Posts Tagged ‘jack radish’

A little over a year ago, I read this book that was so awful, it turned me off of reading for a couple months. The book was called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and I had been looking forward to reading it for several months.

I have an ongoing project involving young adult literature featuring transgender characters (or lack thereof), keeping track of what is out there, creating resources for librarians and encouraging the creation of new & better resources, particularly fiction. I’d been really excited about this book because so few of the books I’d read featured trans girl characters (most had trans boys instead) and also because the book has won the Stonewall Book Award, awarded by the ALA GLBT Roundtable for teen fiction, so it must be good.

The book was actively horrible and I was pretty sure it would do a good job of terrifying any young trans girl into thinking that no one would ever love her and that she sort of deserved to experience violence. It felt like the whole point of the book was to make readers sympathize with homophobic & transphobic dudes who can’t help being violent towards trans women–not explicitly condoning the violence but explaining it as an unavoidable learning moment.

Reading the book made me feel horribly depressed and uninspired to read anything at all for several months (normally I read a few books a month or sometimes as much as a book a week).

Flash forward to a month or so ago when I read With or Without You by Brian Farrey.  It won the same book award as Almost Perfect and I had similarly been looking forward to reading it for months. It dealt with HIV/AIDS, gay teens in a small town & the loneliness & isolation that sometimes brings teens that age to a point of engaging in risky behavior in an attempt to simply belong. It sounded great and like the kind of book that needs to exist much more in the world.

Again, though, the book was actively horrible. It painted poz (HIV-positive) characters out to be anywhere from a jovially irresponsible older man to a young almost-cult-leader type kid who (spoiler alert) literally stabs someone. It paints the kid who is lonely & looking for somewhere to belong as a hopeless case. And, in the one moment where the book had an obvious window of opportunity to at least provide some useful information by informing readers about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, kind of like a morning after pill for HIV exposure that they most certainly don’t tell you about in sex ed and about which most adults don’t even know), the author totally drops the ball & sweeps it under the rug, arguably giving inaccurate information about how to deal with an actual HIV exposure. The book was bad. Awful.

Once again, a book which had received this award that is supposed to give librarians access to a few books that are safe to recommend to LGBTQ teens without really closely reviewing them or being knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues has succeeded in being actively bad in a way that I actually fear will hurt teenagers. At this point, I’m not just mad at the authors and their publishers, I’m fuming at the ALA’s GLBT Roundtable, which is probably made up of a bunch of well-meaning librarians who are actually not very knowledgable of LGBTQ issues but who, by virtue of being on this committee, position themselves as experts in the field and put their seal of approval on books that actually hurt the LGBTQ youth who really need them.  I decided to set my sights on becoming a member of the book selection committee within the next few years and also wrote a letter to the chair of the committee expressing my concern.

But as a reader, I was left feeling really disillusioned. Much like happened a year ago after reading Almost Perfect, I have been going through a bit of a period of reluctance to being a reader at all since finishing With or Without You. I just feel frustrated with the publishing industry that it’s set up in a way that the kinds of books that need to be out there (like the books I was hoping for when I cracked the spine of Almost Perfect and With or Without You) don’t get published (because we all know they are being written–the people whose life experiences would lead them to write these kinds of books are vibrant and creative people who are writing amazing books that the world will never see! This is why independent publishers such as Topside Press are so important!) and I figure that if the media I consume is being censored even when it comes in the form of literature, I might as well sit around watching bad reality television instead.  At least “Dance Moms” has never tried to trick me into thinking it provides important or useful information.

I’m sure it will pass soon, I will find a book that’s completely outside of the realm of things I normally read and reaffirm my love as a reader, but for now, I am feeling let down by not only the publishing industry, but by members of my own profession who actually have the power to give a voice to lesser known books that do something great for LGBTQ youth and instead choose to honor books that are sure to make life a little harder for those LGBTQ teens who could really have used the friend they seek to find between the pages of a book the most.

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As a youth services & primarily teen services librarian who happens to be a man the issues of what a professor dubbed “the boy problem” has sort of fallen into my lap as a strong professional interest. I am not a particularly masculine man and more often than not, if I’m wandering the streets of a small town, it’s teen boys who find it incredibly clever and funny to harass and make fun of me for the way I look (teen boys are, of course, great at making fun of pretty much everyone, so it’s no skin off my back). When I got into youth services, I thought this might be something that impeded my ability to connect with boys in the library, but it has actually been quite the opposite. In any library where I’ve worked, I’ve been one of so few male librarians that, while in my personal life I have a hard time being read as anything but gay, people are so unaccustomed to seeing men working in libraries at all they have no one with whom to compare me, so somehow my perceived sexuality and lack of overt masculinity has never come into play in my work in libraries. In fact, libraries are one of the few places in the world where I feel people’s perception of me as a man far outweighs their perception of me as gay.

This has created exciting and unexpected opportunities to embody the literate male role model that experts in parenting, education, child development and emergent literacy amongst boys complain so rarely exists amongst teachers, librarians and other adults who work with children. When I took an interest in running the “Guys Read” book club at one of my libraries, I was welcomed with open arms to take over for another librarian who reluctantly ran the book due to lack of other male librarians willing to run it. By simple virtue of being a young-ish (and even younger looking as I am blessed and cursed to look about ten years younger than I actually am) man with gauged earrings (a regretful & relatively irreversible decision I made as a teen that has surprisingly been the number one thing teens compliment me on and often the thing which allows me to quickly gain their trust) who picks up on enough youth cultural references to seem like the cool older brother they’ve always wished they had, I somehow possess this ability to influence teen and tween boys in this way that so many educators and youth service librarians can only dream of.

me+skippy

Me with one of my teens in the library–used with permission

Given this unique position and my passion for encouraging active literacy amongst youth, how could I resist developing a profound interest in discussions of “the boy problem?” Although, as an advocate for literacy amongst boys, I would argue that the boys themselves are not the problem and perhaps the real problem is, among other things, both the men who fail to model the role of literacy in their own lives to those boys and the North American culture & education system’s limited conceptions of literacy.

So, as a man who has access to youth in one of the most literature focused environments, I am so thrilled to get the opportunity to un-do some of these cultural ideas surrounding reading and boys. As someone who reads fiction for pleasure, I have gotten the opportunity to share this love with boys through book clubs and through personalized fiction recommendations, often hidden within jovial conversations where boys are so absorbed in the topic of conversation that they don’t even realize that I’ve just convinced them to read a book. But one of the problems often raised when discussing “the boy problem” is that reading fiction for pleasure simply does not fit into the types of reading a lot of boys are drawn to doing.

In a lecture given by one of my professors, the line “Reading don’t fix no Chevys” really stood out to me. It struck me because one of the random resources I remember helping patrons with on the reference desk so often was the Chilton’s guides which, for those unfamiliar, are model-specific guides for different makes of cars that literally do inform users on the inner workings of Chevys (and Fords and other cars). While the act of reading them does not necessarily fix the car itself, these resources are pretty necessary maps that give someone with a certain automotive knowledge the tools to translate their knowledge to specific makes and models of cars.

One of the papers that I wrote when I took my Reference class based upon a reference observation was actually based on a reference interview concerning a Chilton’s manual. The library did not happen to currently have a print-version of the manual in question, so the interview turned into an extensive discussion of all the databases to which the library subscribed–including Chilton’s and Alldata, another similar resource, but also so many of our other databases. I got to observe a patron who probably never knew the library offered access to subscription databases walk away really excited about an entirely new set of resources he did not know had been at his fingertips the whole time and that he was excited to use.

I think about boys not having male role models in terms of literacy and wish this gentleman had had his grade school aged son or nephew with him to witness this instance of a relatively gruff, working class man becoming so excited about the ways in which literacy and his library’s resources could help him do one of the most stereotypically manly activities of fixing a car.

These instances in which literacy occurs during our daily lives are not exclusive to men or women or to such stereotypically masculine activities as auto repair, but also occur when we look up recipes in cookbooks or online, when we look up movie reviews & times, when we try to learn a new skill, such as crocheting, and so many other times in the instances of people of all genders and ranges of interest. In fact, in the age of the Internet, we consume instructional information in our daily lives more than ever before.

In imagining the man discussed above (or any other man or woman, for that matter) letting his child help him fix his car, having the child hand him wrenches and other small tasks (though I have done basic car maintenance out of the type of necessity created by poverty, fixing cars is not a skill or interest I possess, so I really can’t elaborate on the details of what minor tasks an adult role model would allow their child to help with while fixing a car, so please use your own imagination), I imagine that there is some piece of literature–the car’s manual, a Chilton guide (either electronic or print) or some other resource present & being used as reference. And I wonder whether the dad or mom or aunt or uncle, who may be the type of adult role model who reads novels to their kids or not, is referencing this Chilton’s manual themselves before asking for that wrench or if the adult is asking the child to come read over their shoulder and tell them what comes next.

Even as an adult man who reads a tremendous amount of fiction for pleasure, I would guess that most of the reading I do over the course of a day or a week, even in my leisure time, is for information. Reading is so incorporated into all of our daily lives and that is why literacy is such an important part of development. But when we talk with youth–particularly those who struggle to enjoy reading fiction–about literacy and reading, do we talk about all those other times in our daily lives when reading comes up? I know that I rarely do and I think this is primarily because reading is so integrated into my life that I scarcely recognize myself doing it when it serves some purpose beyond the purely indulgent act of reading a novel. I think it’s important, especially as a role model to young people, to expand my conception of the act of reading. I think, though, that by being more aware of the ways that literacy impacts our daily lives, we can be more intentional of the kinds of examples we set as literate adults. Introducing the children in our lives to the joys of fiction (and non-fiction) pleasure reading is important and we should continue to do so, but perhaps if we also read to them from our cook books and automotive manuals and some-assembly-required instruction manuals, we will succeed in making readers of those children, particularly boys, who look up to us more for the tasks we accomplish than the stories we tell them.

I just read this article about attempted erasure of LGBTQ characters, as well as characters of color and characters with disabilities, in YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels and I think you should read it too.

As a reader and a lover of sci-fi and fantasy (though I’m certain this happens in other genres too), this makes me really sad and frustrated.  The characters I want to read about exist, but I have no way to access them because they are being watered down into straight, white characters with no disabilities to please, well, straight, white readers with no disabilities.

It was so frustrating as a teen to have to go to a special section whenever I wanted to read about a character who was different.  I fully appreciate the fact that LGBtQ YA fiction (we’re working on doing something about the “t,” at least I am) is now becoming it’s own genre, don’t get me wrong, it’s an important genre and I am thankful it exists.  But as a teen, I always wanted to read a regular book that was not about the struggles of being queer, but where a queer character experiences something other than simply coming out, coming to terms with being queer, being bullied for being queer, etc.  Couldn’t a character deal with the reality of being queer while solving mysteries, playing sports, traveling through time or slaying dragons?  The message is, that if you are queer, the only story you have to tell is about being queer, and that’s all you’re worth–all you could possibly want in life is to come to terms with being queer and then go on to live a normal, peaceful, boring life.  That’s all queer people are, that’s all queer people are worth, queer people do not strive for excellence, we strive for the mundane.

As a library student interested in working with teens, this frustrates me too.  I want to develop collections and recommend books to teens that represent a diverse range of characters.  Having a strong collection of books that deal with LGBTQ issues and other issues which face diverse populations is really important to me, and when I have my own collections, this is something that will take priority and will represent small but substantial neighborhoods of my collection that I offer some level of priority which overrides simple market-based factors like circulation stats because, well, every time those books circulate is likely a million times more important and life-changing to the reader than other books.

But at the same time, that really sucks, to think that it’s okay to have diverse characters in books that, though intended for everyone, will probably only circulate well amongst people who are like the characters they describe (ie, books about queer teens will circulate with queer teens, books about teens with disabilities will circulate amongst teens with disabilities, etc).  Why would I want to give straight teens only books about straight teens, or teens without disabilities only books about teens without disabilities or white teens only books about white teens?  What kind of message does that send about what equals quality literature?  And I don’t really think it’s the teens who even care about this, it’s their parents!

I went to Allied Media Conference this weekend and it could not have come at a better time.

My head has already been swimming with ideas and urges to create some sort of project focused on collecting content focused on/for transgender/gender variant/two-spirit/aggressive/gender questioning (etc.) teens/youth. The idea of starting an independent press and publishing these books myself terrifies me, but I saw all these people who had independent presses at the conference and it got me thinking that that’s something a person can just do if they want to.

So, since my new attitude about things is centered around making conscious decisions to empower myself to do things that challenge and intimidate me (I’m not going to go skydiving any time soon, though), I have decided I need to do something along the lines of starting an independent press focused on publishing young adult books with trans* themes by trans* authors.

This will be a very new project for me and I’m going to have to learn some new things. I basically came to the conclusion that I cannot single handedly change the fact that there are not a ton of good resources out there for trans* youth by writing the books myself for a host of reasons. Hopefully this process will involve the publishing of some of my own work, but my story and point of view is by no means the beginning or end of the types of stuff that trans* youth want/need to read—no one person’s is. Also, while I am a good writer and I love to write, I know myself well enough to know that the skill I have that really stands out is my ability to organize projects with other people in communities. So why shouldn’t I be the one to get the ball rolling on a rad forum for trans* folks to get their voices out there to reach teens.

So I have a few contacts who are interested and I’m hoping to bounce some ideas off of them and come up with an initial plan. No doubt, this will include things like writing grants, coming up with a name (supposed to be a “fun” part, but I hate coming up with names, it’s stressful to choose the one name that will forever be associated with something), building a website (I’d love to have multi-media stuff on there, I met some cool folks at Allied Media Conference doing trans* media stuff that is more video oriented who expressed interest in including video and other multi-media stuff in the press, and I would love that, especially since multi-media stuff is really well suited for teens), figuring out what our first project will be (I’m thinking it would be good to kick off with some sort of anthology of short stories to publish and get out there, but also starting to put the word out for submissions of longer works.) Figuring out how we are going to deal with editing and selection—gosh, there is so much!

The idea of turning down someone’s story or manuscript when they are actually doing what people need to do which is write trans* related content for teens is horrible to think about, but I also would hate to put out something that really felt like it was going to make teens actively feel bad about themselves, and also will probably have limited resources to devote to publishing books, especially to start off. Where does the line between functioning as an editor/publisher and as a librarian fall? Taking on a project like this makes me feel like taking some classes on more of the archives side of the MLIS degree in addition to the young adult public library stuff I had thought would be my main focus would be a good idea.

Stay tuned for more information and updates about my journey into starting an independent press geared toward *trans youth!

If you are interested in contributing or being involved, please contact me at jackson[dot]radish[at]gmail[dot]com

*I’m using “trans” as an umbrella term to include transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, two-spirit, aggressive, and other gender variant folks, as well as those who are questioning their gender identities.

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In a deviation from the types of posts I have made thus far, I want to talk about something completely different.

I recently started my first library “job,” which is not a job at all, but rather volunteering at a teen center at a local library. There are certain things I’m not allowed to do because of union things surrounding the fact that I’m not an employee, but there is a lot of stuff that I do get to do and I love every minute of it.

One thing I don’t get to do is reference. I do, however, get to observe the real librarian doing reference, and can help kids who ask me questions.

My dream reference question goes a little something like this:

A kid shyly approaches the reference desk and asks for a title that sounds familiar. I search for it and realize it’s a book about trans stuff from the 300’s. We don’t have the book, so I help the kid put a hold on it, and the kid looks a little disappointed but doesn’t ask for help finding other books about trans stuff, but also kind of lingers. I seamlessly walk over and grab the perfect YA trans title for this kid. I respond so quickly yet casually that the kid doesn’t have a chance to wonder if I’m judging them before finding an awesome book in their hands and forgetting about the anxiety they had upon approaching the desk.

This is why I want to be a librarian. I mean, it’s not the only reason, and there are millions of other reference questions I would be almost equally thrilled to get, but this is the one I would love to answer.

The problem is, without going into details, I observed a reference question similar to this, and didn’t even have an extensive enough list in my head of titles to suggest. Some 300’s titles, of course, that would have been appropriate came to mind (anything by Kate Bornstein, for instance, would be good for teens, I think). It was not my reference question, though, and I couldn’t figure out good way to chime in (especially since I wasn’t at the computer) on the fly, as the person handling the reference asked the kid if they wanted her to show them where the book was, and the kid said no and then the reference kind of ended. I did casually say, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to read that,” knowing that if I was that kid and an adult even made reference to the fact that that was the kind of book they would read, I would remember and find an excuse to talk to that adult at a later date.

It irritates me that there are not many good books out there for trans teens. Tons of books that are generally for queer kids (way more than when I first came out as a teen), which feels amazing to see (though I feel a little jealous that I didn’t have those books as a kid) but so far, I have only been able to scrape together about 5:

  1. Luna by Julie Anne Peters
  2. Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
  3. Boy2Girl by Terence Blacker
  4. Please Don’t Kill the Freshman: A Memoir by Zoe Trope
  5. Choir Boy by Charlie Anders (which I have not fully confirmed to be a YA title, though I know the main character is a teen)

I have not read them all (or any of them! Luna has been near the top of my “to read” list for a few years, and I’ve heard of a few others, though), but it’s also a pretty measly list. Especially considering how hard I have had to dig so far to find them.

The idea of writing a book terrifies me, but is something I have thought about a lot over the years. This kind of makes me think that if I write a book, it needs to be a YA book that deals in some way with trans themes. In the meantime, I want to make it a mission of mine to convince the awesome trans folks I am connected to to write books for teens (I think some of them would, too) and help them get them published.

More immediately, though, I’m trying to find more titles (by enlisting help of friends and doing more digging) and I’m going to start making and an annotated book list. So stay tuned for that!

But a question to my readers:  How do you build momentum around a certain subject to get people to write about it?  Contests? Grants?  Not that I have money to start a grant, but maybe trying to earn a grant to use tords something like that or else finding someone who has more power than me to partner on this?  Because I can get the word out to tons of trans people of all ages telling them they should write YA books, but it seems like there has to be a central point to rally people around in order to really make it into a movement of creating content where virtually none exists.

I’ve been reading and talking a lot about cloud computing a lot lately.  I have some mixed feelings about it and have been trying to sort out the role it will play in my life.

Of course, I already use cloud computing much more than I ever really had thought about–all throughout my undergrad and some post-bac classes, my solution for not having a printer or for sometimes doing school work on computers at school was just to email stuff to myself.  When Gmail came on the scene with it’s lack of storage limits, this was made easier to rely on, since I could now actually store things in my email for later reference.  Every time I am applying for jobs and need to get cover letters, resumes and references together, I find myself accessing my resume to update from the most recent job applications I sent in electronically and I search old cover letters (usually stored as emails, even, not documents) for inspiration.  Mind you, I generally have the “real” files for the resumes on my hard drive, so in that way, my email is more of an indexing tool of sorts, but I don’t usually own copies of the cover letters on my hard drive.

I’ve also learned that cloud computing can be a great tool for file sharing—the fact that it allows users on different computers to access and edit the same document at the same time is an extremely useful tool for business, community organizing and other group work. I will add, that experience using these programs would suggest that it’s a better idea than actual tool at this point, as the actual software that Google Docs and SkyDrive (the only two programs I’ve used) use is not that good, but this is almost beyond the point, as it will, no doubt, improve over the next few years. But the point is, I’ve used it for this purpose and have found it to be of great value.

So I don’t feel like I can, at all, just talk about cloud computing as something I am not part of or anything like that.

The thing I have been thinking about and calling into question lately, though, is discussed pretty well in an article I just read titled, The day that Google Died, by Thomas Frey (by the way, I now follow him on twitter and read his blog all the time–great articles and definitely a go-to source for information on technology and culture now).  In the article, Frey presents this hypothetical scenario in which Google gets wiped out entirely and is just gone (he mentions that although it’s hypothetical, it’s not totally unthinkable that this could happen).  He explores the chaos that would ensue. If we thought the destruction of the Alexandrian Library was an unimaginable loss, try to picture the fiery post-apocalyptic mayhem that would ensue if Google went up in a puff of smoke.

One important point he brings up is that currently, the majority (he doesn’t give figures) of the “humanity’s data” is owned (in a physical sense, in that they have the actual data stored on servers they own, so I don’t think we’re talking about intellectual property) by multinational corporate superpowers including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Amazon, Apple and IBM—who don’t really subscribe to the same professional ethics as librarians, journalists, and other professionals who deal with the dissemination and preservation of information.

Sounds a whole lot more dangerous to think of it like that than the simple thought of, “it would be so much simpler to just keep this in a cloud where I can just get it from the internet whenever.”

I’m probably not going to kid myself that the information I have stored in computer based formats (whether it’s in the cloud, on my hard drive, on my thumb drive, or all of the above) is so sensitive and important that Google (or whoever) is going to specifically target me and delete my files based on content (although they could do that if they wanted to, and they could probably accomplish this through a relatively simple query based on search terms or other criteria), but it is true that they are not the ones really hurting if I lose my stuff. An organization I’m involved in just learned a valuable lesson when our entire archive was lost through some mishap with Google Docs, since it was all stored in their cloud. The cloud can eat your homework the same way your dog can.

That really sucks for the organization, but it sucks even more to think about it in the context of information storage in general. The move towards cloud computing is a move towards voluntarily giving up ownership of our own information and giving software giants ownership over not only our public record (which they pretty much have already—that’s why librarians are more important than ever!), but also our personal records.

This all makes me recall when I was in 6th grade and the “mean” computer teacher (who was actually my dad, and not mean at all, for the record!) taught us all a valuable lesson about taking responsibility for the storage and ownership of our information. He did this by periodically flipping a light switch that shut down all the computers in the whole lab, wiping out the work of anyone who hadn’t saved. Students got mad, frustrated, had mini breakdowns and outbursts, but ultimately learned that it doesn’t do us any good to blame the person (or computer) who wiped out our hard work—if we don’t take ownership and responsibility for our computer files, but rather trust a machine or program with this task, we sometimes get screwed over.

I don’t think there’s any way we are going to just stop the movement towards cloud computing, it has already arrived, but I do think we have a responsibility to understand the risks (as well as the benefits) it presents. The next generation of information professionals (and “mean” computer teachers!) need to take caution to educate our patrons on the importance of owning control over our information—though maybe we should leave the flipping of switches and such to the 6th grade teachers. That way, we can help prepare our communities to not be those hardest hit by the theoretical post-Google apocalypse.

(File, save to hard drive, select all, copy, paste in blog, post)

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After watching this video, having a couple thought-provoking conversations with Library School friends and classmates, I have decided to do a little experiment.

A friend was telling me about alternatives to Google for day-to-day Internet searches. And he said he actually used them. Not only did he use them, but he used them enough to have opinions about which ones are good. As a Library School student, I feel I have a responsibility to learn about the different search tools out there. So I decided to check out one of the ones he told me about, DuckDuckGo. It seemed like a pretty good search engine, so I decided to play around with it a bit.

After about a day of using the search engine for my searching needs, I found myself jonesing for some Google back in my Internet search life. Not because it gives better results. Not because it’s more user friendly. Not because I have some brand loyalty to Google (though I recently discovered what a beautiful man Sergey Brin is–seriously, he has almost god-like good looks). Not for any good reason. I was jonesing for Google because I am a Google addict, living in a culture of Google addicts.

At first, my goal in seeking out other search engines was not to “dump” Google, but to learn about what else is out there–to “see other people”, or other search engines, if you will. But I quickly learned that that just wouldn’t work. I need some Google sobriety in my life–I need to break up with Google, or at least take a break, otherwise I will keep crawling back to Google, never actually learn about any other programs and I will stay in my little filter bubble forever.

So I’ve decided that I’m not going to use Google’s search engine anymore. I even removed it from my add-ons for Firefox so I won’t feel tempted or relapse out of sheer habit. While I do want to distance myself from using Google programs whenever possible (part of why I actually chose to start my blog on WordPress, not Blogger), I am not boycotting Google (and I don’t feel any desire or drive to do so–I don’t hate Google, I just don’t want to continue buy into the idea that they are the best and only game in town). So I’m only breaking up with their search engine, while trying to gain a little distance from the brand. I do, however, like my Gmail account. Not just because it’s easier to stay together than break up (which it is), but because other email servers I have used have not been as effective in helping me organize my communication as Gmail has.

Maybe I should pay Bradley from iDUMP4U.com $10 to break up with Google for me. According to the site, as well as basic social awareness, paying a stranger to break up with your ex is a great way to burn a bridge, if that’s what you’re going for.

UPDATE (6/26/11):

This illustrated guide does a great job of explaining filter bubbles and DuckDuckGo as one way to escape them!

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