Fresh Fiction Media Buzz – What book were they talking about?

Fresh Fiction: Media Buzz

It’s 11:20pm, and you’re lying in bed almost asleep watching the Daily Show. Jon’s interviewing an author who wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s presidential cabinet. Great interview, sounds interesting, but you’re so sleepy you simply can’t remember the name or author of the book in the morning. Sound familiar?  The Internet can help you remember so that you can pick up the book from your local library!

Fresh Fiction’s Media Buzz has a quick form that let’s you pick from LOTS of different radio and television programs. Examples are Oprah, The Colbert Report, Morning Edition, and 20/20. Choose a show, click the button, get a list of all the books and authors on the show by descending date order. Figure out which book you’re looking for and go to the WorldCat website to find the library closest to you that has it.

Fresh Fiction, by the way, looks like it is a good Readers Advisory site. I haven’t looked in depth at any other features of the site yet.

I’ll post about Readers Advisory and Worldcat at another point, but feel free to discuss or ask about them in the comments.

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Free Piano (and other instrument!) Resources

Sometimes milking the advantages of the Internet isn’t a case of finding only one site that is perfect for your needs. In the case of learning how to play piano (or play piano better) and finding sheet music I will subscribe to the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. And your fish doesn’t have to be piano sheet music and instruction, either. Every search that I explain below, you can substitute the word “piano” with “guitar”, “drums”, “violin”, “clarinet” , “tuba”….

If your six year old is trying to make music on the piano in the living room, or your middle-schooler wants to practice with some new songs, or — and most importantly — you want to learn how to play piano — the Internet is a low cost option to accomplish those things. In fact, it’s free. Disclaimer: if you are serious about becoming a good piano player, I’d suggest spending a bit on face-to-face lessons with an instructor. Try and find one agreeable to teaching one lesson a month so that you can learn on your own but still get posture, fingering, and other correction from a live person. If you just want to learn well enough to be the life of the Christmas party, you probably don’t need lessons.

The search strategy for finding sheet music and lessons is incredibly easy and common sense, but I bet most of you have never even thought about getting these things for free. Sometimes knowing something you didn’t know was possible is half the battle.

Here are some keywords and phrases to search on in Google that will give you useful results right in the first few hits. Remember, you can substitute practically any instrument for “piano” to get results you need. You also aren’t limited to keywords like “popular”. Try “country”, “musicals”, and other types. You also aren’t limited by the skill levels listed below.

free piano sheet music
free beginner piano sheet music
free advanced piano sheet music
free popular piano sheet music
free online piano lessons
free piano lesson videos
learn to play piano
how to play piano

Below the search results, you can also see “Searches related to” with your search terms. Some of those will find useful results, so click on them if you want to see other sites.

Result URLS leading to sheet music are of different qualities in the selection, appearance of the sheet music, level of ease in finding the music, and other variables. Look for sites that provide readable scans or fully formatted PDF docs, try and determine if the music is public domain if you plan to perform in public or teach professionally with it, and decide if you even like the selection. If you are trying to teach your own young child how to play, look for sites with music that includes fingering notation, scales, and sheet music reading instruction. Bookmark the sites you like in your web browser (or a bookmarking site) for future use.

I suggest one particular site for those that need blank sheet music: http://www.blanksheetmusic.net/ . This is a very simple and easy to use site where you can customize the kind of blank sheet music you need — not just piano! — and print it off. You can also create an account in order to save previously customized pages.

Free lessons range from high production value videos down to simple drawings and verbal description. Once again, find the site you like and bookmark it. It’s so easy to just keep searching instead of moving forward with your purpose.

I’ve found that some of the most easily found piano lesson videos for all skill levels are on YouTube. If you search using the keywords and phrases for lessons noted above (without “free” or “online” because YouTube is already both free and online), you will get tons of results. You need to do some sifting through to find one that will appeal to you because the instructors are all very different people, teach differently, and have videos with varying degrees of quality. Here’s one where the guy seems like he’s trying very hard to be weird, but once he gets down to business he explains exactly what you need to know about beginning to play.

YouTube also suggests other search phrases, and once you pick a video to check, it will suggest related videos for you to watch.  If you make a YouTube account, which is incredibly easy if you have any kind of Google sign-in, like Gmail, you can follow the creators of the lessons you like and also add videos to your favorites so that you can be organized with your lesson planning.

I hope this helps amateurs, professionals, instructors, students, and parents. Enjoy!

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Symbols.com – Encyclopedia of Western Symbology


Have you ever wondered where the peace sign came from? Or did you know that a swastika was a symbol first used by Sumerians in 3,000 B.C? You can find this out and more at Symbols.com, an encyclopedia with 2,500 entries of symbols that can searched.

There is a graphic index, which is a cool feature to find a symbol you’ve seen without knowing the name or how to describe it verbally. If you answer four questions about the unknown symbol regarding its graphic elements, a search result page will come up that will very likely contain your symbol somewhere. When I tested it, I found the peace sign right away. The graphic index form also has great help descriptions for how to answer.

There is also a word index with names of symbols and phrases that describe them. I did not find any way to just browse the site content, but the word index and quicklink “random sign” are good places to start surfing.

Finding this site, for me, was like wandering through the stacks of a library and spying a book on something strange and cool that I could easily lose a few hours to. I think you’ll like it!

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World Mythology Resource – Encyclopedia Mythica

If you need to know about, or are interested in, classical or world mythology, Encyclopedia Mythica, is a resource I encourage you to check out. This is a searchable 15k+ article  encyclopedia developed by a group of researchers with a yen to share mythology and folklore with the world. It has not been updated since late 2009, so I am unsure whether the site is “dead” or not. Sometimes, such as with a site about science, it’s important that the information is recent. In the case of world mythology, you will be pretty safe looking at old content. Later in this post I describe places where the site does not present a lot of information, but I want to assure you ahead of time that there are many detailed articles describing plot points, associations, and context.

Update 12/6/10 – The Encyclopedia Mythica site maintainer said that the site will be kept up more actively in a few months time with the unveiling of a new online edition.

The site is a comprehensive look at world mythologies such as Aztec, Egyptian, Native American, and of course Greek. Some traditions have detailed articles, but many do not. Greek mythology, of course, is particularly strong.  Even though many articles are only a one line description, there are just so MANY of them in each mythology or folklore area. 99 articles for Basque mythology!?!

Now, it’s true that the articles in Basque mythology are miserable one sentence (or less) in content. However, these are names and concepts in Basque mythology that are not even entered in Wikipedia (*gasp*). If you’ve got a name for an evil spirit you have to write about in a comparative mythology paper, you’ve got a Google search for other sources in the making.

There are also a few featured sections such as Arthurian Legend, Genealogy tables, and a Bestiary.

The site navigation is annoying. The home page doesn’t have a way to get to important pages. For instance, the only way to get the the “Mythology”  page that divides up further into mythology by continent from the homepage is to choose “All Mythologies” from a drop-down and THEN click on Mythology on a left-side navigation menu that does not show up on individual article pages. Here’s the direct link to the Mythology page: http://www.pantheon.org/areas/mythology/ .

One research suggestion when using this site is to use it in conjunction with Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s mythology portal is pretty lame. I wouldn’t start there for directed searching. (Though it is interesting to browse!) But using Encyclopedia Mythica, you can find what you are looking for (ways to ward off evil spirits — just search on “evil spirits”) and then perhaps get more detail by searching in Wikipedia (or Google).


Quick related information literacy tidbit: In the first paragraph of this post, I mentioned that a group of researchers had developed the site. When you are willy nilly clicking on Google search results, you need to know how to evaluate the information on the sites you land on. An important thing about a site you should check is, “Who the heck is writing all this, anyway?” Any page worth its salt will explain somewhere who the contributors are. This might be an “About” page, or an “Introduction” page, and it might be a tad hard to find. But finding out whether a site is “authoritative”, as in, “Do these people know what they are talking about and do they care about accuracy?”, can give you confidence about what you read on the site.

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How Stuff Works

How Stuff Works

How Stuff Works is a Discovery Company site that is “the award-winning source of credible, unbiased, and easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works”. The site is not only fun to browse through, but it is also quite useful for reports assigned in late elementary or junior high/high school. The articles are instructive and provide an understanding of the principles behind the subject. As an example, I found the article on how lasers work. One section was dedicated to a plain language, and detailed, explanation of the atom.

The site is organized into categories and subcategories on topics such as science, tech, and entertainment. It’s easy to browse, though a bit tedious when clicking through subcategories. It’s also searchable, and I found using the search made finding specific information easier.

There is an interesting section within the site you might want to check out: Science vs. Myth . I decided to peek at an article on how exorcism works and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was surprised to find an in-depth article on the principles behind exorcism, a comprehensive overview of Catholic exorcism, and pop culture ties to the subject. Of course, this post would not be complete without linking to How Zombies Work .

I’m sure that most of the site’s information is available through Wikipedia, or a Google search on your topic. I recommend How Stuff Works as a better starting point, rather than alternative sources, for a more lesson-like approach that is modeled after the way Discovery Channel presents information in its documentary programs.

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The CIA World Factbook

The CIA World FactbookIf you need to find out information about any country that is recognized by the United Nations, whether for a school report, background about a place before traveling, or just simply because you are interested, the CIA World Factbook is an online source of information that is free and easy to use. This resource is developed and published by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States government.

The World Factbook is easy to use. There is a dropdown box on the right side of the page to “Select a Country or Location”. Go ahead and select any country. The resulting page will show the flag, area map, photos, and relative location of that country. Beneath will be an unexpanded list of subsections including Geography, People, Government, and Economy. Each of these contain brief summaries and/or statistics about the subjects you choose.

Don’t be fooled by the search function up top. It often hangs up or produces an error message, and even when it works it would have probably been easier to select a country in the dropdown box and then navigate to the subsection you were interested in.

The statistics about each country are quite comprehensive, but if you are looking for cultural information or interpretations of the numbers you will need to find additional sources.

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The Best Encyclopedia Ever

Wikipedia

Don’t let your teachers fool you. Wikipedia is the best. As of this writing it has 3,452,000 articles on every subject you can imagine. If you can imagine something it doesn’t have then a) you are very unique and b) Wikipedia lets you share your uniqueness with the world.

It presents information in an orderly fashion, and often the content is organized by a table of contents. If you want to know about M & M’s, but don’t care about their history, click on the section you are interested in. You can find articles by using the search box provided on the upper right corner of the web page. Wikipedia also organizes information through its vast number of portals. Portals are special pages that provide a mini-introduction to a topic and provides subcategories in a directory. On these pages might also be feature articles and other little bits about the subject that people might find interesting.

Wikipedia is reliable. If you don’t believe me, and you don’t believe Wikipedia, then believe experts on cancer who found that the information on cancer in Wikipedia was as accurate as peer-reviewed information and textbooks on the subject. Does this mean that everything you will find in Wikipedia is accurate? No. And here’s a shocker: neither is everything you will find in that shiny new encyclopedia set sitting on the reference shelf of your library.

The way I look at it, there are different levels of accuracy need. Satisficing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Are you trying to find out what the heck this World of Warcraft game is that your teenager is playing all night long in the basement? Does it really matter if you find out a month later that the lead designer mentioned as being responsible for the Burning Crusade expansion was actually involved with a different project at the time? Are you trying to get a basic idea about the Renaissance so you have something intelligent to say when you take a class of Kindergartners to the art museum? Does it matter if the first name is misspelled for some Italian dude who did something or other important during that point in history?

No, it doesn’t matter. If it does matter to you in those cases, you really need to chill out.

But of course, if you need to have a high level of accuracy, you shouldn’t be looking just in Wikipedia anyway. You should be double-checking your facts just as you would if you were composing a presentation to your management team or writing a term paper for one of your classes. Another nice thing about Wikipedia is that many of the articles include citations for the primary sources that provided information for the article. You can double-check your facts using those primary sources, as well as use them to provide other information for your research. Those primary sources might also have citations that will lead you to other sources.

One thing you should know about Wikipedia and ALL other sources of reference information. You need to cite your sources if the information is to be used anywhere that requires citations (or a bibliography). If the information is “common knowledge”, as in you did not take an idea from someone else and you were simply double-checking a fact, you don’t have to cite it. Otherwise you do have to cite your source. Wikipedia has posted information about how to cite articles published there.

At the very least, Wikipedia is there (and has a mobile site for your phone!) to settle your 2am drunken bet on how many digits the largest known prime number is.

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