Archive for December, 2006

Hi-def optical discs on the last major weekend

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

Following up on this post, I checked today’s flyers–noteworthy in that this is the last “serious” set of flyers (anybody shopping for gifts next Sunday is in full panic mode, and it’s unlikely that $500-$1,000 hi-def players will enter in).

Unlike the last report, there were no PSP3 ads (presumably because there are no PSP3s to be found; I wonder whe the other half-million promised for 2006 will arrive?), so no ads for the cheapest available Blu-ray drives.

But there were also no ads for the XBox 360 HD-DVD add-on, and that surprises me, given that such ads did appear, once in a while, over the last month or so. I continue to wonder just how available that relatively cheap upgrade actually is.

As for set-top boxes, the numbers are precisely the same as five weeks ago (after some weeks of fewer ads in general): Four chains advertising at least one Blu-ray player (mostly the new $999 Sony player). Zero chains advertising any HD-DVD player.

Elsewhere, there appear to be at least four brands of Blu-ray burners on the market…and, as before zero HD-DVD burners.

The conclusion is the same as before, but more so: Whatever lead Toshiba might have had (with HD-DVD appearing months before Blu-ray), it’s squandered that lead by failing to market persistently. If either format has any chance (still an open question), I think the odds are now solidly on Blu-ray’s side. It’s not over yet, but my mind’s eye sees turkey vultures circling over the HD DVD camp. (Which is actually quite a graceful sight as long as you’re not the one they’re over!)

One other surprising factoid: when I was in Target a week ago, passing by the DVD/CD section (as in, “What really killed Tower?”) I noticed a narrow section with Blu-ray DVDs on one panel, HD DVDs on the second panel, and a “hi-def” marketing thing connecting them. The sections were wall displays, only one or two discs wide, so limited selection really wasn’t an issue–but I was surprised to see the discs in Target at all, at least at this point. They weren’t there three weeks ago…

Good story on three new Bay Area public libraries

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has a good story–better than half of the front page of the Bay Area section, with color photos, with an inside breakover–about the new public libraries in San Mateo, Belmont, and Hercules.

The link title for the story from the home page at SFGate (where the link takes you) is “These cities bounding for glory” and the story itself begins:

No government building has the presence of a good library.

It’s not a city hall where you do business or a jail where you do time. Libraries exist to unfurl dreams, offering access to knowledge and entertainment and everything in between. They symbolize the ideal that all citizens have a right to be informed.

The writer, John King, is the Chronicle‘s urban design writer; he knows his stuff, and always looks at buildings contextually. His only real complaint about any of the three buildings regards the largest, San Mateo’s new $60 million, 90,000-square-foot building, with its logical flow of several two-story spaces:

The one flaw that results from the emphasis on an upward march and specialized nooks: The regular collection’s shelves and stacks almost seem an afterthought, off to the side rather than the reason for being.

I haven’t been to any of the three, so I can’t comment. It’s interesting that he finds the lowest-budget of the three libraries (Belmont, at $8.2 million) the most satisfying.

A tiny follow-up post

Friday, December 15th, 2006

Since I haven’t provided an appropriate About page yet [Since I hadn’t provided an About page until Saturday, December 16, 2006], I should provide a disclaimer that’s conceivably relevant to this post.

This is my personal blog. It does not reflect OCLC views or policy.

More specifically, I don’t know anything about the workings of netLibrary–and I’ve stopped speaking and writing about those aspects of the ebook field that (to the best of my limited knowledge) might involve netLibrary, because there’s no good way to deal with the possible conflicts.

I’ve been on record for years as saying that ebooks should take over a chunk of the textbook market. That’s a personal perspective. The notes about the size of the digital text market are based entirely on public information.

Similarly, even if I was inclined to write about online catalogs–which I’m not–I wouldn’t at this point, since there’s a whole can of worms that I don’t wish to open.

Book publishing in the U.S.: Bigger than we thought?

Friday, December 15th, 2006

People still read and buy print books: That’s a given. (If you disagree, you’re ignoring all available evidence.)

The print book field isn’t dying: That’s also a given, based on all available info (and, depending on the way you measure, digital aspects of the book field represent anywhere from 0.05% to maybe 3%–there are a lot of ways to measure!).

But just how much do people spend on books?

For years, the typical number came from AAP; for 2004 or 2005, that was around $23.7 billion.

Then the Book Industry Study Group studied smaller publishers broadly enough to come up with a considerably larger number: $34.6 billion for 2005 (plus another $2.2 billion in used book sales). The difference, roughly $11 billion, is all those publishers–some of them only doing one book–that aren’t part of AAP’s constituency (mostly larger publishers).

Well, I ran into a surprise in this morning’s paper, and it’s verified by the U.S. Census bureau’s website: the adjusted number for 2005 is $51.9 billion (including ebooks, to be sure, but that’s certainly less than 3% of that number, no matter what definition you use). (Click on the book sales 2004-2009 table.)

The paper highlighted the 2007 projection: $55.5 billion for somewhere between 3.1 and 3.2 billion books. With a projection of $53.7 billion for this year.

The growth numbers may not be exciting, but that’s still steady growth–3.4% for this year, a similar projection for next year, and $1.8 billion annual growth is nothing to sneeze at.

Oh, by the way, what about the segment of the industry where well-designed ebooks should have an impact, namely textbooks? Elhi is a $5.5 billion market; higher education is a $6.4 billion market.

Getting a second opinion

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

A while back, Bob Nardini of YBP asked if I’d be interested in reviewing The Economics of Attention by Richard A. Lanham, with the review to appear in YBP Academia, YBP’s online magazine/review site where select Cites & Insights essays are also appearing.

I agreed, got the review copy, eventually managed to slog through it, and wrote this review. A bit nervously, both because I found the book such heavy lifting and because I hate writing negative book reviews–but found no other choice in this case. Well, there’s a third reason: My college major was rhetoric (actually, it was called speech, but the department changed its name to Rhetoric the year I graduated), and this book is theoretically all about rhetoric. But I found the book frustrating, and as a humanities person who understands math (I was informally a math minor) I was outraged by the author’s seeming pride in innumeracy, a pretty serious flaw when you’re talking about economics.

I wrote the review–toning it down before submitting it–and gave the book away. Then I encountered this lengthy review/article in First Monday. In some ways, it’s reassuring: Someone who’s thought about the “attention economy” a lot more than I have also found the book lacking. In some ways not: the reviewer (Michael Goldhaber) thinks the “attention economy” is a meaningful term, and he praises Lanham’s style and his “brilliant explanation of the value of rhetoric.” But Goldhaber is a theoretical physicist, and maybe Lanham’s comments on rhetoric struck him more brilliantly than they do a rhetoric graduate.

Maybe we’re both wrong. Maybe it’s a brilliant book. Certainly the reviews at Amazon are more positive, and the book’s way up there in the top 40,000 in sales.

Startling facts, or not

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Just a numeracy quickie:

On the way in to work, listened to a news report about a “green” car show (on California Report, CA NPR stations, produced by the local station). So far, so good.

Some official said it was so important because Californians buy one out of every ten cars sold in the U.S., which she seemed to think was a startling fact.

Antennae having risen, I confirmed what I believed to be the case: One out of every eight people in the U.S. lives in California.

So I guess the startling fact is that Californians buy cars at a slower rate than the rest of the country–that it’s not the “car-crazy” state after all?

50-Movie Classic Musicals, Disc 1

Saturday, December 9th, 2006

Fifty musicals for $15-$20. What could that mean? Clearly, you’re not going to get the spectaculars like West Side Story, Oklahoma, The Music Man for that kind of money (I’m seeing some very cost-effective collections of deluxe two-disc editions of such musicals, though—like six of them for $70 or less). As I go through these, it may be interesting to see how “musical” is defined—it can be a picture about music or musicians (real or fictional) so that lots of music gets included, a picture with a regular plot that has lots of music (well-integrated into the plot or otherwise), a musical revue on film—and maybe other things. This set has four or five duplications with other 50-movie packs I’ve reviewed, but at least three of the four I’m sure of are quite good movies, so that’s OK.

As an amusement, I note that Mill Creek Entertainment follows the erratic spelling of what these movies appear on: the incorrect “Disk” on the sleeves, the correct “Disc” on the discs themselves. As with all the 50-movie packs, assume VHS-level transfers, frequently from mildly-damaged originals, with no special features and (always) four scene divisions per title (most packs now have intelligent scene breaks, not just an arbitrary quarter of the length). If there are enough missing frames to reduce the run length by more than a minute from what appears in IMDB, I give the actual DVD run time in [square brackets]. The dollar rating at the end of each mini-review is fairly forgiving and ranges from $0 to $2.50, although anything over $2 is rare. A buck or more means I think the movie is worth watching on the whole and might conceivably watch it again; $1.50 or more means I think the movie would be worth buying as a bargain DVD on its own.

Disc 1

The Fabulous Dorseys, 1947, b&w, Alfred E. Green (dir.), Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Janet Blair, Paul Whiteman, Bob Eberly, Helen O’Connell, Art Tatum, William Lundigan. 1:28.

The Dorseys aren’t much as actors, and the plot may be realistic but still comes off a bit hokey—but it doesn’t really matter. Great music by great musicians, including a first-rate jam session with Art Tatum. Pretty decent print quality, and the sound track’s more than good enough. Worth watching just for the musical numbers. $1.50.

Calendar Girl, 1947, b&w, Allan Dwan (dir.), Jane Frazee, William Marshall, Gail Patrick, Kenny Baker, Victor McLaglen, Franklin Pangborn. 1:28 [1:20]

Cute plot, good musical numbers, but the sound’s badly damaged in portions and the picture’s pretty frayed as well. I’d give this $1.25 in a decent transfer, but can’t go higher than $0.75 under the circumstances.

Sunny, 1941, b&w, Herbert Wilcox (dir.), Anna Neagle, Ray Bolger, John Carroll, Edward Everett Horton, Grace Hartman, PLaul Hartman, Martha Tilton. 1:38 [1:35].

This one also suffers from a badly damaged print, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable flick nonetheless—this time with a plot that actually drives the movie. Sunny Sullivan’s a circus performer (singer, horseback rider) who meets up with the wealthy scion of an automaker during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They get engaged. The circus friends (Ray Bolger and crew) show up at the wedding and she runs away with them—but of course love conquers all: It’s a musical! Even with the damage, this one’s worth $1.25.

Swing Hostess, 1944, b&w, Sam Newfield (dir.), Martha Tilton, Iris Adrian, Charles Collins, Betty Brodel, Cliff Nazarro, Harry Holman. 1:16.

Martha Tilton was a vocalist for Benny Goodman and is absolutely first rate as a singer, and more than good enough as an actress. As with Calendar Girl, this one’s partly set in a “struggling artist” apartment house—this time with lots of novelty acts (magician, acrobats). The plot hinges on a situation that could only have happened during a few years: The master disks on which records are directly cut are so expensive that a recording studio head (and masher) insists on using the rest of a disk that Tilton’s already cut a demo on—and her half gets released as though by the (awful-sounding) girl the head brings in. Hijinks ensue (this is most definitely a comedy), and of course it all works out. The most interesting part here: “Telephone jukeboxes” in restaurants, where you put in a coin, pick up a phone, and tell the operator what tune you want, at which point she plays the disc on one of several turntables at the central station. I can only assume this actually happened. Not great, but quite good. $1.25.

My father…

Friday, December 8th, 2006

…made me who I am: thinking for myself, appreciating engineering and science but also literature and music, believing that ethics come from within and that we need to treat other people well because we’re all in this together, not because some giant shaking finger in the sky will smite us otherwise. (My father was also, always, a strong, active, supportive church member, even president of the Modesto Council of Churches for some time as lay leader of his church…that’s a different issue. My brother called him a “James Christian.” Some of you will know what that means better than I do.)

…was reliable. If he said he’d do something, he did it.

…was head of a functional family. We grew up knowing we were loved. Not a lot of money (he was always a city employee, back when that meant, well, not getting a lot of money), but lots of what we needed.

…was always intellectually curious, reading, learning, discussing. Was also a woodworker, electrician, civil engineer (by trade), stamp collector, genealogy buff, photographer, and more.

…was married almost 60 years to my mother; then, a year or so after she died (when he was 88 or 89), married a 91-year-old widow in the church and had another first-rate marriage for more than 7 years before she died.

…was a mensch.

…had 97 good years and most of a 98th good year, albeit with more trouble getting around and some other problems. He died in his sleep, apparently without pain.

…was born November 30, 1908; died November 18, 2006; and had his life celebrated yesterday afternoon at First United Methodist Church in Modesto, in a service that he had a large part in designing and would have liked, even if it ran a little long.

No condolences required. He was a good man and a good father. He had a great run. I was reminded yesterday how much he meant to many parts of his community–the church, the Engineer’s Club, Y’s Men and the YMCA and the camp, Camp Jack Hazard, and more. I was reminded in some ways how relatively little I’ve done by comparison.–and, to be sure, how proud he was of what I have done.
If you’re interested, the obituary notice should still be available from the Modesto Bee:

Start here, go to the search box, enter “crawford” (I can’t link directly to the result); the name’s Charles Crawford.

AutoBlooks: I guess I just don’t understand

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Seems to be a fair amount of excitement among libloggers about Blog Slurper, a new Blurb template/program to, well, slurp up the contents of a blog and turn them into a book.

Dave Hook, The Industrial Librarian, thinks it might make sense to turn all of the Carnivals of the Infosciences into a book. Steven Cohen, Library Stuff, thinks ALA Editions should jump on that idea.

And I just don’t get it–particularly for something like the Carnivals.

I’m not saying blooks–books based on blogs–never make sense; there are clearly cases where they’re good ideas.

I’m also not dissing the Carnivals; I make a point of reading them, and am delighted that they’re all listed in a nice compact wiki page. Checking a few of them from that page confirmed my gut feeling. Some Carnivals consist of heavily-annotated/commented links; some consist of links with just enough annotation to guide you to the original post. Many Carnival inclusions are reasonably ephemeral, and they cover a huge range of subjects somehow related to the overall theme.

To turn this into a book, you’d need extensive indexing–and you’d be left with a book full of URLs, a book that made relatively little sense without, ahem, typing those URLs into a browser and hoping that the blogs were still around. It would still be an astonishingly random book.

Could such a book really attract enough readers to justify the cost of indexing and production within ALA Editions’ overhead structures? What would be the sales pitch for buying a print book that’s not quite as useful as the wiki page? I may be missing something here–but I’m probably as strong a “print books ROOL!” person as most any liblogger, and this is one where I don’t see print books as the right medium.

For that matter, I wonder whether you could use Blog Slurper to produce a formatted manuscript for any publisher other than Blurb? That’s a secondary question; the easiest part of turning the Carnivals into a book would be harvesting the text and transferring it to Word or QuarkXPress or whatever. I think that’s also true for most other blogs–if I wanted to produce a book based entirely on selections from this blog (unlikely, although it’s highly likely that text from this blog will turn up in books at some point), “slurping up” the posts–presumably by category, since pure chronology makes no sense at all for a multitopic blog–would be the easy part.

Among others who’ve posted enthusiastically about Blurb and Blog Slurper, Greg McClay (citing Rachel Singer Gordon’s post,, as I should also do), is apparently thinking about producing such a blook so he can be reminded of what he’s written.

Really? As with most any WordPress blog, McClay’s blog has a search box that works very well, and he uses categories to label posts. Between the two tools, I’ve never had any problem locating an old post–although I’m sometimes bemused by the other posts that come up, along the lines of “Oh, I said that too, didn’t I?” Here again, I wonder how a print book is going to make it easier to locate old posts.

Then there’s the other problem with Book Slurp: Blurb’s pricing. Right now, Blurb is designed to produce full-color vanity books, and priced accordingly. Let’s say that you slurp up 50,000 words of posts–which really isn’t all that much text for a year’s worth of a fairly frequent blogger, and is the length of many typical nonfiction library books these days. [This post all by itself is just over 1,000 words–admittedly, pretty darn long for a weblog.] Assuming plausible formatting on Blurb’s current full-page service (they don’t yet offer 6×9 text-only paperbacks), that would probably yield about 100-120 pages. (In a well-formatted 6×9 paperback, figure not much more than 300 words per page, but I’m assuming 400-500 words per page for the larger pages.)

Blurb wants $30 bucks a copy for such a book. Plus $9 shipping. Of which Blurb keeps 100%.

Blurb’s strength is pure ease of use (you don’t have to understand book design, you don’t need to layout the book and produce a PDF file, you just have to populate a template), and the service makes sense for very short run gift books: Where you want to produce photo albums for four family units, for example, Blurb may make sense.

Otherwise…well, check Lulu or Cafe Press, to give two examples of operations set up to support true self-publishing for short-run books dominated by text. Assuming that the 50,000-word blook requires 170 6×9 pages (with generous text size and margins), Lulu’s production and distribution price would be $7.94 a copy; I believe their default shipping charges are low. The price of a Lulu book is set by the author (at or above the production costs), and the author gets 80% of the difference between price and cost; thus, that blook that’s $30 plus shipping on Blurb might be $15 plus shipping on Lulu, with the author getting $5.60 per copy sold.

I’m not touting Lulu here, and it’s absolutely true that you can’t compare black-and-white 6×9 paperbacks to full-color 8×10 or 8.5×11 paperbacks. Lulu charges 15 cents a page for color pages, as opposed to two cents a page for b&w; a 100-page full-color book would start at right around $20 a copy–still, to be sure, considerably lower than Blurb. But the author has to design the book, at least in part. (There are quite a few services that compete in different ways. I’m just using one example.)

(Print-on-demand makes sense for very short run books, or where you can’t predict the sales level at all. When/if I do some C&I-related books, I’ll use Lulu or a competitor. But if you can project several hundred sales and have ways to distribute a book, traditional methods are still considerably cheaper.)

So what am I missing? How would a print book serve the Carnivals? Why would it be easier to search than a blog with a search box and categories?


Monday, December 4th, 2006

I was checking Bloglines, and encountered this post at Grumpator. I’m not going to comment on the meat of the post (although I probably should: can I just say, appalling and saddening but not at all surprising, unfortunately).

But Grumpator also commented about comments–about moderating them, that is, and I was so struck by the list of reasons for deleting comments that I followed the link to John Scalzi’s whatever.

And can only say, “Me too,” except that I don’t moderate all comments–but have no particular qualms about deleting them. Scalzi’s list of reasons for offing a comment strike me as eloquent and just about right, and maybe I would add Grumpator’s little extra:

There may be some leeway if the comment is signed and I know you (and consequently know you’re full of shit), but Anonymous posts in particular are regarded with a great deal of suspicion.

Actually, I generally don’t knowingly allow anonymous posts under any circumstances. LISNews is plagued by anonymous cowards; W.a.r. doesn’t have to be. Traceable pseudonyms (Angel, for example) are just fine.

Note: Other than the usual spamment, I haven’t been having any particular trouble in this area of late, but now I have something to point to when/if problems do arise in the future.