Archive for 2011

Book reading 2011

Posted in Books and publishing on December 30th, 2011

I’ve seen this minimeme for some years: end-of-year blog posts recounting the number, and sometimes the actual titles, of books the person read during the year. I never actually tracked my book reading, so I never participated.

This year, I decided to track the reading, partly because I (ahem) picked up a book at the library that I’d already read, six months or so earlier, and really didn’t want to do that again. Also because I thought it might be interesting, if sad, to keep track of just how little I was likely to read during 2011.

Just how little?

Yep. Because I knew I was going to write two books from start to finish and do a substantial amount of research and early writing toward the third one, and because I assumed I’d keep doing Cites & Insights and at least one magazine column, I figured I’d be lucky to manage 39 books during the year–more likely 26 or so.

The “39″ number isn’t arbitrary. Livermore Public has a four-week/28-day loan period for books (except for “7-day books,” which I assume are brand-new books; I’ve never encountered that shorter period). I normally pick up three books: one genre (alternating mystery and sf/f), one fiction (“non-genre”) and one nonfiction. I like to read across quite a few disciplines, and I sometimes really like books that are technically outdated.

The math: there are 13 four-week periods in a year. 13 times 3 is 39. If this year was as crazed as I expected, I’d drop back to two books per visit or start renewing books.

The reality

This surprised me. The total for the year–I’m assuming I’m not going to finish the book that’s on the coffeetable before Sunday–is 63.

That’s partly because I read a number of books related to publishing and editing as background and resources for The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing. It’s partly because I read a few items as background for the other books.

It’s mostly, I think, because with one book (and only one book) sitting there on the coffee table, I’d tend to pick it up after a few days–and in most cases I’d enjoy it enough to keep going. I never work on the computer after 8:30 p.m. or so, and rarely do any actual work after supper, so there’s always some reading time (since we typically watch 42 minutes to an hour of TV each night, other than Movie Saturday).

What’s suffered, clearly, has been magazine reading: I love magazines, and I take quite a few of them, but I’m also about 2.5 months behind on most of them. My current “to be read” basket has 24 regular magazines and nine science fiction magazines…and that’s about typical. They’ll all get read, cover to cover (yes, I’m one of those), but it takes time.

That really means I’ve read a lot more than 63 book-equivalents in print form. One science fiction magazine (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) has gone to thick bimonthly issues that are effectively a book’s worth of fiction in each issue. The others are theoretically monthly, with a little more than half a book’s worth in each issue, but in each case four monthly issues appear as two fat booklength combos. So I get 26 issues a year in all, and that’s about 18 book equivalents. (I’m probably 15 years behind on science fiction/fantasy in book form, but I’m in pretty good shape for short-story and novelette/novella writers.)

The details?

I’m not going to post the actual list of titles. It’s eclectic. I will say that. A couple of summary notes:

  • One book came from ALA as support for a book I’m working on. One was a gift from the author. Two–the only two I abandoned partway through–were old paperbacks that had been hanging around the house for many years (one of them I picked up on an “exchange table” at MFPOW; the other my wife read a few decades ago). The others all came from Livermore Public Library.
  • I count 16 “mainstream” fiction titles, 10 that the library categorizes as mystery (most of them from Nevada Barr’s series set in national parks), 29 called nonfiction, and eight categorized as science fiction/fantasy. Plus, to be sure, the 18 book equivalents of science fiction/fantasy in shorter form.
  • I found 25 of the books less than enchanting–nine “Meh,” five “No” (including the two I abandoned), two “OK” and nine “So-so.” In most of these cases, I should probably have abandoned the book at the Pearl Limit (in my case, 34 pages in), but I find that hard to do except in the worst cases. That leaves 38 books that I enjoyed, including ten that I liked a lot and 13 more that I liked almost as much. That’s a pretty good track record, given the modified randomness with which I choose books.

So there it is. A little more than a book a week–basically, a book every six days. Essentially, I’ve been going to the library roughly every 2.5 weeks instead of every four weeks.

I’ll keep keeping track–printing out a tiny-print list is a good way of avoiding duplicates (it will be quite a while before that list requires more than one sheet of paper every three or four weeks, so I’m not exactly squandering natural resources).

(Is this post another form of procrastination? Sort of. I finished a wholly revised draft of the second of nine chapters for my next book,  one of two chapters that’s almost entirely new material since I set aside the partial first draft to add another 3,500+ libraries to the dataset, so I’m in good shape. Lots of metrics processing today, but I might hold off on Chapter 3 until Monday. Sunday’s our 34th anniversary, and I don’t plan to work on the book at all… Meantime, happy new year, and if you’re around these parts, “avoid the 21″–don’t drive under the influence. Well, the advice holds everywhere, but the 21 police agencies in the Bay Area make a concerted effort over the holidays, with some success in lowering DUI-related accidents.)

 

When grandpa used 80 column cards…

Posted in Technology and software on December 27th, 2011

There’s a cute little item on engadget today, showing an IBM 305 RAMAC hard disk subsystem from 1956 being unloaded from a cargo plane.

This 1956 HDD was composed of 50 24-inch discs, stacked together and taking up 16 sq ft of real estate. The once-cutting-edge monstrosity was capable of commanding an annual fee of $35,000 and stored up to 5MB of data. Sure, by modern standards it’s a pretty modest capacity, but the RAMAC still weighed in at just shy of a ton.

The RAMAC was way before my time (as a programmer/analyst, although I was certainly alive in 1956). Notably, when some of us library nerd types tried to compare contemporary disk storage with “historic” disk storage, we looked at the first really widespread removable-cartridge drive, IBM’s Winchester (3340), a 1973 design for use with the System/370 that stored 35 or 70 megabytes. (It wasn’t the first removable drive–but it was the first sealed disk pack, so that it was removable in ordinary use.) The name Winchester–IBM’s code name during development–was supposedly coined because the original design had two removable 30-megabyte modules, thus 30-30, like the famous rifle. (For lots more on removable and other IBM mag disk drives, see Wikipedia–this is one of the kinds of things that source does exceptionally well.)

Ah, the comments

As is frequently the case, the comments on the engadget piece can be more interesting than the article itself. (I haven’t looked at the discussion page for the Wikipedia article, but I frequently find those more interesting than the articles as well).

Ones I found particularly interesting:

You would think that storing the data on punch cards would take much less physical space.

That’s where the “grandpa” comment came in–the first response to that odd comment is:

According to my grandfather who worked with punch cards. This was much, much better.

I used Hollerith cards (the IBM 80-column cards that most people mean by “punch cards,” although there are several other varieties as well) for my first library automation system–the Doe Library’s circulation system, installed in 1968 and used until some time after I left UC (apparently because IBM could no longer maintain the collator)–and I prepared programs  on Hollerith cards in Basic Assembler Language and PL/I for years in the 1970s, submitting the boxes of cards at the computer center to be compiled at UCSF, the closest IBM System/360 available at the time.

Yes, hard disk was much, better–but it’s also true that 5MB worth of data on punch cards would take up less space. That would require roughly 12 boxes of 2,000 cards each (assuming 80 bytes per card–that is, character-based storage). The problem, of course, is that retrieval of the data you want from 11 boxes of cards is excruciatingly slow. The circ system only worked because I designed a keypunch algorithm that meant that the couple of hundred thousand cards showing circulating items could be sorted into absolute call number order (combining Berkeley’s five or more call number systems in use at the time), so that pages could look up individual books by hand. That was feasible; finding an individual book “by computer” wasn’t, at the time.

Another comment says “5MBs would have required 65,536 punched cards”–in other words, 12.5 boxes–that would be a stack of cards 12-18 meters high. That’s silly, of course: You’d never store cards in one vertical stack. You’d have a stack of boxes, and that stack would be manageable, but absurd for individual retrieval. (We had a U-shaped space in the circulation area with tub files–open card drawers–on two of the three walls, the equipment on the third. The set of tub files was the equivalent of, I think, 100 boxes.)

But then there’s this:

An 80 column punch card held 960 bytes, so this replaced over 5,000 cards.

Um…no. An 80 column punch card used for binary data would hold 960 bits (80×12), not bytes, so it would take around 44,000 cards to hold that much data in pure binary form (and it would be even harder to retrieve it, since each card would be meaningless).

The 30-year difference

The multiperson effort to compare size and cost of today’s hard disks with those of the 1970s was not entirely successful, as I remember. Here’s a 30-year comparison, however, based on the inclusion of prices for later IBM disk drives.

The IBM 3380 began shipping in October 1981 and was apparently IBM’s first multi-gigabyte disk drive. A 2.52-gigabyte unit cost $81,000 and up.

If I drop by Fry’s Electronics I can pick up a name-brand external 3TB hard drive for $200; it would be less, but prices are high because flooding has affected the factories of most manufacturers.

Let’s see. Assume that “2.55GB” uses traditional 1,024 orders of magnitude, so we’ll round that capacity up to 2.7GB. So you’d need about 1,100 3380s to offer the storage of one Seagate GoFlex external hard drive. Those 1,100 drives would cost a bit more than $89 million dollars. I won’t even begin to speculate on the space required for those drives, the amount you’d pay for controllers to make them all work together, or the cost of power to run them.

Today’s external hard drive gives you 445,500 times the storage per dollar–and consumes almost no space or power. (The GoFlex has to be plugged in, I think, but there are certainly external drives that don’t cost much more and rely on the USB connection for power.)

Do I miss Hollerith cards? Not so much. (Am I old enough to be a grandfather? Yes indeed. Am I procrastinating slightly on rewriting the second chapter of my next book? Well, yes, but I’ll go work on it now…)


Hat tip to Michael Sauers for tweeting about the engadget item.

Mystery Collection Disc 28

Posted in Movies and TV on December 23rd, 2011

Shoot to Kill, 1947, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Russell Wade, Luana Walters, Edmund MacDonald, Robert Kent, Vince Barnett, Nestor Paiva, Charles Trowbridge. 1:04.

The first in a quartet of barely-feature-length films, all just over an hour. This one is all told in flashback by a woman in a hospital bed, there after surviving a car crash following a police chase and shootout—a chase in which her husband (the incoming district attorney) and a gangster (escaped from prison, where he was sent for a murder in a case tried by the husband) both die. She tells the story to a newspaper reporter who’s obviously much more than that.

It’s quite a story: Civic corruption on a grand scale, crooks battling crooks, a phony marriage (to avoid bigamy)…and ever so much more. It’s mostly fast moving and it holds together quite well. While it’s not a great film, it’s well-made, well-acted and more plausible than quite a few of this ilk. Oh yes: There are two musical numbers written and performed by pianist Gene Rodgers, who is damn good. I’ll give it $1.50.

Shadows on the Stairs, 1941, b&w. D. Ross Lederman (dir.), Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce lester, Miles Mander, Lumsden Hare, Turhan Bey, Mary Field. 1:04.

An odd one indeed, mostly set in a London boarding house (explicitly identified as 1937, I guess to make it explicitly pre-war) but starting with a mysterious scene on the docks. So many people seem involved in various shenanigans, mostly with no apparent purpose, that it’s hard to either follow the plot or perceive that there is a plot. There are various subplots (possible adultery being one), but nothing that really hangs together.

Indeed, that’s true for about half of the film: All very odd, little of it leading much of anywhere. Then the murders and suicides, and cursory police work from an idiot police sergeant, begin and, well, it doesn’t hang together very well even then. The surprise ending makes it all sensible, or maybe not.

Here’s the thing: Silly and confusing as it all is, it’s also well played. It’s a trifle with an odd, meandering plot, but the print is excellent and I’ll give it $1.25.

Prison Train, 1938, b&w. Gordon Wiles (dir.), Fred Keating, Dorothy Comingore, Clarence Muse, Faith Bacon, Alexander Leftwich. 1:04.

The hero (?) of this brief, not especially mysterious, flick is a racketeer, who runs the policy (numbers) racket, also owns a nightclub and is a charmer. A rival nightclub-owner/racketeer wants to bring him down and agrees to cooperate with the crusading DA (you know, the kind of crusader who goes out looking for racketeers as compatriots).

The “taking down the numbers man” plot never amounts to much. Instead, we have the racketeer’s lovely and innocent sister, the handsome lawyer son of the rival crook, and a sequence that results in the racketeer “accidentally” killing the son. (Hey, he only meant to teach him a lesson…) And getting sent up for it. And the father—the rival racketeer—trying to shoot the first racketeer for killing his son, but botching it. But the rival gets out on bond, even though he was caught in the act and is pretty clearly intent on offing his rival. Oh: Side plot: The first racketeer was trying to turn the numbers racket over to the rival and go off to Europe with the sister.

Anyhoo…this brings us to the film’s title and the simple fact that filming on a moving train always adds class and interest. It does not, unfortunately, add plausibility, and the whole rest of the flick (another con on his way to Alcatraz keeps telling the racketeer that he’ll never make it to the last stop; he doesn’t; there are lots of complications along the way) just seemed to amount to very little. It seemed a lot longer than it actually was. I’m being charitable with $1.00.

They Never Come Back, 1932, b&w. Fred C. Newmeyer (dir.), Regis Toomey, Dorothy Sebastian, Edward Woods, Greta Granstedt, Earle Foxe. 1:04 [1:02]

The title refers to the idea that boxers never successfully return to the ring once they’re sidelined with an injury—in this case, the hero’s left arm. That’s after ten minutes of somewhat aimless boxing footage; along with another five minutes or more later in the movie, that’s a quarter of the flick for which no dialogue or acting was required—which, in the case of this film, may be a good thing. In the middle, I think another five or six minutes are taken up with some really bad dance routines (don’t high-steppers usually make some attempt to synchronize with the music?)—so, in essence, there’s about half an hour of acting.

The plot? The washed-up boxer, whose mother died as he was preparing for the fight, is living with his sister (who he brought out from the mother’s house, I guess) and looking for a job. He finds one as the “assistant manager”—that is, bouncer, as he says—for a nightclub. He gets interested in a showgirl, who’s also a focus of the club’s owner, and meets the cashier—the showgirl’s sister. Before too long, we get a scene where the cashier asks the bouncer to hold the fort while the cashier runs an errand; at the end of the evening, the house is $500 short and, lo and behold, there’s the money in the bouncer’s jacket. It’s a frame, of course, but he winds up spending six months in the joint (apparently without benefit of trial). During those months, the showgirl comes to see him every week.

Partway through, the cashier admits to his sister (the showgirl) that he framed the boxer, because he had to: He’d “borrowed” $1,000 from the club and knew he’d be sent to jail if he didn’t do the frame. The sister figures she’d better play ball…

Anyway, the boxer gets out, sees the sister with the owner, finds out that his sister and the cashier are an item (I think that happens earlier), and—rather than knocking the cashier’s block off for framing him—goes to sign up for a fight to get the $1,000 to clear the cashier. It all winds up with a big fight at the club and, apparently, all living happily ever after.

That’s way more description than this sad little flick deserves. No mystery, no drama, nothing of any particular interest, and not much in the way of acting. Unless you’re heavy into poorly-filmed boxing or are a big Regis Toomey fan, there’s nothing here. Generously, $0.75.

Deadlines

Posted in Writing and blogging on December 22nd, 2011

Until October 2011, deadlines were important to my non-work life–deadlines, that is, in addition to the usual deadlines (such as taxes, payments…).

I specify non-work in the sense of “not part of your salaried day job,” since I’m not really thinking about all those deadlines. You could make the case that anything with a deadline is, in some way, work, but let’s not go there.

For me, overlapping and multiple deadlines were important enough that I’ve kept a printed Current Schedule spreadsheet, covering 108 days from when the current one is printed, for probably more than a decade now.

Why 108 days? At the row height I used in Excel, from the beginning of the page, 54 rows plus a heading row fit nicely on a single sheet, and the sheet is two date-columns wide. Five columns in all–two each of dates and projects, one of actual deadlines.

The spreadsheet was good because it kept me on track, and because crossing things off is always satisfying. I would usually allocate five days for a column, seven days for Cites & Insights, and so on–and would have bolded “finish point” dates that were usually a little ahead of the actual hard deadline over in the rightmost column. Soft deadlines (e.g., books, which typically have deadlines at least six months out, and articles without firm commitments, where the deadline’s purely internal) had working days scattered throughout the available time–and I made sure there were “Slack” days as well as, of course, travel days.

I still keep the current schedule, but now it’s a little odd. I have one fairly firm deadline, for a book–and that one’s still more than three months out.

Laziness, Procrastination and Deadlines

I consider myself fairly lazy (but also, at times, fairly efficient). I’m a whiz at procrastination. And deadlines in the form of a printed schedule (if you want to call me a Luddite, that’s your call) helped. A lot.

True confession: This post is at least partly procrastination. I finished the expanded research for my libraries-in-social-networks book Tuesday, took a day off Wednesday before starting on the new metrics and wholly revised manuscript–and find that I’m not quite ready to get going yet. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, there’s LSW/FF, video poker, reading…and this post. Well, OK, I did prepare two initial derivative spreadsheets (one as a “self-benchmark,” representing the 40-odd libraries where people sent me comments and clearly thought their social network presences were successful, the other combining Fall 2011 checks of 5,961 public libraries in 38 states, not including the 17 libraries where I received direct comments but the libraries aren’t within those 38 states), but that’s a pretty small start.

Here’s the thing: Most editors would say I’m absurdly good at deadlines–typically a month ahead for most monthly and bimonthly columns. I’ve missed precisely one deadline since I started doing scheduled writing, and I told the editor about that as soon as it was obvious I’d miss the deadline (I was a week late).

I figure I always kept ahead of deadlines because, for several years, I had so many of them that I figured that if I missed one, the whole string would come down like a row of dominoes.

How long have I been dealing with publication deadlines? I’ll leave out books, since those deadlines are both longer and softer. I’ll also leave out articles, since most of those didn’t have prescribed deadlines. Otherwise, here’s what I find:

1984

That’s when I started doing the “Common Sense Personal Computing” articles in Library Hi Tech–quarterly deadlines, but deadlines nonetheless.

1985

Quarterly

  • Library Hi Tech (four issues)
  • LITA Newsletter (two issues)–I started editing the LITA Newsletter halfway through 1985. Initially, this was a complex set of editorial deadlines (gathering material, editing material, preparing layout, sending off to ALA for typesetting, checking proofs) driven by the desire to have late writing deadlines and the need to meet external production deadlines.

1986-1988

Quarterly

  • Library Hi Tech–four issues each year (although one or two were combined issues or special issues that skipped the article)
  • LITA Newsletter–four issues each year. In mid-1986, this changed from traditional ALA typesetting, layout and production to desktop publishing, primarily so that I could increase the page count without increasing the budget. That change also resulted in different (not looser!) deadlines, and added to the workflow.

1989

Quarterly

  • Library Hi Tech–Four issues, but the running title was now “Trailing Edge,” as I gave up on finding common sense in personal computing. (Or, really, wanted a broader topic range.)
  • LITA Newsletter–Four issues
  • Information Standards Quarterly–I was the founding editor of NISO’s new quarterly. It came out–guess what?–four times a year. There was an Editor’s Notebook in each issue, but most of the work was trying to get copy, rewrite it, and prepare the layout (initially desktop-published).

1990-1991

Quarterly (more or less)

  • Library Hi Tech–still “Trailing Edge”
  • LITA Newsletter
  • Information Standards Quarterly — I gave this up after Volume 3.
  • Public-Access Computer Systems Review–”Public-Access Provocations.” PACS Review, one of the earliest Open Access publications in librarianship, wasn’t necessarily quarterly, and my column didn’t necessarily appear in each issue, but I did have three columns in 1990 and two in 1991, as well as an Afterword for the 1990 volume when I prepared the paperback version of that year’s issues (published by LITA in 1992).

1992-94

Quarterly (more or less)

  • LITA Newsletter. I was editing and producing this throughout this period–and for the last two issues in 1992 and first two in 1993, I wrote “From the LITA President” as well as the editorial (skipped in one issue). 1992 also saw the first and last LITA Yearbook, a 122-page paperback published as a supplement to the LITA Newsletter (I’d gotten really good at stretching a budget!) and essentially providing expanded coverage of LITA activities at the 1992 Annual Conference. This was part of the LITA25 celebration (for LITA’s first quarter century, although it was ISAD for the first part of that quarter-century). Around the same time, I also did the layout and desktop publishing for two paperback versions of LITA Presidents’ Programs (not my own)–Citizen Rights and Access to Electronic Information, the 1991 LITA President’s Program, and Thinking Robots, an Aware Internet, and Cyberpunk Librarians, the 1992 LITA President’s Program. I had a lot of LITA-related deadlines in 1992…
  • Library Hi Tech–still doing “Trailing Edge,” but adding “Looking Back” articles in some issues. Between the two of them, three in 1992, six in 1993, five in 1994.
  • Public-Access Computer Systems Review–two “Public-Access Provocations” pieces in 1992, two in 1993 (and one article), three in 1994.

I also prepared the paperback annual versions of PACS Review for LITA for 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994; after Volume 5, the series ended (although the journal limped along a little longer). My tenure as LITA Newsletter editor also ended at the end of 1994–and the publication returned to much briefer issues, traditionally typeset, eventually being converted to electronic form and shortly after that disappearing entirely. It is with sadness as much as pride that I note that I was editor of LITA Newsletter for most of its life.

1995

Quarterly (more or less)

  • Library Hi Tech–”Trailing Edge,” one article per issue.

More Frequent

  • Library Hi Tech News–”Trailing Edge Notes,” a new five-page section in this more-or-less-monthly (10 issues a year), but it began in March; there were nine five-page editions (I prepared the print masters using desktop publishing), always the last five pages of each issue.
  • CD-ROM Professional–”CD-ROM Amateur,” a column in alternate issues of this 11x/year magazine, beginning in July: three columns in 1995.
  • ONLINE--At this point, these were articles for this bimonthly (that is, six issues per year) magazine, not a column; four of them in 1995.

1996

Quarterly

  • Library Hi Tech–two “Trailing Edge” and two “Comp Lit” columns–oddly enough.

More Frequent

  • Library Hi Tech News–ten “Trailing Edge Notes,” one per issue, still five pages, still the trailing edge of each issue.
  • CD-ROM Professional–six “CD-ROM Amateur” articles, one in each odd-numbered issue.
  • ONLINE–still articles, not a column, four during 1996.

1997

Quarterly

  • Library Hi Tech–this year saw two double issues, each of which had both a “Comp Lit” and a “Trailing Edge” article.

More Frequent

  • Library Hi Tech News–the last year of “Trailing Edge Notes,” appearing in all 10 issues but growing to 8 pages starting in May 1997. It also lost its secure end-of-issue slot earlier in the year.
  • ONLINE–four articles, all PC-related.
  • Database–“CD-ROM Corner,” replacing the earlier “CD-ROM Amateur,” appearing in each issue of this six-times-a-year magazine.

1998

Ah, the heck with it, let’s just list them all…

  • Library Hi Tech–the two last installments of “Trailing Edge,” boiling down to “It’s Just a Tool: Fifteen Years of Personal Computing.” Also one “Comp Lit.”
  • Library Hi Tech News–still in each of ten issues, but now as “Crawford’s Corner” rather than “Trailing Edge Notes”; grew again from eight to ten pages mid-year.
  • Database–”CD-ROM Corner,” once in each bimonthly issue.
  • Online–four articles, still technically not a named column.

1999-2000

  • Library Hi Tech News–“Crawford’s Corner” in each of ten 1999 issues and each of ten 2000 issues.
  • EContent and Database–the publication changed name in 1999 (you wondered what happened to Database?) and frequency in 2001. I had six “CD-ROM Corner” editions in 1999, continuing from the old magazine to the new, and six in 2000, ending with “Leaving the Corner.”
  • ONLINE–after two standalone articles in early 199, I took over the “PC Monitor” column later in the year, with two columns in 1999 and three in 2000.
  • American Libraries–not a column, not yet, but I had four articles published in 1999 and four more in 2000.
  • Oh yes: There was this December 2000 thing called Cites & Insights

2001

  • EContent–the name changed to “disContent” and the magazine’s frequency changed to something like 10 or 11 issues per year. Ten “disContent” columns appeared in 2001.
  • Online–three “PC Monitor” columns
  • American Libraries–six articles, three of them with a running title (“The E-Files”)
  • Cites & Insights–13 issues.

2002-2004

The high water mark, and possibly the point at which more people felt they’d read enough from this guy Crawford. (The high-water mark for speaking was 1992-2001, starting to decline in 2002 before the precipitous fall in 2005.)

  • EContent–Twelve “disContent” columns in 2002, eleven in 2003, ten in 2004 (always one per issue)
  • Online–Three “PC Monitor” columns each in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
  • American Libraries–”The Crawford Files” began in January 2002 and appeared eleven times in 2002, eleven more in 2003, and ten in 2004.
  • Cites & Insights–Fifteen issues in 2002, 14 in 2003, 14 in 2004.

2005-2006

  • EContent–ten “disContent” columns in 2005, moving to alternate issues in 2006 (five columns).
  • Online–Three “PC Monitor” columns in 2005, four in 2006
  • Cites & Insights–14 issues in 2005, 14 in 2006.

I decided “PC Monitor” had run its course by the end of 2006. (American Libraries decided that “The Crawford Files” had run its course in 2004…)

2007

  • EContent–five “disContent” columns.
  • Cites & Insights–13 issues.

2008-2009

  • EContent–five “disContent” columns in 2008 and the last five in 2009.
  • Online–a new column, “Crawford at Large,” appeared six times in 2008 six more in 2009.
  • Cites & Insights–12 issues in 2008, 13 in 2009.

2010-2011

  • Online–Six “Crawford at Large” columns in 2010 and the final half dozen in 2011. One article will appear in early 2012.
  • Cites & Insights–12 issues in 2010, nine plus a one-sheet “special” in 2011.

And that’s it. I don’t see any outside columns on the horizon (although I’m open to suggestions). C&I is on hiatus, and I don’t see a regular schedule re-emerging for a while. After the next book deadline? Well, that’s an open question…

Hmm. At the very least, I’ve procrastinated away the afternoon or most of it. I’ll start on serious work for the book tomorrow. Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Library sweep done, done, done

Posted in Books and publishing, Libraries on December 20th, 2011

I’ve just finished revisiting 2,406 libraries in 25 states, four months (plus or minus two days) after the first visit–that is, visiting the websites (if they exist) and Facebook and Twitter pages (if they exist).

I also revisited 20 libraries where people contributed comments, three months after the first visit.

Combined with the 3,555 libraries in 13 states who only get a single visit (at least for this project), I’m now done done done with the actual research for my book.

Tomorrow: A day off (hiking in the morning, reading & watching an old movie in the afternoon).

Thursday: Starting in on refreshed and new metrics for the 13 states and the changes in 25 states, and rethinking the book (about 80% of which was written, and most of that will be rewritten).

Done done done. With that phase, that is.

And, to be sure, contemplating the fact that very little of the data I’ve gathered will be used in the book… But that’s gist for another post or three.

Making shopping decisions easier

Posted in Stuff on December 20th, 2011

I’m not a big DIYer or really handy around the house, but there are some things I buy at home improvement stores.

From where we live, it’s almost exactly the same driving time to a Home Depot and a Lowe’s.

The Lowe’s seems a little newer and a little more upscale. For most things we’d buy, either one would do (except for CFLs, where Home Depot’s house brand is simply superior).

But now it’s easier

Lowe’s apparently caved to a one-person “Family” organization–with these organizations, “Family” almost always belongs in scare quotes–that seems to regard American Muslims as probable terrorists.

Huh.

Home Depot still advertises on the same show that Lowe’s dropped.

Makes it easy for me to go to Home Depot.

 

Dear [some city] weight loss

Posted in Writing and blogging on December 18th, 2011

Here’s a special salute to your team of spammers, who seem to be managing to get two or three pieces of garbage comment, there only to tout your brand and links, past me every day…until I see them and moderate them back off.

The salute’s missing a few fingers, of course, but I trust you’ll take it in the spirit in which its intended. No, I won’t even name the city; it’s not my favorite, but it deserves better than you’re giving.

May your business shrivel and die.


Update 12/19: Based on two dozen or so spamments cleared this morning, starting with one from the “weight loss” troll but continuing with all different names but similar IP addresses (similar, but not identical), I assume that the troll is trying to punish me.

If this continues, the effect might be for me to disable comments entirely on most posts, relying on email for comments. Not sure how that helps the troll, although it surely hurts what readers I have left. Or maybe the troll just wants this blog gone? Could happen…

The trouble with transparency and the creative arts

Posted in Stuff on December 9th, 2011

Not a great title for this musing, but I’m not feeling creative enough for a better one.

What I’m getting at is this:

One downside of increased transparency of many people’s lives, especially noteworthy people, is that it’s harder to divorce the person from their creations.

For example?

I read many of Robert Heinlein’s books when I was much younger (maybe even young). I enjoyed most of them, not as great literary works but as enjoyable science fiction.

At the time, I knew nothing about Heinlein’s own worldview beyond what was in the books, and that wasn’t always obviously Heinlein speaking. (It’s definitely not the case that everything said by Isaac Asimov’s characters represented Asimov’s own thinking; why should it be true for Heinlein?)

Later, as I learned more about Heinlein, the man, it was too late for it to affect my enjoyment of his books–I’d already read them.

But I didn’t read Orson Scott Card when I was younger, and still haven’t. And, frankly, I suspect I never will, given what I know of Card’s activism and, um, sentiments, and given that I’m never possibly going to read all the books that are out there that I might enjoy. I figure I read about 12 science fiction books and another 26 booklength-equivalents (in science fiction magazines) a year, and that includes fantasy as well; there’s no conceivable way that I begin to run out of reading.

A tougher case…

There’s a country singer I’ve enjoyed quite a bit over the years. The name’s not important. His songs aren’t stridently political, and while he certainly indulges in gospel and religion sometimes, well, he’s a country artist. (Heck, I was an absolute J.S. Bach devotee when I was young, and Bach didn’t exactly ignore religion…)

Lately, though, I’ve heard that this person is becoming a known and significant contributor to a brand of politics that really doesn’t do much for me.

Does that make his music less appealing? Maybe, a little bit, yes.

The difference between this person and Card are, apart from pure intensity, this person doesn’t inject his politics into his songs to the extent that Card apparently (apparently–I haven’t read him, remember) injects his worldviews into his fiction.

And in general…

Once you’ve heard and confirmed someone’s stances and the vigor with which they pursue those stances, you can’t unhear them–and I don’t see how that can fail to affect how you read their writing, view their art, listen to their songs, watch their plays.

[Just as a socially onservative religious person who wants to know more about the St. Andrew's Cross and doesn't have filtering turned on will probably never fully unsee the results...]

That’s life. It’s always been true to some extent. I think it’s more true these days, and it’s harder to ignore the person behind the writing, the music, the art.

And sometimes, that feels a little unfortunate.

Not unfortunate enough to send me to the “Card” section of my library’s SF/F shelves, to be sure…

Texas complete–and a small surprise

Posted in Libraries on December 4th, 2011

The Zula B. Wylie Library in Cedar Hill, Texas (up to the comma, that’s the name the library uses) calls itself the “Door to Discovery” and serves some 45,000 people.

It has both Facebook and Twitter accounts, both represented by icons on the clean & attractive homepage.

And that’s the last of the 3,555 libraries in Part 2 of my survey of public libraries on social networks.

But I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the four-months-later revisit of the 2,406 libraries n Part 1, so there’s lots more work to do…

The small surprise

In the first 25 states, as of this summer, it appeared that most libraries did not have a presence on either Facebook or Twitter (excluding teen & children’s accounts and “community pages”)–more than 40% did, but that’s less than a majority.

Given that small libraries are typically less likely to be on social networks than are larger libraries, and that the 13 states added in Part 2 have a lot more smaller libraries, I anticipated a lower overall percentage.

That’s not what I finally found.

Indeed, including all 38 states, it appears that most public libraries do (or did) have a presence on one of these two social networks–52%, or 3,108 out of 5,961. When I finish the revisit, the numbers will be higher, although not (I think) a whole lot higher.

“Most” in this case is a bare majority. If the other 12 states were included, there’s no way of knowing how the total would wind up.

The bulk of this activity is, of course, on Facebook, although I believe I found more libraries in these 13 states that have chosen to focus entirely on Twitter. I believe the total number of Twitter accounts is around 800, or less than 15% of the nearly 6,000 libraries.

That’s as much analysis as I’m likely to do at this point, until I get caught up and a little ahead on the 4-month scan.

Since my only real argument with some commentators was the claim that “all” or “nearly all” libraries were on Facebook, I’ll stick with that disagreement. Neither 52% nor 54% counts as “nearly all” in any version of reality I choose to honor. And when I say presence, that does include dozens of accounts that haven’t seen any new tweets or updates for six months or more…but not, as it happens, a handful of Facebook pages that are clearly library-owned but have no updates whatsoever.

Box Office Gold, Disc 6

Posted in Movies and TV on November 30th, 2011

Callie & Son, 1981 TV-movie, color. Waris Hussein (dir.), Lindsay Wagner, Jameson Parker, Dabney Coleman, Joy Garrett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Andrew Prine, James Sloyan. 2:22.

The stirring tale of a mother who loved her son a little too much… Well, not incest, but that’s the key to this tearjerker that feels like (and is) a TV movie, but a very long one. Lindsay Wagner is Callie, who in the opening scenes is in a hospital bed after Being Wronged…and being pressured into giving up her baby for adoption without ever holding him (for $2,000 plus a couple hundred in prenatal expenses). She leaves Chillicothe and moves to Dallas, where she moves into an absurdly restrictive (and probably historically accurate for the 1950s) rooming house and takes a job as a waitress. Since she’s gorgeous and pleasant, she does well…including good tips from the wealthy newspaper editor (Dabney Coleman, in a wholly positive role) who never says much and always just has coffee. In a little side plot, she hires a sleazy PI to find her son—and he winds up decamping entirely (leaving an empty office) after taking another $200 from her.

Moving forward a bit, she learns to be a court stenographer; we then see her doing the stenography for a deposition involving—guess who? He suggests coffee, they talk, he realizes she’s the former waitress, and a little while later she’s the Cinderella who’s married the prince (and is received badly by the local elite). Further down the line, she becomes pregnant, then miscarries and can’t bear children; eventually, she reveals the existence of her son. In the most implausible bit (in my opinion) of the flick, the editor manages not only to find the son but to have him returned to his mother, apparently without difficulty. (What? The adoptive parents didn’t really want him?)

And she turns into SmotherMom. She wants her son to take over as editor. The editor had planned to sell the paper, move to his ranch and run a few head of cattle, but she talks him out of it—and when, shortly after the JFK assassination, he’s shot dead in the newsroom along with two other newspaper staffers, she takes over as editor (after rejecting her husband’s drawn-up but not yet signed plan to make the paper employee-owned). She tries to get her son, now a pot-smoking guitar-playing slacker (Jameson Parker), to get involved in the paper; it doesn’t work.

Third section of the interminable plot: She gets her son involved in politics—but instead of marrying the Suitable Prospect, he elopes with a very young Michelle Pfeiffer (23 at the time, but she plays even younger). A few years later, as he’s planning to move up a rung in office, there’s a big party at the ranch with lots of dove hunting—and SmotherMom winds up shooting and killing Pfeiffer after a struggle (but just a little too late to believe it’s an accident). And a determined local DA gets a grand jury to indict the son for first-degree murder (there was adultery and various other nonsense implied between the not-so-happy couple). The rest of the picture is courtroom drama, remarkably unconvincing, especially when the rotten PI (who SmotherMom had prevented from becoming a judge) lies through his teeth to convict the son and apparently faces neither effective cross-examination nor background checking. The movie almost ends with the son”s execution—but not quite: She goes back to Chillicothe, adopts a baby boy, and we start all over.

Long description because there’s a lot of plot. It’s not terrible, it’s not great. Really good cast, pretty good print. All in all, I’ll give it a middling $1.50.

Dear Mr. Wonderful, 1982, color. Peter Lilienthal (dir.), Joe Pesci, Karen Ludwig, Frank Vincent, Ed O’Ross, Ivy Ray Browning. 1:56 [1:52].

I’m all in favor of naturally-paced movies, but this one is so naturally-paced that it seems to fall apart repeatedly. I think the plot goes something like this:

Ruby Dennis (Pesci) owns a bowling alley in New Jersey, where he sings in the lounge and has apparent dreams of being a lounge singer in Chicago or Las Vegas. He also writes the occasional song. He lives with his divorced sister and her son. There’s some stuff involving a frequent dinner guest (?), an older Jewish man who barely speaks but insists on full observance of rites; also some stuff involving the ex-husband, who’s apparently a leech but trying to get back in touch: Dennis won’t even let him in the door (to his sister’s place).

The mob (I guess) wants to take over the bowling alley for a big new development, and make it clear that they’re going to get it one way or another, one favored way being that it burns down overnight and he collects the insurance. Meanwhile, he’s taken to a daughter of someone who’se involved with the mob (I think), is seeing that she gets singing lessons and dating her in his own awkward way. There’s a Tony Martin cameo, very much as himself. Oh, and along the line, his sister basically disappears, quitting her job in a garment factory to go work with—what? urban rehabilitators?—and, I guess, moving in with a family of them. The son is a cheap street criminal who presumably means well; he has a gang ripping chains off of people and sells them to another cheap criminal in a boxing gym, getting ripped off himself in the process.

There’s probably more to it. Eventually, Dennis does sell the place, winds up with the girl (I think), the mom moves back in (I guess) and…well, the movie ends. Frankly, if I hadn’t been down with a cold, I would have turned this off half an hour in and done something more exciting, like staring at the wall. But fans of Pesci might enjoy it. According to IMDB, the German version is 1:56 and the U.S. version is 1:40. This version was 1:52—and I’m sure cutting 12 minutes wouldn’t hurt. It’s a German production, which may or may not explain anything. Charitably, $1.

Twisted Obsession (orig. El sueño del mono loco, also The Mad Monkey), 1989, color. Fernando Trueba (dir.), Jeff Goldblum, Miranda Richardson, Anemone, Daniel Ceccaldi, Dexter Fletcher, Liza Walker. 1:43.

There are some oddities with this one. First, it’s in stereo—unusual for movies in these collections. And I do mean stereo, not reprocessed mono: The orchestral score underlying most of it is well-recorded stereo. Second—well, it’s in English, except for a few minutes of dialogue in French with no subtitles, and it was filmed in Spain (Madrid stands in for Paris).

The plot? The very tall and very strange Jeff Goldblum (he always seems to do best with semi-deranged roles) narrates the movie as an entire flashback about a movie he won’t see, that shouldn’t have been made, that he shouldn’t have written. That’s right: He’s a screenwriter, an American in Paris, whose wife leaves him early in the movie for no apparent reason, leaving behind a son whose apparent indifference masks his total need for his mother. None of which has much to do with the plot.

The plot? A producer wants him to write a screenplay based on a “treatment” that’s one line handwritten on a sheet of paper—a line, as it turns out, that’s from Peter Pan and used in front matter to the screenwriter’s failed novel. The very young director (whose previous experiences is music videos) who wants to make the movie points this out and hands him an annotated copy of the novel—annotated, we find out, by the very young director’s extremely young sister (16 years old, but a very mature 16), who also seems to make any difficulties in the way of the film go away, apparently by various acts the screenwriter summarizes with the word “whoring.”

The plot? Oh, let’s not forget the screenwriter’s agent, a lovely wheelchair-bound 30-year-old who pretty obviously has a thing for the screenwriter. And who we later find also has some backstory with the director and sister. Nor should we forget the screenwriter’s final development of exactly the screenplay the director wants, which the producer knows to be unbankable unless a major star is on board—and, oddly, the screenwriter knows such a major star.

The plot? I give up. There’s also drugs, death, various forms of love, the seeming absence of any deep human emotions on the part of most everybody involved—and, in the end, it felt like an art film, in the reading of “art film” that keeps them out of the commercial marketplace. To wit, after one hour and 45 minutes that seemed much longer, I had no idea what the outcome was, I didn’t know where things would lead, but…well, but I’d kept watching. For those who might enjoy this sort of thing, this is exactly the sort of thing they’d enjoy, and for them it’s probably worth at least $1.25.

Summing Up

So here we are at the first half—or, really, not quite, since this 50-movie pack lacks very short films and so is spread over 13 discs. The first six discs include the first 22 movies; the “second half” includes 28 over 7 discs. (For the other movies, see the posts for discs one, two, three, four and five.)

It’s a truly odd set, a combination of TV movies, foreign films that apparently weren’t headed for stateside DVD release, and at least one movie that should never have been in this bargain set. There’s one absolutely firstrate film, The River Niger, and two very strong contenders, Christabel and A Hazard of Hearts. I count four more good $1.50 flicks, seven at a reasonable $1.25 and five at a mediocre-but-passable $1, for a total of $25.25. Ah, but as I look now, the prices of Mill Creek Entertainment’s 50-packs have firmed up a lot—I see $44.49 at Amazon, about three times what I would have expected. At that price, the first half is neither a bargain nor a cheat. (Of the three other films—two at a weak $0.75 and one at a miserable $0.25—the less said, the better.)


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