Archive for 2006

A sort-of-Friday meme

Posted in Stuff, Writing and blogging on November 22nd, 2006

“Sort-of-Friday”? Well, for USns (those of us in the U.S.), it’s effectively Friday, since most of us (I’m guessing) get Thanksgiving and the day after off.

So, given the silliness of having to edit the previous post considerably right after writing it, slapping my forehead, and checking my employer’s freely-available catalog…

Here it is, thanks to Amanda Etches-Johnson

You. Can. Only. Type. One. Word. No. Explanations.

  1. Yourself: middling
  2. Your spouse: best
  3. Your hair: gray
  4. Your mother: remembered
  5. Your father: remembered
  6. Your dream last night: conference
  7. Your favorite drink: wine
  8. Your dream car: S2000
  9. Your bedroom: typical
  10. Your fear: typical
  11. What you want to be in 10 years: productive
  12. Who you hung out with last night: spouse
  13. What you’re not: done
  14. Muffins: blueberry
  15. Time: enough
  16. The last thing you did: post
  17. What you are wearing: clothes
  18. Your favorite weather: ours
  19. The last thing you ate: bagel
  20. Your life: good
  21. Your mood: unsettled
  22. Your best friend: spouse
  23. What are you thinking about right now? Thanksgiving
  24. Your car: Civic
  25. What are you doing at the moment? reading
  26. Your summer: missing
  27. Your relationship status: happy
  28. What is on your TV? cat
  29. What is the weather like? overcast
  30. When is the last time you laughed? yesterday

Do movie megapacks make sense for public libraries?

Posted in Libraries, Movies and TV on November 22nd, 2006

When I was copyfitting the December 2006 Cites & Insights, getting it down from 33 to 28 pages, I cut several paragraphs from the end of Offtopic Perspective: 50-Movie All Stars Collection Part 2. This post isn’t those paragraphs, but covers the same ground. It’s entirely speculative, and if your response is “That’s the stupidest thing Crawford’s said in months,” you may be right.

The question is: Would any of the 50-movie megapacks actually make sense for public library collections?

[I'll suggest offhand that they do make sense for academic libraries in institutions with any sort of film studies, but only as "filler"--cheap sources of third-rate transfers of movies, many historic and mostly old, many of which aren't likely to be readily available elsewhere.]

If the answer is “no,” then these essays are appearing purely for amusement value. Not that I’m uncomfortable with that, mind you.

My answer is NoMaybe–and Yes.”

  • NoMaybe: I suspect it would be cumbersome for most libraries to acquire these megapacks as regular circulating items, cataloging them (presumably only the package–after all, spelling out all of the movies and stars would cost a lot more than the megapacks themselves) and circulating each 12- or 13-DVD set as one item. Added:A few libraries are opting to catalog each disc and circulate it separately; more power to them. [Bullet modified slightly based on reality.]
  • Yes: I think a fair number of public libraries could use these as supplemental casual-circulation items–but not using traditional acquire/catalog/process/protect/circulate methods.

Here’s what I mean. And hey, if you find it laughable, enjoy the laugh.

Quick update: I should have checked Worldcat.org first! Clearly, some libraries have acquired some of these sets–at least 24 show as holding Mystery classics, which strikes me as a fine choice although I haven’t picked it up yet–and some have chosen to catalog each disc as a separate item. (Thus the multiple occurrences of some sets in Worldcat.org.) Those libraries and library cooperatives know what they’re doing. Still, I suspect that for most public libraries these are cumbersome sets to handle that way. I should also note that some of the sets already have cataloging in Worldcat, spelling out the contents in full. End of quick update. Here’s an alternative method…

Some public libraries (many public libraries?) have informal paperback collections, fueled by donations and made available as casual supplements to the real collection. The paperbacks aren’t cataloged, have at most a genre mark or first-letter-of-last-name mark on the spines, don’t have security tags, and aren’t integrated in with the rest of the collection. They’re in a separate area, and patrons know they can just pick one up that looks interesting and bring it back when they’re done. Or drop off the paperback they just finished.

I believe that’s true; I know I’ve seen it in some libraries I used in the past. (It’s also true on most cruise ship libraries, and I’ve both contributed to and used those informal supplemental collections. I suspect that the ship librarian or library-attendant checks the paperback shelf once a day or so to remove anything that’s inappropriate.)

That’s what I’d do with the megapacks–start an informal video exchange collection, one that could be fueled by patron donations of the TV series that they know they’re not going to watch again (for example). You’d need a DVD or CD browsing tray or two alongside the paperback shelf. Here’s how I’d do it, if I thought it was worth doing–and in a community with a fair number of retirees who own DVD players, I think it might be worth doing.

  • Take $100 or a couple of hundred (the Friends might fund this) and pick up a few of the megapacks. Amazon has them (all, I think), at anywhere from $12 to $20 per 50-movie collection. Overstock.com has them at $15 or so. There are other sources. (Baker & Taylor and Ingram Entertainment both distribute DVDs from the publisher, so your library seller might even have them–but don’t pay more than $20-$25 unless there’s an awfully good reason,) The company itself is currently named Mill Creek Entertainment (formerly Treeline). At this writing, there are 21 different 50-movie packs, including Drive-In Movie Classics, Nightmare Worlds, and Warriors (mostly “Sons of Hercules” and that ilk). There’s some duplication among sets, but not a lot–and for more recent sets, the MCE website offers a summary of each flick including which sets it’s included in. Which sets should you get? Explore. (Note: There are also 20-movie and 10-movie sets, almost but not entirely derived from the 50-movie packs. I would avoid the “Cult Classics” 20-movie pack, almost all of which is unique; glancing at the titles and descriptions, it’s a little seedy for the average library. Well, a lot seedy, actually: There’s a reason that almost none of these flicks show up in the 50-movie packs.] Gunslingers? Westerns? Musicals? Hollywood legends? All good possibilities.
  • Don’t catalog them, add security strips, or repackage them in locking DVD cases or any other kind of DVD cases. Do that, and you’ve doubled or tripled the cost of the pack, and the fact that these are (mostly) mediocre VHS-quality scans, some of them with missing frames, will be more significant.
  • Remove the contents of the megapack (cardboard box): 12 or 13 CD-size cardboard sleeves, each sleeve containing the blurbs for the movies on the DVD in the sleeve. Those sleeves are your informally-circulating items. I wouldn’t even stamp them with the library name (hard to do without obscuring some of the blurbs, although admittedly some of the blurbs are so wrong that they should be obscured). I’d cut out the back panel of the box, which lists all of the movies, and have it available in the tray.
  • There’s your collection. If you spent $100 at Overstock or Amazon, chances are you now have at least 48 and maybe 60 circulating sleeves, most sleeves containing 4 movies totalling about 6 hours. A few sleeves will have five or six “movies”; a very few will have two. (There are at least two 13-disc packs where they couldn’t find very short “movies” to make up the 50.)
  • Enhancing this informal collection: If you have a couple of staff members who’ve purchased TV series on DVDs, and know they’re done with them, add those series to the informal collection–which is just a little more difficult. You’ll need to purchase slimline or regular CD jewel boxes (not DVD cases). For single-sided discs, just put each disc in a jewelbox. For double-sided or if you want to get fancy, photocopy the booklet (or the DVD case back, on really cheaply-packaged sets) and put the appropriate page as an insert in each jewel box.
  • Worst case: The DVDs all disappear and the experiment’s a failure.
  • Second worst case: Patrons don’t understand the disclaimer–that these are not part of the formal library collection, that the library won’t be cleaning or replacing them–and it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Best case: You wind up with a nice little extra with no ongoing labor costs and fairly minimal supplies cost. Patrons who love old movies or want to sample TV shows are happy.

Crazy? Maybe. But, you know, there’s a lot of good stuff in these sets–the old detective series (well, there’s an Asian stereotyping issue with a few of them, and you know which ones, but…), the good old B westerns, and rather a lot of old movies that didn’t have copyright renewed for one reason or another. (Some of the sets include a lot of newer movies, presumably licensed at next to nothing.)

If this seems ludicrous, then just accept that I’m including the offtopic perspectives for the same reason as “My Back Pages”: Leavening.

Cites & Insights 2006 index available

Posted in Cites & Insights on November 19th, 2006

The title sheet and indexes for Cites & Insights volume 6, 2006 are now available.

This PDF-only document (title sheet and 20 pages of indexes) completes volume 6.

Speaking survey results

Posted in Libraries, Speaking on November 17th, 2006

The Liminal Librarian has posted the results of her “speaking survey.” Interesting stuff for those of us who do or did give speeches from time to time.

I come away from the survey more willing to state an expected fee if the requesting group doesn’t make an offer up front (and if the event isn’t considered part of my job, which changes the landscape considerably)–and probably more willing to question some offers. (It’s been a quiet period, but that could always change.)

Now if “Liminal” (Rachel Singer Gordon) wanted to do a little more work, what I’d love to see are banded results: That is, for a given type of presentation, the top 25% charged between X and Y with a median (not mean) of Z, and so on. Given 90 responses, and that the number who asked for any honorarium ranges from 16 to 42, I can’t imagine taking the analysis further than quartiles, and even that may be too fine.

Hey, Rachel: If you can anonymize the results, I’d be happy to do that breakdown. But it’s asking a lot for you to do more than you’ve already done.

Thanks for doing the survey. It may make the whole bargaining-to-speak process a little more transparent.

Thanks yourself – and a web metrics question

Posted in Cites & Insights on November 17th, 2006

Apologies: This is a blind post out of necessity–but it’s not at all controversial.

I published the final 2006 issue of Cites & Insights Wednesday evening–a few days earlier than I’d been planning, but it was as done as it was going to be.

As with many of the issues these days, I wasn’t sure it had the “right mix” of stuff–but since the highest readership and greatest impact pretty consistently comes from big chunky essays, I didn’t worry too much about it. Some issues flourish, some just sit there, some move along slowly over time.

Yesterday morning, I had two pieces of email, each one thanking me for something in the new issue. I was touched; those two emails, both distinctly personal (which is why this is a blind item), were quite enough to make me happy about the issue as a whole.

This morning, I had a third piece of email thanking me for a third piece of the issue.

I responded privately in each case. Publicly, I’ll just say “You’re welcome, and thanks yourselves–you’re letting me know this is worth doing.”

That’s it. Nothing terribly important (except to me). Call it a six-day-early bit of Thanksgiving.

Oh, and a question for web metrics gurus out there:

Urchin (the stats package LISHost uses) tells me that, for the four months now that C&I has been on its own domain (on LISHost), the first issue published there–the “Great Middle” issue–shows up as:

  • A requested page 21,066 times (through yesterday)
  • A downloaded file 3,352 times (through yesterday)

Suggestions as to how you request a PDF without downloading it? What should I consider the readership of that issue to be–an astounding 21,000 or a great (but not astounding) 3,352?

Advice welcome.

Update 11/20: Blake answered the direct metrics question, but it turns out the answer is “neither.” I’d forgotten the other piece, v6i10a.htm–the HTML version of the essay. So the “direct readership” through 11/17 turns out to be just over 5,000 (adding the HTML copies), which is great.

An SF book meme: I’ll bite

Posted in Books and publishing on November 16th, 2006

OK, I just saw this at Thinking Out Loud (or Mermaid) and I’m willing to play along.

“Below is a Science Fiction Book Club list most significant SF novels between 1953-2006. The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star next to the ones you love.”

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien *
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov*

3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson[?]
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury*
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe*
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. *

13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov*
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras[?]
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish*
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett*
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison

18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison[?]
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester[?]
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey *

22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card[?]
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams[?]
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin *
31. Little, Big, John Crowley[?]
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick*
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon*

36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer *

I’ve added one more element: [?] means “I may have read this, but can’t remember.”

Don’t take the asterisks too seriously. I loved them at the time, and might or might not again–and could probably add another half dozen. As it is, 34 out of 50 ain’t bad.

Cites & Insights 6:14 available

Posted in Cites & Insights on November 15th, 2006

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large 6:14 (December 2006) is now available for downloading.

This 28-page issue, PDF as usual (but each essay is available as an HTML separate from the home page includes:

  • Perspective: The Lazy Man’s Guide to Productivity – A slightly extended answer to “How do I do all that writing on my own time?”
  • Net Media Perspective: “C&I is Not a Blog” – A section on blogs, mostly metablogging.
  • The Library Stuff – Eight items cited and discussed
  • Library Access to Scholarship – FRPAA and more
  • Offtopic Perspective: 50-Movie All Stars Collection, Part 2 – 26 more TV movies (but one of them isn’t really…)

Please note that, while this is the final text issue for 2006, it does not complete the volume. The index (including title sheet, for anyone printing a bound volume) will be out in a week or two. Or three.

Children’s Book Week

Posted in Books and publishing, Libraries on November 13th, 2006

I’m not what you’d call a children’s literature maven, but in honor of Children’s Book Week (November 13-19, thus beginning today), I thought I’d say a few words about one particular book–one that my wife and I have given to a fair number of people over the years.The Story of Jumping Mouse, a Native American legend retold and illustrated by John Steptoe, is a wonderful, wonderful picture book with glorious black-and-white drawings. Chances are good you’ll find it in a nearby library via Worldcat.org, since 2,044 libraries report holdings.

The story is about exploration and compassion. My wife discovered it, and I was as taken with the story (and how it’s told) and the pictures as she was. Here’s a brief plot summary:

Story of Jumping Mouse)

A small, humble mouse sets off on a journey of discovery to reach the legendary “far-off land” told in tales by the old ones. Along the way, he meets fellow creatures in need, and he responds to their needs with great compassion–by giving away his most precious possessions: his sight and his sense of smell. After much hardship, he reaches the “far-off land” and finds that his unselfish spirit of hope and compassion have brought him to an even greater destiny.

The book dates from 1984 and is a Caldecott Honor Book. If you haven’t read it, do. If you get a lump in your throat…well, you’re not the only one.

High-def optical discs: A critical weekend?

Posted in Libraries, Movies and TV on November 12th, 2006

Some of you know that I’m covering the rollout of high-definition optical discs (that is, DVD-equivalents with high-def resolution) on an ongoing basis in Cites & Insights, not because they’re ready for most libraries to acquire yet–they’re not, and might never be–but because I think it’s worth tracking what happens and how it happens. The most recent installment appears in the current issue (or, if you detest PDF and don’t care what else I have to say, as this separate HTML piece).

I offer my current take on the situation with HD DVD and Blu-ray (the two competing and so far incompatible forms of high-def optical disc) as of early October:

If there’s any life at all in this marketplace, Blu-ray is the likely winner–even though the initial players are absurdly overpriced.

I thought that was true because Sony and its Blu-ray partners were (and are) running lots of magazine ads in the magazines aimed at people who will buy a $1,000 player to make their $3,000+ HDTV (at least 42″ diagonal, and 1080i/1080p capable, to get the most out of Blu-ray) more interesting, even if there are only a few dozen movies. Toshiba and HD DVD partners occasionally show up with an ad, but not often. I also noted that HD DVD’s edge (the first HD DVD player appeared two or three months before the first Blu-ray and was half the price) was wasted because the players didn’t show up in the Sunday flyers that tell us what’s actually being promoted.

The last two or three weekends of November are critical for holiday marketing: If stuff doesn’t have a high profile by then, it’s not going to matter. That made today’s Sunday flyers particularly interesting, to an extent I would never have expected:

  • Standalone (set-top) players: Four of the chains had Blu-ray players, and one of them had players from two brands (Samsung and an even more expensive Panasonic, $1300). None of the chains had HD DVD players. Not one. Four to zero: That’s impressive.
  • Players as part of game consoles–which turns out to be the cheapest way to buy either format: Five chains, including Target (one of the mass-market bellwethers), advertised the Sony PSP3, which includes a Blu-ray drive (and costs either $400 or $600, making it by far the cheapest way to get into Blu-ray, gaming aside). One chain advertised the $200 HD DVD external drive for the Xbox360–but the fact that none of the other chains advertising the Xbox360 showed the HD DVD drive makes me suspect its availability. Even if it exists, we’re talking five to one.

How did this happen? According to some reports, Toshiba was losing a couple hundred dollars on every $500 HD DVD player it sold–and it looks as though Toshiba sold enough to get their name out there, then stopped promoting the player. Meanwhile, Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and others were gearing up…late to the ball, but with the marketing muscle to stay there.

Frankly, I’m surprised. I would never have expected four chains to be promoting the Blu-ray drive at this point–not at a $1,000 price point. Nor would have I expected HD DVD to do such a thorough disappearing act. The PSP3 is a wildcard: If reports are right, there are “only” half a million of them available for this season in the U.S.North America, and it’s fair to assume they’ll be gone within a week after they go on sale (11/17). But that puts half a million Blu-ray drives into consumers’ hands, along with whatever (probably small) number of set-top drives Samsung and Panasonic sell. That’s almost certainly an order of magnitude more than the HD DVD drives that have been sold in the U.S.

Does this mean Blu-ray will succeed in the mass market and HD DVD will fail? No–and maybe Blu-ray (if they’ve fixed the quality problems) will become a large niche market, selling to those who have the big, high-def, high-quality TVs, sit close enough to them to know the difference between upconverted DVD and true high-def, and care enough to spend the money. In which case, maybe the $999 player price isn’t absurdly high. But if it becomes a large niche market, it’s not clear that most public libraries will need to care…although some might choose to get involved.

I’m still certain 2006 won’t tell the tale. The extent of the one-sidedness this weekend surprises me, and certainly reinforces my earlier prediction. Will 2007 show some real success? I’m no longer ready to discount the possibility.

Friday fun: The perils of editing

Posted in Media, Technology and software, Writing and blogging on November 10th, 2006

I was going to do this post about the wonders of PR–but after checking it out, I see it’s really about the perils of editing.

The San Francisco Chronicle business section includes “The Tech Chronicles”–portions of a similarly named blog, one of a bunch of blogs that the Chron runs on SFGate (which has a fair amount of original content). Most of today’s stuff comes from the Web2.0 conference, not surprisingly. One short item begins something like this:

Switching back and forth between e-mail and instant messaging is annoying, to say the least. Yahoo plans to address that frustration by giving users access to the two services in the same browser window. The free Yahoo Mail service, to be released in the next few months, will meld e-mail and instant messaging. No download necessary.

…and goes on to note that the revised Yahoo Mail will show you who else is online at the moment, so you can chat with them right from the mail application!. What a neat idea.

Now, I like Yahoo, really I do–and, apart from search, it’s beating Google on most fronts (mail, social space, overall visits). But, you know, the combined mail/IM application had a certain ring of familiarity to it, something like Gmail.com.

So, I was going to say, “isn’t that great! PR can make ‘we’re going to do it TOO’ sound like a brand new idea!”

Except that the newspaper version left out the final paragraph of the SFGate item:

Google, which has far fewer e-mail users than Yahoo, recently combined its Google Talk instant messenger with Google Gmail.

So the reporter, Verne Kopytoff, got it right: It’s still a good story, given the reach of Yahoo Mail, but it’s not an entirely new idea. Too bad that last para. didn’t make it into the paper (or at least not my copy).


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