What I Read: “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” Review

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few years ago I went into the Human Resources office where I worked and asked for assistance in helping me decide what I want to be when I grow up. They made me take some fancy tests with multiple choice answers and then invited me back a few days later. I was presented with a report that told me I should become a librarian. I laughed and walked out of the room (and yes, I did eventually become a librarian). The reason those tests indicated I should become a librarian is not because I like to read (I do) but because I like to figure things out, I like to solve puzzles and mysteries, I like to learn new things, I like to make technology work for me, I like to make people’s day. I also like word play, numbers, algorithms, and I like to laugh.

Yeah, that’s nice, but what does any of that have to do with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore? Everything actually. This book has all that and more as it weaves the old (dusty old books in an eccentric bookstore) with the new (can you say Apple and Google product placement?) into a story of intrigue, mystery, and even a little romance.

The story revolves around Clay, a web designer struggling through the recession by taking the graveyard shift in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. The bookstore does very little business during his shift, but there are a few very regular customers, although they are not truly customers in the traditional sense. These customers seem to belong to some super secret, very mysterious book club that is trying to solve some life mystery by deciphering codes contained in books.

Clay soon realizes he cannot solve this huge mystery on his own, so he must pull in friends and his love interest and even all the computing power of Google to figure out what could be going on. The more he learns the deeper the mystery goes. Naturally, though, with Google helping out, an answer will be found soon.

Robin Sloan gives us a story that is warm and engaging and does not bog us down with techno-babble or other jargon. I totally engaged in this story on many levels, but for me, personally, it hit me at my love for both books and technology. Sloan shows us that we still very much need books even with all this wonderful technology we have today. Books and technology and the power they contain and the unlimited potential they bring out in all of us, if we let them.

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THATCamp Lehigh Valley–Project Management

The final workshop today for THATCamp Lehigh Valley 2013 will be on project management, presented by Sherri Yerk-Zwickl, who is the Director of Project Management and Web&Mobile Services at Lehigh University.  She gave her presentation a great title:  “How to Survive when You are Volunteered to Lead a Project.

What is a Project?

A project a temporary endeavor with a defined beginning and end undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives typically to bring about beneficial change or added value.

A project is temporary!  Even if some projects feel like they never end, they will at some point.  They should have unique goals and add value.

Project Management, then, is the application of the knowledge, skills, and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently (from http://pmi.org).  Sherri will be focusing on the techniques and hopes to give us ‘just enough’ project management techniques.

A lot of the challenges of the projects is having a common understanding of what we are working towards.

Project Management

Traditional PM involves 5 stages:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring/Controlling
  • Closing

Documentation is important in project management.

Some Planning Steps are crucial:

Charter/SOW (What)

  • Objective: what is the point of it all
  • Context: Why we should do it and what its connected to
  • Goals: what improvements should occur
  • Deliverables: tangible items to reult
  • Scope: what’s in/out

Work Breakdown Structure (How & When)

  • How do you eat an elephant?  One piece at a time.  That’s what work breakdown structure is breaking down the project into smaller pieces.
  • Sherri likes using post-it notes and puts them on a project wall.  Generate ideas and components of the project.
  • Then need to organize these components and even break them down more.
  • Assign times to each of these tasks/smaller pieces.

Stakeholder Analysis (Who)

Communication Plan (Huh?)

Stakeholders need-to-know:

  • routine items (tasks, progress, etc.)
  • budget
  • risks and/or issues

The method and the frequency would may vary depending on the stakeholder.

We’ve covered primarily the ‘planning’ phase of the project.  It is important to put a great deal of focus on the planning.  Now you can execute.  Let’s tackle the project.  And remember every project needs to end.

Closing a project:  what was the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the (what should we do different the next time) part.  Here is where documentation is very helpful.  Avoid the temptation to skip the documentation, especially on those ‘solo’ projects.  Documenting your experience from a project can help inform you and others for future projects.

Some Useful Resources:

And Sherri will graciously share her Prezi and materials on the THATCamp Lehigh Valley blog very soon!

Who’s ready to tackle a new project?

THATCamp Lehigh Valley–Omeka

Next up at THATCamp Lehigh Valley is a workshop on Omeka.



Why would you want to use Omeka?  Use Omeka when you want to create an online archive.  Although a blog will keep an archive, it is generally archived in chronological order.  A more traditional archive will describe and arrange your archive in a more meaningful manner.

For this workshop, we will look at an Omeka site in Pennsylvania:  The Land of Penn and Plenty.

Three terms to know with Omeka: items, collections and exhibits.

  • Item: is a content building block in Omeka.  You can describe items using metadata using the Dublin Core standard, which provides a standard set of metadata for that item, such as title, source, publisher, etc.
  • Collection: a set of items.  An item can only be in one collection, but items can be in more than one exhibit.
  • Exhibit: organizing items in context, with description or interpretation.

Every Omeka site has a built in search, including a good advanced search.

Looking at an exhibit on the The Land of Penn and Plenty site, Native American foodways in Pennsylvania:

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 11.26.18 AM

Here, they use items in a certain context with additional descriptions and interpretation.  Clicking on any item in this exhibit again takes you to the information about that item:


Omeka has been developed by academics for academics.  It is mostly funded by an IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) grant.  There is a hosted version on Omeka.net and a self-hosted version on Omeka.org.

Creating an Omeka site is very similar to that of WordPress.  There will be a dashboard where you can adjust general settings, select a theme, plugins, etc.


  • COinS: Adds COinS metadata to item pages, making them Zotero readable.
  • CSV Import: Imports items, tags, and files from CSV files.
  • Docs Viewer: Embeds a Google document viewer into item show pages. PDF documents, PowerPoint presentations, TIFF files, and some Microsoft Word documents are supported.
  • Exhibit Builder: Build rich exhibits using Omeka.
  • GoogleAnalytics: A small plugin to include Google Analytics JavaScript code on pages.
  • Library of Congress Suggest: Enable an autosuggest feature for Omeka elements using the Library of Congress Authorities and Vocabularies service: http://id.loc.gov
  • OAI-PMH Harvester:  Harvests metadata from OAI-PMH data providers.
  • Simple Pages:  Allows administrators to create simple web pages for their public site.
  • Social Bookmarking:  Inserts a customizable list of social bookmarking sites below each item in your Omeka database


  • Super users can access all available pages in the admin, and manage the site’s settings, including: adding and deleting users; changing themes; managing plugins.
  • Administrator users can access all pages in the admin except those under the “Setting” tab.
  • Contributor users can add, edit, and delete Items, Collections, Item Types, and Tags that they contribute. They may also create exhibits using all items in the archive.
  • Researcher users can see all of the Items, Collections, and Item Types pages, but cannot edit.

After creating your Omeka site, you can start adding items.  How easy is it to add an item?  Very: if you’re interested, here is a link to a quick video on adding items.  (The video was created without sound since it was done during the workshop).

Want some examples of how Omeka is used?  Check out the Omeka.net showcase or the Omeka.org showcase.  You can also find example by Googling Omeka.  There is a lot more you can do when you set up your own installation of Omeka (through Omeka.org).

Some other digital tools (not necessarily to use with Omeka) mentioned during the workshop include:  MediaThread and Neatline.

How would you like to incorporate multimedia in your teachings?

THATCamp Lehigh Valley–WordPress

THATCamp Lehigh Valley is March 1-2 at Lehigh University.  Day one is workshop day and we are starting with WordPress.


WordPress.comMany people know WordPress as a blogging tool, but it can be used for much more.  Participants were asked to set up a WordPress account in advance, so those steps were not part of this workshop.  You can use WordPress as a website, too, as I do for my site.  An example used in the workshop was First-Year Lehigh Engineers.

To get started, you will want to decide on how you want your site to look.  Under the WordPress dashboard, you can select your look and feel by going under ‘Appearance’ and selecting your theme.  The theme used for the workshop was ‘Titan’.

Titan Theme

We then went through some general settings in WordPress, where you can set your blog settings for how people can view, read, discuss, etc. your posts.

Next up is actually doing a post in WordPress, such as this one!  Adding text and media is fairly straightforward.  One thing to look at for a post is to look at your setting to publish the post:

WordPress Publish Setting

Another helpful tool on the WordPress page is the ‘Screen Options’ in the upper right corner.

Also on your ‘Add New Post’ page is an option to provide some metadata for your post.  You can add Categories and Tags that you can use to provide keywords to describe what your post is about.  Now you can ‘Preview’ your post before you publish it.

We just set up a blog and created a post in about 25 minutes.

Sticking to My Guns

MP900398959Guns.  Not only are they everywhere, but they are very much on everyone’s mind of late.  As with many things political, people are greatly divided on this topic.  The issue is clouded…by people’s emotions, their passions, and their fears.  It is also clouded because of how the debates are often focused:  on what’s wrong and can it be fixed.

Recently I was fortunate to hear a presentation by Richard Harwood, of The Harwood Institute and author of “The Work of Hope”.  The talk was geared towards librarians and how libraries can be active in building their communities.  It was a very good and engaging talk, providing many take-aways.  However, one thing he said really struck a chord with me, especially in our current political climate:

We need to change the conversations we have in our communities.  Currently, we try to create change by focusing on what’s wrong rather than focusing on what our aspirations are. (Lyrasis eGathering, February 7, 2013)

There is a lot of focus on what is wrong:  too many guns, too much gun violence, too much gun control, not enough gun control, people trying to take away our Constitutional rights, crazy people, lack of healthcare, lack of economic opportunities, mental health issues, etc.  What if we do flip the conversation and ask ourselves what we aspire to be as country and as a citizenry.  One of my aspirations for my country is for it to be a place where people can live, work, and pursue their own aspirations freely and safely.  How do we achieve this?  Some would argue that the only way we can be a safe society is to have more gun owners and more guns.  I, personally, don’t want to live in a society where this what we aspire to be.  I want to be a safer and freer society with fewer guns and fewer gun owners; where guns are again considered items more for sport and recreation.  I respect people’s right to bear arms and their enjoyment of guns.  I do not respect being force-fed the belief that we need guns because there is so much to fear in each other and our country.

Two other aspirations I have are peace and happiness.  Certainly, for some, owning a gun (or guns) does offer peace of mind.  Again, we should be asking ourselves why we want these guns.  Is it to pursue a hobby or the sport of hunting or is it the only solution we have to calm all our fears?  Do we aspire to be vigilantes or do we aspire to be good and trusting citizens to each other?  Can we reach peace and happiness if we live in regular (and often unfounded) fear?  Our psychological well being will greatly suffer if we continue with this kind of approach.  Although mental health has been brought into this debate, it doesn’t address the mental and psychological repercussions of actually shooting another human being.  Trained military members, armed forces, and police officers have been greatly impacted by shooting another individual.  During a period of time where crime, especially violent crime, has decreased, we have been led to believe crime is rampant and we need to live in fear.  Aren’t we happier sending our kids to safe schools, living peacefully together, and enjoying the many freedoms we have in this country?

I would also challenge politicians and citizens to aspire to compromise.  For whatever reason, compromise is viewed as being weak or wrong or lacking.  Ironically, many of these arguments over guns center around the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a document that was created through compromise, a great deal of compromise.  We can forever debate whether the intention of the 2nd Amendment was really about a well regulated militia or the right of an individual to bear arms, but those endless debates do not bring us any closer to making things better.  I can certainly agree with an individual’s right to ‘keep and bear arms’, but I also believe that it does not guarantee the right to keep and bear ALL arms.  Let us not forever debate the exact intentions of our founders, but rather work for solutions as they did: through compromise.

For our country, I hope we continue to aspire to be the best and strongest country in the world.  We will be that because of the great diversity of people and ideas we have here in the United States.  We will hinder that if we continue to limit ourselves by focusing too much on what all is wrong with our country and by not focusing and continuing to build what is great about our country.


First Strides


Why a walking and running workshop geared just for women?  Several reasons, but one underlying reason is that women approach working out much differently than men do.  Men tend to have a ‘just do it’ attitude when it comes to working out.  Women, on the other hand, like guidance, prefer some instruction, and sometimes need regular encouragement.  That is what First Strides does for you!  First Strides is a guided workout program geared to help women progress regardless of where they are currently in their fitness level.

First Strides can help you achieve your fitness goals, whether it is just to start doing some exercise, getting in shape, improving your walking or running speed, meeting new people, walking or running in a particular race, or to start looking and feeling better.  Don’t have a particular goal in mind?  First Strides also sets an initial goal for you!  At the end of your program you will be able to walk or run in a 5K event.  The First Strides’ program starts at a very basic level, where you decide if you want to walk, jog, run, or any combination.  The program allows you to change your mind or adjust depending on how you want to progress.  Each week, additional time and difficulty is slowly added to the program.  After twelve weeks, you will be walking, jogging or running not only faster and further, but you will also be ready to compete in a 5K event.

Whether it is you that wants to start a new walking or running routine or you know someone who has been talking about exercising more, First Strides can help meet those fitness goals.  First Strides takes elvce at several locations throFghoit the year:  Lehigh Parkway in Allentown, Sand Island in Bethlehem, as well as Bethlehem Township, Hanover Township, and the Poconos.  st Strides pr Sand Island in will be rting March 21, 2013.  Ther more information and to register for Firany of these st Strides, p programslease visit the website:  http://www.firststrides.com/.

Why I Voted for President Barack Obama

Why I cast my vote for Obama:
I draw much of my inspiration from the foundational documents of our country:

From the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

From the Constitution of the United States of America
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

One thing that always struck me about the how these documents were worded is that I strongly believe our founding fathers recognized that what they would create would need to be not only an enduring bedrock of our nation but also a living, growing organism that would need to change as the nation and times change. The phrase “in order to form a more perfect Union” to me says we will constantly strive to reach that goal. I strong feel that they carefully chose these founding words to expand rights and not to restrict, or take away rights. We have seen those rights expand through the writing of the Constitution itself with the Bill of Rights, through the Women’s Rights movement, through the Civil Right Movement, and we should continue to move towards expanding rights.

Some reasons why I cast my vote in favor of President Barack Obama:
In Support of ‘Life’:

  • Life includes the quality of life for all, which includes not only improved healthcare, but universal access to that healthcare.
  • Life includes ensuring we are good stewards of our environment, to make sure we continue to have clean air and water. It also means looking not only at increasing our energy production in environmentally sound ways, but also looking at becoming more efficient in our energy consumption.

In Support of ‘Liberty’:

  • Liberty includes not having an oppressive government controlling many personal decisions. But liberty is also a balance between those personal freedoms and the general welfare of communities that form our union.
  • Liberty includes expanding the rights and equality of all citizens of the United States of America and not just those of people who agree with your own personal ideology.
  • Liberty includes expanding women’s rights, including very personal decisions that involve our own choices on reproduction. I am pro-life much as Thomas Friedman states much more eloquently in his article, Why I am Pro-Life. I am pro-choice because I believe I have the right to make the most informed decision that affects my health and my body. I am NOT pro-abortion and therefore believe that the best way to reduce abortions is not through over-regulation but rather through comprehensive education and affordable access to healthcare (which includes preventative measures).
  • Liberty includes expanding voter rights, for if we truly want to call ourselves a democracy then restricting these rights works against that.

The Pursuit of Happiness can include many, many things.

  • The Pursuit of Happiness includes equal and affordable access to education.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness includes the right to marry the person you love, regardless of that person’s gender, race, or religion. There was a time that marrying outside your religion was supposed to destroy the foundation of marriage and that didn’t happen. There was a time that interracial marriages were supposed to destroy the foundation of marriage and that didn’t happen. It is time to realize that same sex marriages will also not destroy the foundation of marriage.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness includes livable wages and opportunities for gainful employment. This is also tied to education, not only higher education, but vocational and technical education as well. There are way too many jobs out there that can’t be filled because people lack the necessary skills or training.

There is also justice, which means examining outdated laws, reducing the prison populations, and keeping the Supreme Court politics neutral. There is domestic tranquility that includes being a strong union, but also leading in a disruptive global setting. Providing for the common defence has been fairly safe for quite some time. Even with the argument of military spending cuts, I want to see spending cuts in unnecessary military contracts and not cuts in the support of our troops. Promote the General Welfare includes increasing research, supporting PBS and NPR, improving education, healthcare, etc. Above all though, Promoting the General Welfare means expanding rights and not restricting rights.

Those are just some of the things that led me to vote for our current President, President Barack Obama.