Archive for June, 2013

The mystery of spreadsheet sizes

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Thanks to Colorado’s Library Research Service, I found out on Wednesday (June 26) that the IMLS released the 2011 public library datafiles a little early. (I was expecting them some time in July, so “a little” is the operative word. Still: early is better.)

So I went to check the site, figuring I’d do my usual: Download the .zip file containing the .mdb (Access) databases, extract the database consisting of library data (as opposed to outlet data or state summaries), download the PDF documentation, then open the .mdb database in Excel, convert the whole thing to a table, and save it as an Excel spreadsheet for later use (assuming I do the Give Us a Dollar… project). The Excel spreadsheet would probably start at around 8MB, but once I peeled off the columns I actually care about, it would get a lot smaller.


First, the surprise: The data is no longer available in your choice of .mdb or flat (.txt) files, the latter requiring a form of string processing I’m not sure how I’d do.

Nope. Now it comes in SAS form (only for 2010 and 2011), .txt, and two other forms: .csv (comma-separated values, which Excel’s only too happy to open) and .xsl (Excel native form).

That’s not only true for the 2011 tables, IMLS has gone back and replaced earlier .mdb databases with .csv and .xls files.

Well, that’s one step I won’t have to include in the how-to chapter of “Mostly Numbers” if I do that particular project–namely, how to open the .mdb database and convert it to an Excel spreadsheet.

Oh, but look: The Excel spreadsheet is more than 21MB, about three times as large as I’d expect.


That was surprising enough that I went back and downloaded the .csv files. The .csv library file is about 7MB. When I open it in Excel, it looks precisely like the Excel spreadsheet (as it should, unless there are formulas hidden in the Excel version)…and when saved in Excel form, it’s about 7MB.

In other words, just about the size I would have expected.

What’s going on here? Unless somebody from IMLS reads this and sends me a note, I’ll either figure it out later or not. As things stand, I’m more likely to work with the .csv-to-Excel form (although I suspect that both would wind up shrinking to about the same size for the 15-20 columns I actually need out of the scores of columns that are there now).

This could be one of those Office mysteries, where if I delete and restore one cell in the 21MB Excel spreadsheet it suddenly turns into a 7MB spreadsheet. Or not.

Meanwhile, it’s just one of those mysteries.


One little note here on an entirely different topic. I’m generally not much of one for following memes, such as the idea of blogging every day in June. That’s a lot of blogging for an occasional blogger like me. I’d feel silly signing up for it and then not doing it (or having odd “post 23” titles on daily posts).

Whereas not signing up for it, and then (accidentally?) doing it? That’s just fine.

[No, I won’t accidentally write a 50,000 word novel in November or any other month. I lack the personal observation skills to be a good fiction writer. Could I produce 50,000 words of decent second-draft material in a month? Yeah, I think so…but November’s not likely to be one of those months.


Ebooks are only leased, not sold? That depends

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

On one hand, I appreciate the number of writers who are recognizing that many (most?) library and personal “purchases” of ebooks aren’t really purchases at all, since the “buyer” doesn’t actually have much in the way of rights to the ebook. That’s probably true for most Big Publisher ebooks; it’s apparently true for most Kindle ebooks and many others.

On the other hand…

Sometimes you can buy ebooks.

Lots of ebooks are sold without DRM.

Lulu never required DRM for its ebooks–and a few months ago, it stopped allowing DRM on its ebooks–if you wanted to keep selling ebooks through Lulu, you had to strip the DRM (which it had always charged extra for, as one way to discourage it).

Since mid-2012, Tor and Forge–both imprints of Macmillan–have produced DRM-free ebooks available through all the usual channels. Tor’s a very big name in science fiction, and says the change in policy hasn’t hurt sales.

If I had to guess, I’d guess a growing number of independent publishers are leaving DRM off their ebooks.

As far as I’m concerned, if an ebook lacks DRM, you can buy it. Do you have full first-sale rights? You should. Whether you do…that may be for further clarification.

My own clarification

Let me be clear about any of my Lulu-distributed ebooks (all PDF):

When you buy one, you own it.

If you want to make backup copies of the PDF, please do.

If you want to lend it to somebody else (presumably not reading it yourself at the time), feel free.

If you want to give it to somebody else (presumably deleting your copy), that’s fine.

If you want to sell it to somebody else (presumably deleting your copy), that’s fine too.

If you want to have it available on sixteen different devices that you use at different times or places, OK with me.

You own it.

As to the “presumably” clauses–I rely on good faith and ethical behavior.

Oh, if you’re a library: That one copy can legally, legitimately, ethically be mounted on a library ebook server that restricts use to one person at a time. You own the copy.

For cases where single-user restrictions aren’t reasonable? On newer books, I’m providing a “site license version” that explicitly allows multi-reader access assuming reasonable identification of a library’s or campus’ patrons/students/whatever. Those books will cost four times as much as the single-user version. The license is a matter of honor and good faith. (I suppose there are less litigious people than I am, but not by much…)

So when someone says you can’t buy ebooks….the proper answer is “That depends.” Sometimes you can. I have a feeling “sometimes” will grow.


Friday, June 28th, 2013

As I continue a scan of public library websites, normally using Bing to find them, I sometimes run into this “description” under the sitename and URL:

We would like to show you a description here, but the site you’re looking at won’t allow us.

A nicely nontechnical way of putting it.

Here’s how Google deals with the same site:

A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txtlearn more.

DuckDuckGo? Well…it doesn’t show the obvious first result for the search (first in both Bing and Google)–at least not within the first 50 results. (Is it possible that DDG doesn’t index sites with that robots.txt setting?)

Blekko, which does show the library’s homepage as the first result, has precisely the same text as Bing.

So does Yahoo! (same first result, same text), but since Yahoo! uses Bing as a search engine, that’s not surprising.

All of this is just curious–and I find myself curious about two things:

  1. Why doesn’t DuckDuckGo return the library’s homepage anywhere within the first (very long) results page?
  2. Why do (a few) public library homepages set robots.txt so as to prevent descriptions?

Update July 6, 2013: I believe I know what’s going on with most of these, and it’s reminiscent of The Price is Right. See followup post.

IndieGoGo, Timing and Reality

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Consider this a rapid update to Timing, which appeared yesterday (but was written a couple of days before that).

Here’s what’s happened since that post that’s at least moderately relevant:

  • I signed up for an IndieGoGo account–but I screwed up an attempt at a more secure password. (It has to do with The Great & Powerful Facebook…) So I deleted the account.
  • A couple of days later (today), attempting a clean start, I find that IGG won’t let me start an account. I’ve sent email to IndieGoGo (after deleting a bunch of cookies: otherwise, IGG–IndieGoGo is a long string to type–wouldn’t even let me create a support request, always taking me to a special 404 page).
  • So: As of now, until I hear from them, I don’t know whether I can create an IGG campaign. I certainly won’t be ready to do one by this weekend.
  • Meanwhile, IMLS released the 2011 public library datasets–and, along the way, reformatted years’ worth of old datasets. Instead of offering .txt and .mdb (Access databases), they’re now offering .txt (useless for me), .xls (Excel) and .csv (Comma-separated values, directly readable in Excel and other spreadsheets). That changes what I’d say in the key chapters of Mostly Numbers–if I do that book. It’s also resulted in a curious situation; you’ll read about that in a couple of days. (Briefly: Why is an .xls file three times as large as the .xls version of a .csv file that appears to contain precisely the same data? Call that the “14 megabyte question.”)
  • That release means that I could start working on the new Give Us a Dollar… project any old time, in addition to the ongoing harvest of public library mottoes & slogans (around 3,500 libraries checked so far–5,698 to go; 713 mottoes/slogans saved; still surprisingly little duplication).[See note below]
  • Meanwhile, I’ve reviewed a printed version of the August Cites & Insights (NOT including an essay on the crowdfunding campaign), so it’s ready for final steps–revision, copyfitting–leading up to a July 1 or 2 publication. And it’s already as long as I’d like a “summer issue” to be.


Here’s the plan.

  • The crowdfunding campaign–a long shot at best–is on hold until IGG gets back to me.
  • Responses to my little survey still welcome; there are only five so far.
  • Comments on the possible crowdfunding and the $4 project also welcome.
  • I’ll plan to publish the August C&I on Monday or Tuesday, August 1 or 2
  • If and when I do a crowdfunding campaign, I’ll publish a special issue of C&I devoted entirely to that topic–probably a very short issue.

Note added 1:30 p.m. PDT 6/27:

Those numbers are probably misleading in terms of the eventual number of mottoes/slogans. You could run a quick calculation and say “1,800+ mottoes: That’s a LOT.”

But, after checking the couple of thousand libraries with URLs in the 2010 IMLS database, which yielded around 500, I’ve been checking libraries by LSA (legal service area population), largest to smallest. I’m down to around 29,000…

It seems quite likely that smaller libraries will have fewer mottoes/slogans–and based on past experience, I’d guess that hundreds of small libraries won’t even have websites.

I wouldn’t venture a guess as to what the final total will be. I do know that some of the mottoes are inspiring, some are very local, and at least a few are somewhat humorous in a refreshing way.

Does your library website really need Java? Three times over?

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Dear public libraries,

About your website…

There’s one old issue (with some of you), which is that the library picture or banner is so high-resolution that it’s the last thing on the page to load, and takes quite a while. (It’s remarkably easy to resize images so they’re more suitable for web pages…)

Let’s not even talk about your use of Comic Sans. Yes, I know, it’s friendly and all…

But this is about Java.

Some of us–millions of us, I’d guess–don’t allow Java in our browsers, for reasonably good security reasons.

When we hit a library website with a Java item (or, as I just saw, three of ’em in a row), the browser hangs, we get an error message, and if the site’s persistent, we keep getting the error message.

Oh, eventually we just get an error message on screen and can go on about our way.

But really…do you really need Java? Is it that crucial for your home page to be so dynamic–crucial enough that you’re willing to annoy security-conscious patrons?

Your call, of course.


Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

I had it all planned out.

I was going to put together an IndieGoGo campaign for the $4 Project (Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four [2013-14]: Libraries by Size; Give Us a Dollar: State by State; A Library Is…), with a reasonably modest goal ($2,500 as a baseline–below that, nobody pays) and several stretch goals. I figured to put it together today and tomorrow, make it live on Friday, and add the writeup as The Front in the August Cites & Insights, and publish that on Monday. (The other essays are edited already.)


I realized that this weekend is ALA Annual. Which means that, from tomorrow through next Monday, anything I do in the library area will receive even less attention than usual.

Or maybe….that’s the perfect time to start the campaign?


Still trying to decide whether it’s a complete waste of time to attempt crowdfunding. Still trying to see whether the Mostly Numbers: Coping with Statistics for Librarians project makes sense.

The August issue of C&I won’t show up before July 1: That’s a given. It may be later than that. Will it begin with a summary of the book project campaign and why you should care? Wait and see…

Mostly just numbers: Mostly unlikely

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

In “IUUI 4 followup” on June 10, 2013, I noted that the possibility of doing a book about everyday statistics, and a related book showing librarians step-by-step how to gain useful information from IMLS and NCES statistics without (a) becoming statisticians, (b) going crazy or (c) even having access to Access (see outline here) was still very much up in the air.

I closed the followup post with this:

My sensible side says there’s just not enough interest to make this worth doing.

My other side keeps wondering whether I could do a good enough job that it would get the word-of-mouth marketing that self-pub books really require (unless you’re ready to spend serious dough).

I think where things stand is that I might try writing the first two chapters and see whether they point to something I’d be proud of and believed would both be short enough to appeal to people and useful enough to satisfy them and me.

I gave it a shot…

I did try writing the first two chapters of “Mostly Numbers,” a slightly revised title for the “general everyday statistics” part of the project.

And failed.

Which doesn’t mean that I think the idea’s useless. But it apparently won’t work for me, at least at this point. My difficulty in even writing draft chapters in an area I know well says that it isn’t meant to be. I found myself doing almost anything else rather than focusing on this.

Maybe it’s because it really isn’t a learning process in this case. Maybe it’s because, the more I looked at the issues with “misleading graphics,” the more tentative I became–there’s a huge gray area between intentionally misleading graphics (e.g., the crap NEA pulled years ago in trying to prove that Americans don’t read) and choosing techniques that emphasize a point without actually misleading.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t think I could do a good job of it in a small enough space to make it attractive–and really didn’t think I could market it well enough to get back subminimum wage for the effort (e.g., at least $3.50 an hour!).

So that one’s on the back burner, at least until various other projects are complete, which is likely to mean March 2014 at the earliest.

Then there’s the library part…

I haven’t quite given up on the book specifically targeting academic and public librarians, or rather a shorter and simpler version of that book. Here’s sort of what this might look at. Let’s still call it “Mostly Numbers” with a subtitle “Coping with Library Statistics.”

  1. Introduction
  2. Why Everyday Statistics are Mostly Numbers
  3. Doing Statistics Right: Transparency and Ethics
  4. Fair Presentations and Coping with Outliers
  5. Everyday Statistics: The Terms You Need to Know
  6. The Other Terms You’ll Encounter
  7. The Tests You Can Probably Ignore
  8. The Tools I’m Using for This Book
  9. Using Excel to Expand Your Public Library Awareness
  10. Using Excel to Expand Your Academic Library Awareness

I’m not sure this one works either. Again, I might try writing a chapter or two. The last two chapters may be the most helpful/useful. I’m not sure.


Another silly little post

Monday, June 24th, 2013

I love good print magazines; you probably already know that.

I have mixed feelings about some magazines. You probably already know that as well. I gave up on Wired the first time around because the hypergraphic design made it nearly unreadable. I gave up on it (after a one-year essentially-free subscription that turned into two years for odd reasons) the second time around because, well, Wired: The editorial style just got to me.

Then there’s Fast Company. I subscribed to it years and years ago when it was one of several “new business” mags, including Business 2.0 and The Industry Standard (the best of them by a long shot, for its brief life). I gave up on Fast Company because it seemed to be a cult publication, pushing a specific and fairly peculiar point of view.

A little while back (maybe a year or two?), I picked it up again–for miles on an airline I don’t plan to fly again–and, this time around, rather liked it. Oh, not all of it, and certainly not the near-impossibility of separating advertising and editorial, but much of it. They offered really cheap long-term subscriptions, so I’ve got it until some time in 2016. (Hey, some magazines get so cheap on long-term that I have one or two through 2019…)

More recently, I’m finding both growing traces of, well, let’s call it FastCoIsm, not quite a cult but close to it. (That’s not unusual: there’s HBRism, to name just one more example.)

What engendered this little post, though, is a remarkably offputting Contents page for the June 2013 issue.

To wit:

  • The full page–really–is a “Contents” listing for the issue’s feature essay, “100 most creative people in business.” I already knew I’d approach the essay–like most of FC’s “creativity” lists–with some caution. But that’s for later.
  • Most of the page is taken up with a picture of a young woman. That’s fine.
  • But here’s the caption for the picture: “Fashion blogger Leandra Medine (page 144) finds the trends women love (and men hate).”

At which point–specifically those last three words–I went “Hunh?” There’s actually a blogger who claims to finds “trends” that women love “and men hate”?

If by “men” you mean what I’d call real men–people who have enough self-confidence not to need to put down women or treat them as objects, as opposed to (stereotypical) construction crews and jerks–I’d find such a concept difficult to believe. I have yet to be acquainted with a woman who I liked as a person–or, for that matter, just found unusually attractive–who wore anything she loved and I “hated.” If a woman’s comfortable in her clothes, that’s almost always attractive: Being comfortable with yourself is, well, hot. (Pardon the somewhat sexist language: I’m trying to make a point.)

So I went to Medine’s blog, “Man Repeller.” And found that I didn’t hate any of the images in the banner (although I suspected that one or two of them might be uncomfortable to wear, and I’ve never understood why any woman would wear something that’s uncomfortable, but that’s for her to decide)–quite the opposite in most cases.

And I read through some of the posts. And found interesting looks and well-written, frequently witty commentary.

What I didn’t find was anything that would justify the caption.

Looking at the About page, and spending more time in some of the categories most associated with “repelling men,” I see tongue firmly in cheek, lots of editorial and photographic skills and a lot of interesting choices.

I can easily see including Medine in the list of creative people.

But “(and men hate)”? Cute, a little irritating and wholly misleading.

Never mind. This is just a silly little post.


Over the

Mystery Collection Disc 37

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Cry of the Innocent, 1980, color (made for TV). Michael O’Herlihy (dir.), Rod Taylor, Joanna Pettet, Nigel Davenport, Cyril Cusack, Walter Gotell. 1:33.

Based on a Frederick Forsyth story and with a first-rate cast, this movie is set in Ireland, where a former Green Beret (Taylor), now an insurance executive in Dublin, is on vacation with his wife and two kids in his second house in Kerry. He goes off with his son to fish—but sends his son back to get the carrier for the catch. At which point, just as the son gets back to the house, an airplane falls out of the sky, crashes into the house and explodes.

As the movie progresses, he learn what we already knew—the crash was no accident, as there was a bomb in the plane (but hitting the house was bad timing: it was supposed to explode over water), and industrial espionage appears to be at play. He runs into a young woman, a journalist, who has an uncanny resemblance to his dead wife (and who he falls for in time)—Pettet, quite good in both roles. There’s a lot more plot, including retired spies and agents in an old folks’ home on Corsica and their connected friends, leading up to a fairly remarkable final ten minutes as he takes his revenge while keeping the constabulary happy. (Cyril Cusack as the Irish police inspector is particularly good throughout.)

But right about the middle of those last ten minutes, it began to seem a little familiar. There’s a reason for that: I’d already seen the movie—more than seven years ago, in another megapack. Still, it was worth watching again. Not great, but quite good: I’ll stick with $1.50.

Paper Man, 1971, color. Walter Grauman (dir.), Dean Stockwell, Stefanie Powers, James Stacy, Tina Chen, Elliott Street, James Olson. 1:29.

A college student picks up his mail and finds in it a credit card in someone else’s name, sent by a local bank (this was before Visa and Mastercard, I think). His ethics are not wonderful, so next thing we know he’s gathered three friends—two women, one man—all of whom have learned to fake the signature he adds to the card. Then they corral a shy computer nerd (Dean Stockwell with Big Hair) who always seems to wear a suit, to add records to “Big Ugly,” the campus computer, that will give some credence to the existence of the “paper man.” (For some reason, all four of these students also spend loads of time in this computer room—and in at least one case it’s not at all clear why.) Then they each go out and charge things on the card (ah, the old imprinters in action!), figuring they’ll eventually pay them back, and it’s really OK because students can’t get credit cards…

That’s the setup. A “technician” who’s actually in charge of this computer room (the old, huge, lots-of-blinking-lights computer naturally operates everything in the building including a pretty sophisticated dummy medical patient) learns about this and agrees to keep it secret. And then…people in the group start dying. In various odd ways. And when the computer nerd decides to remove the records from the computer, he finds that it doesn’t work, and also that there’s now more real-world paperwork for the “paper man,” stuff he didn’t add.

You can probably see what’s coming: Identity theft added to identity creation in order to give a hunted man a new identity. And you can probably guess who the hunted man is. Or, if you prefer, maybe the computer’s the killer! (They sure try to make it look like that along the way…) If you guessed that the survivors are Stockwell and the ever-lovely (and talented) Stefanie Powers, that’s not a stretch either.

Classic early-’70s computer: Loads of blinking lights with huge waves of light when it actually does anything, teletype for input, all caps output (DEATH DEATH DEATH…when one of the four is trying to teach it “Breath” in a speech recognition exercise), incredibly powerful and linked up to all the other computers in the world by telephone lines. (Note: IMDB says “made for TV” but in fact this was briefly released in theaters—and what’s here is the 89-minute theatrical version, not the 75-minute TV version.)

Especially for its time, pretty good. On balance, I’ll give it $1.50.

The Cold Room, 1984, color (TV). James Dearden (dir. & screenplay), George Segal, Amanda Pays, Renée Soutendijk, Warren Clarke, Elizabeth Spriggs. 1:35.

In the first half of this film, a young woman’s leaving school to meet her father in Berlin; one of her teachers (a nun) hands her a Berlin guidebook from 1936, while a friend hands her a bag of weed. She meets her father; they drive to East Berlin (this was before The Wall fell); the relationship is clearly strained (the father has a girlfriend in East Berlin, the daughter worries about the border guards finding her pot). It doesn’t help when they check into a hotel that’s not one of the tourist hotels, instead being…I guess quaint is the best word.

She almost immediately starts having vivid dreams of Nazi Germany, seeing a butcher in the shop opposite the hotel…which has apparently been boarded up for some years, hearing things in the wall and eventually managing to tear down the wall behind the cupboard and find a man there. Who’s a dissident and wants her to contact a person on a specific street. Except that the street was renamed after WWII and the person’s long gone.

There’s probably more, but I gave up after the first half. This seems to be more a psychological thriller than a mystery, and I just plain didn’t like it well enough to keep going. George Segal as the father was OK; Amanda Pays (in her first role, the daughter—but also apparently somebody else, presumably in the second half of the movie) was mostly annoying; and I gave up. One IMDB review says “Incredibly bleak and almost unwatchable.” Sounds about right. No rating.

Millions (orig. Miliardi), 1991, color. Carlo Vanzina (dir.), Billy Zane, Lauren Hutton, Carol Alt, Jean Sorel, Alexandra Paul, Roberto Bisacco, Catherine Hickland, John Stockwell. 1:50.

The bad news: This flick was filmed in Panavision but what you get here is pan&scan. Oh, and it’s a little trashy. The good news: It’s stylish EuroTrashy with good production values, loads of casual nudity, almost wholly amoral characters (except the two women who don’t get naked and have sex with whoever’s handy, one of whom is Lauren Hutton), and a plot that—while sometimes a little over the top—is fun.

The opening sets the scene for the ethics at play. A drunk gets kicked out of an Italian tavern. As he’s walking home, he sees a helicopter explode not too far away. He walks over to it…and removes the wallets and watches from the pilot and passenger, along with a briefcase in the passenger compartment. (As he later say: “Why call for help? They were dead anyway.”) As it turns out, the passenger wasn’t quite dead…

He’s an industrial magnate, who has secret plans (guess where they are!) to take his company public and make it one of the ten largest international conglomerates. Now he’s in a coma, with his (ex?)wife (Hutton) by his side and his family gathering to look after the company. Or in the case of Maurizio (Billy Zane, who makes a great villain), a nephew, find some way to take over the company by hook or by crook. Preferably by crook.

Zane beds or attempts to bed his sister-in-law, his cousin, the second-in-command of the company’s American operations (headed by his father, who she’s also sleeping with), hookers sent his way by various people…I lost count. He’s a good enough bluffer to be able to determine that his father’s been cooking the books, which lets him blackmail his father into making him the acting president of the overall company and…well, it gets too complicated.

As far as I could tell, the only two characters who had ethics worth a damn are Hutton’s character (the reason she’s separated from her husband is because she can’t conceive and she thinks he should have an heir with somebody else) and her sister-in-law (I guess: it got a little fuzzy) who doesn’t really have much of a part. Otherwise—well, even after the more-or-less happy ending, there seem to be at least two more double-crosses waiting to happen.

And, although “millions” really should have been billions for one of the ten largest international companies, even in 1985 (really? you could take that large a company public and, when the stock crashes, buy it back for $200 million?), the print’s good and the plot just keeps on moving. Certainly not a classic, but not bad as an Italian sex-and-wealth-and-intrigue comedy with several American actors, and at 10 minutes shy of two hours it didn’t seem long. (The sleeve says 1985 and 105 minutes; in fact, it’s 1991 and 110 minutes.) I’ll give it $1.50.

Archaic–but also convenient?

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

I find it amusing when Tech Gurus proclaim X is Dead, where X is typically a technology or medium that’s doing just fine but may have ended its growth phase.

Amusing as each instance is, there’s a broader issue for some (by no means all) of the technologies denounced as dead, which is another way of saying “Proper contemporary people shouldn’t use these things.”

To wit: sometimes obsolescent technologies are convenient.

Fax? Obsolete for quite some time now. And yet…sometimes it’s just plain convenient.

Magazines (by which I mean print magazines)? They’re really not either obsolescent or obsolete. But they sure are convenient in a number of settings.

I could go on. But this is just a silly little post, so I won’t.

No major point here…except to note that gurus seems to live in a different world, a world where cost and convenience are secondary to being Up To Date. (Proper gurus make so much money that cost really isn’t a factor, and they probably have People to take care of convenience issues.)

For the rest of us, it’s frequently a tradeoff. If the “old way” still works–well, why abandon it?