Greasemonkey script for Lewisville / Farmer’s Branch Library Lookup

Greasemonkey is an add-on for Firefox that lets you change how you use particular websites and the web in general. For example, you can use a Greasemonkey script to strip Adsense ads from every website you visit or you can change the way Gmail works using GM Scripts.

Anyway, I took someone else’s library lookup script based on Jon Udell’s original Library Lookup project, added some code to use Lewisville and Farmer’s Branch’s OPAC to do an ISBN search from Amazon. So, what this means is that if I’m looking at books on Amazon, in the background the script will find the ISBN and then do an ISBN search in both the Lewisville and Farmer’s Branch Public Libraries to see if they have the book. If they do, it will present a link on the Amazon page where I can click through and reserve it at the library. Download the LVPL / FBPL Library Lookup script here. See the screenshot below:

For my friends in Austin, someone else already took time to make a version of the script for the Austin Public Library.

Since Jody works at the library, I often spend time there reading magazines and newspapers. All the good information with none of the guilt at buying something I’ll throw away soon thereafter. Particularly good for things like Business Week, the WSJ, and Investor’s Business Daily.

Updated: There’s a related script that adds a WorldCat link to Amazon book pages, so that when you click the link for any particular book, WorldCat will search all nearby libraries for the book. Google Book Search is also adding WorldCat links for any book that is accessible online. Unsuprisingly, they are not providing these links for books where you only view a preview as they have some arrangement to make money with the publisher in those cases.

The Age of Sail, the English Civil War, the Restoration, and so much more

Ever since starting Neal Stephenson’s amazing Baroque Cycle series, I’ve been in love with the 17th century. Stephenson brings it all to life in a story that is historical, but also entirely fictitious, almost like historical science-fiction, although that sounds more boring than this is. It is actually the best series I have read in a few years. Very different from but on par with George R.R. Martin’s recent blockbuster series, A Song of Ice and Fire. I actually find the Baroque Cycle to be much richer since it has the benefit of using actual history to flesh out the plot and the world and I find the author more erudite and skillful in his use of language. The characters in the Baroque Cycle are either real historical figures such as Isaac Newton or Christopher Wren or entirely fictional creations of the author. Each of the three books of the series was published originally weighing in at around 800-900 pages, but since coming to paperback each volume has been split into three additional books for a total of nine (I think). Go to your local used book store or buy the original used hard-covers on Amazon. It’ll be easier to keep up with and it will save you money.

While reading the series, I found myself poring over Wikipedia engrossed in subjects I knew nothing about, like sailing history, tall ships, 17th century history, types of carriages, historical figures, etc. For example, I had no idea Winston Churchill was the direct descendant of a central figure in English history, John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough. This is just one of the many things I learned while reading this series. I also spent several delightful hours reading about wigs, Whigs, William Prince of Orange, Gottfried Leibniz, thief-takers, Louis XIV, Raskolniks, Robert Hooke, and much more.

If you want to submerge yourself in a place both familiar and utterly foreign, this is the thing for you.

Ahoy, flukes!

One Sunday night about a month ago, I was in the Half-price Books skulking around for something to read. Not being particularly optimistic or venturesome by nature, I couldn’t decide what I wanted, so I just paced around the store waiting for inspiration to strike. It didn’t.

Thankfully, an employee came over the intercom to announce that the store would be closing in ten minutes, and, that if we wanted to transact business we should get our collective asses in gear. I didn’t want to end the night without a book, so I ran over to Literature and grabbed the first thing that had a high probability of being good (and cheap). This turned out to be a thin paperback of Moby-Dick, complete with a 1960’s-style woodcut illustration of Captain Ahab on the cover. It cost me all of twenty-eight cents.

Almost every night for the past several weeks, I have propped myself up in bed to read Moby-Dick. It has been a revelation in many ways, and I have been pleased to jettison my preconceptions of the thing in exchange for actual experience. For such a small book, it delivers more than whole piles of other books. It is as deep and rich as the ocean itself, soaked with Melville’s humor and vitality. Melville devotes entire chapters (although all his chapters are brief) to various asides on whaling, whale biology, history, and seafaring. The entire first part of the book is a bibliographical list of places where whales appear in literature; from Jonah’s Leviathan in the Bible to Michel de Montaigne and Hamlet.

I have learned a few things as well:

  • The Pequod’s first mate, Starbuck, is the inspiration for the coffee chain. This means Starbucks stole their name from Moby-Dick. Somehow, this is not surprising.
  • Moby-Dick is based in part on a real albino whale by the name of Mocha Dick.

I’m still reading through the book, but one thing I’m starting to realize is the widespread poverty of modern language and literature. With so much being written and talked about, there is so little being said that has any lasting value or charm. Living in the information age is like living in the age of crap. It makes you appreciate those rare individuals who express things well. I’ll have to remember that the next time I go on about something unimportant: Speak less, say more.


  1. Read Moby-Dick online for free at Project Gutenberg.
  2. Moby-Dick entry at Wikipedia

Into the Wild

Into the WildOne of the auditors at work who often inhabits the cube next to me recommended a book he had been reading, “Into the Wild” by John Krakaurer. I picked it up while on lunch and read it over the next two days. It’s the tragic tale of 24 year old Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, an intelligent and educated young man with existential angst and wanderlust, who lived off the land of rural Alaska for one summer before succumbing to starvation and injury from mysterious causes and dying alone inside an abandoned school bus where he had been camped. You know going into the book that he dies. The book is really about trying to unravel his motivations and reasons for living such a perilous life on the fringe. Why did he feel so uncomfortable in his world and with himself? Why did he feel so strongly about proving himself against nature and reality? What experience did he hope to achieve?

It’s also about growing up and searching for meaning, the relationships between fathers and sons, the individual and society, the siren song of idealism against the inhumanity of reality. It’s about life and ultimately failure.

“Women are still a closed book to men”

I found this article interesting, although not surprising. Any guesses at the reasons why men don’t read novels by females?

But a gender gap remains in what people choose to read, at least among the cultural elite. Four out of five men said the last novel they read was by a man, whereas women were almost as likely to have read a book by a male author as a female. When asked what novel by a woman they had read most recently, a majority of men found it hard to recall or could not answer. Women, however, often gave several titles. The report said: ‘Men who read fiction tend to read fiction by men, while women read fiction by both women and men.

Out of the recent eighteen or so books I have mentioned here on my site (not even including audiobooks), only three have been by women, and two of the books were by the same woman, Margaret Atwood.

On the importance of language

Notice how the following statements differ in meaning. This has bothered me.

  1. Know thyself. Okay, the classic admonition to know thyself.
  2. Know, thyself. A call of responsibility for your own understanding.
  3. Know thy self. Consider the nature of self. Awareness of ego is fundamental to understanding.

A Feast for Crows

George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows is now on sale after a long wait. Amazon’s got it for $18.48. Dang. I need to read this. Is Santa Claus listening?

On a related note: Caught with my book pants down

Book reviews for people with gnat-sized attention spans

I’ve been reading a lot lately, although I should probably be doing a lot of the things on my to-do list.

Deliverance This is the 1970’s answer to Fight Club. Modern man in a search for meaning, what’s real and vital. The desire for meaning and the brutal force of the reality they find. The book is so real it makes you wonder if James Dickey had the experiences described in the book. The book is fast-paced and full of action and violence, and of course, the whole backwoods sodomy thing the movie is well-known for. I’d be curious to hear thoughts from a female reader.

Blind Assassin I gave this four stars too. Margaret Atwood makes me ache. She is able to reach inside and touch that quiet center we all have. Her metaphors are delicious and the depth of the story is meticulous. It’s one of those time machine books where you travel into the story. It did leave me feeling wistful and sad, but not in a bad way. More like a lingering sigh.

Day of the Locust This book is depressing. It’s the literary equivalent of watching a “Cops” marathon. It’s got a gritty all-too-real thing going, but after a while you want to go home and take a shower so you can forget about all the cockfighting (literally), midgets, and human misery.

Neuromancer This could have been written yesterday and it stands up amazingly well for 1981. For a book about the future it’s remarkably relevant despite the obsolete references to “RAM”, dot matrix printers, etc. A great story, very Phillip K. Dick in so many ways, despite it’s more pronounced techno-fetishism.

The Algebraist

The AlgebraistDuring my evening saunter to the bookstore I was delighted to discover a recently published (as of September 21st) sci-fi novel by Iain M. Banks, author of some of the most enjoyable science-fiction you’ll ever read. This new book is called The Algebraist, for reasons I haven’t discovered as of yet, and it was a Hugo Nominee for best novel. Iain Banks is one of those authors I look for every time I make my circuit through the aisles during my visits to the mega bookstores in my area. It is a very short list of authors and I was very pleased and pleasantly surprised to see his new book. I was wondering when he would get around to writing something else. I spent the next two and a half hours blissfully installed in one of the leather chairs back in the business section, which caused me to get home later than expected. I called breen on the walk home to let him know there was a new Banks book, but he quickly became less interested when he found out it wasn’t a Culture novel, the usual setting for Banks’ sci-fi where sleek machine minds run the show with characteristic dry wit. He said he might get it to read for his and Sarah‘s trip to Japan. That’s gotta be a long flight.

Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake

Good moralistic sci-fi satire from Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This book has been an eery trip, very cold and numb, and depressing… yet funny. This passage gives you the flavor.

When did the body first set out on its own adventures? Snowman thinks; after having ditched its old travelling companions, the mind and the soul, for whom it had once been considered a mere corrupt vessel or else a puppet acting out their dramas for them, or else bad company, leading the other two astray. It must have got tired of the soul’s constant nagging and whining and the anxiety-driven intellectual web-spinning of the mind, distracting it whenever it was getting its teeth into something juicy or its fingers into something good. It had dumped the other two back there somewhere, leaving them stranded in some damp sanctuary or stuffy lecture hall while it made a beeline for the topless bars, and it had dumped culture along with them: music and painting and poetry and plays. Sublimation, all of it; nothing but sublimation according to the body. Why not cut to the chase?

But the body had its own cultural forms. It had its own art. Executions were its tragedies, pornography was its romance.