Archive for April, 2010

Minor post: Finishing Silicon Boys

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Since I posted a grump about some stuff early on in David Kaplan’s The Silicon Boys, I should close it out with a few words now that I’ve finished the book.

Maybe one word would be enough.


Read as semi-fiction, it’s OK. Read as insight into Silicon Valley as of 1999…I’m sorry, but even pre-crash (the dotcom crash), I just don’t buy that everybody was Just In It For the Money, that there “is no soul” anymore, that it’s all just big jets and wealthy venture capitalists.

Oh, I buy that these are the people Kaplan chooses to focus on–he’s best buds with the big VCs and has no apparent interest in anybody worth less than eight digits–but taking this view for reality is about as meaningful as his incessant focus on Woodside as the, I don’t know, heart of Silicon Valley.

One thing’s very clear: He may pretend to be hard on SV players…but he’s very much on their side. It’s amusing that Larry Ellison has “tense problems” with the truth. Various other escapades and sabotage are just, you know, boys being boys. But Bill Gates–he’s EVIL!  And Microsoft’s Mountain View facility is “near the dump.” (In other words, near Shoreline Park, a beautiful facility that was originally a garbage dump…and Microsoft’s just a little further away than, well, Google.)

Speaking of Google: The book is dated 1999. Of Google, there is not one word mentioned. Yahoo is the last big story, and it’s clearly the Biggest Thing that’s Ever Going to Hit Silicon Valley.

Well, why not? In 1999, Google’s founders weren’t obscenely wealthy…and thus of no real interest to Kaplan’s predetermined storyline.

I would push at stuff like his claim that Silicon Valley had an 80% divorce rate in the late 1990s (I can’t prove that’s false, but I’m 99% certain it’s nonsense), but what’s the point. This is semi-fiction, probably very strong on details of venture capitalism and selective stories of individual excess.

As a meaningful account of Silicon Valley? Meh. Maybe there’s a reason the 2000 edition has a different publisher (one I’ve never heard of) than the 1999 edition I read.

(And I promise: I’m not going to start doing book reviews.)

Language grumps

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Feel free to ignore this post. I’m a little grumpy–partly because it started raining just as I was on my way to the Wednesday hike (and then stopped after it was too late), just as it did last Wednesday. Strange: I think I only missed a hike once during the proper rainy season because of weather–and here it happens twice in a row in late April, with most other days being beautiful. [These are real hikes–4 to 6 miles, significant vertical in most cases, with hiking sticks. My wife & I also do afternoon walks every day when it’s feasible, but that’s only 1.25 miles with a couple dozen feet vertical. Those are walks, not hikes.]

Anyhoo… a couple of grumps about language, not that they’ll do any good:

  • The singular of media is medium. TV is a medium, it is not a media. I’m hoping this one isn’t lost just yet…
  • Conversely, unless you’re talking about a psychic convention or a stack of clothes that are neither small nor large, the plural of medium is media, not “mediums.” I’ve seen “mediums” a few times too often lately; I autocorrect it in blogs that I’m citing for C&I, but it’s maddening. When you put TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, the web together, you’re talking about media, not mediums. [Gaah. Looking at Merriam-Webster, I see that advertising folks talk about “media” as singular and “medias” as plural. Gaah. I might buy “media” as a mass noun in certain cases–“the news media”–in which case you could reasonably use the singular. But medias? Really?]
  • The verb that results in something being lost has the same number of os as the condition–it’s lose, not loose. This should not be difficult; I have yet to see anyone assume that “loost” is a correct spelling. I would love to say “loose is not a verb,” but that’s not true, although it’s a fairly quaint verb. On the other hand, when used intransitively, there’s no question: Loose is always a transitive verb. You can lose (“you lose” is a perfectly good sentence) but you can’t loose, you can only loose something.
  • The word for a flashing of light produced by a discharge of atmospheric electricity does not have an e in it. The word is lightning. Yes, lightening (with an e) is a word–but it only applies if a color or burden or something becomes lighter/lessened.

Enough grumpiness for today. I don’t think I’m a stickler for grammar, and I know language changes and believe it should. (I regard “data” as a mass noun taking singular formation except when used in a scientific sense, for example, and I deliberately use “they” as a genderless singular third-person pronoun.) These ones don’t represent changing language, though, I don’t think–just sloppiness.

I won’t even start on less and fewer. I’d like to think there’s still hope for the distinction, but I’m not very confident.

Shrinking for sustainability?

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The most recent report on large-daily-newspaper circulation (as usual, misleadingly assumed to be about newspaper circulation in general) is out–and the numbers are down again, although not as much as last year.

One paper that did have another double-digit percentage drop is the one we still take–the San Francisco Chronicle. And the Chronicle‘s version of the overall story notes an important local take–one that, according to some commentators, isn’t possible:

The Chronicle‘s circulation is down sharply–but its revenue situation is improving.

That’s because the paper’s ownership made a conscious decision to require that readers actually foot a significant part of the bill–around 40%, apparently–as opposed to the typical big-daily-newspaper model, where subscription revenue is perhaps 10% of total revenue. That model worked fine when ads were flowing in to such an extent that publishers were getting 30% profit margins (and yes, they were–not all that long ago). Given Craigslist’s effect on want ads and the economy’s effect on display ads, those days are gone and probably aren’t coming back.

The Chronicle had already shut down its printing plant, contracting with a new printer (who’s using much better presses, yielding better-quality print and a lot fewer creases). Unfortunately, it also had to scale back the newsroom; it still has some of the best writers in journalism, but a lot fewer of them.

So: Is it better to have 300,000 circulation (at $200/year or less per subscriber) and be losing a million bucks a week, or to have 240,000 circulation (at $400/year per subscriber) and be breakeven or mildly profitable?

If that 240,000 circulation holds reasonably steady or starts to increase (and the Chronicle says it’s starting to see net subscriber increases), it seems to me the question answers itself. Will it play out in the medium or long term? Hard to say.

If you clicked on the link or even moused over it, you know it was to SFGate; the Chronicle (and, years ago, the Examiner) started a robust web site many years ago (with its own name because it was serving two papers), with a fair amount of original content–heck, the SFGate-exclusive editorial cartoonist just won a Pulitzer. But there’s now clearly content in the print paper that doesn’t show up online for a couple of days; that’s deliberate, and the stories have a special logo to identify them. (If you’re intent on a digital paper, you can get the stories immediately–but not for free.)

If you’re one of those who already said “print newspapers are dead, and good riddance,” don’t even bother to comment. We’ve heard it before. Maybe you’re right; maybe you’re not. And I would note, as usual, that most newspapers in the U.S.–the smaller dailies and the thousands of weeklies–aren’t part of this story at all, and mostly are doing OK.

Now that I think about it, I really should urge those of you who are interested in this stuff to read the current Cites & Insights, volume 10 issue 6, particularly the second essay (starting at p. 11), much of which is about print newspapers.

Little milestones

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

I’ve mentioned our photovoltaic (“solar,” but for electricity–most solar installations in our neighborhood are water-heating systems) system before, installed last November. I’ve also mentioned that it’s easy to start obsessing about power usage and generation–particularly when SolarCity provides a web page I can check that shows generation by half-hour on a daily graph (along with some other information).

There are two, maybe three, kinds of milestones that come into play here:

  1. Days on which the next integer of kiloWatt-hours (kWh)  generated is reached, as the days get longer and the sun gets more direct.
  2. The first month in which PG&E’s “true-up” report shows a negative number–that is, the first month you actually feed net electricity back into the distribution system when totaled over an entire month.
  3. Percentage milestones for overall usage–e.g., points at which we’ve generated 60% of all the electricity we’ve used, 65%, 70%…I don’t really track those (and it’s going to be damnably difficult to get from 70%, where I think we are now, to 75% and 80%).

We hit two milestones this week:

  • Daily generation: After reaching 12 kWh on February 14, 13 kWh on February 22, 14 kWh on March 10 and 15 kWh on March 13 [there were a lot of cloudy/rainy/foggy days, so the small gap between 14 and 15 isn’t too surprising], we reached 16 kWh on April 6…and, finally, reached 17 kWh on April 24. I’m guessing it will be 3 weeks before we reach 18 kWh; we really don’t know what the maximum daily output’s likely to be (presumably around June 20), but if we hit 20, I’ll be delighted. (We have a relatively small system–2.5 kW, with an inverter rated for 2.8 kW–because our power consumption isn’t very high anyway.)
  • Net generation: For March 17-April 17, we generated more energy than we used. Not a lot more (42 kWh), but more. We’re expecting to see net generation for the next five or six months, unless our (new, super-efficient) AC gets a lot of use come summer.

And my wife is suggesting that, when our already-old clothes dryer finally needs replacement, we should run gas to the utility room (which should be easy–it’s about a 4′ extension) and replace it with a gas dryer. Which would probably make us negative on electricity throughout the year–at least on an annual basis–after we did that. (Natural gas is relatively cheap around here, and there’s a LOT of natural gas available, enough so that too much of it is still burned off as a waste product in oil production. And converting natural gas to heat is, I suspect, considerably more efficient than getting the heat from electricity generated in gas-fired plants…)

I must admit, I find myself reading some product reviews–particularly high-end stereo, which I read just for amusement–and thinking “I wonder what the power consumption, particularly standby consumption, is like?” I was astonished by one item where a company redesigned one amplifier slightly, one of these amps that’s supposed to be left on in standby all the time, reducing its standby consumption to one watt (the equivalent of three LED nightlights or one-third of a regular nightlight)…from, gasp, 360 watts.

360 watts. To do nothing at all. Our  household’s “idle usage” [clocks, pilot lights, appliances in standby, etc.] is between 40 and 80 watts. If that amplifier sits idle all the time, it uses 259 kWh a month–which is about two-thirds of our household’s entire electricity consumption. And when I read about the auditory wonders of Class-A amplification (which is incredibly inefficient and uses full power no matter how softly the music is playing), I’d really like to see the line-draw numbers. Not that it would matter to most high-end stereophiles.

[I was surprised and delighted when we picked up a cheap Sony DVD player a few weeks ago as an inexpensive way to make our partially-broken Denon music system work for a few more years, by using the Sony as a CD player feeding into the Denon’s aux. input. The Sony brochure, touting the Energy Star seal, explicitly noted that the standby power consumption–that is, “off,” but able to respond to the remote control–is less than 0.1 watt. There is, to be sure, no pilot light in that mode. This tells me that remote readiness doesn’t have to involve significant parasitic power.]

Another clear, beautiful day. Wonder if we’ll pass 17 kWh again today?

Update 4/26: No, we didn’t quite hit 17 kWh on Sunday…but close. More significantly, in noting our house’s “idle power,” I omitted what’s probably a significant chunk of that 40-80 watts…namely, the DSL modem, wifi router and secondary wifi router (used only for SolarCity’s monitoring).

Mystery Collection Disc 11

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The motto for this disc appears to be All Noir, All The Time—or at least most of it. Unfortunately, it combines two very strong movies with two movies where the chief redeeming value is that they’re barely over an hour each.

Detour, 1945, b&w. Edward G. Ulmer (dir.), Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald. 1:07.

What a strange little film. Mostly told as heavily-narrated flashbacks from a down-on-his-luck guy in a little Nevada roadside café. He begins as an incredibly talented pianist (with very long fingers) reduced to playing in a dive nightclub from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.—but in love with the singer, and engaged as well. Except that she wises up and takes off for Hollywood. After a day or two (?), he decides to follow—hitchhiking across country. He gets picked up by a snappy dresser in a fancy convertible, who turns out to be trouble—and who turns up dead, in the rain, as the hitchhiker’s driving and stops to try to put the top up. (As he’s hitching, half of the drivers are on the right side of the car and in the left lane…but never mind.)

Things go downhill from there, as the hitchhiker decides he has to impersonate the dead guy…and manages to pick up a no-good dame who’d earlier been hitching with the guy. The rest of the story, such as it is, involves these two and it’s neither pretty nor very interesting.

All in all, this seems like an attempt at noir, but not a very good one—mostly just depressing. The print’s generally OK except for a minute or so of damage. IMDB says it was shot in six days; I believe it. After reading a few of the rave reviews at IMDB, I’ll just accept that different people view low-budget, overacted, downbeat, depressing flicks differently. Charitably, I’ll give it $0.75.

Too Late for Tears, 1949, b&w. Byron Haskin (dir.), Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller. 1:39 [1:33]

Now this is noir—and a good, complex mystery. It begins with a couple (Scott and Kennedy) on their way to a party—but the wife wants to turn around because she doesn’t like the hostess. This wife always gets her way—in this case, by nearly crashing the car. As they turn around, though, another car comes alongside and the driver throws a valise into their car (a convertible, conveniently). They stop—and find that the valise is full of cash.

The straight-arrow husband wants to turn it in to the cops. The wife wants to keep it. That’s the start of a plot that eventually involves the blackmailer who was supposed to get the money (Duryea), the husband’s beautiful sister who lives across the hall (Miller), several murders along the way…and a mystery man (DeFore) who claims to be, but is not, someone who fought WWII in the same outfit as the husband. Who he really is…well, you’ll have to see the movie. Scott plays a classically amoral money-hungry cold-hearted bitch, on her second husband and not yet into the money. Duryea isn’t quite enough of a villain, which makes him more interesting. DeFore and Miller are both interesting characters (Kennedy, not so much).

Well-acted, very well plotted (Roy Huggins wrote the screenplay, based on his own serial), reasonably well filmed. Unfortunately, the print’s missing a few minutes and is a bit choppy at times. That brings it down to $1.50.

Mystery Liner, 1934, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Noah Beery, Lila Kane, Major Pope, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Ralph Lewis, Cornelius Keefe, Zeffie Tilbury, Boothe Howard, Howard Hickman. 1:02.

The basic plot is straightforward—but also ludicrous: Running ships by remote control, over radio linkages, from land—and testing the concept on an ocean liner, passengers and all. (Would you like a lesson on why remote-controlled oceangoing passenger vessels make no sense at all?) Oh, and one specific tube is the key to all this working. But the captain seems to have gone crazy (and is supposedly removed from the ship), although that’s not enough to keep the test from going forward. (The equipment could have been in Baron von Frankenstein’s lab—it’s that level of sparks, tubes, switches and other nonsense.) The means of communication between the ship and the remote control center, weirdly, is through panels that flash on and off and then show handwritten messages from the other source—since, you know, radio voice would be too advanced, but scanning from a panel is straightforward.

The real problem here is that the movie seems to be excerpted from a longer version—lots of scenes disappear partway in, there’s no sense of overall flow, some of the characters make no sense whatsoever. It’s an odd combination of slow-moving “action” and pieces-missing plot. It was also clearly shot on the cheap. The most I can give this unfortunate little flick is $0.75.

Scarlet Street, 1945, b&w. Fritz Lang (dir.), Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Margaret Lindsay, Rosalind Ivan. 1:43 [1:41]

Edward G. Robinson’s always interesting when he’s playing something other than The Tough Guy. Here, he’s a bank cashier with 25 years on the job and five years in a loveless marriage to a harridan. His only pleasure is weekend painting—and he doesn’t understand perspective, but does interesting work. He meets a lovely young woman (Bennett) and is attracted to her; she, with the goading of her abusive boyfriend (Duryea) who appears to be several steps below ordinary sleaze, starts taking him for money that he really doesn’t have. Ah, but she and her boyfriend believe he’s an Important Artist, not a low-level bank employee, so of course he’s rolling in it…

One thing leads to another, including the boyfriend’s bizarre decision to try to make money from the unsigned paintings (which the cashier’s moved to the apartment he rented for the girl, largely because his wife threatens to throw out the paintings), which leads to the girl being identified as the artist. I won’t describe the rest of the plot; even by noir standards, it’s complex and downbeat…including the execution of someone where, well, he didn’t commit the murder, but it’s hard to be as outraged as we should be.

The print’s damaged at points (with a line running down it and two minutes missing) and once in a while the sound’s not great. But it’s well directed (by Fritz Lang), well photographed, well acted and the bleak outlook is appropriate. It’s a solid noir—I found it discouraging but definitely well done. $1.50.

The more you know…

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

…the less you trust? That’s probably not right, exactly.

I’ve probably posted about this before: The frequent case that, if you know a subject fairly well, you’ll find that articles and books about that subject are wrong, at least in some details. This isn’t a big surprise.

But when you hit something on page 25 of a 300+-page nonfiction book that’s a snide aside, and also happens to be absolutely wrong, it can either shake your confidence in the book as a whole or, better, alert you to treat it as, um, semi-non-fiction.

The book in question: The Silicon Boys by David A. Kaplan–published in 1999. I expected an amusing, interesting, perhaps revealing read about the doings in Silicon Valley just before the bust of the dotcom bubble. It became obvious very early on that Kaplan was intent on making the people of the mid-Peninsula look venal and foolish, that–at least early on–he’s more interested in money and excess than in creativity and worth. That’s OK; I can filter for that attitude.

But here’s a quote from page 25:

“But most start-ups incubate within the confines of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in flatland towns like Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Cupertino, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View (a town that has neither), the high office rents notwithstanding.”

Take out that snide little parenthetical phrase–which, as far as I can see, serves no narrative purpose other than to put down Mountain View for pretentiousness–and I’d wonder a bit about “flatland towns” (most of the places named are cities with 60,000-100,000 population, and most of them have a fair amount of topographic variety) but go right on.

But “a town that has neither”? Did this jerk ever actually get out of his car in Mountain View and look either to the west or east? No, Mountain View doesn’t contain mountains itself–which the name doesn’t imply. The name implies that Mountain View has views of mountains. Which it does. On clear days, both east and west. On less clear days, only west.

Actually, within a three-page spread, I come across other nonsense. “The mountains”–hmm, on page 24 there are mountains bordering silicon valley, but on page 25 there aren’t–“are utterly inhospitable to development, filled with ravines, covered by poison oak, prone to burn, laced with earthquake faults, and susceptible to slides.” You could change that to “Most mountain land is protected against development” and it would be more correct and more meaningful, but less–what–damning? (Earthquake faults? Yep, the only earthquake faults around here are in the mountain ranges. Sure…) And he says San Francisco “constitutes a terminus to the north,” but in fact silicon valley ends considerably south of SF (I think most people would say Redwood City is about as far north as it goes). And on page 26, “If it weren’t for maddening round-the-clock traffic jams on the main drag, Highway 101”–well, sorry, but I was taking morning flights out of both SFO and SJC in those years, and “round-the-clock traffic jams” is just plain nonsense. At 5 a.m., you could breeze through either direction.

Oh, I’ll keep reading the book–but as semi-fiction. If he’s wrong on straightforward facts, why should I assume he’s right in his claims about the people in the valley?

Note: We no longer live in silicon valley. We now live in wine country, to our surprise…and radiation-lab territory, to be sure. Yes, we can see mountains from here too, in both directions.

C&I Executive Edition?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I’m wondering about a possible way to make my peculiar writing and organizing talents in the library field worthwhile as an ongoing source of revenue. (“Monetizing the synthesis” sounds awful, so I didn’t say that.)


Before describing a possibility, I should clarify a couple of things:

  1. Cites & Insights itself–the monthly+, PDF (and selective HTML) ejournal on the intersections of libraries, policy, technology and media, ISSN 1534-0937, 129 published issues, just over 3,000 pages and 2.4 million words–is not going to become a fee-based ejournal, a print journal, or something requiring authentication. That’s just not going to happen. Period.
  2. I’m still hoping to find an ongoing sponsor for Cites & Insights. Depending on the terms (and amount) of sponsorship, that sponsor might have textual space or actual ads in C&I–or might not. I’d prefer a sponsor with whom conflict of interest could not arise as a possibility, that is, a sponsor that operates in an area I don’t write about. That’s why I’ve mentioned library automation vendors, book jobbers, consortia, bibliographic utilities and the like as possibilities; consultancies would also fit in that category.
  3. While what follows is not even as polished as a rough proposal, and while all sorts of modifications to the vague idea are possible, I do not see founding a new ongoing print publication, for several reasons.

C&I Executive Edition?

Here’s my thinking:

  • Cites & Insights is great for what it is–the best in the field (it’s the only one in the field, as far as I know).
  • What seems to work best in Cites & Insights is the relatively long essay that includes a variety of perspectives on a given topic, combining my ideas and synthesis with lots of other folks’ commentaries. Increasingly, “relatively long” means 5,000 to 15,000 words or longer, with a handful of shorter features and occasionally “On” perspectives running 2,000 to 5,000 words.
  • Lots of people who might benefit from what I do–let’s call them “executives,” but in fact they include leaders, managers, and a great many others–just don’t have or won’t take the time to read those long essays. After all, a typical library magazine column is 700-800 words; a typical article is rarely more than 2,000 words; there’s only one blog with posts averaging more than 2,000 words each, and even that one (do I need to name it?) comes in at under 3,000 words per post.
  • So maybe I should offer something that serves people with either little time to spend on this kind of reading, or short attention spans, or both.
  • And maybe people would pay for that something–or a company (or whatever) would be interested in underwriting it.

Here’s what I have in mind, right at the moment, noting again that this is very tentative

  • Length: Two pages if printed out from single-column HTML original. Call it 1,000 words, more or less.
  • Frequency: Say 24 or 26 issues per year–roughly fortnightly, with time off for good behavior vacations.
  • Content: 12-14 issues would consist of extreme summaries of Cites & Insights issues, boiling each essay down to a few hundred words (and, of course, linking to the originals). The other issues would be some combination of “best of the liblogs” summaries (with links to original posts) and very brief versions of the kind of essay I was doing for my former place of work, on specific topics leaders should be aware of.
  • Distribution & Funding: To be worked out. RSS distribution seems like one good possibility, with an email backup for executives who find RSS too newfangled. Presumably, either of these could be controlled if this was funded by its readers, or open if it was underwritten by a sponsor.

I think this might be interesting and worthwhile for the field. I know that I won’t consider doing it unless the economics make sense–if anything will survive as a retiree’s hobby (and that’s still very much an “if”), it will be C&I and the blog, not something new that specifically requires concise writing. This might be something where someone else should handle the distribution issues, or it might not. (I’m not sure I’m ready to get into the paid-subscription business: That has a variety of odd accounting and tax consequences.)

Reactions? Refinements? Potential partners? If this happened at all, I don’t see it happening before 2011, but that means this is the time to consider the possibilities. Feel free to comment here, or send me email. You know the routine: username waltcrawford, domain gmail dot com.

MP3 Doesn’t Have DRM–Or Does It?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

One of the great steps forward for fair use and first-sale rights came last year, when iTunes finally stopped selling DRM-encased tracks and started selling DRM-free MP3 (or its direct, DRM-free, AAC equivalent).

“DRM-free MP3” is redundant, right? The MP3 format doesn’t allow for DRM, right?

Right…at least not now, at least not directly.

A Digression

DRM gets a bad rap. Actual Digital Rights Management can–or could–be valuable, in situations (which pretty much every library is familiar with) where access to digital resources is based on the user’s rights. Most of the time, in practice, those rights are understood indirectly: If you have access to a campus network for an appropriate definition of “access,” for example, you’re assumed to have rights to the databases the library licenses–and similarly for public libraries, if you’re either standing at a library computer or you can demonstrate (over the internet) that you’re a library patron. But the rights management could be more complex; you could have a digital signature that identified all the ways you might have rights to use various digital resources.

But most of the time, when we talk about DRM–especially as it relates to copyright–we’re talking about what I call Digital Restrictions Management: Basically, reducing or eliminating your fair use and first sale rights in digital resources that you think you’ve purchased.

The funny thing about that kind of DRM is that it has never done much to stop The Bad Guys, those who are out to pirate copyright material. They either have other methods to get access to non-DRM resources or they break the DRM. DRM mostly damages the innocent, people who want to device-shift or maybe use legitimate excerpts from something. So it’s hard not to cheer the move away from DRM in music…noting that audio CDs never had DRM. (Yes, there were silver discs with DRM; no, they weren’t legitimate Audio CDs. The Red Book, the key license for all audio CDs, does not allow for DRM.)

End of digression.

“At least not directly?”

Yep. Read this story in TechCrunch.

Seems that the tracks you buy from iTunes–or from LaLa or Walmart–have personal information embedded in the MP3. The post shows an example.

Who cares? Well, read the quoted section.

If you’re really paranoid, consider the possibilities: Could iTunes scan your library and delete any files that don’t have the right username?

Seems unlikely, but…

Maybe no more unlikely than, say, Amazon deleting an ebook from your Kindle…

Updated 4/23/10, to remove idiot error in post title. Odd that nobody called me on that!

Cites & Insights 10:6 Now Available

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Cites & Insights 10:6, May 2010, is now available at

The 32-page issue, PDF as usual, consists of two essays, each available separately in HTML form (click on the essay title):

Making it Work – Generations (pp. 1-11)

Lots of commentary about generation generalizations (gengen) and lots of commentary full of gengen–plus some discussions of cases where age, technology and culture really may interact.

Old Media/New Media (pp. 11-32)

Yes, it’s been almost two years; no, I didn’t give up on this theme. This roundup comes in three parts: Media in general (and specific media other than books, magazines and newspapers); magazines and periodicals (which are overlapping, not concentric, circles); and newspapers.

This issue is sponsored by the Library Society of the World, a sponsorship that will continue through June or July…after which, I’m very much looking for sponsorship.

Regular readers of Walt at Random may have noticed that I reviewed the final disc in the five-disc Spaghetti Westerns set. So why isn’t there an Offtopic Perspective in this issue? Because I wanted two “real” perspectives and didn’t want a 40-page issue…look for it in a later issue.

Discovering Scalzi (or not)

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

I’m not about to start doing book reviews here on a regular basis–especially because I’m back to reading a book a week (most weeks), but they’re a somewhat random lot and mostly not all that recent. (“Somewhat random”: I usually borrow one mainstream fiction book that looks interesting, one book that alternates between mystery and science fiction–that is, either a mystery or a science fiction book–and one nonfiction book that looks interesting.)


I know of John Scalzi. I’ve been reading his blog, Whatever, for a while now (it’s been around for a long time, but I only discovered it in 2006). I know he’s a science fiction writer.

But I’m so far behind on novel-length science fiction that I’ll never catch up. I read the “big three” science fiction magazines (in scare quotes because none of them has enough circulation any more to be considered big in any traditional sense), usually 2-3 months behind. That means I’m aware of many, maybe most, recent short-fiction writers–but less aware of those who focus on novels.

In Scalzi’s case, it’s a little different: He writes short fiction, but he doesn’t submit his work to the big three, apparently, because they won’t accept electronic submissions. (He’s written about this, and the whole thing is somewhat hilarious. Let’s just say that the big three don’t exactly pay so well that they can dictate terms–and, this year, they don’t even dominate the major award nominations.)

So I’ve been aware of his voice as a nonfiction writer, but not really as a fiction writer.

The third book I picked up last time I was at Livermore Public was Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream.

I will definitely be reading more Scalzi, and assume that most of the novels will be more serious than this one. (If they’re funnier, I’m in trouble–I was laughing out loud fairly frequently, something I rarely do when reading a book.)

I won’t even attempt to summarize the book, or tout its merits. You might or might not find it to your liking. If you love Scalzi’s serious military SF…well, this book does involve military issues, and it is science fiction, but serious? Not so much.

I pick up two lessons here, actually, and they’re both for me:

  • Sometimes a good blog can lead to good books. I don’t know that I would have picked this up if I hadn’t been reading Whatever.
  • I don’t read Amazon reviews until after I’ve read the book–just as I don’t read IMDB reviews until after I’ve seen the movie. This book renews my conviction that, for me at least, this is the right course of action. (Not because it got generally negative reviews; the reverse is true, actually.)

I’m pretty nearly certain that this book isn’t the start of a series. That’s probably a good thing. While humorous science fiction/fantasy series can work (see Discworld), they can also turn into rote exercises fairly quickly. My sense is that Scalzi isn’t interested in churning it out or being pigeonholed–also a good thing.