Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Thinking about magazines and journals

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Years ago, writing one of my “OA independent” articles on Library Access to Scholarship in Cites & Insights, I commented that it was highly unlikely we’d ever get to 100% e-publishing for STM articles. Specifically, I said it was unlikely that Nature or Science would go away, since both have substantial non-library subscription bases.

I hadn’t actually read an issue of either one, at least not for decades…

As I noted (probably just on FF), a few weeks ago I received an invitation to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science for $99/year (a first-year discount from the usual $149/year), which includes 51 issues of Science. The invitation included a copy of the February 18, 2011 Science.

The last thing I need at this point is more magazines, particularly given my idiot tendency to actually read everything I subscribe to from cover to cover, or at least start each article. I discarded the invitation…but kept the issue.

And read it. Not the whole thing, to be sure, but nearly all of what I’d call the “magazine portion”–in this case, pages 811-875, as opposed to pages 876-931, the “journal portion” (followed by ads and advertorials).

My initial conclusion: If AAAS was really committed to the advancement of science, they would and could go to gold OA, turning the print version of Science into a weekly or fortnightly magazine (about half as thick as it currently is) and publishing all the full peer-reviewed research articles and reports online with full and immediate access. Oh, and charging a much more reasonable fee for an institutional subscription to the magazine than the current $990–like, say, $149, or perhaps twice that including immediate online access to all the features that make up the magazine portion and the ScienceNow daily news, ScienceInsider, and so on…

Why? Well, it’s a really good science magazine. It has lots of ads. It includes lots of well-edited, well-written material. I suspect it would continue to thrive as a magazine. As a journal, however, it makes more sense online, both because it covers too much territory to make sense as a browsing resource for any given scientist and because much of it’s online-only anyway.

Maybe it would need article processing fees, although it’s hard to believe they’d need to be four-digit fees. In any case, going full gold OA for the peer-reviewed material would certainly be a huge step forward in the advancement of science. And it’s always been part of the serious OA advocates (e.g., Peter Suber) that it’s legitimate to charge for added value, such as popularized versions, discussions, news, etc.–all the stuff that makes up Science‘s magazine section.

This has probably all been said before, but I really was struck by how much the issue came off as a very good science magazine with a bunch of very specialized peer-reviewed items in back of the magazine. And how likely it is that the magazine would survive and probably prosper without charging high fees (or any fees) for online access to the peer-reviewed items.

Comparing potatoes and truffles

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Remember Wired Magazine‘s absurd “The Web is dead” cover article (September 2010)?

I can’t think of anything that was right about the article. One of the things that was most wrong was the big graph that showed how the web was dying–by plotting all internet traffic, in bytes, on a market-share graph (that is, one where the Y axis is always filled, since it goes up to 100% and the segments show percentage of each area over time).

One thing that was wrong with it is that this kind of graph is almost always misleading or meaningless when an overall space is either growing or shrinking, since it represents percentages, not absolutes. If Amazon goes from selling 90% of ebooks when ebook sales are $1 million per year to selling 30% of ebooks when ebook sales are $1 billion per year, I can assure you nobody at Amazon is saying “Damn. We’ve died in the ebook space.” But that’s what a market-share graph would show: A dramatic, awful, terrible decline in Amazon ebook sales.

The other is even more absurd, and is where I get “potatoes and truffles.” Well, you know, they’re both edibles that come from the ground, so clearly truffles are dead, since the weight of potatoes sold each year must surpass the weight of truffles by several orders of magnitude. Actually, they’re both tubers, so what’s the difference? (“Several orders of magnitude”: I can’t readily find the current total production/sale of truffles, but it apparently peaked at “several hundred tonnes” early in the last century, so I’d guess it’s no more than, say, 314 tonnes now. Which is a deliberate choice because 2008 worldwide production of potatoes was 314 million tones. So figure at least a million times as many potatoes, by weight. And there’s even the time element, since truffle production has dropped enormously while potato production continues to rise.)

The other fallacy? Choosing one measurement and assuming that it’s meaningful in other contexts. In this case, choosing data volume (bits or bytes) and assuming it relates somehow to “where people spend their time.”

I choose that quotation because here’s how Wired responded to the criticisms of their chartjunk in this case:

While not perfect, traffic volume is a decent proxy for where people spend their time.


Last Saturday, we had a friend over and spent a wonderful two hours and 31 minutes watching the glorious Blu-ray version of The Music Man. I felt as though I’d never really seen the picture before. It was great. It was also 2.5 hours.

I’m guessing The Music Man probably took up around 40GB (a dual-layer Blu-ray Disk has 50GB capacity).

Today, I’ll start reading a mystery novel that I’m certain is going to be enormously entertaining as well. At 250 pages, the text in it would probably occupy about–well, let’s call it 80,000 bytes, although that’s probably on the high side.

By Wired‘s “reasoning,” it’s a fair approximation to say that I should spend around 0.018 seconds reading that book, since it has only one-five hundred thousandths as much data as The Music Man–and “traffic volume is a decent proxy for where people spend their time.”

In the real world, I’ll probably spend three or four hours reading the novel, maybe a little longer.

An extreme case?

OK, so a Blu-ray Disc is an extreme case. Internet traffic almost never includes 30mb/s streams, which is roughly BD level. But it does include loads of video, probably at traffic rates between 250kb/s and 6mb/s, and audio, at traffic rates of at least 64kb/s for anything with halfway decent sound (“halfway decent” is the operative term here).

So if I watch a one-minute YouTube clip, it’s likely that the traffic amounts to at least 1.9 megabytes (at the lowest datarate supported by YouTube) and more likely at least twice that much.

How much time would it take me to read 1.9 megabytes worth of text, even with HTML/XML overhead?  Without overhead, that’s about 300,000 words, or the equivalent of three long books. With PDF overhead (which, for embedded typefaces, is considerably more than HTML overhead), that’s four typical issues of Cites & Insights–but for the text itself (with Word .docx overhead), it’s at least a year of C&I. I pretty much guarantee that anybody who reads C&I at all spends more than a minute doing so, even though the data traffic only amounts to a few seconds worth of  YouTube.

Equating “traffic” for text, or even still photos, with “traffic” for sound or video, as being in any way meaningful in terms of time spent is just nonsense. Wired says “We stand by the chart.” That says a lot about Wired–and almost nothing about the present or future of the web.

What year did downloaded music start outselling CDs/vinyl?

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Very short post, with the heart of it in the title above, so as to encourage FriendFeed participation.

This is a test of your digital awareness. Without looking it up, try to answer that one question:

In what year did downloaded music (iTunes, etc.) start outselling music-on-containers (CDs, vinyl, etc.), worldwide?

Comments will remain open until Saturday, July 3, after which I’ll comment on the responses.

The apparent answer: According to the sources I’ve seen, the answer is “2011, probably.”

Which is also to say: It hasn’t happened yet.

So Davin’s right, Stephen’s close enough, and John’s…not so much.

Random Sunday music musing

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

When I got my dandy little 8GB Sansa Fuze “MP3 player” (because it was on sale for $69 at Radio Shack, which it is again this week), I loaded it with 863 songs from my collection that I think are better than average–ones I give 3, 4 or 5 stars. (The whole collection, excluding classical, is around 3,000 songs–mostly fairly old CDs, but I’ve added a handful of used CDs purchased recently…)

And I’m going through it for a first pass, really listening to songs, usually about 10 a day.

Today I hit a song that was great–a recent addition, so I’d probably only heard it once before–but that also reminded me I’ve lost most of the specific vocabulary for music I might once have had.

The song: “Hard to Love” by Vance Gilbert (from one thru fourteen, released 2002 on Louisiana Red Hot Records).

It’s a blues of a particular style–with verses minimally accompanied (Hammond B3, electric lead & rhythm guitars, acoustic bass, drums–the bass descending one note per bar, minimal riffs from the rest), and then a solid horn section cutting in on the chorus. I mean a tasty horn section. (I’d actually been thinking, you know, I need a few more songs with really tasty horn sections.)

Yes, I can recognize a Hammond B3 almost instantly…or one heck of a good synthesizer simulation. Can’t you? Some day, all the Hammond B3s will be gone and irreparable; that will be a sad day for blues/jazz/whatever. Also yes, I’m one of those who thinks Al Kooper’s contributions to American music have been undervalued…

And I realized that I didn’t know whether this was Tower of Power-style horns, Memphis Horns style, or something else entirely. It only matters in that it’s hard for me to describe this number adequately.

[Checking the liner notes/booklet, one of those things that come with CDs, I find something really interesting, given that the horns seemed to have a pretty natural acoustic and stereo spread: The horns are the “Joe Mennona horns,” which appears to consist of Joe Mennona overdubbing all the horn parts–tenor sax, alto sax, baritone sax, trombone and trumpet.]

No real significance here. You can enjoy music without being able to describe it properly.


Monday, June 7th, 2010

The June San Francisco Chronicle Magazine (the Chron only does its own glossy-magazine section once a month, a very sensible decision–the weekly book section and review/entertainment section are separate anyway) leads off with an editor’s column with the same title as this post.

It’s not all that long (465 words–shorter than this 558-word post); you can read the whole thing yourself, and look at the amusing picture. The theme: Meredith May (the writer) has been

getting into polite arguments with friends who have been posting pictures of me on Facebook and Flickr that I would never want you to see.

They’re not nude shots or anything like that–but they were “taken in private moments with friends before the world was wide and covered in a Web.” May doesn’t think it’s up to other people–even her friends–to decide which parts of her own history should be made public.

She notes a specific incident–she’s going to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to talk about her story on girl slavery in Nepal and, checking Facebook in the airport, finds that an old friend has psoted pictures of her drinking and posing at high school house parties…

May doesn’t quite understand people’s impulse to overshare their own stuff–“but over-sharing someone other than yourself without his or her permission is baffling.” And, indeed, since we learn that any candid shot is likely to turn up on the web, spontaneity could be suffering.

I have had parties at my house with a dozen of my lovely artist friends, and nine will bring a camera and start shooting. The whole reason for having your homies over for a party is that you can let down your hair and dance on the counter if you want to. But I’m more cautious now. The joie de vivre, the carpe diem, the being alive part of living – is tempered.

In our haste to document and share everything, are we losing what it means to live in the moment?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but this editorial certainly resonates with me. I’ll take it a step further: “Agreeing” that a picture can be posted isn’t always being entirely happy about it. Coercion is a strong word for the process that takes place, but it’s a form of social pressure–the desire not to be thought a complete killjoy.

There are pictures of me on the web (oddly enough, they show up in Google but not on Bing) that I could do without. One of them has a caption about what a good sport I was. “Good sport” in this case really means “didn’t feel he could avoid this without looking like a killjoy.”

I know that my own behavior at, say, conference receptions is now much more circumspect than it might have been in the past, that I’m much less willing to don silly hats or assume silly poses or hold up silly signs. A few years ago, I would have assumed that a few folks would have gotten little laughs out of the silliness as captured in photos. Now, I assume that the silly pictures will live forever on the web and in search-engine results–and while they can’t really do me any harm, I’d just as soon not, thank you.

So does this make me a killjoy? Maybe so. Such is life. Apparently I’m not the only one…

A quick twofer

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Two miniposts for the price of one!

Gold star

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

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

Quick expert advice from librarians about web tools

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

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

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

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

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

dr? dc!

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Right up front: I’ve been guilty of this before and probably will be again.

As I was working on a Zeitgeist piece, I looked at a nicely-done 1,300-word essay. On a national newspaper website. About one aspect of social networking. With some interesting and slightly controversial things to say, some of them certainly open to argument.

The very first comment detailed the length of the essay–how many words, how many characters, how many sentences, average number of letters per word, length of longest sentence–and ended with a note suggesting that there was no content, or at least that the commenter hadn’t read it.

Understand: The commenter didn’t disagree with what was being said–the commenter was trashing the essay based on its length (apparently). Several other commenters offered variants of the old “tl; dr” brushoff–that is, “too long; didn’t read.” (I rarely see that on liblogs–maybe library folks actually have more than ten-second attention spans, or at least believe that “tl; dr” leaves one open to accusations of subliteracy.)

I’m not going to argue that people damn well should read longer essays. After all, 1,300 words is just a bit less than two pages of C&I, or three or four pages of a typical trade paperback, or one-third of a typical In the library post, or nine Friendfeed posts. If that’s so much text it makes your brain explode or your eyes hurt, who am I to argue.

dr? dc

But, well…

If you didn’t read the article or post, why are you commenting on it?

Equally, if you read the article or post and have nothing to say about the topic or the substance of the post or article… why comment on it?

Because you know the writer hangs on your every word so much that she will at least appreciate knowing you dropped by? Because you’re so damned important that you must respond? Because you’re a frustrated graffitist? Because you have no life?

I think all of usmany of us do this sort of thing–or equally vapid responses–once in a while. (Yes, that’s a preventive strikeout: I was about to commit a universalism, and I damn well should know better.)

It works both ways. I waste time on FriendFeed. (I also use FriendFeed, and maintain friendships on FriendFeed, and gain valuable insights on FriendFeed. And sometimes I waste time on FriendFeed–the activities aren’t mutually exclusive.) As many categories as I’ve hidden, as rarely as I Follow anybody new, I still see dozens of posts (mostly from Twitter, but not all) of the “what’ll I have for breakfast / I just had X for dinner / I just posted from Y” flavor, stuff that for me is almost exclusively in the “who cares?” category–just as some of my posts here fall into the “who cares?” category for some, maybe most, occasionally all readers.

I don’t believe I’ve ever found any reason to comment on a “what I had for breakfast” FF item by asking who cares or saying “don’t clutter up the feed with that crap” or anything of the sort. If I don’t care, why would I take the time to comment? (And, for that matter, if I don’t care, how does that imply that nobody else could possibly care?) I’m dead certain I’ve left equivalent responses on some posts and FF messages, however, and I’m sure I will in the future.

And I’ll be (trivially) wrong to do so.

As of that last period, this post contains 570 words. That’s probably too long for some of you–but I suspect that people who can’t handle 600, 800, or 6,000 words aren’t among my audience anyway.

By the way: I’m tagging this “Net Media”–but I no longer believe that term has much of any meaning, and I’m also doubtful about “Social Media.” That’s an essay I’ll be writing one of these days, probably in C&I. 636 words. My work here is done (645).

Industry Standard, RIP–again

Friday, May 21st, 2010

The Spring 2010 C&I essay “The Zeitgeist: hypePad and buzzkill” includes several notes taken from The Industry Standard–a site that I still had bookmarked, even if it was a pale shadow of the wonderful trade magazine The Industry Standard, which was great reading, fat, interesting…and overextended itself during the dotcom boom, going under as that boom went bust.

That pale shadow is now itself dead, as of a couple months ago (I don’t remember exactly when). It was absorbed into InfoWorld…sort of.

Sort of?

Yep. I had a number of items from The Industry Standard tagged in delicious, for use in future C&I essays. I probably still do. Today I wanted to use a couple of them for part of an Interesting & Peculiar Products essay.

The delicious link leads to InfoWorld. Not to the article.

Searching for the articles, by any keywords I could think of (e.g., those in the title), comes up empty.

I can’t swear the articles aren’t there…but they’re not findable. Which means they might as well not be there.

This is a shame. There was still some good coverage there. And, as far as I can tell, it’s just gone.

MP3 Doesn’t Have DRM–Or Does It?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

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

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

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

A Digression

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

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

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

End of digression.

“At least not directly?”

Yep. Read this story in TechCrunch.

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

Who cares? Well, read the quoted section.

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

Seems unlikely, but…

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

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

Auditory Memory

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Now that the flood of responses on my quick quiz has slowed down…

Which is to say: Now that it’s become pretty clear that nobody gives a damn…

It’s time for the answers, and for the post that I was holding off on–but that post may have less to it than I originally thought.

The Answers

The song’s penultimate line was, as noted:

And everybody knows that the very last line

  • The last line is: “Is the doctor said, give him jug band music, it seems to make him feel just fine.” (Presumably, everybody knows that because–with changes in the first word–that’s the last line of each verse.)
  • The name of the song: “Jug Band Music.” (There’s more than one song with that title. This is one that doesn’t happen to be jug band music.)
  • The name of the writer: John Sebastian.
  • The name of the lead singer: John Sebastian.
  • The name of the group: The Lovin’ Spoonful
  • Bonus answer: The song was on Daydream, released in 1966. That was apparently the Spoonful’s best-selling album: It reached #10 on the charts.

The song is a hoot, as are the lyrics–it’s very much a wacky story-song. It’s also, in some ways, a classic earworm–as are several other Spoonful songs. I finally picked up a good copy of a decent selection of Spoonful songs from SecondSpin, a 2000 “Greatest Hits” CD that was remastered from the masters–the earlier CDs I had were made during an extended period in which the master tapes were apparently lost or unavailable.

Auditory memory

Anyway…while I was listening to this, I found that I was hearing a John Sebastian song that was not a Lovin’ Spoonful song–and a song that I probably hadn’t heard in at least 25 years, namely She’s a Lady.

The song appeared on Sebastian’s first solo album (John B. Sebastian) in 1970. (Now that I check it on Wikipedia, I see that there weren’t all that many other memorable tracks on it–and that Sebastian had to make it with a bunch of nobody session players: Some unknowns named Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Dallas Taylor, Buddy Emmons…life is tough when you don’t have connections in the music industry.)

It’s a beautiful little ballad (“little” is right–the original is under two minutes). I could hear it plain as day, including the low-key orchestration…

I suspect everybody’s a little different when it comes to auditory memory. Sometimes, I can hear pieces, fully arranged, that I haven’t heard in years (or in this case in decades). Sometimes, I can even manipulate the arrangements.

Are earworms like that? When a song gets stuck in your head, do you just hear a melody, or do you hear the whole arrangement?

There’s another question: Is my auditory memory accurate? There’s no good way of knowing, I suppose.

Nothing momentous here. I will say that having a good if flakey auditory memory is helpful when someone mentions one of the really annoying earworms: I can usually drive it out with something I like.