Archive for October, 2008

Open access: A quick post

Posted in Libraries on October 14th, 2008

Today is apparently Open Access Day.

I’m not much for memes, and according to some folks I’m not a good OA proponent. I lack the “wholehearted” uncritical approach, for one–and my primary interest is in seeing academic libraries have the budgetary flexibility to maintain strong monographic and humanities collections, which I see as threatened by the outrageous and increasing costs of the STM (science, technical, medical) journal literature.

Peter Suber, the dean of open access and proprietor of the essential (if sometimes overwhelming) resource, Open access news, labels me an “OA independent,” and I’m comfortable with that label.

That said…

If you don’t know about open access, you need to

The fundamental idea behind open access (with or without the capital letters) is that people–all people, not just inner circles–should have access to published, peer-reviewed journal articles. The writers of the articles–the researchers–don’t get paid for the articles anyway, except indirectly (tenure, professional awareness, etc.) Most of the action (and most of the subscription money) is in science, technology and medicine (STM), although OA can involve any field.

The traditional journal system is broken. Too many of the journals cost too much–and strip academic libraries of the flexibility to maintain solid monograph and humanities collections because they’re trying, impossibly, to keep up with those faster-than-inflation price rises. The net result is that fewer people have access to less of the research over time. That’s not good for the fields, it’s not good for people seeking out information. It is, to be sure, very good for a handful of very large publishers and a much larger group of professional societies who are basically depending on libraries to subsidize their other activities, as they count on high-priced publications to cover other society costs.

Starting points

If you want to dive headlong into current issues in OA, the link to Suber’s blog is essential.

For a slightly more gentle introduction, I’ll refer you to the cluster on open access that we’ve put together at PALINET Leadership Network (PLN), which is free and open to everyone, particularly for reading:

  • Start with Open access basics, which combines Peter Suber’s two-minute introduction to OA with a few quibbles and definitions.
  • A somewhat longer and extremely useful Open access overview, taken directly from Peter Suber’s site, is well worth reading.
  • Open access: why it matters focuses on the benefits of OA and is a short read.
  • I published Thinking about libaries and access in June 2006 as one view on how open access can and should involve and affect libraries. It’s definitely not a canonical piece. (This version includes some July 2008 updates.)
  • You can explore some of the difficulties around OA with three other pieces:
  1. Open access myths, a compilation on some of the myths that continue to be raised as arguments against OA.
  2. Open access issues, notes on some of the real issues that remain.
  3. Open access controversies, discussions of some controversies that are more than myths.
  • Open access resources will guide you to half a dozen key sites, ten blogs, half a dozen ejournals and the Open Access Directory, a recent, growing, authoritative “compendium of simple factual lists about open access…to science and scholarship.”

It matters

To me personally? Not so much–at least not at the moment.

To the library field, to library leaders and to humanity? A lot. Maybe that’s why, even as a somewhat skeptical “OA independent,” I’ve devoted more than 130 pages of Cites & Insights to OA-related coverage over the years–the equivalent of two medium-length books. That’s certainly why I put together a strong OA cluster at PALINET Leadership Network and tagged it all as “policy.”

If you’re not already familiar with OA, you should be.

If you’re in an academic library, you should consider how your library could be involved in OA.

If you’re a researcher or article writer, consider how OA can help and what you can do.

It’s not about “losing copyright” (and certainly not about robbing authors!). It’s not about losing peer review.

It’s about gaining access.

Cites & Insights 8:11 available

Posted in Cites & Insights on October 13th, 2008

Cites & Insights 8:11, November 2008, is now available for downloading.

The 26-page issue (PDF as always, but with HTML versions available from links here or at the Cites & Insights home page) includes five essays:

Bibs & Blather: Books and Blogs

Mostly updated versions of Walt at Random posts–library blog books going out of print soon, a progress report on The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008 (with more progress since the post) and notes on Technorati, blogs as a whole and the liblog landscape.

Making it Work: Libraries and the Social Web

Notes on aspects of social-web applications in libraries beyond blogs and wikis.

Perspective: How Common is Common Language?

An original “research” project: What happens when you try 300 everyday sentences against Google–and when you try just the first eight words of each sentence? The answers may surprise you.

Library Access to Scholarship: OA Controversies

Notes on the brouhaha when publishers tried to undo the NIH mandate by congressional hearing–and other notes on open access opposition and, for that matter, extreme positions on both sides.

Retrospective: Pointing with Pride, Part 7

Just a few highlights along the way–considerably shorter than previous indulgences.

Aggregators: A quick note

Posted in Writing and blogging on October 12th, 2008

I’ve used Bloglines for a long time to handle my handful of feeds (505, not all of which are liblogs–but most are). It’s been a good tool, even if it does hiccup once in a while (wheel-spinning on some blogs–but the posts don’t get marked as read, and I can pick them up later).

But I’d been reading about people having problems, and then I noticed a few blogs going missing. If you open up “all blogs,” each such case shows up with a red exclamation point indicating Bloglines is having trouble with the feed. (When I checked today, one of those was because a blogger removed the blog, but a couple of others were mysterious.)

Of course, one of the blogs that wasn’t getting picked up is one that maybe I should give up on, but I don’t buy that Bloglines is sending me messages.

S0 I exported an OPML file, cleared out my handful of Google Reader subscriptions, and imported the OPML file into Google Reader, which I haven’t used in months.

Hmm. It showed only eight or nine blogs with any new posts–not including any of the ones Bloglines was having trouble with, and including a couple of blogs that haven’t been updated since early 2007. But it also wanted to show me almost 300 posts “shared by friends”–which turns out to be anybody in my Gmail contact list.

After messing around for a little, turning off that “sharing” feature, and checking settings, I realized:

  • I still find the Bloglines interface–either the regular one (which I use) or the beta (which I’ve tried once or twice) superior to Google Reader: Less flashy, more predictable.
  • Missing out on two or three blogs is a lot better than being told that 98% of your blogs have no posts…and being shown posts almost two years old as “new.”
  • I was once again reminded that I really don’t want Google owning too much of my online life.

So, for now, I’ll stick with Bloglines. Your virtual mileage may, of course, vary.


Oh, and for both of you who are interested in how The Project is going:

Chapter 7 is done. Seven medium and strong correlations out of 45 possibilities, and six of the seven could be considered “obvious.” And seven scatterplots, one of them visually striking (well, to me…). A short chapter but an interesting one.

On to Chapter 8–after I edit and maybe publish the November Cites & Insights.

Ejournal as blog: A novel experiment?

Posted in Libraries, Media, Writing and blogging on October 9th, 2008

One of the founders told me about In the Library with the Lead Pipe earlier this week–but somehow I failed to blog about it then. Let’s make up for that…since I think this is an interesting experiment off to a good start.

What it is

In the Library with the Lead Pipe is intended to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions. Each article is peer-reviewed by at least one external and one internal reviewer.

It’s a group of six librarians–all named, all with biographical pages, from academic, public and school libraries.

In addition to essays by its founders, In the Library with the Lead Pipe will feature articles by guests representing special libraries and archives, as well as educators, administrators, library support staff, and community members.

What’s novel

Look at the boldfaced sentence in the first quote (emphasis added). These aren’t traditional blog posts.

They’re articles–and they’re peer reviewed.

They’re not scholarly articles (although I suppose some of them could be), so this isn’t precisely a Gold OA journal. It is, though, an ejournal–it has an overall name, there are individual signed articles, articles are peer-reviewed–in the form of a blog.

No ISSN (yet), but they plan weekly publication (in your reader every Wednesday!), going twice-weekly if there’s enough material.

What’s here

In addition to the welcoming post that explains what this is, there’s the first article: “What happens in the library…” by Brett Bonfield. It’s an article-length review of Pop Goes the Library–and it’s both a good read and, I suspect, a very useful review. (Hey, it’s got me interested in reading the book, and that’s a surprise.)

There are two feeds–one for posts, one for comments.

Minor grumps

The WordPress design is carefully thought out, I suspect, and probably well suited to this experiment.

From my specialized perspective as a sometimes quant analyst of liblogs, it’s not ideal: The home page includes only the first few lines of each article–and, at least for now, the archive shows only the titles (and incorrect comment counts). But, again, that’s from a specialized perspective–for 99% of readers, the design will work just fine.

Closing

This is an interesting idea and I suspect the group behind it has enough commitment to make it a serious experiment. I wish it well–and it’s certainly in my feed list.

You might want to give it a try. You won’t be bombarded with 10 posts a day, that’s for sure. If future articles are at the level of the first one, there’s likely to be some good reading here.

Oh yes: Here’s the subtitle:

The murder victim? Your library assumptions. Suspects? It could have been any of us.

Some mildly Annoyed notes

Posted in Writing and blogging on October 8th, 2008

Library Journal approached someone who apparently knows that person (or group of persons) blogging as The Annoyed Librarian and offered to host (and pay!) AL’s thoughts. And so it was said, and so it was.

That appears to have discombobulated some folks. I’m not entirely sure why–but I read the comments in various spaces, thought about it, and eventually added a comment to David Lee King’s post on the subject.

Here’s a somewhat expanded set of notes on what’s really not a very important topic (“So what else is new at Walt at Random?” I hear sensible folks saying)…

First comes envy

Oh, c’mon. Whoever (or whatever, or whatever group) puts out Annoyed Librarian has a paying gig. And if the persona is to believed at all, she/he/they also ha(s|ve) a safe daytime job. Sitting here with a, shall we say, modest part-time income, how could I not be a little envious?

Would I accept an offer to host and pay for the stuff that appears here? Such an offer seems unlikely, so it’s more-or-less moot. I would love to have the kind of sponsorship that would include the research I love doing in the library field (so that, for example, I could comfortably give away The Liblog Landscape and do a newer and better version of my two library-blog studies), but that also seems unlikely. Such is life.

Then comes bemusement

Looking at various comments, here’s some of what I see that is a little bemusing:

  • One person believes that a blog that began in February 2006 disappeared “years ago,” which would be quite a trick.
  • A few people seem to question the practices of 18% of library-related bloggers (among the 607 in the study I’m working on), that is, not disclosing their full names on their blogs.
  • A bunch of people don’t distinguish between pseudonymity and anonymity. They’re not the same thing. Pseudonymity for controversial statements has a long history, and was certainly part of the American revolution.
  • Of course, pseudonymous and anonymous statements do not gain any gravitas from the person making them (except to the extent that a pseudonymous writer establishes it through the words themselves). Does that make the words useless? No–it makes them different. There are bloggers whose work I admire and where I really have no idea whether the claimed name is real or who the person is.
  • Someone assumes that AL is actually a group effort because there’s so much of it. Really? In my 2008 study period (March-May 2008), looking at overall word count and omitting some very prolific blogs that can’t be measured, Annoyed Librarian comes in at #78–and only 16 of the 77 liblogs with more text during that period are group blogs, so AL comes in #62 of (presumably) single-author blogs. Heck, I wrote more during that period than AL did–and that’s just in the blog, quite apart from three columns and three issues of Cites & Insights during that period (and my work-related writing, to be sure). So, for example, did Iris Jastram, John Miedema, Connie Crosby, Karen Schneider, Angel Rivera (in his “Gypsy” persona), Wayne Bivens-Tatum, Dorothea Salo, Stephen Abram, John Dupuis, Sarah Houghton-Jan, Doug Johnson… If you prefer length per post, at least 17 single-author blogs averaged longer posts.
  • I’m not saying AL couldn’t be a group–I have no more idea who or what she/he/it/they might be than you do–but post frequency (AL wasn’t even in the top 40% of liblogs for number of posts) and length of posts certainly don’t suggest it. The consistent style (more or less) argues against a group.
  • One of AL’s fans claims that AL gets “hundreds” of comments per post. Not true–although in the 2008 study period AL did have the most posts per comment (not true in 2007). The average for March-May 2008 was 53 comments per post–a lot, to be sure, but hardly “hundreds.”

Finally come random comments

Seems to me that if you don’t find AL’s stuff worth reading, there’s an easy solution, whether it’s on LJ’s platform or elsewhere. Don’t read it. (LJ’s platform mostly makes it more difficult to follow the blog and comments; that’s a different problem.)

I certainly don’t believe that being on LJ’s platform gives posts added weight. That would be akin to believing LJ Movers & Shakers were actually more important than anyone else and deserving of deference. (I don’t believe that either. There are lots of great people in that group, but also lots of great people who won’t ever be named. There are also lots of good people with truly insightful comments on certain topics–and maybe I treasure them even more.)

I disagree with AL on lots of things (for example, the OIF and Washington Office are two big reasons I’m still an ALA member). I couldn’t write in the style they/he/she it uses. For that matter, I don’t think I could or would write anonymously/pseudonymously…my so-called style is a little too distinctive. But I’m not ready to put down AL or others because they choose to do so.

If the content stinks to your particular nose, that’s different–and then you should simply ignore it. Isn’t that the best advice in general?


Jeff Scott adds different and useful perspectives on this issue non-issue at Gather No Dust. (We do all know that AL’s 30th floor office is as real as the 25th floor penthouse at the Googleplex in which I craft Walt at Random, right?)

Technorati and the liblog landscape

Posted in Liblogs on October 6th, 2008

I’ve seen a number of comments on Technorati’s recent State of the Blogosphere / 2008. This year’s report goes far beyond most of the earlier ones (quarterly in some years, annual recently), with lots of analysis based on a survey of 1,000 bloggers. I’m going to ignore all of that because it’s not terribly relevant to my own interests–that is, liblogs and library blogs.

Seems like most observers focus on the polls demonstrating how “mainstream” blogs have become (which I don’t doubt) and the growth in blogging–and ignore history, even though Technorati provides a direct link to the 2007 report and earlier reports.

This is sort of a crude version of material that will be added to The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008, and I think is worth noting here (and it gets it down on, well, LISHost servers if not paper).

Here, then, a few facts about blogs and related facts about liblogs. I assume that Technorati’s actual numbers are factual; I see no reason to assume otherwise.

Mostly a ghost town

The “blogosphere” (if you must) is much like Second Life: If you compare actual residents (active blogs) to counted residents (started and tracked blogs), it’s mostly a ghost town.

What’s “mostly”? 94% or more, depending on how you measure.

To wit:

  • The 2007 report said there were 70 million blogs as of April 2007, with 120,000 new ones emerging each day. If that 120,000 rate continued, there would be (or have been) about 120 million in June 2008, when the new study was done. (I note that the new study does not state the number of blogs or the number of new blogs each day–although it says “133 million blog records” since 2002, which presumably means 133 million blogs at some point.) Technorati also quotes Universal McCann as saying that 184 million blogs have started as of March 2008. So let’s say there are (or have been) somewhere between 133 and 180 million blogs.
  • Meanwhile, Technorati says that 7.4 million blogs had at least one new post within 120 days–a pretty modest measure of “active”–and just over 5 million posted in June. But if 120,000 new blogs were being created each day (each with at least one post), you could reduce that 5 million to a mere 1.4 million returning blogs. Of course, on that basis, the 7.4 million is actually smaller than the number of new blogs during the 120-day period.
  • Those figures make no sense, so let’s be as charitable as possible and say that between 5 and 7.4 million blogs are active, not just one-shot wonders. That’s somewhere between 5.5% of 133 million (best case) and 3% of 180 million (that is, 5 million active: worst case).
  • In any case, when someone spots off something about 100 million or 200 million or 300 million blogs, be aware that at least nine out of ten of those blogs are abandoned.
  • A liblog comparison? Excluding “friends and family” blogs, I come up with 533 liblogs (not library blogs) that were active (using a 90-day cutoff) in 2008–and at least 90% of those had at least one post a month. Have there been 9,700 English-language liblogs since 2001 (or 17,800 worst case)? It’s possible–but I doubt it. Roughly 10% of the “visible” English-language liblogs that were active in 2007 had no posts during the 90-day study period in 2008; that’s not a bad number.

40% drop in daily posts

That’s the impressive figure–and it does appear to be a direct comparison:

  • In April 2007, Technorati counted an average of 1.5 million posts per day.
  • In June 2008, Technorati counted an average of 900,000 posts per day: 40% fewer.
  • Extending back, Technorati reported 1.2 million posts per day in April 2006–and 900,000 in August 2005.
  • Here’s an odd figure: In August 2005, Technorati reported 14.2 million blogs and said 55% of them–or 7.8 million–were active. If that’s right, then the active blogosphere is basically where it was roughly four years ago, but with a whole lot of churn in between.
  • That also comes out to about one post every eight days for the active blogosphere (although of course the average doesn’t exist–1.5 million blogs had posts in a seven-day period)

Now compare that with liblogs:

  • For March-May 2007, I counted 523 blogs with countable posts, for a total of 22,969 posts.
  • For March-May 2008, I counted 533 blogs with countable posts, for a total of 19,616 posts. (That 533 doesn’t include 54 blogs that had posts in 2007 but not 2008–and does include 64 new blogs and blogs that didn’t have posts in the 2007 quarter).
  • That’s a drop–but a drop of 8.5%, which is a whole lot better than 40%!
  • The 533 blogs averaged about 213 posts per day as a whole, or about one post every 2.5 days per blog.

Liblog posting declined at a much slower rate than blogs as a whole–and active liblogs are about three times as active as blogs as a whole.

Other tidbits

  • One-third of bloggers in general operate anonymously or with pseudonyms. That compares with 18% for liblogs.
  • Roughly 85% of blogs as a whole have comment systems. Roughly 20% of liblogs didn’t have any comments in 2008–but that includes blogs that don’t allow them and blogs that just didn’t have them.
  • Overall, only 84% of blogs as a whole have archives. I’m pretty sure the figure is higher for liblogs, but I didn’t track that. Eighteen blogs (3% of the universe studied) didn’t have workable archives, but there were other blogs that didn’t have explicit archives–but I could page back to reach older data.

What’s the message?

First, while liblogs have fewer posts now than a year ago–and for both liblogs and blogs in general, it appears that the peak was probably early 2007–liblogs are doing much better than blogs as a whole.

Second, if somebody blathers about hundreds of millions of blogs or “everybody will blog in the future,” feel free to ignore them. It’s trivially easy to start a blog–but a lot of people (95%) find, sooner or later, that they really don’t have that much to say that they feel belongs in a blog. And why should that be a surprise to anyone?

Oh, and third: I’m making progress on the book. A key chapter in testing my starting hypotheses is complete (at least for first draft)–and it turns out the hypotheses are true. And also false. Which I could have guessed. (And, printing out the first five chapters for off-screen review, I see that a too-readily-linked graph has now turned blank because I cleaned up the Excel part. Only one, which can be easily recreated–by far the simplest graph in the book.)

50-Movie Comedy Classics Disc 1

Posted in Movies and TV on October 3rd, 2008

That’s right—it’s another 50-pack, this time comedy “classics.”

It’s a little tricky to watch silent short comedies, particularly slapstick comedies—particularly when you’re alone. There’s the gap of time and change in comedy styles to consider; silents offer fewer clues; and most of all, to be fair to the original flick, you have to wonder what it would be like to watch it in a movie theatre surrounded by hundreds of others, with organ music going behind the movie. I’m trying to do that; it’s not always easy.

This disc consists of five collections of shorts—17 in all.

Stan Laurel Festival (all b&w, all silent and presented with unrelated music, all with Stan Laurel). Includes Mud and Sand, 1922, Gilbert Pratt (dir.), 0:26; Just Rambling Along, 1918, Hal Roach (dir.), Clarine Seymour, 0:09; Oranges and Lemons, 1923, George Jeske (dir.), 0:12.

Mud and Sand would seem inordinately strange if you hadn’t seen Rudolph Valentino’s Blood and Sand—but fortunately, I had—and recently (in the 50 Movie Hollywood Legends set). With Stan Laurel as Rhubarb Vaselino—well, it’s pretty much a plot-for-plot remake but with silly names, lots of titles talking about “bull” with both meanings, and Laurel’s slapstick. The print’s poor at times, and this seemed as forced as many single-movie spoofs.

Just Rambling Along is apparently one of the earliest Laurel shorts, and it’s best moment is in a cafeteria line where Laurel manages to cadge a fairly full meal out of a ten cent cup of coffee (but the pretty young thing he sits next to then swaps his not-yet-paid ticket for her $1.25 big meal). Good print and so-so slapstick: I might have been laughing in that theater.

Oranges and Lemons is set in a citrus processing facility and grove and makes no sense at all—and it’s a decent little slapstick film, with just the kind of nonsense that Laurel could do well. Generally decent print. All three shorts are accompanied by appropriate (if not directly related) music.

Considering that the whole trio only adds up to about 46 minutes and there’s not a gem among them, I can’t give this more than $0.75.

Our Gang Festival. Includes Our Gang Follies, 1937, b&w, Gordon Douglas (dir.), George ‘Spanky’ McFarland, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Billie ‘Buckwheat’ Thomas, Doodles Weaver and the rest of Our Gang, 0:21; School’s Out, 1930, b&w, Robert F. McGowan (dir.), Jackie Cooper, Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins, Bobby ‘Wheezer’ Hutchins and the rest of the Little Rascals, 0:20; Bear Shooters, same credits (by and large), 0:20.

I doubt that I’d be an avid consumer of Our Gang comedies even “in the day,” but I could be wrong. At this remove, and with this trio, it seems like different casts and considerably different qualities. And so it is. My first inclination, especially given the opening titles, was to believe that one movie was the “real” Our Gang and the other two were “Hal Roach’s Little Rascals in Our Gang”—but it turns out “Little Rascals” and “Our Gang” both seem to be used interchangeably for a whole succession of casts.

The first (and newest) movie is the newer group with Spanky McFarland, Alfalfa Switzer, and Buckwheat Thomas, while the other two are Jackie Cooper, Farina Hoskins and the rest of the earlier group—an almost entirely different cast. I couldn’t warm up to Cooper’s crew. (Good grief. There were 221 of these things between 1922 and 1944!)

Our Gang Follies (of 1938, not of 1937) is cute and well-produced, consisting mostly of song-and-dance routines in a follies run by Spanky. The hook is that Alfalfa, the star crooner, has decided he wants to sing opera (which consists of singing “I am the barber of Seville” three times, followed by “Figaro” twice)—and after getting booed off the stage, he goes to an opera house where the manager, to get rid of him, signs him to a contract 20 years in the future. Comes a dream and flashforward, where all the kids are still kids, Alfalfa’s bombed as an opera singer (getting vegetables thrown at him) and is put out on the street to sing opera and collect coins. Spanky owns a nightclub and invites him in—but Alfalfa can’t sing there, because the opera impresario won’t allow it. Never mind; it all works out. A clever little two-reeler.

The other two? Well, School’s Out has the credits spoken by a pair of little girls; otherwise, it’s Klassroom Komedy that mostly revolves around kids who don’t want their teacher to get married and think her brother is actually her suitor. Bear Shooters involves a camping trip, sibling rivalries, limburger cheese and, for reasons that aren’t apparent, two men hiding in the woods who want to scare off the kids and do so by one of them donning a gorilla suit. Maybe I would have found it hilarious when I was five years old. I doubt it. Mostly for Our Gang Follies, I’ll say this group might conceivably be worth $0.50.

All-Star Extravaganza. Umbrella title for three entirely different shorts:

The Stolen Jools (aka The Slippery Pearls), 1931, b&w, William C. McGann (dir.), Wallace Beery, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Gary Cooper, Loretta Young and literally dozens of stars (more than 50 in all). 0.20. An odd little all-star short to raise money for a tuberculosis sanatorium, this was funded by Chesterfield (yes, they get a credit, and are the only cigarettes mentioned), presumably done for almost nothing by the dozens of stars and distributed for free by Paramount. It’s lots of little cameos dressed up as a jewel-theft mystery. Schtick on a stick, but some of it’s decent schtick. On the other hand, with almost two minutes of credits for a 20-minute two-reeler, it presages today’s bloated credits. I’ll give it $0.25.

Ghost Parade, 1931, b&w, Mack Sennett (dir.), Harry Gribbon, Andy Clyde, Marion Sayers, 0:20 [0:17]. This odd item has some people in an old house that appears haunted, lots of slapstick, plot elements that seem to pop up and disappear randomly, mice crawling over a xylophone and somehow creating good music, and Halloween costumes. It might have been hilarious at the time, it may be typical of Mack Sennett shorts, and I wonder whether its status as an early talkie (with a credit for sound synchronization) is important. It’s also missing a few minutes. To be charitable, I’ll give it $0.10.

La Cucaracha, 1934, color, Lloyd Corrigan (dir.), Steffi Duna, Don Alvorado, Paul Porcasi, Eduardo Durant’s Rhumba Band, 0:20. Writing these notes before looking at IMDB, deliberately, this pleasant surprise seems likely to be a very early 3-strip Technicolor short, done partly to show off Technicolor. (Two-strip Technicolor couldn’t handle the full spectrum.) It has big swatches of deep blue, reds, golds, greens, as well as other colors. The plot’s cute, set in a cantina: Impresario and food snob arrives, speaking of taking a dancer to the big city under contract if he’s good. Dancer’s woman friend overhears this, accuses male of planning to desert her; he calls her La Cucaracha—the cockroach—and shakes her off. She sabotages the impresario’s salad dressing (or, rather, goads him into sabotaging it himself—much better). Her friends convince her to sing a song (guess which one?). Then, the guy’s big dance number comes up, she and her friends try to sabotage it by starting La Cucaracha again, the guy’s dance partner walks off, turns out the two songs blend—and, of course, she winds up dancing the number, the impresario hires both of them, and all’s well with the world. (After checking IMDB: Right on the money. This is the first live-action 3-strip Technicolor film and the color is nicely preserved. It won an Oscar as Best Short Subject, Comedy.) The sound’s not great, but it’s a charming little number and good demonstration of Technicolor, for which I’ll give it $0.40.

So that totals $0.75 for the three shorts put together: Not terrible, not great.

Fatty Arbuckle Festival (all with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, all silent and presented with unrelated music, all b&w). Includes Fatty Joins the Force, 1913, George Nichols (dir.), Dot Farley, Edgar Kennedy, Mack Swain, 0:12 [0:14]; Fatty’s Spooning Day (also known as Mabel, Fatty and the Law), 1915, Roscoe Arbuckle (dir.), Mabel Normand, Harry Gribbon, Minta Durfee, 0:11; Fatty’s Suitless Day (also known as Fatty’s Magic Pants), 1914, Roscoe Arbuckle (dir.), Charley Chase, Minta Durfee, 0:12; The Speed Kings, 1913, Wilfred Lucas (dir.), Ford Sterling, Mabel Normand, several actual race-car drivers, 0:08.

If you find big men falling down a lot, sometimes not having pants and getting hit over the head by cops frequently just hysterical, you’ll love these—or at least the first three. If not… I will say that the slapstick is surrounded by plots, although the second one’s plot seems to be a love song to wifeswapping. The last one’s really not an Arbuckle short: He’s in it for perhaps 90 seconds and is definitely a minor character. I just didn’t find any of them all that funny, but I’ll give the group $0.50.

Keystone Cops Festival. Misleading umbrella title for four shorts, the longest of which doesn’t include cops of any sort. All silent (presented with unrelated music), all b&w.

The Bangville Police, 1913, Henry Lehrman (dir.), Mabel Normand, Nick Cogley, Dot Farley, Fred Mace, and a cop who looks like Fatty Arbuckle. 0:08. Odd little farm piece with a police chief who summons his troops by shooting into the ceiling several times and what seems to be the standard for gunplay: Guns have unlimited number of bullets, are almost always aimed at rear ends and never seem to inflict any damage. I’d have to stretch to come up with $0.05 for this seven-minute piece.

Love, Speed and Thrills, 1915, Mack Sennett (dir.), Mack Swain, Minta Durfee, Chester Conklin, Josef Swickard and the Keystone Kops, 0:13. Hunting gone bad and flirtations, plus some use of comedy cops and slapstick driving. Better than the first, but still no more than a dime’s worth of humor. $0.10.

Her Painted Hero, F. Richard Jones (dir.), Hale Hamilton, Polly Moran, 0:21. I dunno. Maybe the Keystone Cops were watching as this two-reeler was filmed, but there are no police in the piece at all. It seems to be about big inheritances, untalented actors, spurned suitors (all gold-diggers) and a woman buying her way onto the stage where slapstick chaos ensues. The chaos is worth $0.10.

Wife and Auto Trouble, 1916, Dell Henderson and Mack Sennett (dir.), William Collier Sr., Blanche Payson, Alice Davenport, Mae Busch, 0:14 . Yes, there are cops—for about 90 seconds near the end of this short about a man with a big domineering wife, mean mother-in-law and a secretary he’d like to fool around with. They’re the Tri-Stone Cops, not the Keystone Kops or Cops, but never mind. Lots of falling down, a fair amount of shooting and some physical comedy. For this they needed two directors? Very generously, $0.15.

Adding it up, I get a paltry $0.40. Maybe if there were actually four shorts starring the Keystone Cops? Clearly I’m not in awe of early silent-movie slapstick; you may feel differently.

Whew. After Disc 11 of Hollywood Legends (but, thanks to a disc production error I’ve discussed elsewhere, I’ve already seen the two movies on side one), it’s back to another side of nothing but shorts—but this time, they’re Buster Keaton shorts.

Maybe an example would help?

Posted in Passé on October 2nd, 2008

For some of my more visually-oriented readers (and yes, this book will have graphs when appropriate), an actual example of what’s at stake might help. I’m not going to embed the table—that brings along wayyyyy too much HTML—but let’s see whether Word’s blog-to-WordPress will help.

A complete table (more or less)

Metrics

2007

2008

Q

Change

Q

Posts

26

17

3

-35%

3

Total length

6,813

6,399

3

-6%

2

Post length

262

376

2

+44%

1

Comments

14

8

4

-42%

3

Comments per post

0.5

0.5

4

-13%

3

Figures

2

1

5

-50%

4

Figures per post

0.1

0.1

5

-24%

4

A trimmed table (more or less)

Metrics

2007

2008

Q

Change

Q

Posts

26

17

3

-35%

3

Post length

262

376

2

+44%

1

Comments per post

0.5

0.5

4

-13%

3

Figures per post

0.1

0.1

5

-24%

4

In the book, of course, the tables are a little neater–each row is a single line high.

So: is the first substantially more useful than the second? (If you’re wondering: “Q” represents quintiles, explained in the book—and yes, these are real numbers for a real blog.)

Comments either here or on the original post. Thanks!

Liblog landscape: Opinions requested

Posted in Passé on October 2nd, 2008

Currently, I’m working on the first part of The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008–the part where I look at patterns among the blogs. It’s going well, and I’m just about to start on the chapter that interests me the most.

But there’s also the second part–the brief profiles of 607 liblogs. I’ve written that part, but will be going back to edit and to add information that wasn’t available unitl I did the (first few chapters of) the first part.

Most profiles (excluding blogs with no 2008 posts) include a table providing a whole bunch of metrics, some of it included in a brief textual version below the table.

Where I could use your opinions:

Right now, the tables include seven lines, with five pieces of information on each line:

  • Posts
  • Total length
  • Post length (that is, average words per post)
  • Comments
  • Comments per post
  • Figures
  • Figures per post

Here’s the question:

Could I drop the second, fourth, and sixth line without damaging the usefulness of the profiles to readers?

That would leave:

  • Posts
  • Average post length
  • Comments per post
  • Figures per post

Anyone sufficiently interested could figure out approximate total length, comments, figures with a calculator, of course. (Not precise, since I don’t include lots of decimal places.)

The advantage:

Space! At 40-45 lines per page, removing those three lines would save up to 45 pages. (The number’s not quite that high because I don’t include zero lines–that is, there are no lines for comments if there aren’t any and no lines for figures if there aren’t any. I’d guess the actual savings will be 30 to 35 pages.)

What do you think? Will the profiles be significantly less interesting/useful without the three total-amount lines? (If your overall response is “Nobody in their right mind would ever buy this book, anyway,” don’t bother saying it. Adding a comment does not imply that you’ll buy the book–not that I’d have any way of checking that in any case!)

Your opinions would be most useful in the next three weeks–before, say, October 24 two weeks–say by October 17. I hope to be ready to do the editing pass around that time.


Updates: This post provides rough examples of actual tables for those who are visually oriented.

Since the responses have died down (and seem to be unanimous so far), and since other work is progressing nicely, I’m making the deadline a week earlier–October 17.


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