Southern Heritage and the Confederate Flag

Suppose, for the sake of argument, I grant that the Civil War was not fought over the issue of slavery and that the Confederate flag is a proud symbol of Southern Heritage.

I've heard it said that the flag honors those who fought for freedom. We celebrate the soldiers of World War II, they say, those of the greatest generation who fought for freedom and democracy and against tyranny. Those that the flag represents did no less.

To make this argument requires that we stop right here, and not probe the question any further. That we not ask, what was this freedom for which the brave sons of the Confederacy fought and died? Because it wasn't some vague, nebulous, feel-good, peach pie freedom to live the good life. It was the freedom to destroy the United States of America. The tyranny against which they fought was the democratically elected government of these United States.

I've lived in the South for twenty years and I love it. I hope never to leave. There is so much to be proud of. The myriad contributions to music and literature and great food. The Tuskegee Airmen, the great Universities, and the incredible bravery of the heroes of the Civil Rights movement, sung and unsung. So many men and women of the South have done so much to make this country a better place. But this is not the heritage for which the Confederate flag flies.

A good friend of mine, a decade older than me, once said, "I don't remember World War II, but I sure remember the War Between the States." She meant that growing up as a barefoot red dirt girl in rural Georgia in the late forties & early fifties, World War II was something distant that the men had gone off to. It wasn't talked about much. But the Civil War -- or, rather, the War of Northern Aggression -- was a daily presence. For many in the South, it is still that way.

The virulent hatred of the federal government remains strong. The siren call of "states rights" still sings. When the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court proclaimed earlier this year that federal court rulings regarding same sex marriage should not be obeyed, he was hailed as a hero by his supporters. This is the heritage that the Confederate flag celebrates. It is anti-American in principle and as long as it flies as an official statement in state capitals it gives solace and support and encouragement to those who refuse to accept that we are one nation and who will, on horrific occasions, feel that they are entitled to use violence to "take our country back."

The Southern heritage that I want to celebrate will take that flag, fold it carefully and put it away gently as a reminder of the mistakes that men and women make on our march toward true democracy and the great promise of America. In putting it away, we will honor the best of those who died wearing the Confederate grey, thank them, and forgive them for the mistaken cause for which they fought.

The Southern heritage that I want to celebrate was shining in those stunning scenes on Friday, as family member after family member spoke to Dylann Roof of forgiveness. Felicia Sanders' son was killed.  She said, “You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.” "You took something very precious away from me," said Nadine Collier, whose 70 year old mother was among the murdered. "I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you."

This is the heritage of the South. It sings of the best that human beings can be. It proclaims that hatred never wins and that love is the most powerful force in creation. Can you live up to it? Can I?

 


Data Wranglers in the Edge of Chaos

I love these lines from Rex Sanders:

If the data you need still exists;

If you found the data you need;

If you understand the data you found;

If you trust the data you understand;

If you can use the data you trust;

Someone did a good job of data management.

It encapsulates the goal as well as anything I've seen.

I used it to lead into the first of what I intend to be more or less monthly informal discussion sessions with the folks I'm somewhat tongue-in-cheek referring to as Data Wranglers.  We gathered in the Café at the Edge of Chaos (conveniently just a few steps from my office).   I scheduled it for 4:00 with beer in the fridge and wine on the counter, gave a five minute intro to some of the issues (essentially, what does the institution need to do to facilitate good data management) and opened it up for discussion.  These folks are not shy.

Included among the dozen who came were an Institute of Medicine member who is a staunch OA advocate and leads several biostatistics groups, the PI of a very large multi-institutional longitudinal study of stroke risk factors, a computer scientist who runs a multidisciplinary team engaged in brain mapping, the director of the clinical data warehouse, an expert in decision support systems, and a woman working with NASA to link satellite, EPA and public health data.  The others were equally diverse and distinguished.  A fascinating group, all of whom have a keen interest in how we manage research data.

We touched on a number of key themes:

  • Concerns about data sharing contrasted with the value of data sharing
  • The limitations of metadata in supplying sufficient context for data re-use
  • The dangers of one-size-fits all policies
  • The need to provide good information support to investigators in response to imminent federal funder requirements for open data
  • Information sharing vs data sharing
  • Role of commercial interests

I have an ever expanding list of (currently about 40) people from across the campus that I'm inviting to these sessions.  My overarching goal is to build a community of interest, make connections among people who have similar concerns but may not know each other, and use these discussions to drive priorities and strategy.  It's a Wicked Problem, which is what the Edge of Chaos is all about.

After 15 years of working on these issues around the demands of my day job as LHL director, for the past nine months or so I've been able to dig in full time.  It's become clearer than ever that it requires strong collaborative efforts that cross institutional boundaries.  That is very tough to do, given the way that research institutions are organized and the siloed culture of those institutions.

In most places, it's the librarians that have taken the lead, usually in developing services around DMP requirements and, increasingly, tracking the new federal funder requirements for public access to publications and data.  But this is much more than a library problem.

I have been quite struck by how much my perspective has been shifted by the fact that I am doing this out of the Provost's Office rather than out of the library.  My focus is on engaging intensively with researchers across disciplines, the folks in IT and OSP and compliance, and using a very organic approach to surface issues and needs.  Out of that, we'll try to identify the things that the various components of the university can do to help us all do a better job managing research data.  My monthly Data Wranglers discussions are a key component of that approach.

I've come to appreciate that the challenges in achieving Rex Sanders' vision across the entire institution are practically insurmountable.  I've always had a deep empathy for Don Quixote's battle with the windmills.  That must be why I'm having such a good time.

 

 


The spinal cord in springtime

Email alert Wednesday morning that there was a message waiting for me in the patient portal.  Nervous as I logged in, anticipating the results of the previous afternoon's scan.

"Your cervical spine MRI looks good. There is some signal change consistent with old scar tissue. The lesion is slightly smaller in size and does not show any enhancement (active inflammation)."

Flooded with relief.  It's not a surprise.  It's what we expected.  I'd done a good job of not dwelling on the slender possibility that the inflammation would return, but there's no denying the fear.  Generally, transverse myelitis doesn't recur, but there's been nothing typical about my case, so that factoid hasn't given me a lot of comfort.  But now that I'm seven months from the last cyclophosphamide treatment with no recurrence of inflammation I can feel a little more secure.

Improvements continue, although they're slight and not very apparent to the observer.  For short distances (getting around the house, navigating a restaurant, making my way around a classroom building on campus) I can make do leaning heavily on a cane (I alternate between Mr. Whiskers and Roadrunner).  If I've got to do a bit more than that (for example, making my way around a conference) I use a walker, and if there are longer distances to negotiate, Lynn can push me in the wheelchair (Lightnin' McQueen).  It's not great, and I long for the days when I could stroll around interesting cities by myself for hours.  But I can still drive and throughout all of this I've kept up my normal work and travel schedule and gotten to much of what I would have done previously.  I'm grateful for that.

My hands remain too stiff to play guitar, but I still write in my journal with a fountain pen for an hour nearly every morning, and I can type.  I can cook, although I don't do it as much as Lynn or I would like. My overall stamina is the limiting factor there (but when I made the bolognese a couple of weeks ago I was on my feet in the kitchen for two hours straight).

I take baclofen daily, which minimizes the tremors & twitches & spasms that were so prevalent 20 months ago.  The arm, leg and back muscles are all in a constant state of tension, as if I'm flexing them all at once. They never quite relax. (As Hooks put it, I'm perpetually in neutral, never settling into park).  Instead of working smoothly in pairs, the muscles fight each other.  So all motion is difficult and tiring.  I started with a new muscle relaxant yesterday.  As always, we're in uncharted waters.

Strange to think that this has been going on for years.  Looking back, I now realize I was having symptoms three years ago, although it took another six months to get to the paralytic attack that sent me to the hospital the first time.  I don't expect ever to be "fully recovered" although it is still not unreasonable to think that I'll play guitar again and be able to walk more easily.  Exercise and neuroplasticity can achieve amazing things.

Here in the deep south we are fully into early summer.  When I drive home from work the trees on either side of the freeway are thickly lush in a calico of a dozen shades of green.  The good news from the scan of my poor chewed up spinal cord reminds me to pay attention and enjoy the gorgeousness of the sun splattered leaves even while I'm maneuvering through rush hour traffic.  I could be annoyed at the lousy drivers ahead of and next to me or I could grin with pleasure at the personalities of the trees.

Easy choice.

 


We Are Librarians

He's in the family room, half dozing over his evening scotch.  He's feeling pleasantly sluggish from the football game and the beer.  His team won.  Now the kids are watching their latest favorite show.  He's not paying attention, hears the voices drift in and out.  Some silly sci-fi something.  Some group of quirky, not quite normal eccentrics, out to save the world.  Snatches of dialog drift in. 

"Who are you people?"

"We're librarians."

He snaps awake.  The memory comes back.  The one that has mystified him all these years.  Oh my god!  They're real!  I met them!

****

It was 2000.  I'd gotten one of those Marriott timeshare offers -- 5 nights in a deluxe villa near Disneyworld for some ridiculously cheap price.  The only catch was that before you left you had to sit through the hour-long sales pitch.  Why not?  We like Disneyworld.  We'd bring Marian along.  We'd be polite during the pitch.  Hell, maybe we'd even buy in after all (this was just before we found Lynn's dreamhouse).

The villas were quite nice and the vacation was lovely.  By the time we entered the sales office on the morning of our departure we were in a mellow mood.  We weren't inclined to buy, but we were willing to have them try.  It was all relaxed and low-key.  First a video, then we sat down with the very nice, professional agent.  He asked us questions about our likes and dislikes, trying to sort out which of his categories to slot us into.  No, we didn't golf or ski.  No watersports.  More interested in cities than mountains or beaches.  He flipped through the album of pictures of the various properties.

He started to talk about financing options, but Lynn stopped him.  "If we do this, we'll probably just pay cash." An eyebrow went up.  We could see him mentally recalibrating.

So do you travel much?  Quite a bit, actually.  And is that for business or pleasure?  A pretty even mix of both.

And what do you like to do when you're traveling?

"Have lunch," said Lynn.  He looked confused.  I elaborated, "If it's a day when neither of us is working, we'll sleep late and then try to find a nice place for a leisurely lunch.  Then maybe a bit of sightseeing or a museum.  Find an interesting restaurant for dinner and then maybe a local dive bar for drinks and some live music.  That'd be kind of a perfect day."

I could see that we weren't making this easier for him.  "So where have you been in the last year?"

"Oh, let me think...  Chicago, Cairo, New Orleans..." (It had been a particularly busy year). "London & Paris, Vancouver... DC, Charleston, Bucharest..."

He looked back and forth at the two of us as we sat quietly smiling at his perplexity.  "I'm sorry," he said.  "But I have to ask, what do you do?"

Without missing a beat, and in perfect unison, we said, "We're Librarians."

We didn't buy, but we left content with the knowledge that we had rearranged his impressions of librarians forever after.  I do hope that he sees the show and thinks of us.

****

I know the members of my tribe are split on the merits of the show but Lynn and I rather love it.  Some of my favorite lines:

"Dad? Who are those people?"
"They're librarians, honey."
"Librarians? Wow."
 
"Librarians win with knowledge.  Librarians win with science."
 
"What is a librarian?! [Sighs] They're the ones who protect the rest of us from the magic and the weird and the things that go bump in the night."
 
Story of my life.
 

Of Course She's Going To Get Hurt

I went with JoBug and her Mom to Andrews to have her hand x-rayed.  She'd started having a sharp pain after a particular move during practice the day before.  Her Mom didn't think anything was broken, but better to be sure.  Josie wasn't too concerned about the pain, but there was a competition coming up in two days that she did not want to miss.  Dr. Miner was superb -- working with a doctor who understands young athletes makes a world of difference.  When she came into the examining room she sat down and talked directly to Josie first.  The x-ray showed nothing broken -- most likely an irritated tendon.  Ice it, have the trainer wrap it if need be, but nothing to prevent her from competing.  That's what we wanted to hear.

When I tell people about Josie and her passion for gymnastics and the 20 hours a week she spends in the gym, someone will inevitably ask, "But aren't you afraid she'll get hurt?"  "No," I say, as gently as I can.  "I assume that she'll get hurt."  I certainly hope she doesn't get seriously injured, but the odds are good that there'll be some broken bones along the way.  

In just a few weeks she'll be ten.  The big One-Oh, as Alejandro Escovedo would have it.  During her first year there were times it seemed that I was the only one of us that could settle her when she was colicky.  I'd hold her close, rocking her gently, pacing around the living room mumbling nonsense to her and she'd sleep and snore gently.  I was fifty years old and for the first time I understood the deep terror that accompanies being a parent.  For the rest of my life, I now knew, I'd have to carry the worry about what she would have to deal with.

And the knowledge of how little I could do about it.

Perhaps, if I'd become a parent at twenty, I'd've imagined I could protect my child from harm.  But much of my adult life has been growing to appreciate my own helplessness and by the time I held the little critter in my arms I knew that I could protect her from very little.

More than that, though.  Hasn't it, after all, been my own sorrows and heartaches and mistakes that have formed me just as much as the moments when the best of me has had the good fortune to shine?  Why would I want to keep her from the fullness of a messily wondrous human life?

She was beautiful as a baby, and is growing into an even more beautiful young girl.  Already, when friends see pictures, I get the jokey comments about having the shotgun ready when the boys start coming around.  But I'm not going to be that guy.  Her magnificent mother is making sure that I won't need to be.  She will be able to stand on her own, with a strong moral sense.  She is kind and gentle and coming to understand that what is right and what is easy are often very different things.  I don't think she will give her heart foolishly, but she will give it completely.  So inevitably she will have her heart broken.

 Without a doubt, she will make decisions that she will come to regret.  It makes my stomach turn over to acknowledge these things.  I can't protect myself from that hurt either.

Bones, hearts, the aches of disappointment and failing to live up to one's own standards.  No wonder parents go crazy.

Walking her around the living room ten years ago I knew I could protect her from almost nothing.  Now watching her twirl through the air and catching my breath while I watch for her hand or foot to slip and send her crashing to the mat, I know that the breaks are likely coming.  I can't stop it.

What I can be is part of the safe harbor.  That when the inevitable happens she will never have to face it alone.  Her Mom, Nonni & me, the people that she populates her planet with.  Keeping her safe isn't the goal, helping her to be strong and open to the world is what I hope to contribute to.  It would be foolish in the extreme to think we have the power to do anything more.

 

 


Conversation in Charleston: Public Access and Data

"Promote ORCID."

That was Greg's "if you take just one thing from this session" recommendation.  Howard agreed, but added, "...equally promote having your researchers submit their funder information when submitting manuscripts for journal publication.  Having the Researcher ID and Funder ID together married up to the article DOI is a powerful combination."

On the other hand, just having Howard & Greg chatting together on the same stage was a pretty powerful combination.   When SHARE & CHORUS were first launched, just a few months after the Holdren memo was released, many observers saw them as competitive.  In this corner, the publishing lobby making a policy end run to try to maintain their market dominance; and in this corner the combined might of the research libraries and universities seeking to leverage their investments in institutional repositories into some greater relevance.  Which of these mutually exclusive solutions would the federal funding agencies settle on? (Or would PMC simply vacuum everything up into an expansive PubScience Central)?

Fortunately, it didn't take too long for the developers to see where the projects overlapped and where there were advantages to be gained for both projects by sharing expertise and perspectives.  By the time I had lunch with several of my Roundtable colleagues at the AAAS meeting last February those conversations had gotten to the point where a joint appearance at Charleston was starting to look like a real possibility.  I immediately thought of Greg as a potential participant.  He's a Charleston regular and has been working with SHARE as a consultant.  Turns out that he had been having discussions with Judy Ruttenberg about a similar panel proposal and when the Charleston directors got wind of all this, they put us together.

Bringing Howard in was a natural given his role with CHOR., and I wanted to include John Vaughn, whose experiences with handling scholarly commnications issues for the AAU go back many years, and whose roles in chairing the Roundtable and in helping to develop the SHARE concept have amply demonstrated his commitment to including the views of all stakeholders in working through these very complicated issues.

The concept that Greg & Judy were developing was broader than just SHARE & CHORUS, however, and when the three of us spoke by phone over the summer we agreed on the necessity of bringing in a data person.  We were very fortunate that Laurie Goodman, editor-in-chief of Gigascience, was able to join us.

I've done several sessions like this over the years -- "facilitated conversation".  No presentations.  Some informal agreement among the participants about the likely themes.  I prepare half a dozen or so questions ahead of time, but once we get to the event, I rarely use more than two.  With the right people, the conversation flows naturally and takes its own course.  My job is just to keep it moving.

With this group, my task was extremely easy and the 45 minutes went by in a flash.  Of course we could have gone on much longer, but I'm happy with the range of topics that we were at least able to touch on.  (The session was recorded, so there will be a link on the Charleston website at some point). 

One of the most striking moments was when Greg asked how many in the audience were involved in managing institutional repositories.  Half the people raised a hand.  Then he said, "Keep your hands up. Now how many of you are successful in getting your authors to submit directly to your IR?" Only 2 hands were left up and one of the two was wavering in uncertainty.

Reshaping the scholarly communication eco-system is a massive job.  As John said, developing achievable policy will require adult deliberations and negotiations among all the key players – universities, libraries, publishers, and government.  It is also clear that a focused effort in data access and interpretation, management, and preservation will become increasingly important, and is one of the areas that currently is both most volatile and most challenging.

So in addition to promoting ORCID, noting funding sources, sharing best practices for effective IR management, and a whole host of other things that came up during the session, John suggests getting one of the nifty yellow Data t-shirts like the one Laurie wore.  Cafe Press has some nice options.

 


The Goorin Guys and Their Magic Hats

The shop was closed when we passed by after dinner, but the Goorin guys were still there, rearranging the hats on the shelves, mixing & matching the colors & forms just so, getting the visuals ready for tomorrow's opening. 

The King Street store is long and narrow, with the slightly old-fashioned, but comfortably hip feel that Goorin Bros. cultivates.  The hats are stacked atop one another on shelves to the ceiling, fedoras & cloches & bowlers & gatsbys, browns & greens & soft purples & reds arranged as if haphazard; but watching them now, through the glass, we could see that it was anything but random. 

When we'd been there in the afternoon I'd begun to suspect, watching Chris scamper up the shelves, that they might be slightly other than human, these slender young men, with fine features, and wisps of facial hair.  The way that they, and their female colleague, moved through the store, tending to customers and phone as if it were an effortless dance, as if it were all just great fun. Now, watching their quick, slick movments and the way they balanced their arrangements I thought of the old tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker...

Tapping on the glass didn't get their attention, so I pulled out my phone.  Chris answered and I said, "I'm just outside.  We were passing by..."

Instantly one of them was at the door, "Please, come in, come in...  You have a hat to pick up...?"

"Well, it's my Stetson, actually.  I left it here this afternoon to be cleaned.  I don't know if you've had a chance..."

"Just finishing it up..." another one said, he of the twirled mustaches, coming out from the back, giving it a few more flourishes.  "Chris did a fabulous job.  He's the master."

My hat looked better than it has in very many months.  I'd come in that afternoon, tipped off to the place by Mr TomCat, who'd bought a dandy flat cap a day or two before.  My Royal Flush Stetson had gotten quite bedraggled and I was looking for a replacement.  Chris tried many options, skittering among the shelves and the styles, knowing my size without asking, coming close but, we agreed, not quite finding the one that was right.  He was crestfallen, but optimistic that the next time I came in, just the perfect hat for me would be there.  In the meantime he offered to keep my hat and get it cleaned and reshaped.  "This is very good felt," he said, fingering the brim. "Beaver...  maybe some rabbit..."  He might've been a young Olivander, fingering a wand.

Now, with my finely refreshed hat in hand, I looked at the three, all smiling, bright eyed albeit weary from the busy day. I fumbled, "And what can I owe you..."  "Oh no, nothing at all."  "Happy to do it."  "A free service."

"Well, I'll certainly be in the next time I come through Charleston.  In the meantime, I'll send everyone here that I can."

I know that I will buy a hat from them one day.  The perfect hat will arrive.  I wonder which one it will be.

 

 


Settling In At The Edge of Chaos

I left the MRI clinic about 11:00 Monday morning.  A little after 6:00 I got an email that there was a message for me in the patient portal.  It was Dr. Bashir, with the results:

Your MRI of the cervical spine shows almost complete resolution of the abnormal signal within the cervical spinal cord. There are no areas of enhancement. Previously noted transverse myelitis seems to have resolved completely without any loss of spinal cord volume (spinal cord atrophy). This is a very good result from cyclophosphamide therapy.

Based on the July MRI, this is what we were expecting and hoping for, but you never know, so I was a little distracted during the day waiting to hear.  Despite all the positive signs, there's always the worry of things regressing.

But at least for now, my overeager immune system has quit chewing up my spinal cord.  How much function I'll eventually regain remains unknown.  We'll see where the combination of physical therapy and neuroplasticity gets me.  Things have been slowly improving for several months, so I'm optimistic (while trying to stay realistic).  And I am quite relieved that I can stop the monthly cyclophosphamide infusions.

We were in Denver last week for the Quintessential MLA chapters meeting.   When we went out for lunch to the Cool River Cafe about half a mile away, Lynn pushed me in the lightweight wheelchair we call Lightning McQueen.  But at the hotel/conference center, I was able to get around pretty well with Roadrunner (my walking stick) and Guido, the 3-wheeled rollator.  (My wheeled assistive devices are all named for Cars characters).

I mentioned to several people that since I have labwork done every two weeks I know that I'm in excellent health -- blood pressure, kidneys, liver, cholesterol, etc., are all in great shape.  I can't walk and can't use my hands, but I'm in excellent health!

I use it as a laugh line, but I am certainly grateful that it's true and that I'm not trying to wrestle with a bunch of other health complications as well.

I'm writing this late in the day from my new office at the Edge of Chaos.  I mentioned to somebody that it has often felt the last few years that I've been swimming in the middle of chaos.  Now that I've moved to the Edge, things are looking quite mellow.

 


The New Job

"Effective September 8, I'll be Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies reporting to the office of the Provost."  I've started sending this announcement around to the discussion lists, alerting the far-flung professional network to my change in circumstance.

There's been a nice assortment of congratulations and well-wishes.  But what has surprised me have been the comments from people who assume that this means they won't see me at the usual library conferences anymore.  What?  I'm still a medical librarian.  I'm still a member of MLA & SCMLA & MCMLA & ALHeLA.  I won't be representing UAB at the AAHSL meetings anymore, it's true, but I'll continue to go to the other conferences.  And given the increasing importance of data curation at research institutions I expect to be more involved with the work of some of my librarian colleagues rather than less.

Lynn reminds me that she went through a similar thing 25 years ago when she left UAB to work for EBSCO.  She had to work very hard to get people to understand that she was no less of a librarian just because she was no longer working in a traditional library job.  I guess I'll have to do the same thing.

John Meador, most recently Dean of Libraries at SUNY-Binghamton, picked up the reins as UAB Dean of Libraries August 5.  The challenge he has accepted is to merge the two existing library organizations -- Lister Hill and Mervyn H. Sterne -- into a single organization serving the entire university community.  Unlike some recent reorganizations (UNC & Florida come to mind), UAB's roots as a primarily biomedical research institution offers some unique opportunities.  The two libraries are similar in size of staff and budget, are located just a few blocks from each other on a compact urban campus, and serve an increasingly multidisciplinary institution.  So while services will continue to be delivered from both buildings, we anticipate that, over time, a single, seamless organization will be formed to provide those services.

It's a bit of a conceptual leap because even though most of the important work that librarians do now takes place outside of the building, we still think of the library organization and the library building as occupying the same space.  As I was trying to explain the goals of the merger to a faculty member he said, "But the biomedical literature will still be based at Lister Hill, won't it?"  I had to tell him, gently, "Actually, since we spend less than 1% of our content budget on print, that hasn't been the case for five years now."  The reference librarians do far more of their work by chat, email, phone, webinar, office hours in classroom buildings, or meetings & workshops around campus than they do in person in the building.  The building is still very important, of course, but basing the organization on the physical limitations of the building is an anachronism.

One consequence of the merger is that the two Director positions go away.  The Director, Lister Hill and Director, Mervyn Sterne functioned as deans, although we didn't have that title.  But we met as part of the Deans Council and had the same level of budgetary and personnel authority as the deans.  Now that there is a single individual with the title, as well as the authority, of Dean, those two director positions are superfluous.

So what has opened up for me turns out to be quite marvelous.  Every research institution in the country is trying to figure out how to effectively manage research data.  What services should the institution provide?  How do you effectively manage security?  How do you establish policies and monitor compliance with the full range of increasingly complex federal requirements?  How do you make data available for reuse in clean and well-structured contextualized environments?

A number of institutions have made some headway in sorting this out, but part of the challenge is that there isn't really a single entity within the modern research university that is the logical home for the full range of issues that need to be addressed and coordinated.  It requires true collaboration among the libraries, IT, the research office and the various pockets of excellence and expertise that exist across the campus -- often unknown to each other.

My task, for the next several months, will be to map what exists at UAB, to figure out who is doing what, to identify where there are significant gaps, and then to work with all of the various players to help develop strategies for pulling all of the pieces together into a coordinated whole.  From this vantage point it looks ridiculously complex.  

I plan to have a lot of fun with it.

 

 


There's Always Music

I like that people ask me if I'm playing any guitar these days, even if the answer that I have to give is not a happy one.  Friends & colleagues know what a major thing it's been in my life, and to look at me at the recent MLA meeting in Chicago, you might've thought that maybe I'm improving enough to be back at it.

Alas, no.  I don't have enough flexibility, agility or acuity in my fingers.  I do keep the '72 Thinline in my study and try to pick it up for 10 minutes a day.  I can form most of the chords -- I just can't move between them with any dexterity.   It's good therapy for my hands.  

In the last couple of months my hands have improved to the point where I'm typing using all my fingers again.  Things are trending in the right direction.  But it is oh so slow.

Most frustrating is the inability to walk unassisted.  For short distances I can get by with the walking stick Josie named Mr. Whiskers.  For Chicago we brought the folding wheelchair we've dubbed Lightnin' McQueen.  I can also use it as a walker and was able to make my way around the conference hotel and the exhibit hall on my own.  My legs tire easily so I can't go for too long, but we were pretty happy with what I was able to manage.

The prognosis remains maddeningly uncertain.  We don't know how much permanent nerve damage has been done.  The inflammation probably started as much as two years ago, so we can assume it's pretty extensive.  On the other hand, the mysteries of neuroplasticity have my neurons creatively seeking new pathways to get the messages accurately from the brain to the muscles in my hands, legs and hips.  These days I do feel more connection to many of those muscles than I did for a long time.  And then there's the muscles themselves.  After so long with limited mobility the muscles are weak, but still undamaged.  So I see the physical therapist every two or three weeks and I exercise daily.  I've several different routines that I do in 10 or 15 minute blocks for a total of 20 to 45 minutes a day.  If the Cytoxan continues to reduce the inflammation and the exercise continues to strengthen the muscles, it is perfectly conceivable that I will again walk unassisted and be back to playing guitar.

In the meantime, there are other ways to make music.  Several months ago I discovered a recording I'd made of me playing guitar and singing "Little Black Car."  It was from several years ago when I was experimenting with a new little recorder.  I'd pulled the track into iTunes where it got buried in my 18,000+ item library and I forgot about it.  When it resurfaced, I sent it off to the band. Mr TomCat recorded a bass track to go with it and Dook sent me a drum track.  I pulled the pieces into GarageBand and came up with a reasonably serviceable mix.  I sent it to RedMolly who was acting as dj for the Armadillo Ball and we surprised Tambourine Grrl with it.  I wrote it for her 20 years ago, back when I was still living in St. Louis and making the long drive to Birmingham and back to see her.  I introduced it at the Ball as I always did when I played it live, telling the story of that long drive and my passion for the girl at the end of it. "...and so, since I was playing in a country-punk band, I wrote a song about my car."

Hobbled I may be, but not so much as to stop me from arranging to play that song for her.

Next up, I want to talk the band into working on our version of "Wagon Wheel."  I love our harmonies on that one.  I'm fooling around with the harmonica.  And I can still sing.

Little Black Car