Archive for February, 2011

Remembering the humorist-essayists

Posted in Books and publishing, Libraries on February 27th, 2011

I know that I’m never going to run out of new reading, even at the increased pace I seem to be reaching (that is, a book a week or thereabouts, counting as “book” only, well, actual books)–but sometimes I want to take a fresh look at memories of bygone years.

I’ve been thinking about one group of writers I think of as the humorist/essayists, although that’s probably the wrong term. These are folks I read, as much as I could find, some decades ago and enjoyed thoroughly–and I’m wondering whether they’ll stand up to rereading.

Who? Five names comes to mind immediately, but one of the five is a ringer: He’s my age and only well known as an essayist in fairly recent years, and I mostly want to read more of his writing.

Three really are from bygone days: SJ Perelman, James Thurber and Robert Benchley. One is somewhere in between: Woody Allen. The ringer is Steve Martin.

I have a feeling I’m forgetting some of the greats from 40 years ago, when I was doing a lot of this reading; maybe they’ll come to me while browsing the shelves (a combination of short stories, since Livermore shelves those separately, and other classifications–maybe 813.54 or thereabouts? That’s an ignorant guess, since I don’t know Dewey worth a damn).

Turns out Livermore doesn’t own any Perelman–maybe he’s faded away more than I thought. The others are fairly well represented (at least three of them also in films, to be sure). My best guess: The first three will still be funny, Steve Martin will still be great, and Woody Allen…….well, I’m not sure how he’ll fare.

I’m pretty sure the political humorists–Art Buchwald and the lot–won’t have aged very well, and I’ve forgotten most of them.

These are idle musings, but I will start rereading some of this stuff soon. I never subscribed to The New Yorker, home base for much of the best of this sort of writing; maybe I should change that.

There is, to be sure, a solution for Livermore’s lack of Perelman–and for Livermore’s lack of Barbara Fister (I’ve grown to respect her writing and thinking so much that I really want to try her crime novels, but I want to read one before I go out and buy them), for that matter: Link+, the fairly large library cooperative in Northern California that’s surprisingly well integrated into the local catalog. I’ve never used it; that’s about to change, I think.

Amazing: A post about books.

(Yes, I have some thoughts about the current ebook kerfuffle–and about the extent to which public libraries have pushed ebooks and ereaders despite the lack of ownership that was almost certain to lead to stuff like this. But I don’t know when or whether I’ll post anything about it…there are others much closer to the situation, and at least one of them has already said “Why is anybody surprised by this?,” which is a good starting point for a longer conversation.)

Some stay, some go: Notes on magazines

Posted in Stuff on February 26th, 2011

I read magazines–print magazines, that is. I love good print magazines. Always have. The set of magazines I take changes over the years depending on my current interests (our current interests, that is) and depending on what’s being published, since magazines have been dying and being born for as long as there have been magazines.

Unfortunately, I’m one of those idiots who will read everything in a magazine, or at least start every article. That was particularly noticeable back when I was taking something like seven different personal computing magazines, one of which–PC Magazine when it still was the bible of the industry–appeared 22 times a year and had a book’s worth of content in each issue. I’m now down to one personal computing magazine (and should maybe look for others), partly because some have disappeared, partly because I don’t write much about PCs any more or really care about them as much. I don’t read Hammer Monthly either; the PC for me is now mostly a tool.

How many magazines?

There are, I believe, a couple hundred thousand magazines and journals published in the U.S….with at least two or three for almost any interest, no matter how obscure.

Right now, as of a key occurrence that’s part of what this blather is really about, I believe I get 24 magazines on an ongoing basis–one PC-related, five travel-related, three library-related, three science fiction, three audio/video related, and a whole bunch of others. Excluding one sort-of weekly that really barely qualifies as a magazine, I get 225 issues a year. I’m usually about a month to six weeks behind on “regular” magazines–and four months behind on science fiction & fantasy magazines, which I used to catch up on while traveling. Since I don’t travel much anymore, I’m reading them when I go out to lunch and sometimes at home, but the rate at which I’m reading them (roughly one issue every two weeks) is the rate at which they’re arriving, so the current ten-issue backlog isn’t changing much.

Ten issues? Yep. Fantasy & Science Fiction now publishes six double issues a year, each of those issues as thick as a paperback and with at least as much content as a typical book. Analog and Asimov’s each publish ten items a year, two of them double issues. So a typical four-month period will have eight to issues in all.

I’m trying to read roughly a book a week in book form. I’d guess I read at least two books a week worth of magazine articles–including roughly a book every three weeks worth of shorter fiction (although these double issues now frequently feature novellas, which at up to 50,000 words aren’t that much shorter than typical books).

Update 3/1/11: Sigh. My count was off–even apart from things like Schwab’s On Investing. Turns out that Money won’t stop arriving until November 2011, and I forgot that I’d tried another subscriptions-for-miles deal, Wine Spectator with its peculiar 15/year frequency. So it’s currently 26 subscriptions and, aside from one “weekly,” 240 issues.

So?

All of that’s prefatory to some changes, which may say something about my intellectual level or just my patience with imposed guilt.

I’ve tried a few magazines over the past two or three years using airline miles from airlines I don’t expect to travel on very often: Frequently, when your miles are near their expiration date, you’ll get an offer of subscriptions at roughly the two-cents-a-mile rate. Since magazine subscriptions are usually pretty cheap anyway (with some noteworthy exceptions, these days including all three SF magazines and, of course, Consumer Reports), it’s a bargain–if I was so inclined, I could even get the Wall Street Journal or The Economist for free.

Anyway, a year ago one of the magazines on offer was Harper’s–and I thought I’d give it a try, since I really haven’t been subscribing to those hifalutin’ magazines like Atlantic or The Nation or The New Yorker or…

That subscription just expired. I will not be renewing it. I don’t need to be told in every issue and damn near every article that I’m guilty, guilty, guilty, the world is going to hell in a handbasket (made by workers under inhumane conditions), and the glass is not only half empty, it probably has dangerous levels of lead. It just became too much of a muchness, particularly since the emphasis seems to be on what’s wrong and why we’re all to blame, not on any possible ways to improve situations. If you just love Harper’s and think I’m a philistine for dropping it, that’s your privilege.

Then there’s Fortune. I essentially got that for free along with an absurdly cheap offer for Money three years ago: $10/year for one magazine with the other tossed in as an extra. Well, OK…

Money either has expired or will shortly (I’m not counting it as part of that 24 magazines and 225 issues). I won’t renew it. I think it could just as easily be named Stocks and come out as a broadsheet: “Buy stocks. Buy more stocks. If your stocks lost half their value, trim expenses…so you can buy more stocks.” Yes, that’s oversimplified; so, in my opinion, is Money. Hell, Schwab’s On Investing (oops: that’s 25–but I don’t know that I count it) is more conservative than Money on the need for everybody to buy lots and lots and lots of stock. (We don’t own a lot of stock. We plan to keep it that way. We may be poorer in the long run, but we sleep a lot better.)

Fortune, on the other hand, surprised me–pleasantly, given that I’m not exactly one of the high-income moguls that might be its target audience. The writing tends to be excellent; the far-right columnists (not all of them) are fairly obvious in their biases; the investigative work is first-rate; articles seem to be “as long as they need to be” rather than diced & sliced to preset lengths. Their investigative report on the BP disaster is, well, let’s say BP executives probably were not pleased–and it’s hard to write off Fortune as some commie liberal radical zine.

So when I got a renewal offer for $20 for three years (that’s 20 issues per year–it’s a sort-of fortnightly), I took it. With pleasure. They must be getting a fair amount of advertising, since the thirtyfour cents an issue I’m paying can’t even cover the postage…

I’m not necessarily fascinated by business and making a fortune–it’s a bit late for the latter in any case. I do love really good writing and research. I used to read the sports section of the San Francisco Chronicle–hell, I used to read Sports Illustrated–even though sports don’t interest me, because the writing was/is so good.

I think the 24 will become 23 before too long: The airline-miles Wired subscription, which was (unfortunately) extended because the first-rate Portfolio from the same publisher folded right after I subscribed to it, has got to expire one of these months. It will not be renewed.

If someone wants to tell me that I really, truly should subscribe to some other Serious Magazine, now that I’ve dropped Harper’s, I’ll definitely listen. Whether I’ll do anything about it…well, we’ll see. There are only so many hours in a day, and I do plan to keep writing, reading books, watching TV, going for hikes and walks, etc., etc…

Major philosophical impact of this post: Zero. Sorry about that.

 

Feedback desired: Through-write or Segment?

Posted in Cites & Insights on February 24th, 2011

If you don’t read Cites & Insights, this post will be totally meaningless. If you do, only slightly meaningless.

Part of my editorial process is identifying source material that I’ll comment on later–”later” being when there’s enough of it to make a possibly-interesting overall discussion later on. (That’s for focused essays. Other items are tagged for Trends & Quick Takes and My Back Pages and Interesting & Peculiar Products, the “little pieces” sections of C&I.)

Sometimes–increasingly, actually–when I gather the material for an overall discussion and print leadsheets, I find that there’s really more material than will fit in an essay I’m ready to publish in one issue.

For years, I thought 7,000 words or so was a reasonable limit–but I’ve found that the exceptions, the much broader essays, seem to get more readers and more feedback. So now the limit is “whatever”–really about 20,000-24,000 words, since I’m trying to get issues down to that length or even shorter. My ideal goal might be 15,000 to 19,000 words (20 to 24 pages), but that seems unlikely, particularly while the condition of not getting any revenue for C&I persists: Cutting things down to size without losing meaning is hard work. And I’m fundamentally lazy.

There are two approaches to handling such a situation–in addition to splitting items before printing leadsheets into smaller categories (which I do a lot of already):

  1. Split the leadsheets into smaller groups, work through as many of the groups as will fit in one issue, then leave the rest for later.
  2. Write through the entire set in one pass (over several days, to be sure), then split the resulting overlength essay into two parts (or more, but that seems less like) that appear in consecutive issues.

I have consistently used the first approach in the past, most obviously in the numbered series (Writing about Reading, Thinking about Blogging) that appeared in 2008-2010. The problem with that approach is that later numbers in the series can be delayed long enough that things get confusing, especially as I find it necessary to revisit older subtopics. Some items simply never make it into the series.

This year, for the first time, I’ve tried the second approach–starting to write “Five Years Later: Library 2.0 and Balance,” realizing it was going to be too long for a single issue, but proceeding with the whole thing, which then appeared in two parts in the February and March 2011 issues.

I’m in the middle of writing the “first big essay” for the April issue–and it looks as though it’s also going to be too long for a single issue. I’ll try to cut it down, to be sure, and I’d really like to include one or two of the ongoing features (The CD-ROM Project, My Back Pages, Trends & Quick Takes) in each issue, but I also believe there are real advantages to throughwriting the entire essay. But that will mean cutting it into two parts.

Which works better?

For those who’ve read (or who go back to read) the Thinking about Blogging and Writing about Reading series and who’ve also read Five Years Later…

Which do you think works better, from your perspective as a reader?

Throughwritten essays will always (or almost always) appear in consecutive issues. “Pieced” groups of essays rarely occur in consecutive issues. That’s an advantage in that issues are more varies–but maybe that doesn’t matter at all.

As a writer, I find strength in throughwriting. It’s not quite as coherent a process as writing an essay in a single sitting (which ain’t gonna happen for any essay longer than 2,000 words or so!), but I think it yields more coherent results than pieced groups.

But I’d be interested in your opinion.

(“Nobody actually reads C&I any more except to do egosearches” may also be useful feedback, but I’d prefer that you send that via email; if, in fact, almost nobody cares about this stuff any more except as egoboo, there are other ways to use my time.)

Dummy post for comments on indexing

Posted in Stuff on February 21st, 2011

Just for fun, I’m creating this content-free post as a placeholder for anyone who wishes to comment on my previous post…noting that you need to avoid certain words within a comment, otherwise Spam Karma 2 will block your comment or, at best, moderate it as spam.

Gaming and Indexing

Posted in Stuff on February 20th, 2011

Prefatory warnings: You will learn nothing of any use about indexing from this post. You will learn nothing that applies to libraries from this post. On the other hand, you will not be urged to buy books in this post. It is a long and rambling post about a topic that some may find offensive. If I allow comments at all, you will find it difficult to comment without triggering a “discard, don’t even mark as spam” rule because of certain words. This is the “long and boring post” I referred to recently, and if you find it too long or boring, I can only offer you a Lehrerism of sorts–you’ve yourself to blame if it’s too long, you should never have let it begin: You can go right on to some other post. I won’t be unhappy. Of course, I won’t even know…

I enjoy doing Cites & Insights, sometimes more than others. I enjoy doing other library writing–again, sometimes more than others.

But there are aspects of C&I and of other writing projects that are at best dull, at worst so annoying that I’ll waste hours just trying to avoid doing them. A prime example is preparing index entries for each issue of C&I (by adding to a dummy Word document that consists entirely of index entries and page/section breaks). It’s necessary–I’m sure a few readers appreciate the end-of-volume indices, and I certainly refer to them in later years–but it’s a dull, repetitious drag, one that reminds me I’ll never be much of an indexer.

There are others. Preparing leadsheets for source material is one. The last time I did a major essay without preparing leadsheets, I wasn’t that happy with the results–the organization was too chronological and failed to pull together things that might have related nicely. The two-part essay in C&I 11:2 and 11:3, on the other hand, benefited considerably from leadsheets: The segments of the essay suggested themselves to me as I was arranging piles of leadsheets on our big coffee table. The sorting process is interesting, but requires frequent breaks. Printing the leadsheets is just plain drudgery, particularly since I absolutely have to do Print Preview for each source before printing “page 1″–since some blogs don’t show the post text until page 2 or 3 (or 7, in one case), and some blogs won’t really show me the post text at all.

There are others, of course. When I’m doing some big research project (if I ever do one of those again!), I can only work on it for an hour or two at a time without going a little more nuts than usual. And, for that matter, when I’m into an essay I’m really happy about, it rarely makes sense to write more than two hours at a stretch, both for physical reasons and for mental reasons. And there are Wednesday afternoons: After a long hike in the morning, I’m rarely up to doing much of anything “mental” in the afternoon.

Gaming and gambling

I found a solution of sorts, to this and to another problem, and that brings up the first word in the title above: Gaming. Yes, I know, most cynics figure Las Vegas and others just call gambling “gaming” to make it more innocent, but for some of us there’s a real distinction, one I’ve discussed before. To wit:

  • Gaming: Cheap entertainment, with known limits on what will be spent, with no expectation of “winning back” anything–or, in general, winning at all. The gaming itself is the pleasure.
  • Gambling: Wagering in the real hopes of winning, with The Win being a big factor in whatever pleasure is there.

You’d never game with more than a tiny fraction of your leisure income. Gambling is another question entirely.

I tried gambling once, in Las Vegas, more than 33 years ago. I’m not cut out for it: I’m too acutely aware of the real mathematics to be willing to risk significant sums, I don’t have the nerves for the action at craps (for example), I apparently don’t have an addictive personality (cross fingers, but so far…), and I didn’t really get turned on by the excitement of the blackjack table.

Gaming, however, is something else. My wife & I both used to enjoy going up to Reno two or three, sometimes four, times a year–usually visiting interesting places (of which there are a lot in Northern Nevada) during half of the day and playing during the other half. Both of us gravitated toward video poker, usually at the $0.25 level for me and that or slightly lower for her: It combined some modest intellectual effort with simple fun. We set a limit of $50 per person per day, probably 30 years ago, and never increased that limit–but we also never spent that limit. Back in the day, particularly when we’d go up in the winter via Amtrak, we could get such cheap high-quality hotel rooms and food in Reno that adding $100 per day total (which we never spent all of) to our total costs still made them cheap vacations.

We gave up on Reno as my wife’s asthma and sensitivity to smoke grew worse, as my desire for clean air also grew, and as the bargains diminished–although the other issues were the deciding ones. We went to the Indian casino where my wife’s niece works a few times–it has a good true nonsmoking area, although the video poker odds are mediocre at best–but the available lodging didn’t excite us and the local restaurants we’d use seemed to have gone downhill. In other words, after 20-25 years of gaming perhaps 4-6 days per year, we haven’t gone in two years or so.

Oh, I’d also game on cruises–not a lot, perhaps 6-8 hours a week, mostly during sea days for an hour or two. If any of the shipboard casinos had been smokefree, I might have played more (and my wife would definitely have played more), but…

How cheap is gaming as entertainment? Well, there were some holiday vacations in which the Reno hotel/casino gave us our room for three nights (or charged $50 for two or three nights), meals were good and inexpensive, and we probably each averaged $25/day on video poker (and occasionally other slots). At least once, the gaming money came from hotel points that I’d accumulated over the years, making the total gaming outlay $0 (less, actually). And I fondly remember the casino on Crystal Symphony, one of our favorite cruise ships (when we could still afford it), which at the time was operated by Caesar’s and had full-odds poker…but with drinks supplied by Crystal. At least two evenings, I sat at the bar (with inlaid poker games), played poker for an hour or so…and drank a free glass of DeLoach Chardonnay, spending less for the poker than the DeLoach would cost in a bar.

Were we really lucky in order to be able to get by for less than $50/day? Not really, as it turns out–indeed, the fact that I never once got a royal flush in 25+ years of playing video poker, and only got one straight flush during that time, suggests that my luck wasn’t really very good. (You should, on average, get about one royal flush for every 40,000 hands, and one straight flush for every 9,000… I’d guess I probably used to play about 10,000 hands a year.)

In fact, full-odds video poker, even if you’re not playing five coins at a time, has better than a 98% payback rate–better than 96% even without royal flushes. (If you’re playing five coins at a time and playing perfectly, the odds are something like 99.5%. I don’t play five coins at a time–and I think the constant advice that you MUST do so is bad advice for gamers, although not for gamblers.)

About that “always play max coins” advice. Yes, you will theoretically get a higher percentage payback that way–if and when you hit a Royal Flush. Which, if your luck is perfectly even, happens once every 40,390 hands. How much higher? Payback for full-odds Jacks-or-Better poker with max coins played is supposed to be 99.5%. Payback with one coin played (or any number less than five) is supposedly about 98.4%–but when I add up the numbers, I come up with about 98.1%. During all the time that you’re not getting Royal Flushes, there’s no difference–payback is about 97.5%.

But if you’re playing because you enjoy playing, or if you have a somewhat limited bankroll, the huge difference is that you’ll play five times as long at one coin as you will at five coins–and the streakiness of true randomness without memories virtually guarantees that you’ll run out of limited stakes much more often at five coins, before you have a chance to get a Royal Flush. How streaky? A run of mildly bad cards can make you go “down 40″–40 coins at one coin per play, 200 at 5 coins–in 80 hands, and it’s not at all unusual to go down 40 in 150 hands or fewer.

Oh, and if you do play 40,356 hands, play them all perfectly (the casino’s big edge with video poker is that very few people will play perfectly) and have perfect luck–well, at that point (having played 40,356 coins at one coin per hand or 201,780 coins at five per hand), assuming your coins are quarters, you will be down $252 if you’re playing five coins at a time…and $161 or $190 at one coin (depending on whether you believe 98.4% or 98.1% as payback). Try as I might, I can’t make a loss of $252 to be winning compared to a loss of $190. Ask me if I’d rather spend 1.6% or 1.9% of $1,000 or 0.5% of $5,000: I’ll have the same answer, and it’s not one that favors five coins at a time.

If you’re playing half decently, you should average at least 90%-95% payback…and that means it takes 2,000 to 4,000 hands to go through $50 at $0.25 per hand. In a casino, I doubt that I ever play more than 150 hands an hour or about 1,000 a day. Thus, it’s not at all surprising that we didn’t spend $50/day. I did have a three-year period in which I was ahead throughout the three years…which, it turns out, also isn’t all that odd, especially as I was probably only averaging 3,000-4,000 hands a year.

Long digression, I know…but not really a digression. (“Poker” as a search term here will find previous posts on gaming and Nevada, along with some entirely unrelated posts.)

Our daily vacation and the urge to game

We never owned a vacation home–with California real estate prices and our library-field salaries, that was never a plausible option. We also didn’t much care for the idea: Why pay for a property you’re going to use two or three weeks a year, and be more-or-less stuck going to the same place every year? We did, of course, go back to the same places year after year–although the most interesting vacations were those where we tried new places (as in “Seeing the world by cruise ship”).

A funny thing happened when we moved to Livermore, however. We found ourselves in the lightest, airiest house we’d ever owned, we were suddenly living in wine country (with two wineries in easy walking distance, two dozen in easy biking distance)…and, well, we suddenly owned a vacation home. A full-time vacation home, since we’re both essentially retired. Heck, there’s even a very good public library (which, although Will Manley apparently doesn’t see them when he’s there, always seems to have at least half a dozen people in the bookstacks finding books when I’m there, and usually even more–along with, to be sure, those in the children’s section, those working on computers, those reading in easy chairs and maybe one or two sleepers), and lots of reasonably-priced ethnic restaurants, albeit not as many as in Mountain View.

We haven’t actually been on an away vacation since we moved here in late May 2009. That will change–I’m not sure when, but it will change. There are several reasons (my wife has food sensitivities, we need to find the right catsitters, we think about long-term financial issues…), but one cluster has to do with our daily vacation. As my wife says, unless we’re really doing something special, why go somewhere else with inferior rooms/beds, more expensive and probably inferior food, and quite possibly inferior views?

I was grumbling about wanting to game once in a while, but couldn’t really argue with the other points and with the infelicities of most casinos these days. And then I thought about a very old CD-ROM I had–from 1995, although the software seems to have been written in 1991-1992, based on the copyright statement: Masque Video Poker. Back in the day, I tried it out and played for a while, certainly taking advantage of its training tools (it will show you the preferred cards to hold and warn you if you’re not holding them, and you can print out a long list of which things you should hold, in descending order), but it wasn’t the same…and I found the music and sound effects annoying.

Just for fun, I got out the CD and installed it on my current notebook (not knowing whether this antique would even run under Windows 7, much less run politely and well). It ran, surprisingly in a proper Windows window (resizable and all), and looking through the settings I found that I could turn off all those annoying sounds (which also speeds up the game).

And I found that I liked it just about as well as actual casino play. It doesn’t look quite as good, but it looks fine. I can keep the training function on (which I mostly ignore), which should make me a better player when I do go to a casino again (on a cruise ship, for example…or, for an hour or two, at Harrah’s in New Orleans during ALA, possibly), as I’ll have the proper holds ingrained into me. While it may be missing some of the excitement of a casino itself and nobody brings me free drinks, I never have to change machines because a chainsmoking yahoo has sat down next to me, I never have to think about earplugs from overloud music, the chair’s a whole lot more ergonomic, second-hand smoke is simply not an issue… [Since I drink white wine, the free drinks in casinos aren't much of an incentive anyway...]

…and I can play 10 minutes at a time, 20 minutes at a time, five minutes at a time, just when I need a break from something else. It turns out to be perfect for C&I indexing: Do four pages; play for five minutes; do four more pages; play for five minutes…and so on until done. I can just leave the game minimized most of the time, or put it on the secondary screen (great for printing leadsheets, which is mostly delay).

It also turns out that this game appeals to the numbers geek in me (I did have an informal math minor at UC…and it was the national math contest that kept me from going to the state National Forensics League tournament in my senior year of high school, which was the wrong choice but felt right at the time). To wit, one of the training functions is that you can call up a table that shows how many hands you’ve played and how many of each kind of hand you’ve had. If the game just keeps running all day (or over several days), which it can since its memory and CPU usage are so small I can’t even locate them, I can pull up a chart after a few hundred or few thousand hands (I play much faster on the computer–maybe 500 hands an hour if I’m playing full-time) and see whether my luck is improving.

To be sure, I won’t see a cash reward if I hit it big. I also won’t see any cash losses if I have a bad run…and I was never playing video poker in the hopes of hitting it big in any case.

For me, for now, this is a nice little solution. I’m not grumbling about the need for any old vacation anymore: we’ll wait until we both really want to see something. I’m finding a way to break up annoying tasks. And I’m finding out more about how real-world video poker works out. Yes, of course, I have a spreadsheet–one showing how long it takes for me to go through 200 coins ($50 in quarters) using my single-coin-but-with-variations-based-on-possible-streaks betting. (Yes, it’s a system; it probably costs more often than it benefits, but it adds a little extra interest. There’s a reason casinos love systems: Most of them are losers. Overall, I’d guess this one is too.)

Results so far? The first run where I tracked results until I was down 200, it took 2,425 hands: That’s a payback of 91.75%. I didn’t have the training line on at the time, and was probably misplaying some hands. The second run, where I did have it on, I suspect I was having fairly average luck: 4,382 hands or 95.44% payback. Thing is, either of those results tells me why I don’t go through $50 in one day: There is no way I’d play even 2,425 hands of video poker in one day in an actual casino.

And then there’s the third run. (No, I don’t keep the game running indefinitely–I like to turn my computer off overnight, not just put it in hibernate mode. I jot down the mark at the end of the day on a 3×5 card, or rather keep a running total until I hit -200 total.) I can’t say where this one’s going to wind up, but I can certainly see how I went three years being ahead. So far, I’m at 17,266 hands. I’m ahead 460, which means I have 660 coins left to play in this run. I’ve been steadily ahead since somewhere around 4,700 hands. That’s more than 12,500 hands so far: Easily a year’s worth of play. Sure, I could go through the remaining 660 coins in 660 hands, but more likely it will take at least 6,600-13,200…

What’s happening, apparently, is that luck is catching up with me: My overall results are tending back toward the norm. Beginning with, well, this:

I remember one time when some stranger passed by as I was playing one-coin video poker and felt compelled to admonish me for not playing maximum coins. “How will you feel if you hit a royal flush and didn’t have five coins in?” the stranger said. My response: “I’ll feel great: I’ll have finally gotten a royal flush.” And that turns out to be the right answer. It’s taken more than 20 years, but it still feels great–even if the actual cash return is $0.

I grabbed that partial screen using Windows Snipping Tool. If you’re not aware of it, you might check it out–”Snipping” in the Start menu search box should find it in W7 and Vista, and you can make a shortcut. It lets you choose any rectangular portion of the screen, make annotations, highlight portions, and email, copy, or save as PNG (default) or JPEG or another format. And, y’know, it’s already part of the OS, albeit as a separate program.

Interfering with other stuff?

So am I becoming a video poker junkie? Well, you know, for two years I didn’t play any video poker–not in casinos, not on my PC. I missed it, but only a little.

Now? Great for breaks. Great for parts of Wednesday afternoons when I’m too tired for writing. The biggest “waste of time” connected with video poker so far is writing this post. It’s not interfering with writing or FriendFeed. It might help keep me from doing huge research projects when nobody much cares about the results, but it won’t keep me from doing booklength projects. I’m actually reading more books now than before (yes, I’m tracking them this year), and we’re watching neither more nor less TV than before…although, if I’m tempted to channel-surf, video poker is a whole lot better use of that idle time than, say, Surreal Housewives of Sioux City or Minute to Spin It or whatever.

It may be interfering with my two-a-week old movies: I’m finding that I’d rather watch one old movie and spend a little more time reading, playing video poker, and out walking in wine country. I can live with that.

Oh, by the way: If there was any question remaining about my disputed claim that I live within two hours of snow: For this weekend, at least, 30 minutes is more like it. There’s snow on the hilltops in both directions. That’s as close as I want it.

I’m disabling comments for this post because it will predictably draw lots of spam related to poker and gaming…and because legitimate comments will disappear because of words in my discard list. Turns out I can’t even comment on my own post. Such is life.

Topics and Tags: An update

Posted in Cites & Insights on February 17th, 2011

I asked readers twice to offer comments on possible topics for the next Cites & Insights, taking a short break after publishing the current issue and feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of tagged items in Diigo.

I also raised the question on FriendFeed in order to get additional comments.

Some notes on some of the responses…

  • The huge pile of items related to Google Book Search didn’t excite anybody–and at this point, that includes me. I’m not even ready to prune that stack yet, much less cope with it. I’m guessing there’s lots of time before the settlement is “final,” whatever that means.
  • Michael Golrick said, among other things, “And maybe after you weed/look at/subdivide e-books, a plan will leap out at you.” Good suggestion…
  • Golrick also mentioned blogging and copyright (I’d mentioned copyright).
  • Steven Kaye sees ebooks as a moving target (certainly true) and thinks “death” discussions are too easy. In one area, I agree; as for deathwatches in general, well, maybe those belong in My Back Pages, as they mostly fall into the category of “Stupid Things People Say,” in the subcategory “…And Make Big Bucks Doing So.”
  • Colleen Harris also felt that “death of books” has been done (ahem) to death, and maybe she’s right…but I see a slightly different angle emerging.
  • At FF, there was discussion of the possible impact of Google Books, blogging, and social networks on the future of books. I don’t think I’m going there at this point, for various reasons…
  • And Steve Lawson said something that may result in a Bibs & Blather piece:

“I like essays where the author’s voice and point of view and biases and loves show through. So whatever you write about, I hope it’s an essay like that.”

It will be, Steve, it will be–or, rather, they almost all will be. The possible B&B piece? If it happens, it will be about the intended transparency of C&I’s personality–that is, I’m almost always offering my own point of view and trying to use my own voice, with no claim to neutrality. I don’t claim that C&I is a neutral observer; I tend to question such claims in general. (At least Faux News’ “We Distort, You Deride” motto is so absurd as to be laughable, where others aren’t quite so extreme.)

The second chance post included the ten most frequently used tags in my Diigo account:

  • gbs (Google Books Settlement): 195
  • ebooks 193
  • tqt (Trends & Quick Takes, a catchall): 119
  • blogging 101
  • ereaders 78 (and I’d guess most of these are also tagged ebooks)
  • socialnetworks 52 (but I’ve subdivided many of these)
  • deathbooks 43
  • sn-twitter 43
  • deathprint 38 (some of those also in deathbooks)
  • miw-service (a librarianship subdivision) 35

How times and tags change

That list was correct as of February 15. Even though I did, as promised, wait until February 17 before starting to do leadsheets and organize essays (actually, I haven’t quite started that yet), I did do some retagging, based partly on Michael’s comment and partly on my own waking thought: “A pass through the ‘ebooks’ pile may show me that a bunch of them should be tagged “reading”–and maybe it’s time to start that series again, with a different slant.” (That’s me commenting on my own FF thread…)

Indeed it did. With apologies for anybody foolish enough to follow my Diigo account and believe they’ll get broadly useful information out of it, given the asocial nature of my Diigo tagging, here’s what’s happened:

  • The “ebooks” tag no longer exists. Neither does the “ereaders” tag. Neither, I believe, do the “deathprint” and “deathbooks” tags.
  • Sigh. I need to go through and subdivide the 50+ “socialnetworks” items, but haven’t done that yet.
  • Ebook/ereader items were either deleted (almost all of the individual ereader reviews, all of the items from one blogger who’s now joined my small “quoting this person is more trouble than it’s worth” blacklist, some other items that either 404ed or just didn’t seem relevant any more) or retagged either as “reading” (because that was the primary focus) or one of six new subtags: eb-futurism, eb-libraries, eb-marketplace, eb-rights, eb-textbooks, eb-vs-pb
  • Of those six, all but “eb-futurism” have big enough clusters to make for large and interesting Perspective sections; two (eb-marketplace and eb-vs-pb) have enough to make whole Perspectives, as does reading.
  • I suspect the April issue will include at least one ebook-related or reading-related essay. I have no idea what the whole set will be–and, since that issue may appear as late as five weeks from now, it’s a little premature to say. (Who knows? Libraries or librarians could suddenly decide to buy The Liblog Landscape 2007-2010, enough copies so I publish Chapter 4, which is a really interesting chapter…)
  • Here are the current top ten tags, with the caveat that Diigo doesn’t always seem to update its counts very rapidly (e.g., an alphabetic list still shows “ebooks” with 41 items, even though clicking through reveals the true 0 items):
  • gbs (Google Book Settlement) 196
  • tqt (Trends & Quick Takes) 114
  • blogging 99
  • reading 72
  • eb-vs-pb 67 (how ebooks complement, compete with, or are claimed to replace print books)
  • eb-marketplace 51 (factors within the ebook/ereader marketplace)
  • sn-twitter 42 (self-explanatory?)
  • ebooks 41 [This is a phantom count: there are zero ebooks items]
  • miw-service 35 [service/services aspects of libraries/librarianship]
  • ereaders 33 [Another phantom count: there are zero ereaders items]
  • It looks as though eb-libraries (31) and ethics (28) are the actual ninth and tenth places–but all those counts may be a little off, and note that some items have more than one of these tags.

Thanks for your feedback. I should note that I have a new/old “waste of time” that’s actually making some boring chores (indexing C&I, checking & retagging items, printing leadsheets when I do that) much more tolerable…but that’s a topic for another, probably long and boring, post.


Update at 3:30 PST, Friday, February 18: If you’re inclined to go look at those sets of documents on Diigo, don’t be surprised when “reading” comes up a little short…as in zero. Looks like that might be the first big essay for April, and when I print leadsheets, I add an “x” to the tag so that I don’t accidentally reprint it later–since leadsheets can sit around for months if I split a topic or there’s just too much material. As in this case, probably: The folder’s pretty thick…

Box Office Gold, Disc 1

Posted in Movies and TV on February 16th, 2011

Let’s see. All color. Some dates in the 1970s and 1980s, although some also earlier. Mostly 84-94 minutes. Big stars in almost every movie. Thirteen discs to hold 50 movies, because there aren’t six short subjects. This can only mean…TV Movies, at least most of them, or at least movies with no significant commercial presence in the U.S.

I reviewed another set of mostly TV movies in “50 Movie All-Stars Collection,” and a generally good set it was, starting with the first-rate duo Divorce Hers and Divorce His. This set doesn’t get off to quite such an auspicious start, but we shall see. Why am I interleaving a third megapack, along with “Comedy Kings” and the everlasting Mystery Collection? For the worst of all possible reasons: Sometimes I just want to watch a color old movie, and there are precious few of those in the other collections.

Guns of the Revolution (aka Rain for a Dusty Summer), 1971, b&w. Arthur Lubin (dir.), Ernest Borgnine, Humberto Almazán, Sancho Gracia, Aldo Sambrell. 1:32.

I’m not sure what to say about this one, with Ernest Borgnine as the general in charge of getting rid of all the priests in 1917-era Mexico—and one would-be priest, very much a jokester, who winds up defying the general and revealing the lasting Catholicism of the people. Supposedly based on a true story, this movie seems unclear as to its purpose and mood, although it’s most assuredly pro-Catholic. Borgnine is, well, peculiar in the role of the dictatorial general insistent on freeing the people from the tyranny of religion. The rest of the cast is adequate, but I found the writing flat and the direction scattered. The picture’s fine. This is supposedly a theatrical release, but has all the depth and attitude of a TV movie. I come up with $1.25.

High Risk, 1981, color. Stewart Raffill (dir.), James Brolin, Anthony Quinn, Lindsay Wagner, James Coburn, Arnest Borgnine, Bruce Davison, Cleavon Little, Chuck Vennera. 1:34 [1:32]

A better title might be Four Idiot Gringo Thieves. I guess it’s a caper movie of sorts, one in which we’re apparently supposed to identify with four young men who decide to rip off a drug warlord in South America for a million or so. Hey: Four guys, most of whom have never handled a weapon, armed with various overpowered stuff from a friendly neighborhood armaments-out-of-a-truck dealer (Ernest Borgnine), flying on a chartered drug plane, parachuting in to open a safe (for which the leader thinks they have the combination) in a heavily-guarded estate, expecting to just go in, do it, and leave…oh, and they’ll do it during siesta, because everybody will be asleep.

What could go wrong?

Great cast, with James Coburn as the drug lord with $5 million (and a lot of drugs) in his safe, Anthony Quinn as the head of a scraggly bunch of former revolutionaries who are now just bandits, James Brolin as the head of the idiot gang who sold his house and belongings to pay for the weapons and arrangements, Lindsay Wagner as—it’s hard to say …and more.

Plausibility: Zero. Likability of the gang members: For me, not a lot more than zero. This was mostly people who felt justified in ripping off somebody else because, I dunno, they’re underemployed, at war with a high-living suave drug lord and a bunch of aging revolutionaries. Decently filmed, good print, but…well, I just didn’t see it. Apparently, this was also a real feature, not a TV movie, released in nine countries with as many titles. IMDB calls it a comedy as well as an action film; I really don’t get that. Charitably, $1.00.

The Cop in Blue Jeans (orig. Squadra antiscippo), 1976, color. Bruno Corbucci (dir.), Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Guido Mannari. 1:35 [1:32]

There’s this Italian cop (or “special agent”) who dresses like a bum and rides a scooter that can keep up with any car and can be driven up several flights of stairs without difficulty. He’s out to reduce the plague of purse-snatching and other crime—by going after the fences, which he does in an odd way. (And if you believe that, of a full busload of Japanese tourists, 100% of them would spend two minutes taking pictures of someone mooning them from across the street, with nobody paying attention to the guys putting all of their luggage in a van and driving away…well, then you can believe everything else in this movie.)

Add to that a misstep by the king of the snatchers, the Baron, whose own scooter team manages to snatch a briefcase from an American coming out of a hotel—a briefcase holding $5 million in thousand dollar bills. Without giving away the plot climax, I’ll mention the bizarro ending—in which the cop shows just what a good guy he is by, well, snatching somebody’s briefcase while riding a scooter—while violating airport security in a fairly outrageous manner. Incidentally, the IMDB plot summary is as wrong as the sleeve summary.

It’s all high-action nonsense, really badly dubbed (except for Jack Palance, the American) and with dialogue I’m pretty certain doesn’t match the original—and badly out of focus to boot. Palance is there for maybe 15 minutes and pretty clearly in it for the bucks. I’m being very charitable to give this Eurocrap $0.75.

Act of Love, 1980, color. Jud Taylor (dir.), Ron Howard, Robert Foxworth, Mickey Rourke, David Spielberg, Mary Kay Place. 1:44 [1:28]

Fratricide, euthanasia and Ron Howard (acting, not directing), with Robert Foxworth as a wealthy lawyer. How can you beat that? Well, a clear picture that wasn’t red-shifted through much of it (Howard and others aren’t so much rednecks, country accents aside, as red-faced) would help. This one is a TV movie.

The setup: Howard is the younger brother who loves his older (married) brother (Rourke), and both live with their mother—after their father died the previous winter. One day, Howard goes off to work while the older brother takes a brand-new motorcycle and starts driving it around the farm like a madman…including the uncleared five acres the two sons were planning to start clearing. Motorcycle. Uncleared acreage. Accident.

When the older brother realizes he’s probably going to paralyzed from the neck down, he asks his younger brother to swear to kill him. Which Howard does—by shooting him in the head with a half-loaded buckshot cartridge in a sawed-off shotgun. The rest of the movie is about the trial. I won’t give away the ending.

Great cast, reasonably well acted. The poor quality of the print—soft and reddish—hurts quite a bit. I wind up with $1.00.

Informal reader poll: One more chance

Posted in Cites & Insights on February 15th, 2011

I’m extending another invitation to comment on possible foci for essays in the next couple of Cites & Insights issues.

I’ll probably start subdividing tags and, once I figure out what I want to focus on, printing “lead sheets” (the first page of posts–I find the print version enormously helpful in organizing and thinking about a topic), on Thursday or Friday (February 17 or 18).

Right now, the top tags in my Diigo account are:

  • gbs (Google Books Settlement): 195
  • ebooks 193
  • tqt (Trends & Quick Takes, a catchall): 119
  • blogging 101
  • ereaders 78 (and I’d guess most of these are also tagged ebooks)
  • socialnetworks 52 (but I’ve subdivided many of these)
  • deathbooks 43
  • sn-twitter 43
  • deathprint 38 (some of those also in deathbooks)
  • miw-service (a librarianship subdivision) 35

Copyright-related items are already split into 19 subdivisions (too many!), just as making it work is divided into 26 (arrgh) and social networks are divided into six.

Comments welcome, here or on the original post. (And yes, I’ll always spend some time shooting fish in barrels, mostly in “mbp”–My Back Pages, currently at 23–but also elsewhere.) If you’re wondering, I currently have 1,398 items tagged.

Trolls I have known and ignored

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 14th, 2011

Seems like some interesting trolling’s been turning up of late, in library lists and posts.

Which might make this a good occasion to offer some irrelevant thoughts on the Annoyed Librarian(s).

Plural, because of what I see as the history–probably falsely, but that’s OK: when you’re dealing with a pseudonym, you get to make up your own story.

Back in the day, here defined as “early in AL’s blog, and before it had the imprimatur of Library Journal,” I once thought that I knew who they/he/she/it was/were. That may have been naive, and was based in part on one or more people coming up to me (that is, either one person or a group of people at the same time) and informing me that she/he/it/they were/was the AL, and swearing me to secrecy.

At one point, there was a popular guessing game as to the AL’s identity. One library person came up with the same guess as my thought. I did not, of course, confirm it.

Different AL entirely, or a remarkable split personality?

Here’s the thing, though: to me, the LJAL (Library Journal Annoyed Librarian) doesn’t seem to be the same person or group as the AL (pre-LJ Annoyed Librarian).

I can think of both of them as AL in much the same way that Darrin Stephens was always Darrin Stephens (those of you who don’t get the reference, get offa my lawn)–entirely different actor, very different persona, but the same name.

I had some respect for the pre-LJ AL, at least some of the time. I can’t say the same for LJAL, who I regard as a troll and attractor for LJ ads.

Heck, LJAL could even be a retired LJ editor, for all I know… (Say, now, there’s a rumor…)

I can only assume one of three things:

  1. I never actually knew who or what AL was, which is quite possible.
  2. LJAL really is a different group/person/thing than the original AL.
  3. It’s the same group or person, a group or person that incidentally has a very respectable blog or group of blogs, and that group or person has evolved a distinctly split personality and writing skill. (The good writing is saved for the respectable blog(s).)
  4. There is no AL. It’s the result of a clever algorithm put together by some librarian, most probably with the first name Pete.

What? Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Liblog Profiles 17-20

Posted in Liblogs on February 14th, 2011

And here are liblog profiles 17-20.

3 Geeks and a Law Blog

“A law blog addressing the foci of 3 intrepid law geeks, specializing in their respective fields of knowledge management, internet marketing and library sciences, melding together to form the Dynamic Trio..”Group blog. US. Blogger. Began May 2008; lasted 23 months (so far). Group 1.

Overall Posts

415

Per Month

18.0

Quintile

2

Quintile

1

2009 2010
Posts

50

92

Quintile

1

1

Words

26,744

44,734

Quintile

1

1

Post length

535

486

Quintile

1

2

Comments

136

282

Quintile

1

1

Conv. Intensity

2.72

3.07

Quintile

1

1

42short

“Sleeps with the fishes.” By “james” Blogger. Began May 2002. Lasted 45 months: last post January 2006. Group 4. No metrics available.

A Canuck Librarian

By Jennifer L. Cyr. Canada. WordPress. Began January 2004. Lasted 77 months (so far, through May 2010). Group 3 (GPR).

Overall Posts

676

Per Month

8.78

Quintile

1

Quintile

2

2007 2008 2009 2010
Posts

22

25

1

11

Quintile

3

2

5

3

Words

6,143

8,635

345

5,188

Quintile

3

2

5

2

Post length

279

345

345

472

Quintile

3

2

2

2

Comments

19

27

0

21

Quintile

2

2

5

2

Conv. Intensity

0.86

1.08

0

1.91

Quintile

2

2

5

2

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

“All I want: like Buffy, I want a chair. A fireplace. A tea cozy. And to talk about stories. Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea.” By “Liz B” (Elizabeth Burns). US. Blogger. Began April 2005; lasted 62 months (so far, through May 2010). Group 1.

Overall Posts

1,918

Per Month

30.94

Quintile

1

Quintile

1

2007 2008 2009 2010
Posts

145

56

118

107

Quintile

1

1

1

1

Words

36,290

16,662

42,651

52,738

Quintile

1

1

1

1

Post length

250

298

361

493

Quintile

3

3

2

2

Comments

474

161

294

427

Quintile

1

1

1

1

Conv. Intensity

3.27

2.88

2.49

3.99

Quintile

1

1

1

1


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