26 October 2006


[In response to a poem by Yéilk'.]

Haa kooxéedaa litséen.
Ach awé, Lingít kooxéedaa.
Haa jín litseen,
Lingít jín ayá.
Khu.aa haa toowú tsú litséen.
Ach awé, Lingít toowú.

I use a Tlingit laptop,
it’s called “Kayaaní” –
Kayaaní yóo xhayasáakw.
Patterns like the veins on leaves,
the lines on skin
where beads will be sewn.
Complex patterns on paper
drawn with our pencils
make beautiful art when
we work them alive.
When I got this laptop
it wasn’t any different from someone else’s.
But now I use it and it’s very different,
now it’s Tlingit.
I made it that way
like a Tlingit pencil
because I speak Tlingit to it.
I write Tlingit on it,
and I yell at it in Tlingit
when I don’t like it.

I live in a strange land here.
There’s no winter here,
no spring here,
and the geese don’t tell us when fall arrives.
But I’m not alone
here in eternal summer,
there are many who come to see me.
When the salmon have finished their journey,
when the berries are falling off the bushes,
that’s when they come to see me.

The people here call my friends “nā kōlea”,
konéiya yóo duwasáakw.
Gwshé Lingít xh'éinaxh
sedaadakh'éedaa yóo duwasáakw.
In English they are called “plovers”.
They remind me of us Tlingit in many ways –
they dance in the grass,
they defend their land,
they eat everything they can,
and they share with every friend.

The people here, Kanáka khwáan,
Yookhkha khwáan,
dark cormorant people,
these kanaka hawai‘i,
they have funny things to say about them.
Sedaadakh'éedaa come every winter,
they sit around and get fat,
then they fly back to Alaska
and raise their children.
People who come here and only take
but never give back,
and then leave,
these people are called “nā kōlea”.
“Being ka kōlea”
means you take and then leave.
Where have we heard that before?

When the white men came
they did a strange thing –
they shot at my friends.
Why? Nobody knows.
They don’t taste good,
they don’t have pretty feathers,
and they aren’t even as big as a crow.
But white men shot at them anyway,
and the Hawaiians remember this.
“Shooting at kōlea”
means you’re doing something crazy.
Have we heard that before?

But they are my friends,
these birds who visit me.
I sing to them
and watch them dance to my songs.
I made them my cousins
when we first met,
I paid them with food.
Now they’ve come again
and I ask them “How is home?”
They always say the same thing –
That’s all you can expect
from someone who runs away from winter.
But they bring with them
the scent of wet leaves,
the feeling of cold sea breezes,
and the crackle of frosty grass underfoot.

Soon enough I’ll be full,
ready to go back
and raise children with my fat.
I’ll be just another kōlea,
and I’ll sing songs to remember this place
when I build my nest.
I hope I can give something back,
even if I never return.
But at least I won’t shoot them,
even if they don’t like our winters.
Déi awé,
that’s where I’m going to end this.

23 October 2006

I hate microfiche.

I would like to take a moment to declare and expound upon my hatred for microfiche. Microfiche and the associated microfilm have been an extraordinarily popular means for a few decades now to store large numbers of documents in a small space. Naturally this appeals to librarians who have invested an inordinate amount of money in storing fiche of documents like government reports and unpublished dissertations.

As a researcher I despise microfiche. Fiche can only be read by magnifying readers which cost oodles of money for the expensive optics involved. No sane library would let a person take fiche off of the premises because they are expensive and hard to replace. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that a patron will have a fiche reader handy at home. The only way to make fiche documents easily readable is to photocopy them with a fiche printer. Unsurprisingly, libraries charge ridiculous amounts of money per page for these copies. (At Hamilton Library it’s 10¢ per page, 3¢ more than an ordinary copy.) Of course libraries have good reason to do so, since the toner and readers cost a lot and there is a limited market for them.

The most irritating thing however is that computing technology has advanced to the point where it’s very easy to convert microfiche to digital form. A halfway decent scanner capable of 2400 dpi or better can produce images of 8.5×11 inch pages at 300 dpi which is perfectly readable onscreen in a PDF. The process is not easily automated however, unless you can afford the überexpensive “microfiche scanner” which is basically a flatbed scanner with a very small sheet feeder and some software that knows how to crop pages in the scan.

Right now I have several >200 page fiches of various dissertations that I need to use regularly. I can’t afford to go into the library every day just to read them, and 200 pages at 10¢ per page is nothing like cheap, particularly when it means sitting at the reader for four or five hours, and the cost doesn’t include the inevitable mistakes and duplicates. $30 or $40 just for making copies is pretty painful, particularly when you know that you’ll spend a stupid amount of time making them.

I’m thinking of asking if I can borrow the flatbed scanner from the Linguistics Dept. computer lab. Then I can take it to the library, hook it up to my laptop, and do the scans right there. Maybe 10 min per fiche scan, most of it spent doing other things while the scanner runs. At seven or eight fiche, this is only a couple hours of time. Much less than the 20 hours it would take for individual copies, and much much cheaper. I can just carry the scans around on my computer, print out whatever pages I want, and not worry about needing to go back for replacement copies. The real question is whether the library will let me do this. And if so, why the heck don’t they get a scanner themselves?