Archive for July, 2009

Five years on

Posted in Media, Movies and TV, Technology and software on July 29th, 2009

Long-suffering readers will be aware that one of few things still left on my old blog, now retitled Walt, Even Randomer, is the series of brief reviews of old movies, done each time I go through a disc from one of the Mill Creek Entertainment packs (typically 50 movies on 12 discs).

Mill Creek Entertainment does a remarkable job of mining the public domain and other areas where they can license movies or TV for very small sums–including TV movies–to create large sets of VHS-quality movies, typically four or five to a DVD, sold in genre packs at extremely low prices.

I’d been using the movies to “stay on the treadmill” for the past five+ years–going through more than 300 movies in that time, including some true classics and a few total turkeys. Of late, I’ve been alternating discs from two sets and watching two movies in a typical week, so it takes about a year to go through a 50-pack.

End of background. Start of foreground.

So last week, I finished an unusual 20-pack (early Alfred Hitchcock), alternating with a comedy 50-pack (I’m on disc 9)…and, instead of starting another 50-pack, I started something a little different: the 250-movie Mystery Collection.
Two hundred and fifty movies on 60 DVDs…
And suddenly thought, “If I watch movies at the typical rate, I’ll finish this box in about five years.”
Which then suggested musing a little about five years on–particularly where media are concerned.
If you believe some pundits, physical media will all be gone in five years–we’ll rely on that great digital jukebox in the sky for everything, when and as we need it. I don’t buy that for a minute. For a variety of reasons, I firmly believe that many of us will be buying physical media five years from now, enough to make for healthy industries.
On a medium-by-medium basis? I’m deliberately not a futurist, but here’s my best guess:

  • Music: Even though CDs have already reached the 25-year mark (over the history of recorded music, a given medium has typically been dominant for about 25 years), they still represent the majority of music sales (about 2/3), despite widespread assumptions that CDs are already dead. There are two reasons for that: First, every DVD player is also a CD player; second, no replacement physical medium has succeeded (and those that have been attempted were, by and large, CD-equivalents). I’d bet that there will still be a multibillion-dollar (per year) CD industry five years from now, although it will probably be considerably smaller than today’s industry. But I’ll also bet that vinyl will still be with us five years from now, even though I’m not among the “digitization destroys music” brigade. (Not even close: The day we purchased our first CDs was a bit after the day we purchased our last LPs.)
  • Films & video: I’m nearly 100% certain that there will still be a large (that is, multibillion$) commercial market for DVDs five years from now–and almost certainly a decade from now. Unlike music, the infrastructure for a truly workable universal video jukebox isn’t in place–and, as with music, there are millions of us who actually prefer a physical object. I’m about 90% certain that Blu-ray Disc will also be a multibillion$ market five years from now. Will Blu-ray become dominant over DVD? Short of a forced conversion, I think it’s unlikely–not because there’s anything wrong with Blu-ray but because most people either don’t notice the difference or don’t care about the difference. (By all accounts, a very large percentage of people who own HDTVs never actually watch high-definition TV. Those people aren’t going to pay $1 more for a Blu-ray version, much less $5 more.) I think Blu-ray will do just fine, but for some people, anything short of market domination is a failure, in which case I think Blu-ray will fail.
  • Print magazines: Not going anywhere. Of course some are failing. Some always fail, and recessions aren’t great times to start magazines. It’s a tough time to start Yet Another Business Magazine (sorry, Portfolio); it’s a tough time to start Yet Another Any Sort of Magazine. I’ll still be subscribing to print magazines five years from now and ten years from now, and probably still paying absurdly low prices for some of them.
  • Print books: Do I even need to discuss this one? Unless you believe that an 0.2% dip in sales in the midst of the worst recession in decades means Books Are Doomed, there’s really no sensible discussion here. I hope ebooks, done right, take a few $billion of the book market where ebooks do it better–but I don’t happen to believe that ebooks are likely to “do it better” for most long-form narrative fiction and nonfiction in my lifetime, much less the next decade. (I plan to be around three more decades, with luck, and my family history suggests that’s on the short side.)
  • Print newspapers: I believe that hundreds of small and medium-sized print newspapers will still be around five and ten years from now; they’ve generally been doing better than the huge metro dailies. I hope that the better metro dailies will still be around–but I’m a little less sanguine. (Will we renew the San Francisco Chronicle next year at more than $400 a year? Hard to say…but I’d sure miss it, even though most content is available at SFGate.)

So, there it is: My personal take on what I think’s likely as regards physical media. I know some hotshot futurists say Everything’s Going Digital Real Soon Now. I also know the history of new and old media–and the wonders of DRM aren’t really helping. (Yes, Amazon probably did what it had to–but it also waved a Big Red Flag about the mutability of that big celestial jukebox. The book you “purchased” yesterday may or may not be the book you’re reading today…)
I could be wrong about any of these. I could be wrong about all of them–but I’d be very surprised. Heck, I’m hoping I’ll find interesting new Mill Creek 50-packs or 100-packs to buy in 2014. (The 250-packs appear to have been short-lived phenomena: you can still buy them from Amazon and elsewhere, but they don’t show up on Mill Creek’s website. That may be sensible…)
So, is this enough of an information science hook? The Future of Physical Media, from one reasonably informed perspective…

Libraries supporting local book publishing: One more time

Posted in Books and publishing on July 27th, 2009

Back in February 2009, I outlined four possible medium-sized spare-time projects (in addition to Cites & Insights, the “disContent” column in EContent, “Crawford at Large” in ONLINE Magazine, this blog and my part-time contract as Editorial Director of Library leadership Network) and asked for feedback as to which might make sense.
That was before we decided to move this year. The move made it easy for several months: There was no way I was going to take on any of these. But, although we still have lots of decisions to make about the new house, time is starting to open up again, at least a little…

Clearing the undergrowth

Based on early feedback and, just as important, book sales, I’ve pretty much dismissed two of the four projects, as noted here. To wit:

  1. Although Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0″ continues to get hundreds of downloads every month, there’s no indication that anyone would pay for it as an integral part of a revised Balanced Libraries (which, by the way, continues to sell at a modest pace).
  2. Blogging for Libraries, a combined and better-thought-out update of Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples and Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples, drew the same silence those books have. In that case, I’m preparing an explicit coda: The September Cites & Insights (out sometime in August) will include mini-updates on both 2007 studies, looking at the same blogs as of May 31, 2009 and measuring three easy metrics: the number of days prior to May 31, 2009 that the last post (before June 1) appeared, the number of posts during May 2009 (if there were any) and the number of comments during May 2009 (if there were any). The two articles–one for each category of library–will include quintile reports and brief overall comments; there may be specific notes on some public library blogs. (The article on public library blogs is written, absent specific blog notes; I’ve done the actual research for the academic library blogs article and will start writing it after I finish procrastinating writing this entry.) The articles will also point to Excel spreadsheets that anyone with funding and an interest can use as the basis for future research, requesting only a note as to the source of the 2007 & 2009 data.
  3. The current turmoil (if that’s what it is) in liblogs is such that I really can’t give up on Liblog Landscape Revisited, even as book sales continue to be dismal. I may yet do it, but probably as a special issue of Cites & Insights–$0 revenue as compared to, say, a big $200 or $300 from a book, but probably ten to 100 times the readership.

Then there was one

That leaves the idea that drew the most positive attention: Libraries and Publish on Demand.
And here’s where I need your help.
Go read the initial proposal.
This time, though, I don’t need to hear “this is a great idea.” I need to hear “my library would sign up for this workshop/would buy this book” or “my library association, consortium, whatever would definitely run this workshop and could reasonably assure X people would pay for it.”
I know that’s a lot to ask–and, realistically, I’m not asking for contracts here. The thing is, the more I talk to people about this possibility, look at what would be needed to do it properly, and think about what I’m hearing and seeing, the more I have a feeling this falls into a never-never land as far as actual widespread acceptance. To wit:

  • It’s not hot or sexy enough to be This Year’s Sensation–it’s not Second Life or how folksonomy will transform your online catalog or anything like that. Assigning styles, tweaking templates, copyfitting, etc… those all sound suspiciously like work. (The typographic and other choices are absolutely fascinating for type geeks–and pretty much snooze material for most folks, including most librarians.)
  • On the other hand, it’s “far out” as compared to the most down-to-earth topics–it won’t get books cataloged faster, it won’t improve staff morale, it won’t get your community to comment on your library blog.
  • Libraries directly supporting local book publishing–either by doing their own books or by providing templates and tools–is one of those ideas that sounds great, but that most libraries might find more cumbersome than useful.

There it is. Unless I have some real reason to believe that I could sell hundreds of copies of the book as a self-c0ntained workshop and example, or that hundreds of librarians would pay for online or conference workshops (including the book) over the course of two or three years–well, the project just isn’t worth it, either financially or in terms of impact. (Liblog Landscape Revisited will almost certainly not be worthwhile financially–but I believe it will have an impact, and at this point chronicling the ongoing liblog field is, to some extent, its own reward.)

Over to you

I’d have dropped this already except that I don’t believe anyone else will do it–both because others are more sensible and because few in the field have my peculiar set of interests and experience.
So, tell me, is this something you (your library, your neighbor’s library, your consortium’s libraries) would actually sign up for?

Shorter, sharper?

Posted in Writing and blogging on July 26th, 2009

Failures may not be” may have rambled a little too much, particularly when it came to whether or not a blog could be considered a failure.
Let’s see if I can clarify my definitions (enough so that I don’t contradict myself in a comment!):

A personal blog is not a failure if…

  • The author feels it’s served its purpose or
  • Some number of readers have benefited from it.

A personal blog that never has any readers or feedback? That may not be a failure, if the author intended it as a place to think through issues.
A personal blog that has one entry a year? That may not be a failure, if that’s how it works out for the author.
A personal blog that the author regards as a failure? OK, so it’s a failure to the author (after all, if you write six best-selling novels but your definition of “success” is gaining a Nobel prize, you might consider yourself a failure, sad as that self-image would be), but the blog may nonetheless have been worthwhile for the readers (and for the author, but the author doesn’t recognize that).
A personal blog where the author explicitly sets out goals, fails to achieve those goals, and doesn’t learn from the shortcoming. Yes, maybe that’s a failure.

An institutional blog is not a failure if…

  • It doesn’t get lots of comments–unless the institution has made a point of begging for comments.
  • It disappears after a while–unless the institution continues to publicize the blog’s existence and treats it as significant.
  • It has sporadic posts–unless the institution’s explicit goals for the blog, or the audience’s reasonable expectations, require more frequent posts.
  • It was an experiment, known to be such, and the experiment didn’t succeed.

When is an institutional blog a failure? When it doesn’t achieve the goals of the institution and the institution doesn’t learn from the shortcomings.
Is that clearer?
So, if I do some “where are they now?” profiles of public library or academic library blogs–either of the pioneers, those that have disappeared or, for public libraries, those I found particularly interesting back in 2007–the profiles will be “here’s what I see,” not “here’s what failed.”

Failures may not be

Posted in Writing and blogging on July 24th, 2009

Failures, that is.
Huh?
All the hard-core scientists out there may be saying, “Well, of course not.” That is, an experiment that fails to support a hypothesis or achieve hoped-for results can/should still be valuable. (Probably badly worded, but you know what I mean.)
Here, though, I’m talking about other kinds of failures–as in ongoing activities that cease to be active. For example:

  • Blogs that haven’t had new posts in a month, or a year, or that disappear entirely
  • Journals that cease publication

I was thinking about this as I was looking at the results of my mini-study of public library blogs (which will appear in the September issue of Cites & Insights, out some time in August, possibly together with a similar mini-study of academic library blogs).
Of 252 blogs studied in 2007 (all blogs that had been around at least half a year by the time of the study), 27 had disappeared by mid-July 2009. Fortythree more were essentially moribund, with no post within 120 days before the study’s target date (May 31, 2009), including 25 that had gone more than a year without a post.
Effectively, 70 blogs were dead or nearly so. But are those blogs failures?
Not necessarily.

Most things have lifespans

Walter Cronkite died recently. Nobody whose opinion I respect would call him a failure. He’d ceased to be a news anchor quite a few years before he died. Nobody whose opinion I respect would call him a failure as a news anchor. He stopped doing it–after a successful period.
The Public-Access Computer Systems Review, one of the early open access journals, published 42 issues between early 1990 and early 1998. Was PACS Review a failure? Not at all–it was a success that eventually came to an end.
Let’s say I keep doing Cites & Insights for another 16 months–through ten years and volume 10–and then say “The hell with it.” Would that make C&I a failure? Not at all. It would mean I’d decided that ten years was enough. (Incidentally, the presence or absence of a sponsor for 2010 and beyond may bear on that decision…)

So it is with blogs

Sure, some blogs are failures–particularly official blogs that start out with aggressive schedules and big fanfare, then fall apart within a month or two.
As for individual blogs (e.g., liblogs done by people in the library field), a blog is only a failure if both the blogger and the audience regard it as a failure. I know of one important blog in the library field whose owner deliberately shut it down recently; I can’t imagine calling that blog a failure.
:I just wrote “if the blogger believes it to be a failure,” but that’s wrong: Sometimes a blogger’s expectations are higher than the audiences, and a blog that fails to meet the blogger’s hopes has still succeeded in communicating with an interested audience.
For others…well, it depends on your definition of failure. I’m wondering whether it’s worth the time to go through some of the 70 ceased public library blogs, or at least the 43 that can still be reached, to see how they could be characterized from an external perspective.
In some cases, it’s obvious–there have been some construction blogs, devoted to specific library construction projects. When the project’s complete, the blog’s done–that simple. If it was read, or even if it just provides a resource for later reflection, the blog was probably a success. Similarly for blogs devoted to specific closed-end projects. If you devote a blog to 52 books in 52 weeks, there’s little reason to keep the blog active in week 53. (On the other hand, if the blog falls apart in week 7, that just might be a legitimate failure.)
I’m not saying I will spend the additional time. There are other things to write about, other research to do, other leisure activities… I also don’t need to be labeled more of a Candide than I already am–fact is, some blogs do fail by anybody’s standards.
We shall see…

50 Movie Comedy Classics, Disc 8

Posted in Movies and TV on July 23rd, 2009

My Man Godfrey, 1936, b&w. Gregory La Cava (dir.), William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, Mischa Auer. 1:34.

Set in the depression, this movie involves a wealthy (for the moment) family of eccentrics and a man (William Powell) living in the city dump, “found” as part of a scavenger hunt and turned into a butler for a family notoriously unable to keep butlers—a role he serves exceedingly well. The younger daughter who found him (Lombard) (well, the mean-spirited older daughter found him first, but she was so offensive he pushed her into an ashpile) falls for him and tends to over-emote about everything. He treats her Properly, as a butler should. Oh, and the family’s wealth is less secure than it might seem to be—and the father, the only sensible one of the bunch, is getting fed up with the rest of the family.

That’s the setup. It’s all done very well, a comedy of manners and a screwball comedy, with a somewhat remarkable closing sequence. It’s William Powell’s movie, but the rest of the cast offers strong (if sometimes overplayed) support—Lombard is hysterical in her apparent hysteria. Oh, and there’s one other thing: It’s funny. Four actors (and the director) received Academy Award nominations—I’d guess they were all well deserved. Good print, thoroughly enjoyable, a classic, an easy $2.00.

One Rainy Afternoon, 1936, b&w. Rowland V. Lee (dir.), Francis Lederer, Ida Lupino, Hugh Herbert, Roland Young, Erik Rhodes, Joseph Cawthron, Live De Maigret, Mischa Auer. 1:34 [1:19].

Here’s the plot, pretty much in its entirety: A French actor/singer is having an “affair” (kisses only, apparently) with a married woman, where they go to a movie after it’s started, entering separately, smooch, then leave before the movie’s over. (He finds this incredibly frustrating because he never sees how the movie ends.) One rainy afternoon, after she’s gone in, he hands his ticket to the usher—and we get the key plot point, which is that “66” upside down is “99.”

That’s right: He winds up in the wrong seat and kisses the wrong woman (Ida Lupino), who not incidentally is prettier and nicer than the married one. There’s an instant problem, mostly because she’s a little startled and the theater seems populated by a group of harridans who insist on high moral standards, and see to it that he’s arrested. He gets put in jail because he can’t afford a hefty fine; she bails him out; he pays her back a little at a time at an ice-skating rink (allowing for loads of physical comedy); her annoying fiancé is not thrilled…and lots of publicity about this “monster” makes him a hot box office draw. That’s about it, plus of course a happy ending of sorts.

Ah, but this one’s a charming farce and romantic comedy, just a pleasure to watch. What can I say? This film is strong evidence that, for comedy even more than most film genres, it’s the performances, not the plot. The print’s OK (not great, not terrible) but the sound’s scratchy, which is the only thing reducing this charmer to $1.50.

The Great Mike, 1944, b&w. Wallace Fox (dir.), Stuart Erwin, Robert ‘Buzz’ Henry, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Edythe Elliott, Pierre Watkin, Gwen Kenyon. 1:12 [1:03]

Two kids deliver newspapers using a wagon pulled by…a thoroughbred? Which one of them is trying to buy on the installment plan from his uncle. They start delivering to a new resident, who turns out to be a stable owner; he lets the “delivery wagon horse” run against one of his horses, which barely beats the nag—and his horse turns out to be a champion.

That’s the setup. Then the uncle says he has to sell the horse ’cause he needs the money, the new owner finds that the horse won’t eat or train because he misses his pal (the kid’s dog), the stable owner’s trainer goes in with the kid to buy the horse, and it goes from there, including race-fixers—all, basically, aimed toward buying good gym equipment for the kid’s pals.

Not bad although very hokey, with lots of racing scenes, but the print’s really poor and the sound’s sometimes worse, and one key scene is missing entirely. Given those problems, I can’t come up with more than $0.75.

Three Guys Named Mike, 1951, b&w. Charles Walters (dir.), Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Barry Sullivan. 1:30.

I don’t know whether American Airlines paid for product placement or just cooperated, but their logo and distinctive “paint job” are there throughout this tale of a brand-new opinionated stewardess and her three beaus. There’s a pilot named Mike, an adman named Mike and a grad student scientist named Mike. From her job interview through amusing incidents on board the (pre-jet) plane (a DC-3) through finding a place to live with three other stewardesses to her Big Decision—it’s sprightly, well-played by a first-rate cast, frequently funny and a real charmer. It’s on the slight side, but still an easy $1.50.

We and me

Posted in Stuff, Technology and software on July 22nd, 2009

I’ve probably mentioned before that ALA can sometimes be inspiring (or inspiriting, if that’s a word), perhaps not as a result of any given program or social event but through the cumulative effects of seeing a few hundred (or few thousand) people I know, and many thousand active librarians, face-to-face. (Inspiring: It can and does inspire me to keep “doing this stuff.” Inspiriting: It can restore my spirits when they’ve been down.)
It can also be revealing, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Chicago was inspiring and inspiriting, to be sure. I wasn’t actually dispirited before ALA Annual, but found it easier to concentrate on decisions related to the new house than to focus on library-related issues outside of work. That’s still a major focus, but I’m back to paying attention elsewhere…
The revealing part is the theme of the first part of this two-part mini-essay.

We: False universalism or simple elitism?

I’ve ranted before this, here and there, about “we”–with or without the implicit “all”–being used for claims that I don’t consider even remotely universal or opinions that I don’t believe there’s any real consensus about.
“We (all) are (or soon will be) connected to the internet all the time.” “We (all) are growing to prefer reading online rather than in print.” “We (all) use iPhones.”
None of those are literal quotes, although the first one’s very close. I could find hundreds of others (thousands?) with a little literature searching, but this isn’t really aimed at any one person, so I won’t.
I’d thought of these phony or overstated we-isms as false universals, a problem in and of themselves. (Want true universals? We breathe air. We eat food. We need safe drinking water. We will die. I think those about cover it–and if you believe Breatharians, if there are any of those left, even the third is questionable. Then again, if you believe Breatharians, what are you doing at ScienceBlogs?)
I was wrong, at least for some people who are fond of We-isms.
I recognized that during a session at ALA–details unimportant–in which one panelist was spouting We-isms with considerable relish, even after another panelist pointed out that one supposed universalism wasn’t even true for a majority of those present at the session. Nonetheless, We do this and We use that and…
The breakthrough recognition: It’s not false universalism. It’s elitism. “We” really means “the people who matter.”
Doesn’t make it any more right. Does make it a lot more understandable. Without that recognition, I’d have to believe that some We-ists are hard of hearing, hard of understanding or a bit daft: Surely they’re aware that their universal assertions are nowhere near being universal?
But once you substitute “the people who matter” for “we,” it’s all clear. Maybe all the people who matter really are connected 24/7. Maybe all the people who matter do use iPhones.
The trouble with all this, for public librarians at least, is that good libraries serve the whole public–and specifically serve those who “don’t matter,” who aren’t part of the elite, the in crowd, the overprivileged.
Anyway, this should be a useful reminder, for me at least, for the future: When I encounter an absurd We-ism, I won’t assume the speaker’s more ignorant than they would appear to be–I’ll assume they’re elitist.

…and me

The other part of this not-as-brief-as-I’d intended (but, you know, longer essays are The New Black for blogs, right?) has to do with me. Not “me” as short for “the out crowd” or “me” as short for “people like me,” but me–one person.
To wit: If you’re a FriendFeed user who pays particular attention to who is or isn’t subscribing to you, and if you find that I’ve dropped off your subscription list…
It isn’t you. It’s me.
That’s happened once this week. It may happen again. In the particular case, it was somebody I find interesting some of the time–but somebody who Likes, and comments on, a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff that I don’t have time for, but that’s just interesting enough that I spend time checking it out. (I’m not sure why, but skipping over stuff seems to take more time in FriendFeed than it does in Bloglines–or, again, maybe that’s just me.)
Yes, I use Hides, lots of them, but in this case that wasn’t quite enough. There’s another case that’s right on the cusp; I may quietly unsubscribe.
Let me be clear: You’re not doing anything wrong. I don’t believe you should even think about changing the way you use FriendFeed. Because, you know,
It’s not you. It’s me.
That’s not a breakup line. It’s the truth. You could expand that to “I’m too ignorant to set up FriendFeed in such a way that it’s compatible with your use of it–and that’s my problem, not yours.”
Another way to put it: I’m not much for either creating lifestreams or following them. Maybe I shouldn’t be using FriendFeed at all, but I find that it’s useful as a semi-professional conversational medium. When too much lifestream material makes it cumbersome to follow the conversations, I make changes…purely because of the way I use FriendFeed, which may not be how it should be used. (If I’m Breaking The Rules, so be it.)
I don’t know: Maybe FF doesn’t notify people when someone unsubscribes, in which case this isn’t an issue at all. On my part, I’d rather not know, to be honest…and I only scan my subscriber list maybe every three months to see who I should be subscribing to. Which, then, may lead to my resubscribing to someone who I later unsubscribe from…

Welcome Dorothea!

Posted in Stuff on July 18th, 2009

By now, you’ve probably heard about it from Christina Pikas and John Dupuis, but let me be the (third?) to welcome Dorothea Salo to the ScienceBlogs Information Science channel–with her new blog, The Book of Trogool.
I’ve benefited from Salo’s excellent thinking and writing for at least seven years, and been quoting her for six. She thinks deeply and works hard–and is willing to say things many others aren’t.
I’ll stop at that. Dorothea’s a major addition to this little group, and it’s an honor to be counted among her colleagues and friends. Go read her new blog

Great customer service redux

Posted in Movies and TV on July 17th, 2009

Some of you may remember back in May 2008 when I discussed the unexpectedly good customer service provided by Mill Creek Entertainment, the company busily mining public domain (and otherwise minimal-license) flicks and TV flicks to create really inexpensive bundles of movies on DVD.
(That’s not all the company does, to be sure, but I know them most for the “50 Movie Packs”–50 movies on 12 DVDs–of which there are now 23 examples. The company’s motto is “changing the face of value entertainment!” and they’re also doing other things, including TV series and documentary compilations.)
The gist of the earlier post: When I reached Disc 8 of the Hollywood Legends 50-pack, with The Town Went Wild and Man with the Golden Arm on Side A, I found that Side A was actually Disc 11 Side A. Since I paid $15 or so for the set and had had it for a year or more, I just sent Mill Creek email to let them know, in case there had been a general production problem. I didn’t have a receipt, I didn’t remember where I’d purchased the set, I didn’t feel the need for compensation.
They responded the next day and mailed me not only the replacement disc but a couple of other (smaller) DVD collections for my trouble, along with an apology. That, I thought, was great customer service: Above and beyond the call, particularly for something so inexpensive not purchased directly from them.
(A few of you may also remember the contrasting post when one of the six discs in Angel, Season 4 proved to be utterly defective. The only way I could get a replacement disc is by sending the entire box set back to Fox, via insured mail, with a recent receipt, and waiting six to eight weeks. Oh, and the receipt needed to be dated within “a reasonable time frame,” that time frame not stated. But hey, it’s Fox.)

Getting past the preamble

So I continue to buy Mill Creek packs when they look interesting and Amazon has them at the right price–or at least I did when I was still using old movies to stay on the treadmill. (Each time I’ve seen all the movies on one disc, I review them–but I’m putting those posts on Walt, Even Randomer, since they’re too silly for ScienceBlogs.) I’m still watching the old movies, even without the treadmill…
And I was intrigued by Mill Creek’s ultimate repackaging attempts, the four 250-movie collections they produced for a while (and seem to have stopped, at least based on their website): 60 DVDs, 250 movies, selling at the time for around $50 at Amazon. Yes, of course those collections are repackaged compilations of multiple 50-movie packs (where they don’t overlap, as sometimes happens), just as the dozen 100-movie packs are simply combinations of 50-movie packs. I purchased the Mystery Collection (the link here is to Amazon, which still has this collection but at a higher price lower price, although it was a higher price a couple of weeks ago). That was also a while back–probably at least six months.
Last week, I neared the point where I’d start alternating discs from this megapack with discs from less massive collections. So I skimmed through the 60 sleeves, partly to see how many flicks are in color (most aren’t, as I’d expect) and how many I’ve already seen (not many). And got to Disc 57. Which was actually Disc 59, both sleeve and disc. And there was also a Disc 59.
Well, hey, no big deal–but, given the quality of the previous response, I did send a quick email to Mill Creek, basically saying “don’t need to send me any extras, but if you have another Disc 57 handy, I’d be grateful.”
Next day, a reply, saying a replacement is on its way. How can you argue with service like this–where they trust me even though I’ve never had business dealings directly with the publisher? Sure, the discs can’t cost them much, but handling–preparing the shipping label and paying MediaMail–is far from free and probably eliminates any profit they make from a typical 50-pack.
That was just before ALA. When I returned, there was a bigger box than I’d expected. That box included two 20-movie packs (4 or 5 discs), both of which I’ll enjoy (one of ‘em is 20 spaghetti westerns, only two of which I’ve seen: how can I go wrong?); a 50-movie pack I didn’t already own (although, as it happens, it includes 19 of the 20 Hitchcock movies they sent me as a freebie last year)–and “Action Classics Disk 9″ (in a previous incarnation, they had a problem with Disk vs. Disc, since corrected).
I sent a “thank you” email and noted that what I was missing was Mystery Collection Disc 57, not Action Classics Disk 9. And, the same day, got back a note: They’re the same thing. (As noted above, I believe MCE isn’t producing the 250-movie collections any more, so probably didn’t have extra copies of the other sleeve.)

Conclusion

Mill Creek Entertainment didn’t ask me to blog about it. I doubt that they’re really aware of this blog. They just seem to respond to minor problems by going above & beyond…and assuming good faith on the part of the consumer.
Oh, I imagine that if I sent them six emails in a month saying I was missing six different discs, or that I had defectives from several different collections, they might raise questions–or at least I hope they would. (I’d like to see them stay in business; I believe these collections are, on the whole, Good Things, mining the public domain and also offering in-copyright material that original producers wouldn’t deem worthwhile for DVD, always at extremely reasonable prices.)
So, on that up note, I won’t go into the details of a last-night-in-Chicago incident that could be summarized as “don’t pay cash in a lobby bar.” Mill Creek had nothing to do with that little contretemps, which still hasn’t been resolved…

Not dead yet, not really back yet

Posted in ALA, Writing and blogging on July 15th, 2009

I don’t usually go nine days between posts, but…
You can blame ALA Annual 2009 in Chicago for most of that. I (still) travel without technology, so no blogging from ALA–and also no keeping up with blogs, FriendFeed, etc. (but email once or twice in the hidden Internet room in the exhibits).
There’s also getting ready for Chicago… and catching up from Chicago, which is likely to take another day or two. Particularly since it’s mixed in with continued “trying to fix wifi/internet” (which may finally be fixed, by replacing both modem and router)–and dealing with people doing quotes for various household projects; you can’t be showing someone around/talking to them while you’re trying to catch up online. At least I can’t.
Status: DSL maybe better. Household project quotes (roof, solar, heating/air conditioning, a couple little things), about half done. Work: Need to write up ALA notes and get on with other stuff. Post-ALA: Haven’t even started to look at blogs, have realized it’s futile to go back too far on FriendFeed, haven’t started on notes.
One remarkable note: Even though ALA membership is down (2.6%), the annual conference was a new record high–and, indeed, the exhibits seemed more crowded at off-hours than I’m used to, and most programs I attended were well-attended. What this means about the future of P2P conferences, the “death of megaconferences,” etc.? I leave to the observer…

LITA IG plans and other failures

Posted in ALA on July 8th, 2009

“And other failures?” Read on…

10 of 19 in Anaheim

Roughly a year ago, I kvetched about the difficulty of finding out what LITA interest groups were planning to do during ALA Annual 2008. See, I had this silly idea that LITA Interest Groups would be trying to attract new members–both people new to LITA and people new to the IG–and that publicizing their plans would be an easy way to do so. (OK, so I also remember back when we had the LITA Newsletter, when nearly all IGs would regularly note their upcoming plans…)

Last year, I was able to get “some information” on 10 of the 19 IGs–but only by going to four different places. I found none in the LITA database, two on the LITA blog, two on the LITA wiki–and eight, but only six new, on LITA-L, which as I noted is the “least likely place” to attract newbies. It’s also the most useless place if you’re actually trying to put together a conference schedule.

Nudging for Midwinter

I had four initiatives in mind as incoming LITA Publications Committee chair–some of them initatives that weren’t really “my business” (except as a LITA member of long standing). One of them was to encourage IGs to communicate…

I sent out mail. I offered to do the heavy lifting (e.g., wiki markup) if IG chairs would just send notes. And it worked, to some extent–although, at the same time, I got a certain amount of “what business is it of yours?” pushback. The LITA Wiki had actual information on ten of the 17 IGs, in one place, where it was easy to view. Not a great showing, but at least it was gathered together.

Giving up for Chicago

I didn’t try nudging again this time. The rest of my supposed initiatives were either non-starters or clear failures, and I wasn’t going to spend the energy to try to resuscitate them–and, frankly, I felt just slightly singed by the whole process.

So here we are, with people making their final schedules for Chicago.

How many IGs have information describing their plans on the equivalent single page on the LITA Wiki for Annual 2009? That’s easy: Zero. Not one.

OK, there are three–but indirectly, on the handful of IG pages, rather than directly on the ALA Conference 2009 page. Authority Control, BIGWIG and IRSIG do have info if you know where to look. It’s truly sad that only four of the IGs even have pages on the wiki with any content on them.

So let’s go to the ALA wiki for 2009 Annual, an equally reasonable place. If there are any, I can’t find them–heck, I can’t even find a page for discussion and interest groups. Call it zero.

The LITA blog? Zero. Not one.

So if you’re new to LITA or trying to gather information on topical discussions of interest at this point, LITA IGs–or at least 14 of the 17 (or 16 of the 19)–are closed books.

Now, if you’re already a LITA member and fond of the least current technology in the group, you’re on LITA-L. That would make a difference: I found six IG posts regarding ALA 2009 plans, going back to May 2009. Notably, there’s essentially no overlap–with the possible exception of BIGWIG, no IG could be bothered to put information in more than one place. That still leaves eight or ten IGs with no available information at all.

I get it

I can only come to one of two conclusions:

  1. LITA IGs really don’t want to attract new members to their groups or to LITA itself.
  2. The half hour it would take to add an item on a wiki page is just too much effort to expect of a volunteer chair of an IG. (I say “wiki page” because the blog and the LITA database both involve some additional overhead.

I tried. I failed, although the results were better for Midwinter 2009. For all I know, most LITA IGs may be falling apart anyway (how would I know? Post-conference minutes or reports in a public arena are even rarer than pre-conference plans).

Other stalled initiatives

What else did I have in mind back when I foolishly agreed to chair LITA Publications Committee?

Here’s what I sent to the LITA Publications Committee, noting that it wasn’t clear that any of them were within the purview of the committee. I listed them in what I saw as descending order of importance:

1.      Can LITA IGs (and to a lesser extent, LITA committees) do a better  job of letting the rest of us, including new members, know what they’re  going to be talking about during Midwinter and Annual? My attempts to  find out for Anaheim resulted in a pretty dismal success rate, even  scouring all four channels LITA seems to use: I think we have too many
channels and not enough content. I’ve taken my first step in this  regard: Mail to chairs asking them to do one-paragraph descriptions of  plans to at least one of the four channels (blog, wiki, list, website).  Admittedly, this is no longer part of PubComm’s responsibility because  there’s no publication (nor, at this point, should there be).

See discussion above. Maybe, maybe, if someone (the IG coordinator? staff?) made a point of bugging every IG chair at least twice, and did the work of actually assembling the results, you might, perhaps, possibly get 50-60% success. Without that bugging, we seem to be back down to little pieces widely scattered.

2.      Can we work on moving ITAL to Gold OA status–and does it make  economic or other sense for there to still be a print version? This is  really ITAL’s area, and “six-month embargo” is better than nothing, but,  well, maybe ALA divisions should be leading, not following…

I still think it’s a valid question, but there are dollars involved…at least ITAL is clean green OA.

3.      Should there be a LITA Publications Committee, or would the division  be better served by, say, a LITA Communications Committee?

Another way to put this: Are publications still core LITA activities? Given that the committee will, in Chicago, almost certainly accept the TER editor’s recommendation to formally cease publication of TER (which hasn’t actually appeared in 18 months), given the trickle of LITA monographs, given that ITAL has its own committee…well, this is for someone else to pursue. Would I serve on a LITA Communications Committee? Absolutely not.

4.      There’s a minor issue about one LITA publishing arrangement that  appears to violate LITA’s bylaws, but I suspect the bigger question  there is whether LITA publications of that sort are likely to be  significant sources of revenue or service to the field, and there I’m
treading very lightly.

I have a little more background, and am uninterested in pursuing this one…

Strike four, you’re out…

Well, I’ll call the first one a foul ball: When I was directly hounding people, I got better than half of them to respond. Take away the direct hounding…

See some of you in Chicago, as I turn the invisible gavel over to the incoming chair, one who will most assuredly do a better job than I’ve done.


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