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September 2009
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November 2009

Beauty's In The Eye...

Here in the South, beauty pageant culture is a very big deal, and there are many girls younger than Josie who've already learned the runway walk.   Marian cringes at the idea -- it's a subculture she doesn't want any part of.

On the other hand, given Josie's requited love for the camera, getting a bit of modeling work has some appeal.  It's not a practical pursuit right now, given everything else M. is trying to keep up with, but she was intrigued by the Gap's Casting Call contest, whose winners will be the featured photos at babyGap and GapKids stores early next year.  Maybe a foot in the door?

So Josie's been entered, and Marian is trying to get everyone she can to vote for her as a fan 1064500255178 favorite.  You go to the Gap Casting Call website, and enter Josie's number (794876305) and can vote once a day from now through November 17.  You do need to register with in order to vote (ah, there's the catch!), but it's fairly painless and you can opt out of getting email ads from them.

Being the dutiful Nonai that I am, I've registered and linked and I'll be putting in my votes.  Marian'll be grateful for any help she gets.

At The Zoo

"C'mon Bug.  We can't get out that way."

"But why?"

"Look -- they've got it blocked off.  We've got to go around this way."

"But Why!?"

"I dunno.  C'mon along this way."

She plants her feet and gives me her insistent look, eyes fierce, lower lip pushed out.  "Tell me WHY!"

"I don't know why.  D'you want me to make something up?"

Her face relaxes.  "Sure!"

"It's like this....  A wild alligator escaped and is wandering around over there.  A four year old little girl walked down that way, and the alligator caught her and gobbled her all up!  So they blocked that way off until they catch the wild alligator so that no other four year old little girls can go that way."

"Oh....!" She says thoughtfully, "I see....!"

Public Private

When I first went to work at the National Library of Medicine you couldn't get a password to search Medline until you'd been trained.  They'd gotten it down to a basic three days, plus a couple of days for the specialized databases -- a week altogether.   A decade or so earlier, it took three months.  No, I am not making this up.

You had options.  Although no private company would've built Medline, there were several that were eager to provide access.  BRS had been formed by some of the people who'd been involved in the original MEDLARS project.  When I was in library school, DIALOG was the big dog in the bibliographic database market, with a portfolio of more than a dozen databases.   But Medline was the first -- when it came up in 1972 1971, it was the first publicly available bibliographic database in the world.  But "publicly available" didn't mean you could just come in.  NLM licensed the database to independent companies, but with plenty of restrictions -- required training being one of them.

Searching Medline (MEDLARS On Line -- the original project had been MEDical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System) was cheapest if you went directly to NLM.  By law, they couldn't charge more than the actual cost of providing access.  You paid by the minute, so a librarian spent a good bit of


time before dialing up working out the search strategy so as to be as efficient as possible.  The companies had to make money, so they had to charge more, so they had to build fancier search engines, had to offer additional services to draw customers.  And they were very successful.  They hated the fact that they had to compete with "the government".  But if the government hadn't built the database in the first place, they wouldn't have existed.

This was all pre-internet.  (Remind me to tell you sometime about my experience with the first IBM XT personal computer purchased by NLM's Bibliographic Services Division).  So you dialed into a commercial telecommunications company (NLM had contracts with two), and linked into the database.  Lots of people made money off of that government investment. 

I was there when access was opened up to physicians.  Without training.   Highly controversial within the organization.  At the time, I was the assistant editor of the NLM Technical Bulletin, the newsletter that was sent monthly to everyone with an access code.  In the course of a year, the number that we sent out increased by a factor of ten.

One of my projects at the end of my Associate year was to investigate whether or not videodiscs (twelve inch platters encoded in an analog format) would be a good vehicle for distributing information in the event of toxic waste spills.  They weren't, but in the course of my investigations I became aware of the five inch "compact optical discs" that Phillips & Sony had recently developed and were trying to find a commercial use for.   I calculated the number of discs that would be required to hold the entire MEDLINE database and suggested, in the formal presentation that capped the year, that they could be used as a distribution medium.  It seemed pretty far-fetched, but I thought it was a fun idea.

The commercial outfits always complained about competition from NLM.  One of the ironies of capitalism is that while competition is the essential engine, every capitalist hates competitors.  And having the government as a competitor is worst of all.  But NLM never put anybody out of business, and the investments that were made in MEDLARS and MEDLINE were the foundation of the search industry. 

It was a government agency that developed the internet in the first place.  The Defense Department wanted a communications network that could survive a nuclear attack.  Tim Berners-Lee worked for a government funded organization when he invented the world wide web.

So it's hard for me to get too freaked out about government intrusions into the marketplace.  Public health insurance option putting private companies out of business?  I don't think so.  Public access to federally funded research destroying the STM industry?  Probably not.