreation. These activities appall many people raised in the strict traditions of not damaging books and not cracking the spines, but they can be a seriously important method of assisting readers in engaging with a text. Something seems to happen in the brain to help “set” the information, so it doesn’t just wash through like much of the reading we do for pleasure.

I still find the connections made as I imprint my presence on a book by writing in the margins personally satisfying in a mystical way. Something about the visceral input from feeling the pen connect with and even break some of the paper fibers as I write makes the experience far more real and vivid than typing notes into a computer. Yet, I also realize that electronic texts allow others to engage in these activities without involving themselves in the depredations of book-damaging. And the electronic texts also allow me to continue in my chosen profession teaching English literature and composition. They are a marvelous addition to our resources, yet still I hope they never completely take over publishing.

Update: After reading a number of other entries in this Booking Through Thursday series, I wanted to let people know an important aspect of reading on the screen -- small or large. My low vision specialist let me know about this when I went to him with massive headaches. Scrolling to read can give people motion sickness as well as eyestrain of various sorts. Use the next page or page down functions to help alleviate this, and work to figure out the font size and brightness levels that suit you best. Pick the lowest brightness level you find comfortable, and the largest font size you find comfortable to enable you to read for longer periods of time! Enjoy! .

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Vamping and Revamping

With a title like this one, I hope the new layout and extra features live up to expectations!

If you've been here before, you'll notice many changes in both the layout and the sidebar content. Spring is a good time for a new color scheme, and I've found that I really like the updated features Blogger is offering. [grin] I'll be labeling new posts, and adding accessibility features like "skip to main content" links and "skip to sidebar" links over the next few days.

The content is changing a bit, as I've expanded the sidebar content to include more of my interests. In addition to the "Poetry Mondays," I'll be taking part in "Booking Through Thursday" and other planned features as I come across them. I'll be doing a bit of writing about disability studies and activism, as well as increasing the "fiber content" by checking in on a more regular basis and by getting more pictures up!

Of the new features, I particularly like the ease with which I could copy feeds and html or active content from other sites from the old template into the new template modules if I chose. The plain "Add HTML" unit made some of this much easier than it might have been. I'm all for cut and splice when it comes to coding, even if I have to take off for it when grading papers! Adjusting some of the "wrapper" features and sizes within the template html code was also very straight forward. If you are willing to code by hand, you can still "tweak" many things quite easily this way.

The new "list" modules for regular lists and lists of links will undoubtedly prove very worthwhile in the long run -- UNLESS I decide to divide a list into two separate ones -- that would require deleting items from the original list, a task the module makes VERY easy, and then starting over and having to input each item one-by-one into a new list, no cross over or divide functions available. For the moment, though, some careful planning should keep this from being much of a problem.

Here's where the "vamping" comes in. No, I'm not adding modern Gothic elements to the blog -- it wouldn't suit the earth-tones I've chosen for the color scheme [smile]. But I did spend much of the afternoon "revamping" the site, so now I'm just filling in with chatter where I'd love to be posting pictures of finished knitting projects! I coded for too long and lost the light I'd need for good pictures. Those will have to wait until tomorrow.

First on the list to discuss are the socks I made from the lilac Wildefoot yarn. This superwash merino is wonderfully soft, and I managed to get a full knee sock out of each skein -- a good deal for adult socks! While my next pair -- from some red Wildefoot -- will be shorter socks for summer, this lilac pair will serve for spring and fall, as well as winter. It's a nice heavy fingering weight, and just great for someone like me who likes worsted weight socks in the winter, and cushy socks overall. The Wildefoot makes a nice compromise for summer and compares very well with the Opal sock yarns.

In other news, I wish I was able to spin. [of course!] Each summer, as the husky and the shepherd start to shed, and I spend hour after hour with the undercoat rake, pacifying the pooches with Pounce chicken treats while I comb out all the fluff, I wonder about those who have spun dog fur into yarn. I wouldn't dream of making a garment of it -- what if it got wet? The risks of smelling like a half-drowned dog are just too much for me! [laughing] But their fur is so soft that I often wish I could do something else with the "product" of all these hours of dog grooming. And if you check out the pictures in the flicker badge, you'll see what lovely colors I would get! The husky, Kala, is a red and white husky, and her undercoat is a creamy white. The shepherd, Sally, has a jet black top coat, but the undercoat that she sheds is a soft faun color fading into a rich gold at times.

This, I think, is just one of the side effects of being a fiber addict. A person just naturally starts contemplating what type of fiber, project, and technique to try whenever confronted with material with a spinning potential. I will resist, however. I will resist. When I start to spin with a spindle, I want to pick something I might like to wear in some way!

Meet My Daemon

I think it was the music I couldn't resist. I've seen these entries on other blogs and been tickled with them.

Help Refine My Daemon!
Click on the link above to help me refine my daemon or take a test to find your own.

Update: It seems you cannot comment on my daemon; it had reached its final form from the get-go. I must have been very consistant or decisive in my answers -- that or the program was only set to allow so many daemons to morph! [grin]

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another Trial

For some reason, my daemon doesn't let people comment on its accuracy. Here's another try:

Poetry on Mondays

Monday again already, and I've not gotten any other posts put up until today. Slacking. [grin] Several friends of mine are going through difficult times right now, and questioning decisions and events. It made me think of another of my favorite poems, one of the few from the Twentieth Century.

This is a long poem, and a bit complicated. It speaks of doubt and desire, of hopes and of the gnawing questions that arise from them. Self-judgement, social acceptance, aging, and daring. It never ceases to bring new thoughts and questions to my mind, and to bring a bit of comfort with the knowledge that others must question, too.

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). Prufrock and Other Observations. 1917.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
. . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

You can find this and other poems by Eliot at

Monday, May 21, 2007

Poetry On Mondays

I have been admiring blogging trends like "Booking It Through Thursdays" and "Poetry Fridays" but have realized that MONDAYS are the days that need a jump start in my world. A day of organization and planning, of catching up on the work I let slide over the weekend, and of determining what my week will be. To that end, I've decided to do my "poetry bits" on Mondays for my own pleasure, and hopefully that of others! It certainly adds to the inspiration for both knitting and writing -- not half bad for an idea swiped from elsewhere and adapted to my own self. [grin]

I'll start as many might expect, with an extract from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:

The morn is up again, the dewy morn
With breath all incense, and with cheek all bloom,
Laughing the clouds away with playful scorn,
And living as if earth contain'd no tomb --
And glowing into day: we may resume
The march of our existence: and thus I,
Still on thy shores, fair Leman! may find room
And food for meditation, nor pass by
Much, that may give us pause, if pondered fittingly.

--Byron Childe Harold's Pilgrimage 3.98

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What Accent do I have?

Now in all honesty, this answer to this question is a matter of what I'm doing at the time. General conversation -- the answer to this quiz is correct. This is also the dialect I use for teaching. However -- get me flirting, and I'll add in a drawl that's REALLY from southern Indiana. I think this quiz thinks of central Indiana as "southern" since it's not the accent from around Chicago. Real southern Indiana is about like that from Kentucky or farther south. Deep south. Words get extra syllables. Vowels get MUCH longer. The twang gets more distinct, etc.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
The Inland North
North Central
The South
The Northeast">What American accent do you have?">Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Having moved to REAL southern Indiana from Central Indiana when I was ten or so, I can tell you the difference. After two weeks in my new school I came home and announced: "You can't get on me for talkin' laike this now, 'cause everybody down here taulks like this." My parents were SO pleased!

When I went to college in Central Indiana at 18, one of the first questions I was asked by a dorm resident was: "Are you from the South?" meaning -- Deep South. [laughing] Also, this grouping doesn't take into account the difference between rural speech and urban speech, the suburbs or the city. When you travel on more dirt and gravel than asphalt, your rate of speech and pronunciation change. The most interesting variation I heard came from a Bostonian who had lived in Southern Indiana for more than a decade. What a combination!

Years in community and educational theatre and a bit of life taught me to match my speech to those I'm talking to in a way that will promote the best communication. It can make a difference! Are you familiar or unfamiliar, a neighbor or an outlander? Us or them?