Archive for July, 2005

Conversations

Posted in Media, Writing and blogging on July 29th, 2005

Today I did something twice that I’ve only had to do three or four times since this blog began:

Deleted a comment awaiting moderation.

Readers of Cites & Insights know that I’m skeptical of the notion that weblogs are automatically great conversational media, or that they’re substantially superior to lists. At best, at least in single-author weblogs, conversations are always a little one-sided: The owner speaks first.

That said, I also believe that weblogs can involve good conversations, and I’m delighted that this one has gathered so many thoughtful and informative comments.

I’ve finished the “biblioblogosphere” investigation that will be the heart of the next C&I; to my surprise, Walt at Random turned out to be one of “a top 50″–and, to my delight, it ranks as the sixth most conversationally intense of that group during the April-June 2005 study period. (That is, the average number of comments per post was higher than all but five other weblogs. I suspect few of you will guess which weblog came out on top…and I’m not telling until the issue comes out.)

In the interests of good conversations, I approve most comments–and, for that matter, most comments don’t even require moderation.

But there are limits. Commercial posts are right out. Spam is right out.

The two today were, I believe, spam of a sort; I’m really not quite sure. Both were attached to the Blaise Cronin entry; both seemed to come from the same person although there were different names and email addresses; both combined a short statement with a link to slashdot or firefox.

Here are the statements, as I remember them:

1. “I’m tired of reading about this”

2. “Why don’t you shut up”

This is fair warning that I feel free to continue deleting comments with this level of substance, either at the moderation phase or after they’re posted if they escape moderation. If you’re tired of reading about (whatever), then stop reading it. If you want me to stop “talking to you” (one meaning of “shut up”), unsubscribe or just stop coming here. If you want me to shut up in general…well, good luck.

50-Movie All Stars Collection, Disc 2

Posted in Movies and TV on July 28th, 2005

Yes, it’s that time again: this time, four TV movies, all worth watching.

Rehearsal for Murder, 1982, color, David Greene (dir.), Robert Preston, Lynn Redgrave, Patrick Macnee, Lawrence Pressman, Jeff Goldblum. 1:36 [1:40 jacket]

Remarkable cast, nicely-done staged mystery. The setup: Preston’s a playwright, Redgrave the star of his new show—and his fiancée, with the two to be married the day after opening night. Opening reviews are bad; everybody leaves the cast party at her place. Next thing we know, she’s an apparent suicide. A year later, Preston gathers the rest of the cast and the producer (that is, the money man) together to read some scenes from a new play—which turn out to be various scenarios as to how each of those gathered could have murdered her. Sure, the final plot twists are a bit implausible, but it’s all very well done. Very good to excellent print and sound.
Engrossing, satisfying. $1.50.

How Awful About Allan, 1970, color, Curtis Harrington (dir.), Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris, Joan Hackett. 1:13 [1:30 jacket]

Anthony Perkins in a movie about a son stricken by hysterical blindness when his father dies in a fire and his sister (his father’s favorite) is disfigured—and, after some time in a hospital, he’s only semi-hysterically semi-blind and comes home to his sister, who wears a plastic appliance to cover the scar. Anthony Perkins: what more need be said? It’s TV-movie quality, but not at all bad. (The 1:30 time is almost certainly the run time with commercials.) Very good to excellent print and sound. $1.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Last of the Belles,” 1974, color, George Schaefer (dir.), Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner, Susan Sarandon. 1:38

Part fiction, part (apparently) nonfiction: F. Scott Fitzgerald copes with a failing marriage by writing a story that, sooner or later, is about him and his wife. (Well, that and drinking a lot.) Big cast, big scenery, well-played; interesting enough that, one day soon, I’ll read the story and read a little more about Fitzgerald himself. Very good to excellent print and sound. $2.

To All My Friends on Shore, 1972, color, Gilbert Cates (dir.), Bill Cosby (also exec. producer, music), Gloria Foster, Dennis Hines. 1:10 [1:30 jacket]

The jacket calls this “an uncharacteristically grim role”: True enough. Cosby as an airport luggage handler, odd-job hauler, and whatever else he can do to try to save up enough to buy and restore a decrepit old house and get his wife and kid out of the ghetto. The kid turns out to have sickle cell anemia, and Cosby’s character must deal with his always being a “tomorrow man” (that is, forsaking today for the promise of tomorrow, where his father was a “yesterday man,” always looking back on the way things were). Good to very good print, but dark, and I’m not that wild about Cosby’s scoring, but it’s a low-key, powerful TV movie in its own right. $1.

I have to say that all the dollar figures given here may be on the low side: With the probable exception of How Awful (just not my cup of hysteria), I’d probably watch all of these again. There was a video-audio synch problem with two of them, but that appears to be player-related: I can’t replicate it on my PC, and it went away as soon as I started the movie’s second or third day. Since I’m guessing few of you have $80 Apex 13″TV-DVD combos, don’t worry about it.

Caching: Tool of the Devil

Posted in Media, Stuff on July 27th, 2005

I like the Watley Review enough to check it once a week. I haven’t looked at the Onion much recently; I think the quality suffered when they moved to the Big Apple or whereever.

But, as should be obvious from this post, I didn’t think there had been a new issue of WR since June 26–because, whenever I checked, the front page was unchanged. So I bit on a hoax.

I’m to blame for not following the link at Blog of a Bookslut to see the original article.

But caching has something to do with it: For some reason, Firefox keeps bringing up the old version. Until I explicitly hit Refresh while on that page. Not a problem I’ve had before… and annoying as, well…

Grump.

My only comment on Harry Potter (I hope)

Posted in Books and publishing, Media, Stuff on July 27th, 2005

Blog of a Bookslut has this remarkable item.

Updated, but not deleted:

Whoops. I know the Watley Review is a joke–but something’s happened, and I haven’t seen an updated version since late June. Otherwise, I would have read the hoax story before reading Blog of a Bookslut. And, duh, I didn’t click through to the cited article (which I would have recognized, since I do read the Watley Review), since the excerpt was what I wanted to comment on.

In other words, none of this actually happened. It’s a joke. I bit. I don’t know whether Bookslut bit or was seeing how many of her readers are gullible. Well, count me as one.

And now, since I’m willing for my gullibility to be part of The Permanent Record, on with my original (duh) post–and thanks to T.Scott and Rikhei for catching me on it so quickly!

Briefly (indirectly), a Pottermaniac decided that the woman in Britain with her name on the covers had deviated from the True Potter Path in the latest book, so produced her own version that’s true to the Potter Mythos.

Let’s not get into the copyright issues (in this particular case, I’m on Rowling’s side). I just find this sort of thing bizarre.

I know it’s not the first time; Trekkies (the lunatic fringe, as opposed to Trekkers) certainly grumped from time to time about the show’s writers/producers losing their way. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Buffy fans busily plotting the Slayer’s future beyond Season 7. (In Cleveland, perhaps?) Don’t point me to any of this stuff: I don’t have the time. On the other hand, I haven’t heard too many suggestions that Joss Whedon doesn’t understand the Buffyverse… [Yes, I'll probably post more about this latter thing later. I regard BtVS as one of the most under-appreciated TV series in recent history.]

When an author dreams up a world, no matter how derivative or hackneyed, the author gets to run that world. If the world is popular enough so that a publisher wants more episodes, the author still controls the world.

If the readers don’t like it, they’re free to stop reading–or, if they’re talented, to create their own worlds. But to suggest that they know the writer’s world better than the writer, and should be able to take over from the writer…well, I think there’s a serious confusion here between fiction and reality. (I’m not going to political here, although it’s awfully tempting…)

Harry Potter is fiction. The whole series is J.K. Rowling’s world. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. There are thousands of books out there at least as well written. Some of them are probably as semi-addictive.

Confession: So far, I’ve only read the first volume. My wife’s read all but the latest. I will read the rest–but, well, I didn’t find it hard to put the first down. Oh, I enjoyed it, and I’ve enjoyed the movies as well. I just don’t find it as compelling as a few million other people do. Different people, different tastes. (I find very few books so compelling that I can’t set them aside to be picked up again later. In some ways, I’d rather not read anything longer than a novella in a single sitting. That’s just me.)

Again: The “revised version” is a hoax. Never mind.

Sort of a book review.

Posted in Books and publishing, Libraries, Stuff on July 27th, 2005

I jotted down a full page (OK, a 3×5″ page, but still) of notes as I finished reading this book, Double Down, by two lesser-known but still published Barthelme brothers. I picked it up in the ship’s library on our Alaska cruise; I usually read one or two books from the ship’s library along with the ones I take along.

It’s an odd book. These two professors managed to squander a quite substantial inheritance and any other spare money they had because of “addictive” gambling–and astonishingly stupid gambling at that.

How stupid? Driving down to the Mississippi barge casinos in the evening; playing straight through from midnight to 8 a.m. or sometimes for 24 hours straight, never stopping or taking breaks to walk around, making insane bets, violating every rule they knew (and they did know some of the basic advice).

My short summary was “addictive, well-educated idiots”–who admit that they write (or at least used to write) to hide their feelings, which makes them interesting candidates to teach writing to others.

So far, so good–until they say (when they somehow realize that those casinos are actually businesses, and that they only survive because the odds favor the house), “They take your money, and you go home”–in a manner that seems to regard this as a dire indictment of casinos.

It’s true. For most people, most of the time, casinos do “take your money and you go home,” after having some cheap or expensive entertainment.

So do movie theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys, spas, theme parks, hotels… (when we go to Reno, we know that we’ll spend less overall on a good hotel, good food, and entertainment in the form of slot poker than we would for just a good hotel and good food in many other vacation areas–and we assume we’ll spend all the gaming money we’ve allotted, even though we never actually spend that much. Admittedly, we don’t seem to have addictive personalities).

Oops. I slipped in “gaming” instead of “gambling.” I do think there’s a difference. When I go into a casino, I’m playing games for a price. I never expect to win (although, for a two-year stretch, I almost never lost–a long-running fluke that almost certainly won’t be repeated). I expect to spend some portion of the money I’ve allotted, enjoy myself, and quit when I run out of money, get tired, or stop enjoying it. That’s gaming, not gambling. Casinos involve both.

I would have let that slide, but shortly thereafter the brothers talk about casinos “fleecing you.”

OK, I haven’t been to the Mississippi casinos. Maybe they do have people at the door who remove money from your wallet as you enter. Maybe they cheat at the table, not providing the odds that you think you’re getting (which, for blackjack, would take some doing). But I doubt it.

The Barthelmes fleeced themselves. They also lied to themselves about it. They excuse the whole sad affair by saying that it’s the playing, not the money–and that it wasn’t “real money” because it was an inheritance (not including all of their own money, of course), and it’s pretty clear they didn’t care for their father, who provided that “fake money.”

OK, for us, it really is the playing, not the money. Which is why we play quarter slot poker. Whereas the Barthelmes would apparently warm up for blackjack by touching the quarter slots, then moving on to $1, $5, whatever…and would escalate blackjack bets to thousands of dollars per hand. (Reading about just how badly these two behaved is engaging, if appalling.)

At which point, it’s the money–and, I began to suspect, the thrill of losing.

Gambling addiction is real enough for some people, although apparently a lower percentage than many other forms of potentially-addictive behavior (drinking, smoking, heroin, golf…) But to accuse casinos of “fleecing you” when you deliberately abuse every sensible guideline for enjoyable as opposed to ruinous gambling…well, sorry, but I don’t buy it. Most bars really don’t set out to turn drinkers into drunks; most good restaurants don’t set out to turn diners into obsessive, obese foodies; and I don’t believe most casinos set out to ruin or fleece gamblers. It’s not good business, for one thing–and casinos are businesses.

Doing several things badly

Posted in Stuff on July 25th, 2005

I’ve offered snide comments in the past about multitasking, because I believe it’s a great way to do several things badly instead of one thing well. A Johns Hopkins researcher seems to have direct evidence of this point, albeit in a limited context.

To those who are convinced that they can talk on the cell phone while driving safely and attentively: You’re fooling Ohmygah! There’s that idiot weaving into my lane again yourself. And endangering others. “Listening” to music in the car demands so little direct attention that it shouldn’t be a problem.

Thanks to CogSci Librarian for the tip.

Damn, it’s hot: The relativity of temperature

Posted in Stuff on July 24th, 2005

Just another day in paradise…

I almost wrote this entry on Wednesday, when it had reached the upper 80s every day for a week. Then things returned to a more typical summer pattern (cool in the morning and evening), so you can cool the house down, and mid-70s to low 80s at peak).

Yesterday it hit 93. Today’s similar.

So what? Those aren’t high temperatures for the summer. Where I grew up (and where we were last Sunday), 105 is a fairly typical summer high. Many cities are much hotter in the summer.

The difference: Most houses in Mountain View, ours certainly included, don’t have air conditioning, because we don’t usually need it. And some houses–ours included–lack attic fans and have too much/too loose insulation to be able to install ones.

So when it stays hot, the house heats up and takes forever to cool down.

Sure, when I was growing up, we didn’t have air conditioning (but did have loads of shade), but I think I could tolerate indoor temperatures in the high 70s/low 80s better 45 years ago: Big surprise!

No, it’s not intolerable. (I’m not so much complaining as commenting.) It’s just that weather hereabout is usually so temperate that even mild “extremes” are unusual–which is also, to be sure, why most houses don’t have air conditioning.

When we got back from dinner yesterday at 7 p.m., it was 82 inside; we got it down to 79 by 10 p.m. We did pick up a column fan yesterday (and we do have ceiling fans in most rooms), and by getting up before 6 this morning, I got it down from 76 (natural cooling) to 72…but it was back to 75 by noon, and it’s 79–no, make that 80–now (3:45 p.m.).

That’s hotter than I’d like it inside. We’re crazy enough to walk to dinner again this afternoon, but you expect more heat outside.

I wonder whether people on Moorea feel chilled to the bone when it drops to 65?

First, try Excel

Posted in Libraries, Media, Stuff, Writing and blogging on July 22nd, 2005

One negative consequence of using PCs for so long is a tendency to do something you know will work–without first trying a long shot that might be a whole lot simpler.

Case in point, via an unfortunately long post:

  • I’m working on an “investigative” piece for Cites & Insights on the “biblioblogosphere” (not wild about the term, but it’s convenient shorthand).
  • The first step in that long process was to gather together a list of all the candidate blogs for the study–and the second step was to acquire the first measure in the study, a crude estimate of blog readership based on Bloglines subscription count.
  • The “list of candidates” came from three obvious sources–well, four, actually:
  • I figured the easiest way to do the first two steps was to click to each weblog (printing out the lists to avoid duplication), click on “Sub with Bloglines” on the FireFox Bloglines toolbar, and subscribe to up to three of the most general feeds (if there are multiple feeds).
  • Then, I could reset Bloglines to show all listings, click on each feed, add up the numbers, and jot down the number on the printed list–then unsub all but one feed for each weblog.

So I did that, trimming the list as I went based on my baseline criteria for inclusion in the study:

Weblogs by one or a small group of self-identified library people (not “official library” weblogs and not large-group weblogs such as PLA Blog and LISNews), with at least one posting in 2005 (some of the lists don’t edit out dead blogs), and at least one feed (because it’s too hard to investigate otherwise).

I haven’t been too strict on any of the criteria, tending toward inclusion rather than exclusion.

So, after a few hours’ work, I wound up with a Bloglines library section containing 239 weblogs. I wanted an Excel spreadsheet with the names of the weblogs in column A, the feed counts in column B, and other information in other columns as I did the rest of the investigation. And I sure didn’t want to type in 239 names!

I knew you could export a Bloglines list in “OPML.” That turns out to be XML, which is just text. So I opened it in Word, used wildcard replaces to get rid of everything but the blog name in each line, and saved it as a .txt, figuring I could just import it into Excel and go from there.

OK, the knowledgeable readers out there are saying “You idiot…”, but bear with me.

I fired up Excel, went to import, and noticed that the string of “Excel file” extensions in the default option in the open-file box included .html; a little horizontal scrolling showed that it also included .xml. I hadn’t deleted the Bloglines XML output, so I figured, “What the heck?”

Clicked on the Bloglines XML file and, whadda you know? A neat multicolumn spreadsheet with the names in one column, the URLs in another column, and I think one or two other columns, using the XML tags to label each column. Very neat. So I wasted five minutes doing pointless Word edits… And realized at that point that having the URLs in the spreadsheet just might be convenient.

The project continues (and boy, were those URLs convenient–particularly in one column where I could use a block replace to change “http://” to “link:” as needed). The list is down to a mere 237 weblogs; I’ve completed the “reach” portion, to determine the somewhere-between-20-and-70 blogs that will get full treatment. (I’ll probably post the whole spreadsheet somewhere when I publish the Perspective.)

Lesson: First see whether your regular software just might be able to do what you’d like it to do, before assuming you need to massage the data first. Pain to learn the lesson: None, really–the five minutes is a tiny slice out of the time this project is taking.

PS: I’d love to just use the Bloglines Directory to add up the subscribers for all feeds for a given weblog. Just one little problem: That directory, which includes several million weblogs, is only accessible by the first letter of the weblog name and lots of paging down. I tried that for a couple of weblogs; it’s just not supportable.

And as for “reach” and using Technorati as a natural source–that assumes (a) that Technorati stays stable long enough to do more than half a dozen searches and (b) that the results make sense (e.g., that you don’t get “zero results” for a URL and, one minute later, “353 lists link to this…” for the same URL. Unfortunately, neither seems to be the case. So I’m using other measures. It will all be written up, in what’s already turning out to be an interesting project.

D-Lib: Ten years of excellence

Posted in Books and publishing, Libraries, Media, Writing and blogging on July 20th, 2005

D-Lib Magazine‘s current issue (July/August 2005) represents and reflects on the magazine’s tenth anniversary.

Robert E. Kahn says this in his introduction to the issue:

The magazine has proven to be an important source of timely and relevant information about digital libraries in particular and, more generally, of information production, consumption and management.

That sounds about right.

I don’t always agree with CNRI on everything. I don’t always agree with D-Lib articles. (It would be both odd and unfortunate if I did.)

I do always find D-Lib worth perusing, with many of the articles worth my time to read and reflect on. (Once in a while I comment on D-Lib articles in Cites & Insights, but nowhere near as often as I should.)

Ten years is a long time in the magazine business and an eternity in the e-publishing field. D-Lib has reached that milestone with distinction. I hope it continues to do well.

And if it’s not obvious: If you haven’t looked at D-Lib in a while, what are you waiting for? It’s in my Favorites list, for good reason.

World Poker Tour and Randy Newman

Posted in Movies and TV on July 19th, 2005

Not that anyone cares, but here’s the answer to the trivia question posted here.

  • Gabe Kaplan has played in at least one final table (the televised table) on the World Poker Tour: He’s become a fairly accomplished poker player.
  • Gabe Kaplan is probably best known for playing Mr. Kotter on Welcome Back, Kotter on TV many years ago (1975-1979).
  • The side trip to Coconut Grove: John B. Sebastian wrote and sang the theme song on Welcome Back, Kotter–“Welcome Back,” one of the nicer TV theme songs (from the days when TV shows actually had theme songs, lyrics and all.
  • And John B. Sebastian was the lead singer and primary writer for the Lovin’ Spoonful, a group that released “Coconut Grove” (a lovely ballad). End of the side trip.
  • A 21-year-old actor established himself playing Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter–one John Travolta.
  • One of John Travolta’s more interesting roles more recently was Michael, the cigarette-smoking angel, in Michael (1996).
  • (Some of) the music for Michael, including the song “Heaven is My Home,” was written by Randy Newman.

OK, seven steps.


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