Archive for June, 2010

Legends of Horror, Discs 3 and 4

Posted in Movies and TV on June 3rd, 2010

Two discs only because the second consists entirely of flicks I’ve already reviewed (in the Alfred Hitchcock set).

Disc 3

End of the World, 1977, color. John Hayes (dir.), Christopher Lee, Sue Lyon, Kirk Scott, Dean Jagger, Lew Ayres, Macdonald Carey. 1:28 [1:26]

More low-budget scifi (not science fiction) than horror, but I suppose Christopher Lee in a dual role gets it into this category. The story, such as it is: A professor (Scott) studying mysterious transmissions from outer space (and occasionally in contact with a government man working along the same lines) also finds mysterious transmissions to outer space—and suddenly begins decoding the outer-space transmissions, which appear to be notes of natural disasters, repeated three times. Accurate notes of disasters shortly before they happen…

Ah, but his boss doesn’t want him wasting time on this nonsense, he wants him on a lecture tour extolling the thrills of space science, so more people will earn appropriate degrees—and his beautiful wife likes the idea as well. There’s some odd sex play in the movie (he postpones going to an award banquet to Get Down, and his wife (Lyon) says something about “why didn’t this happen ten years ago?”), although no actual sex or nudity.

Anyway…he goes off with his wife, on their own, to check out the two locations where transmissions to outer space occurred. One is a seemingly harmless convent visited in broad daylight; the other, 40 miles away, is a fenced facility…and somehow it’s now the middle of the night. This allows for them creeping around mostly in the dark, the two getting separated, and the wife doing some choice screaming when she thinks she’s trapped. Oh, and a mild surprise as to where they actually are…

We wind up with the two back at the convent, which Is Not What It Seems, and a slow-moving plot (very slow-moving plot) involving stranded aliens (whose motivation keeps changing and who combine total peacefulness with remarkable viciousness), the odd coincidence that this professor is probably the only person who can bring the aliens just what they need, some remarkably stupid scifi gobbledygook about what they’re doing (a time-velocity transfer, or something like that)…and an ending that I won’t give away, because it’s really not what you’d expect from a low-budget (but good cast) affair like this. Too bad Scott doesn’t seem to have any acting chops at all and Christopher Lee is phoning it in; some life in the acting might bring this up from $1.00.

The Fury of the Wolf Man (orig. La furia del Hombre Lobo), 1972, color. Jose Maria Zabalsa (dir.), Paul Naschy (who wrote it), Perla Cristal, Veronica Lujan, Miguel de la Riva, Jose Marco. 1:30 [1:23]

Ignore the sleeve description, which is a pretty standard “man gets bitten by werewolf, becomes werewolf, attempts to save himself” plot. This flick is a little different—a professor returns from a Tibetan expedition, in which everybody else died and he was attacked by a Yeti, with a wound on his chest. If the wound turns into a perfect pentagon, he’s to open a box to find a remedy—and the wound does indeed turn into a pentagon while he’s in bed with his wife.

As things progress, we have a woman doctor who spouts all sorts of nonsense about mind control from electrical waves and “chemotrodes” and her assistant, the beautiful and innocent girlfriend of an ace reporter; we have, as you’d expect, the professor turning all hairy at the full moon, presenting an odd mixture of attacking savagely, walking nonchalantly, and jumping about like a rabid gorilla; we have his wife being faithless—and her lover (both of them apparently under the doctor’s influence) cutting the professor’s brake line; we have bodies dug up from graves and returned from the semi-dead. And oh, so much more, including a whole denizen of experimental subjects who are either in a bacchanal, chained up, or sometimes both. Much of it is incoherent; the rest is mostly confusing.

Very badly dubbed, with frequently very bad dialogue. The acting’s mixed—now that I see that the hero (professor) also wrote the screenplay, maybe his mediocrity makes more sense. I assumed this was a German production (there’s a German paper in one scene), but apparently it’s a Spanish production set in Germany. Certainly a horror film, but mediocre at best. Adequate person-to-wolf special effects. Charitably, I’ll give it $1.25.

The Ticket of Leave Man, 1937, b&w. George King (dir.), Tod Slaughter, John Warwick, Marjorie Taylor, Frank Cochran, Robert Adair. 1:11.

That first credit, for Tod Slaughter, may tell you most of what you need to know—this is a Melodrama, with substantial quantities of ham provided by the ever-overacting villain himself, leer, evil laugh and all. But there’s more: Hawkshaw The Detective, which really should be rendered in Old English script…and, unfortunately, Melter Moss, a stereotypical money-lending, stolen-property-fencing but, mostly forging Jew, replete with chin-rubbing, big nose and Yiddish sayings, who doesn’t mind The Tiger’s murders as long as he makes money.

The story? Slaughter is The Tiger, the most villainous murderer and thief in all of London, given to garroting people either for gain or because he dislikes them. He desires a young singer—and manages to frame her fiancée in a forgery charge, sending him off to prison. When he returns, The Tiger has become head of a charity devoted to Ticket of Leave Men—that is, parolees, who of course are shunned by all honest folk. One thing leads to another and…well, there’s an ending. I’d give it $1 as a period piece, but the viciously anti-semitic role of Melter Moss pulls it down to $0.50—it debases an otherwise minor overacted melodrama.

Shadow of Chinatown, 1936, b&w. Robert F. Hill (dir.), Bela Lugosi, Bruce Bennett, Joan Barclay, Luana Walters, Mairuce Liu, Charles King, William Buchanan, Forrest Taylor. 1:11.

This one’s strange—and surprising. Chinese-American characters don’t—generally—show up as simple stereotypes, and the villains are Eurasian, most specifically the mad scientist who wants to wipe out Europeans and Asians and start his own new race. He also seems to have one of those magic television systems that can see anything anywhere, although in this case he needs to have hidden an oddly-named device in each room he wants to view (which, of course, is most everywhere). The mad scientist can also hypnotize almost anybody just by looking at them. Three guesses as to who plays the mad scientist…

The other primary character is a beautiful Eurasian woman who doubles as an agent for San Francisco Chinatown merchants—and a double agent for other merchants determined to put them out of business. She’s involved with the mad scientist until she realizes just how utterly evil he is…

Lots more plot, with a daring young reporter who wants to break out of the society pages and her irritable writer pseudoboyfriend. Oh, and an interesting plot point, late in the picture, when he informs her that he’s had her fired from the paper because, after all, his wife shouldn’t have a job. Really? In 1936? I also question the notion that you’d use a cruise ship to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1936, but it does allow for some of that great shipboard action.

Hard to judge this one. The print’s a little choppy at times, the plot makes about as much sense as you’d expect, there’s a little more stereotyping than seems necessary and Lugosi’s henchfolks are ludicrous. Looking at IMDB, I see what’s actually happening: This was a serial, originally running 5 hours total (15 chapters, 20 minutes each), boiled down to a 71-minute flick. Serials rarely make sense when viewed all at once. For Lugosi fans, maybe $0.75.

Disc 4

This disc consists entirely of Alfred Hitchcock films reviewed elsewhere. I did not revisit any of them.

Sabotage.

Previously reviewed. $1.50.

The Ring.

Previously reviewed. $1.00.

Blackmail.

Previously reviewed. $1.25.

Young and Innocent.

Previously reviewed. $1.00

A quick twofer

Posted in Libraries, Media, Writing and blogging on June 2nd, 2010

Two miniposts for the price of one!

Gold star

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this here blog received a gold star from Salem Press in its library blog thingie, particularly since they were very quick to move this blog from Public Library Blogs (!) to General Blogs (I was hoping for Quirky, but you can’t always get what you want) after I let them know…

(There seems to be no shortage of links to the Salem Press list, so the lack of one here shouldn’t be an issue.)

Quick expert advice from librarians about web tools

Here’s an easy two-part test for modern librarians–or, better yet, just those who are considered web specialists. They’re honest questions, and presumably y’all should be able to answer them on the spot, in the comments:

  1. I have a fully-formatted book ms. done using Word 2007, but also in PDF. How do I convert it to epub (without DRM), retaining as much of the formatting as possible? I even have Calibre, if that helps.
  2. OK, so I have the new Facebook privacy tools now, but I just looked at my Privacy settings and I don’t understand what’s going on here:

Facebook Privileges
Note: This is a straight screen capture, cropped but with no other changes. You may have to scroll right to see what I’m really interested in.

To wit: What does “Other” mean? How can I find out?

I await responses with some interest. Based on other discussions, I assume that any employable web services librarian should have answers…

Does every librarian need to be an involved expert on everything?

Posted in Libraries on June 1st, 2010

Maybe that’s too broad a question. Maybe a better question:

Is it really reasonable to say that librarians must be involved in something they personally find unsatisfactory because lots of other people are?

You can probably guess my answer–but I’m not really a librarian. Of course, neither would I expect to use a librarian as my first source of helpful advice on, for example, tax deductions, which church I should attend, how to improve my golf game, whether I should be concerned about this mole on my neck…or how to manage privacy settings in Facebook. In all of those cases, the library might have useful resources–but I see no reason to expect each and every librarian to be an expert.

The background

I found the range and depth of commentary about Facebook’s betrayal of its users helpful changes to encourage openness in December 2009 so interesting and so relevant that I put together a Zeitgeist essay on it, which will appear in the July 2010 Cites & Insights. (Out well before ALA Annual–probably next week.)

That essay ends at roughly the point where FB announced the new easier settings, with the promise that they’ll remain in future updates–a promise that I can only interpret based on past performance and the CEO’s clear, obvious predilection to regard everything as preferably public (except, of course, for his own stuff). (The changes haven’t “rolled out” to my FB account yet, so I have no first-hand experience.)

Personally: I didn’t quit Facebook, mostly because I have family members and a few other acquaintances that I can keep up with, to some extent, through FB. I did lock down my settings, trim my already-sparse profile, and renew my self-promise not to Like, Join, or use Applications–the “you don’t mind if we harvest everything you’ve ever done, do you?” alert always did scare me off. My so-called Friends on FB, something over 200 of you, already know (at least implicitly) that I rarely update my status or post on my wall–most of my stuff goes on Friendfeed, this blog or C&I.

There’s my personal decision–and my understanding of what’s involved. It struck me (and strikes me) as entirely reasonable for a librarian or anyone else concerned with privacy and corporate behavior to leave Facebook as a principled decision. I didn’t choose that course.

The incident

Stephen Abram posted “Today is Quit Facebook Day – for Dummies” at Stephen’s Lighthouse on May 31, 2010. (If you go to the link, be sure to read “About the Author”–about which I will not comment.)

I thought it was an insulting post, right from the first sentence:

I wonder how many info pros will announce to the world they don’t have the information skills to manage privacy by leaving Facebook today.

This seemed to me to say that librarians (“info pros” lost at SLA and I’m not about to use it) can’t reasonably quit FB based on principled objections; if they do so, they’re “announcing” that they’re dummies. Hokay. And I started wondering about this:

It seems to me that it should be a reasonable user expectation of librarians and information professionals that they should be able to manage privacy settings and use the full range of web tools.

Really? Every librarian should “use the full range of web tools”? Why? Well…

I also would expect to be able to receive informed, current and excellent advice and training on how to deal with the emerging social tools from my professionals in the social institutions I frequent (public libraries, schools, univerisities, colleges, etc.).

And here I come up short. [By the way, that was a direct cut-and-paste, not retyped.] Should I be able to take a workshop on Effective Facebooking at my library? Maybe. Should I expect that I can walk up to any librarian–every librarian–and get “informed, current and excellent advice” on every “social tool”? I think that’s unrealistic, and I think it privileges “social tools” over nearly everything else in life. I don’t expect every librarian (or any librarian) to tell me where I can find the best asparagus or whether I should sign up for Safeway’s Club Card. I don’t expect every librarian to offer informed, excellent advice on how to improve my (nonexistent) golf game. I don’t expect any librarian to be a source of current, excellent advice on which software would be best suited to producing a self-published book, and certainly not on how to use each program–although I might be delighted if the library (not every librarian) had a workshop on the topic. And I don’t believe I should be able to walk up to any librarian and say “should I be using Flickr or Picasa to organize my photos–and how should I set up my Picasa account?”

Abram then tosses in a stick:

Will they exit Twitter and Google too for collecting private information? I suspect that would make them unemployable. At least, ironically, they’ll be easily identified by professional recruiters and HR folks through the standard tools and the digital trail they leave as they exit and discuss their position.

Set aside the simplistic equation of FB’s deliberate undermining of its former policies with Twitter and Google policies. Is it plausible to regard a librarian who doesn’t Twitter as unemployable? Really?

I commented as follows:

This is a touch offensive. It’s extremely unlikely that any librarian is leaving FB because they can’t figure out how to handle privacy settings. On the other hand, it’s quite possible for a librarian, or anybody else, to decide that FB as currently managed is simply not trustworthy as a social network, and to leave on principle. Or don’t principles count?

Abram responded at some length. He started with an indirect slap at my reading abilities:

If anyone is reading this post as a direct insult to librarians’ skills, please read it again slowly. I am not a self-hater.

I didn’t say he was directly insulting librarians’ skills–I said the post was offensive. The interesting part is what follows–why “bailing is a very poor strategy for you as an individual or for collective influence.” Quoting in part–you can and should read the original:

1. Recruiters and HR types may not have that same viewpoint or see a principled stance as a plus for their researcher hiring to client’s specs. What justification is there for hiring a researcher who won’t play where the majority of users are? I doubt it will come up in an interview for people to explain, since they wouldn’t make the cut in the pre-interview screening process where resumes are fodder for internet screening.

Wow. First off, if I was an HR type, I’d expect a librarian to investigate claims before making them–such as “where the majority of users are.” Compete’s analysis says Facebook had 135 million unique visitors in April 2010: That’s a big number, but it’s nowhere near a majority of internet users. Even the highest number claimed for Facebook usage, by an ad agency, comes out to 35% of Internet users–by the ad agency’s own assertions. In what universe is 35% a majority?

And in what universe is it reasonable to say that librarians must be where the majority of users are? By that standard, it’s reasonable to reject anybody applying for a U.S. library job who doesn’t attend a Christian church or who doesn’t use Microsoft Windows. (Depending on your definition of “where the majority of users are,” you could extend that to rejecting anybody who isn’t part of a heterosexual marriage with children or, for that matter, anybody who believes in evolution…)

Apparently, somehow, social networks are special–so special that it’s reasonable to reject a librarian outright if they deliberately choose to avoid one. I find that pretty shocking.

I won’t fisk the remainder of the comment. I sense a little slap about retirees in there, and there’s a  little comment that seems to say anyone making a principled choice is using “common consumer mob revolt tactics,” but the key here is the assertion that it is the duty of every librarian to be part of whatever set of social media are the flavor of the month, no matter how repulsive or untrustworthy those media might be. (Well, and the factually erroneous assertion that Facebook is used by the majority of Internet users–or, for that matter, that it’s “the most global site,” which it isn’t.)

Have I urged anybody to leave Facebook? No, I have not, and I don’t in the Zeitgeist piece. Am I leaving Facebook? No, I am not. On the other hand…

Do I believe that it is wrong for a librarian to make a principled choice to leave Facebook, or that doing so makes the librarian unfit as a librarian? I do not.

And I think the whole concept that each and every librarian should be an expert on every hot social network or web tool needs a lot of rethinking. I think it’s nonsense.

‘Scuse me, while I go ask a librarian how to set up my router and which fluorescent lights will work best with dimmers. I assume I can ask any librarian and get excellent, informed, current answers. Right? And that I can suggest that librarians be fired if the answers aren’t good. Or does this only apply to social networks and web tools?


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