How to Create Fake News and Deal in Private Data

Last week, a few friends gathered for games over pizza, and they ended up playing Puerto Rico, a board game in which each (in this case) white male player uses brown “colonist” pieces to amass wealth and take over an indigenous island.

I could watch one guy’s stomach turn in dismay. So many games have us mastering others (as in this great piece on New Zealand), but few make it so clear.

But other serious games have us enter into messy experiences to better empathize or change things for the better. Perhaps you’ve worked with friends to save the world from a Pandemic, or survived the Oregon Trail even after you’ve eaten all your buffalo and lost a wagon axle plus your smallest child. (more…)

The curious thing about bucket lists

Oddly enough, I started writing about bucket lists… and ended up exploring my thoughts on wills. So here we are. I suppose I felt I had to set bucket lists in the context of our wills, because I see both as a snapshot of our hopes and desires at a moment in time.

I’d like to see the world, we say, but also to give money to Jake and his donut shop. I want to make sure I have money in retirement, but I also want to go snorkeling in the Bahamas. Probably I’ll donate my house to the animal shelter, but what about petting a (very well-fed, very sleepy) crocodile in Africa first?

Dreams, by Rafael Olea on Flickr

A will may be a way of passing on what we love to those we love… but a bucket list is a way of (more…)

What I Love About Wills

Little Women is a Civil War-era novel of close friendship among four sisters, and in one of the more vivid scenes, Amy worries about her dying sister while trying to please her wealthy aunt… and resolves this tension around money, life, and death by writing her own will.

I could do that!, thought childhood me, when I first read the story.

So I pulled out my flowered stationery and wrote a list of everything I owned: several books, two American Girl dolls, $100 in the bank, and a small collection of music boxes. I willed each one to my friends, siblings, or parents… who I’m sure would have appreciated the return on investment in the form of a rotating ballerina.

1695 New London Special Court Elizabeth Olmsteds Certfied Daniel Coit Clerk

But unless you stand to directly inherit a fortune (more…)

What would a day without the ladies look like?

If the women in your life disappeared, what would happen?

Reading about this today, I realized I’d find it hard to get much done:

  • no bus driver to take me to work
  • no one to purchase the library’s journals
  • no one to manage the students who lend books
  • no manager to help with livid patrons
  • no sister to call, make me laugh, and make my day better
  • no mum to watch my disabled sibling, so that I can work
  • no aunts to check in on our aging relatives, so that I can live far away
  • no admin to book my tickets for business travel and file the paperwork
  • no one to arrange the actual logistics of my work trips
  • and few people on Facebook writing posts that keep us all supported and encouraged.

And when Amos gets home in half an hour, he’d find our laundry undone, our dishes undone, our bed unmade, our sink and counters dirty, the letters to his mum unwritten, his finances unplanned, his flights unbooked, and no one ready to listen as he unwinds from his day.

(And yes, this second shift of work still falls to women, as much as Amos and I try to share the load.)

On Bullshit Jobs

I’m thinking of this as I read a review copy of David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, a book that expands his sensational essay on the meaningless of much office work to look at why folks push papers (more…)

How to Get Tools, Toys, and Seeds from Your Library

I’m a big pusher for libraries.

“Did you know they have free stuff?” I say.

You roll your eyes. Yes, you know.

“I mean, they have books, but did you know they have other free stuff?”


It’s easy to take the free thing for granted, but many early libraries were only open to rich people and researchers, or required a fee to use.

Library in St Florian, by Dorena WM on Flickr, CC-BY-ND license

It’s only in the past hundred years or so that libraries have been open to everyone in a neighborhood.

So it’s worth knowing what they have.

I’ve covered genealogy databases before; this post focuses on more unusual things that libraries lend, with examples in my area of the eastern San Francisco Bay.  (more…)

Affordable Genealogy Research

I’ve been interested in genealogy ever since a childhood 4-H project, where I carefully wrote each ancestor’s name above a colored rhinestone on a poster.

And even now, I enjoy exploring the details of historical records, asking for stories, and helping others find out more about their families.

But some of the best resources cost quite a bit. Below are places to start searching, and ways to do so affordably.

Start by asking questions.

Before searching online, you’ll want to map out your family, including the names, locations, and important dates of people living before 1940. Once you get that far back, it’s easier to find public records that could help you link people together. (more…)

What good things do guns and abortion serve?

After another person shot American children in a school, we’re back to the familiar swirl of adrenaline-raising memes and heartfelt posts. It’s frustrating, as Brian writes, when those in power choose not to use their power to improve policy… and instead send thoughts and prayers.

As another friend posted, we set aside the rights of some citizens if any one person in their group harms others: (more…)

How to find things on the internet

Recently, I’ve had folks ask for my expertise in things like how to do research, how to find things online, and how to be an expert Googler. I have a few tips for web searching that I’ll share in the next post.

But really, your most important skill isn’t to search better…

It’s to think better.

Who has this information? Who can help you find it if it’s not online? Who’s selling false information, and why? Who’s slanting this? Where’s a good counter-perspective?

So before you get searching, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Who knows what I should be searching for?

When I was thinking of grad school and wanted to learn about people and economics, I didn’t start by researching grad school rankings. I started by (more…)

Using folk motifs to write stories of your own

As a child, I drank in folktales in all colors, from the olive book of fairy tales to the crimson and lilac books.

And then, I tried rustling through the coats in our large wooden wardrobe to find Narnia, or sweeping under the rug to find a virtuous girl’s golden coins.

No luck.

So I decided to write my own stories in the clip art-filled Creative Writer computer program.

The hardest part was inspiration. And now I wish I’d realized how these interests in folktales and in writing could be combined!

Exploring Folklore Types, or Motifs

As an anthropology librarian, I often get asked for help in finding folk stories, as with a researcher who wanted all the medieval stories about pear trees and fertility.

Luckily, we have folklore indexes.  (more…)