Archive for March, 2006

Why Microsoft fell apart

Posted in Books and publishing, Technology and software on March 31st, 2006

I pick up possibly-interesting nonfiction books, not quite at random, when I’m visiting the local PL, and I admit a fondness for “hot topic” and “here’s the way it’s going to be” books that are a few years old.

This one seemed more straightforward: Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates fumbled the future of Microsoft by David Bank, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. (Free Press, 2001, ISBN 0-7432-0315-1)

Based on interviews with loads of current and former Microsoft people, including Gates, Ballmer, and the rest of the top folks.

Bank seems to be telling a story of how Microsoft lacked the courage to basically stop developing Windows and Office in the late 1990s and move all its attention to web software. As a result, as we all know, Microsoft is a pathetic shell of a company barely hanging on to its few dozen remaining employees, while the smart people who built web-based applications in the late 1990s are all multibillionaires.

Or not.

Oddly enough, Bank finishes by saying that Gates is smart enough to wind up a winner–but only, I infer, by finally giving up on all that desktop-oriented nonsense.

I suppose the lesson is that it’s tough to write hard-headed confident technology reportage when the inevitable shifts aren’t quite as inevitable as they appear.

C&I: The most frequently downloaded essay

Posted in Cites & Insights on March 30th, 2006

I just got new statistics for Cites & Insights usage in 2006, and did a quick comparison with the overall statistics (through the end of 2005).

It would appear that Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0″ is now the most frequently-downloaded essay or issue of C&I, at least for downloads directly from the official site. (That caveat is because C&I 3.9, the CIPA Special Issue, which is still the issue with the most PDF downloads, is known to be mounted for downloading on at least one other website. I don’t believe any of the other special issues or essays are mirrored, but I don’t really know–and it’s perfectly legal to mirror any of the issues or essays, as long as the CC license is attached, attribution is provided, and the mirror site is freely available.)

What’s interesting, in some ways, is how that recent blockbuster passed the “biblioblogosphere” essay that had been the most frequent download.

“Investigating the Biblioblogosphere” shows 6,594 HTML downloads, while the issue (v.5, n.10) shows 3,111 PDF downloads.

Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0″ shows 6,651 HTML downloads, but the issue–exactly the same content–shows 4,671 downloads.

That makes sense: The essay is way too long for most people to read on the screen, and the HTML version requires a lot more print pages than the PDF version (42 vs. 32, I believe, but that may depend on your local settings). Plus, hey, the PDF version is prettier.

(The CIPA Special, PDF only, has been downloaded 8,250 times from the C&I site alone: Even this late in the game, it’s the fifth most popular full-issue download this year, right behind the four issues of volume 6 that have been out long enough for reasonable exposure.)

It continues to be the case that most issues continue to be downloaded, relatively infrequently, long after they’re published–much more so, I suspect, than old blog posts. Different emedia, different usage patterns.

Cites & Insights bloat fixed

Posted in Cites & Insights on March 28th, 2006

I’m pleased to say that Cites & Insights 6:5 is no longer a bloated PDF–it’s down from 590K to 330K (not bad, given that the HTML is 218K, without embedded typefaces, bookmarks, and all that jazz).

Not only should it now load as rapidly as any 28-page issue, it should also render as rapidly–something related to the bloat was causing Page 1 to take a long time to render.

I hope this problem will stay solved. I basically fiddled with the Word .dot template for C&I (if you really want to know, moving the banner out of the page header and into the document proper; more details on request if you’re that obsessive…)

We shall see. It’s still a peculiar issue; trimming the PDF doesn’t change that!

Semantic, not Smart

Posted in Media, Stuff, Writing and blogging on March 28th, 2006

Somewhere yesterday today–probably as a comment on someone else’s blog, possibly as email in one of the cases where I wasn’t willing to comment (or couldn’t because of registration requirements or whatever)–I was commenting about “fanboy”/”fangirl,” and my own experiences.

Something like: I’d never consider myself a fanboy, but it was nonetheless special to meet Lorcan Dempsey. And it was special to meet [Sir] Tim Berners-Lee (he wasn’t Sir at the time, and we were speaking on the same program/to the same audience), but the fanboy aspects were diminished by the fact that I pointedly took issue with one of his pet projects at the time, the Smart Web.

Duh.

The Semantic Web. I know that.

iWalt. iSmart. iWent to College. (Actually, I’d prefer the British “iWent to University,” which doesn’t seem to work right in American. Or, given the politics of the time and the specific institution I attended, iWent to Megaversity.)

So when/if you see that idiot comment somewhere else, know that my neurons started firing a little later…

Taking the bait

Posted in Passé on March 28th, 2006

It’s hard to read this post without feeling that the writer’s trolling for reaction.

And, sad to say, I find myself taking the bait.

Here’s my take:

If what you’re doing is repackaging carbonated sugar water and trying to convince people that they absolutely must have it, a hot new name is a fundamental necessity. After all, selling people stuff they don’t need is all about branding and hype.

If what you’re doing is pointing out new ways to meet actual needs, recognizing that needs differ from person to person and library to library, that resources differ from person to person and library to library, and that some people who’ve been doing great work may not like to be told they’re old hat if they’re not on the bandwagon right this minute…well, then maybe the brand name is more of a distraction.

That’s particularly true when the brand name itself becomes a divisive issue.

I don’t believe John Blyberg, Michael Casey, Casey Bisson, Jessamyn West, Meredith Farkas, Sarah Houghton, Aaron Schmidt, Luke Rosenberger, Steve Lawson, and a bunch of others are in the New Coke business. (Or, for that matter, Steven Cohen, who was pushing social software in libraries years ago…)

I believe they’re looking for ways to solve real needs in real communities using a variety of tools, some newish, and that most or all of them recognize that each library and each community has a different set of critical needs. I’ve disagreed with each of them on occasion; I generally admire the work each of them is doing.

I believe their work would be equally effective with or without a brand name–except among librarians who really don’t buy into New Coke or like to be labeled as old hat, where the work would be more effective without the brand name.

But what do I know? I’ve only been using old and new technologies to try to make library services better for, oh, 38 years now…

Messy facts and neat presentations

Posted in Media, Writing and blogging on March 25th, 2006

Given the “facts” I’m seeing repeated over, and over, and over again in the mass of conference blogging, it’s probably pointless to mention that:

  • Google searching is still a minority of web-search-engine searching. People do use other engines. A lot. Sensible people make a point of being familiar with more than one engine.
  • Not only isn’t Google the only website people care about, it’s something like the ninth most visited, far behind, for example, Yahoo!
  • [None of this is an attack on Google. I think Google does some wonderful things. I'd probably love moving down the road half a mile and working for them, implausible as that is. I think Google Library Project needs a lot more transparency. Mostly, here, I think too many speakers turn "some" into "all" awfully easily.]
  • Facile generalizations about This Generation and That Generation are just that–facile generalizations. Pew no more knows how every Generation Whatever “member” thinks than I do.
  • If today’s teenagers grow up to behave and think exactly the same way they did as teenagers, it will be a unique event.

Just a Saturday grump brought on by reading the same stuff a few too many times. Maybe it’s just as well that I’m not one of the cool kids.

So now breaking the back button is cool?

Posted in Technology and software on March 24th, 2006

How times change.

I remember a group of my acquaintance being royally reamed because its web application would, under some circumstances, disable the browser Back button or not work properly with it.

Horrendous! Inappropriate! Bad software engineering! Off with their heads!

So now I’m reading all the cool people blogging from CIL about how everything should be done in AJAX–oh, and by the way, you’ll tend to break the Back button.

But that’s OK, because AJAX is 2.0 and cool and the wave of the future.

Hmm.

All the cool kids…

Posted in ALA, Travel, Writing and blogging on March 22nd, 2006

…are either at CIL or PLA. (Opposite one another, just as Internet Librarian 2004 was not only directly opposite the California Library Association conference, but within 75 miles of it. One can only I incorrectly assumed that ITI just doesn’t look at professional library association conferences when scheduling its commercial events.*See addition below.)

I’m not. Unlikely that I’d be at PLA (but I bet it’s a great conference), and I’ve never been to or spoken at CIL. (I’ve spoken at what is now an ITI conference, but it was a long time ago, most recently 1994, and it wasn’t an ITI conference at the time. I write for ITI, but the only time they asked me to speak/be involved, it was a situation I was unwilling to do. Such is life. I’m about ready to declare myself a “former speaker” anyway.)

So reading the blogs from both places is interesting as usual.

Meanwhile, I just finished ALA voting (oddly, my email never arrived, although the postcard did; after I contacted ALA member services by email as instructed on the postcard, a new email arrived, two days later).

My endorsements? Not going to happen.

I have my own set of criteria for voting, and there’s no reason to believe you would have similar criteria. I don’t much care for “bullet voting” (voting for only a few people to increase voting impact, particularly practiced by SRRT people), but as it turned out I only cast 14 Council votes, thanks to the confluence of bio statements and other criteria.

The only tough choices were within LITA, where, as usual, I’m acquainted with most or all of the candidates. No comment on who I did or did not vote for.

If there’s a message here, it’s that if you’re an ALA member, you really should vote. I find the electronic process a little clunkier than the old paper process (if you want to read the biographies–it’s just slower this way), but the savings in postage and paper more than justifies the methodology.

Addition, March 25: Jane Dysart makes the excellent point that scheduling moderate-to-large conferences is exceedingly difficult. While there is an ALA list of state and national library conference dates and locations for years ahead, it’s notoriously incomplete…so maybe there’s no way around commercial and association library conferences at the same time and, sometimes, nearly at the same place.

[And, 13 months later, Don Hawkins adds assurances that ITI does look at other conferences. See comments below.]

Family nonsense

Posted in Language, Stuff on March 20th, 2006

Today’s Jon Carroll column in the San Francisco Chronicle is well worth reading.

I don’t think additional comment is needed (and besides, when I think about how the honorable term “Family” has been hijacked by a bunch of extremist organizations…well, I start to lose it too).

Trader Joe’s and the Word Paradox

Posted in Food, Media on March 20th, 2006

Trader Joe’s now officially exists: They’ve opened a store in New York City. And Slate has a story to clue in the Most Important People in the World.

The “Insider’s guide to Trader Joe’s” offers a set of “tips and warnings,” generally worthwhile. Including two sets of “fan favorites,” stuff that TJ does particularly well. (About 80% of what’s sold at a typical Trader Joe’s is exclusive to Trader Joe’s, according to one story I’ve read–and I believe it, since other than booze, wine, and beer, there are few national brands on display).

Reading those lists of favorites, I was struck by what I call the “Word paradox”: That is, “only ten features in Word really matter”–but your list of ten may have zero in common with my list of ten. That is, of the six categories I care most about at TJ, only two are mentioned among the sixteen categories mentioned in the Slate lists.

Here’s what we rely on TJ for, noting that we do most of our grocery shopping at two other stores, a medium-size Safeway and Andronico’s (a tiny little chain):

  • Dried fruit, e.g. three different varieties of dried cherries, three different kinds of dried cranberries…and dozens more that I don’t buy. Nobody does it better. Yes, TJ’s even has unsulphered dried apricots, if you don’t mind the looks.
  • Vitamins & supplements, the purest around (“vitamins” are mentioned in the article).
  • Nuts and sunflower seeds in a staggering range of varieties (including the world’s largest cashews) at very good prices.
  • Kauai coffee (yes, 100% coffee grown on Kauai), similar to Kona (which TJ’s also sells in a 100%-pure version), but about 1/3 the price–I’ve never seen Kauai coffee elsewhere, and TJ doesn’t roast the heck out of their coffee (except for their special blends designed for Starbucks/Peets customers)–“coffee and tea” are also mentioned–and, oh yes, unbleached #4 filters at 100 for $1.60 or so
  • Chocolate–in my case, the three-packs of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate 1.75oz bars (58% cocoa solids, just the right balance for my taste), from Belgium, for a staggering $1.29 for three bars. There are, to be sure, many other varieties.
  • Clif bars at reasonable prices ($1/bar), although that’s becoming a little more common.

But that’s us–the things we want that either aren’t available elsewhere, are done better by TJ, or are a lot cheaper for the same quality. (I don’t think anything we buy except coffee filters and Clif bars falls into the third category.)

Oh, sometimes TJ’s own wine label (or set of labels) is excellent for the money (not two-buck-chuck, but stuff under the Trader Joe’s label). Sometimes not. Frequently it’s not available, because they can’t get the quality they want at the price they want.

I respect TJ’s commitment to avoiding additives and fillers where feasible, and to using reasonably minimal packaging (except for some produce, and we don’t buy fresh produce there). It is a strange place to shop; no question there.

In passing, I note that Slate also had a slightly snarky take on Whole Foods and the whole question of “organic” food when you’re not in an area that grows it locally. We don’t shop at Whole Foods, but the points in the article are very well taken. We do pay attention to where our produce comes from–and even in California, that’s an issue–and increasingly to whether “organic” is an overriding concern. Safeway’s introduced a huge range of organics under its O brand, and apparently plans to beef up the organic fresh produce selection in the future; right now, most of the organic produce we get is at Andronico’s (which has a nasty tendency to overchill its produce). Given the choice between organic produce from Chile and non-organic from 50 miles away? For fruit known to retain a lot of pesticides, we’d probably wait for the California season to emerge; otherwise, we’d take the non-organic. But, as the Whole Foods article notes, most organic food in the U.S. comes from California anyway, so we don’t often have to make that choice.

Now, if California only produced ruby grapefruit…but I guess we’ll keep buying that from Texas, transportation and all.


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