Mel's Picks: December 2007

Charitable Gifts 1. Charitable Gifts
I don't know about you, but I have more than enough stuff in my life. And as we speed toward one of the major gift giving times of the year, I'd like to suggest an alternative approach to presents that packs more of a punch than the latest electronic doodad. Changing the Present is a nonprofit Web site where you can browse donation gifts from a variety of organizations. If you're interested in environmental causes, you can find everything from protecting wildlife to research into sustainable agriculture and advocacy and research into alternative fuels. If you're interested in supporting veterans, funding the arts, and supporting education you can find gifts here. The gifts are organized by general topic and also by donation level.

Supporting School Projects 2. Supporting School Projects
Donors Choose is a Web site connecting teachers with funding for projects to help their students learn. Teachers submit a proposal and, after being evaluated, the proposals are listed on the site. Would-be donors then look through the list of projects and decide which they'd like to fund and how much they'd like to give. Take a look and see if anything strikes your fancy.

List of Holidays 3. List of Holidays
It's easy to lose sight of how many other winter festivals are being celebrated at this time of year. To help keep track of who's celebrating what (and when), check out Wikipedia's list of Winter Festivals.

New to Bookshelves

The LabVIEW Style BookQuirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things

Author: Richard Wiseman, PhD
Publisher: Basic Books
ISBN: 0-465-09079-6
Page count: 323

Once in a great while, I'll review a nontechnical book because I think it's interesting, fun, or thought provoking. Quirkology is all three. The author is a psychologist who has long had a fascination with the odder, quirkier aspects of human behavior and the book deals with studies on deception and lying, humor, how names affect our lives, and other such topics. It makes fascinating reading.

The book itself is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1, What Does Your Date of Birth Really Say About You, deals with horoscopes, factors that affect your date of birth, and how your date of birth affects you. Chapter 2, Trust Everyone but Always Cut the Cards, deals with the psychology of lying and deception (hint: if you're trying to figure out if someone's lying, close your eyes and listen to them). Chapter 3, Believing Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast deals with superstition and ghosts, among other things, while Chapter 4, Making Your Mind Up, discusses decision-making. Chapter 5 describes the search for the world's funniest joke and what we find funny says about us, Chapter 6 examines the factors that determine when we help and when we hinder, and Chapter 7 talks about the future of Quirkology, the study of such unusual but enlightening behavioral traits.

I so enjoyed this book that I've been happily recommending it to anyone who's foolish enough to stand still in my vicinity. The results Wiseman relays in this book make for some wonderful conversation starters. If you want a book that's a quick read but entertains you while giving you food for thought, I heartily recommend this one.