Archive for the 'Stuff' Category

The X for X: How to succeed without facts

Posted in Stuff on August 16th, 2012

I was going to write this brief comment about a specific book I borrowed from the library–and, after reading it, wondered why it was in the 620s rather than the 0-something “UFO and similar stuff” class. (Hey, I’m no Dewey expert. I find it amusing that librarianship is right next to UFOs.)

But I’m not going to name it after seeing some of the Amazon reviews. The true believers might choose to hound me.

What I found interesting was the methodology–whether intentional or not–used to get from, um, sketchy “facts” to assured conclusions.

  1. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” If enough people are asserting something, it must be true! (The birther theme song…)
  2. “If there’s not much smoke, it’s being suppressed.” When it turns out that a rather small number of people are asserting something, and most people with appropriate backgrounds are dismissing it as nonsense, there must be Some Important Group Silencing People.
  3. “You can tell all about a person from two words in a transcript.” This one’s fairly specific, but the general idea is there–all it takes is a couple of words (in this case, “I see”) to allow a really good “nonfiction” author to tell us somebody is clearly honest and well-informed, or whatever.
  4. “If a person seems likable, he or she must be correct.” There are no crazies with good social skills.
  5. “Observe the progression: Anecdata becomes Possible truth becomes Probable truth becomes Known facts.” This takes place over several chapters of a book…and sometimes the anecdata is actually lack of anecdata because, well, see #2.
  6. “Where there’s smoke there must be fire.” This one’s important enough to repeat. Over and over.
  7. “If your pet theory is associated with the lunatic fringe, it’s because The Powers That Be are putting out disinformation.”
  8. “Scientific laws are just theories, and mostly wrong.” This one has to be kept lowkey, but it’s always there.
  9. A respectable journalist in one field is qualified to make scientific and political judgments in all other fields.
  10. And, in the end, “where there’s smoke there must be fire.” Rinse and repeat.

There are more that are somewhat specific to this case….and to some similar cases. I won’t go into them.

But, of course, face The Facts: My brother worked for Lawrence Livermore Laboratory for several decades, which means that my own security-clearance possibility was investigated, which means I’m probably Part Of The Powers That Be. So this is just more disinformation standing in the way of The Truth. Who knows? Maybe all of Livermore is affected by mind-altering drugs, probably spread through the water by Zone 7, our water supplier (which, of course, is a pseudonym for Area 51).

A matter of degrees

Posted in Stuff on July 25th, 2012

Two matters, actually–and if you’re looking for thoughts on the ML[I]S or anything like that, you’ve come to the wrong place.

104? 40

Matter the first: I’d noticed a few news stories over the past week or so mentioning how difficult life in (Europe, Australia, wherever) when it was over 104 so often. And in my hindbrain, something started saying “104? Why 104? Why such a specific number?”

Then I read an interview with a Melbourne official talking about their various climate problems–flooding after a long run of 104-degree days. “104? Why 104?”

And then it hit me.

The Melbourne official didn’t say “104.” Neither did those non-US press reports when originally written.

9×5 + 32.

They were all saying “40 degrees.” Centigrade. Which is, aha, 104F.

And which is a perfectly good slightly vague version of “HOT,” although not, say, 50C (“TOO DAMN HOT FOR ANYBODY TO DEAL WITH“–or 122F, if you’d like).

Sometimes three or four degrees makes all the difference

Matter the second: Yesterday, our 7-year-old Honda Civic was due for the Dreaded Maintenance that comes at 7 years if mileage doesn’t get there first (and our car has less than 32,000 miles on it).

Namely, replacing the timing belt. And the water pump, ‘cuz it’ll probably go not too much later, and now that the engine’s half-disassembled… And the other drive belts, because they’ll age out soon also.

I won’t mention the overall price, which in our case also included new spark plugs and the usual 30,000-mile maintenance. (It was three digits, but high three digits. But at least it was three digits, not four…and in a relatively expensive market. Independent mechanic that only works on Hondas, Acuras and a couple of other Japanese makes.)

A sidebar that’s even less relevant than the main post: A local Honda dealership with extensive maintenance facilities had some online service coupons. Including a great one: They’ll give you the timing belt free when you replace the timing belt. So I looked at the detailed invoice for our maintenance. Out of, well, more than $700 and less than $1,000, the timing belt itself was a whopping $21. What a deal!


So anyhow: For most maintenance, I bring in the car, bring along some reading, and wait until it’s done–usually an hour or two. But that didn’t make sense for what’s a most-of-the-day service.

The shop provided transportation back to my house.

At 3 p.m., they called and said the car was (or soon would be) ready. My wife said I should call a cab, ‘cuz it was too hot to walk. I looked at the outdoor thermometer: 86F-87F. Said, ‘Nah.’ Put on sunscreen, filled my water bottle, and took off–I already knew it was 3.4 miles walking. Promised I’d take it easy. Took our emergency cell phone just in case.

A good walk, although unfortunately the path is one where there’s very little if any breeze–unlike our daily neighborhood 1.4-mile walk, which usually has somewhere between a strong breeze and VERY strong wind. I got there right around 4 p.m.–as promised, I wasn’t pushing it at all. (Yes, I did accompany my wife on the neighborhood walk later. This 3.4 miles wasn’t like a typical Wednesday hike: Maybe 50 feet total up & down, all sidewalks except for one block, 3.4 miles instead of 4 to 6 miles–and since it was sidewalks, I was wearing my usual “business” Rockports instead of my inexpensive hiking shoes, and the Rockports are much better walking shoes.)

Here’s the thing: Monday around 3 p.m. was also around 91-92 degrees (F, of course: short of the sun going nova, it’s not ever going to get up to 92C!).

Monday, I would have called a cab and paid the $12-$15 (most of the cabs here are Prii, or whatever the plural of Prius is).

Sometimes three or four (or five) degrees makes all the difference–in this case between “warm but walkable” and “too hot to voluntarily walk 3.4 miles.”

Deep significance of this post: I posted something this week.

Possible disruption

Posted in Stuff on July 17th, 2012

If there’s anybody who comes by here on a regular basis, you might see some disruptions today.

I’m trying to fix an issue with the “collapsing” archive on the sidebar–which no longer collapses–by deleting and reinstalling it.

That means that, for some period, there won’t be any collapsing archive or there will be a call in the HTML that isn’t referenced.

This should all be fixed by this evening. Or not.

Update, a little bit later:

Deleting and reinstalling had no effect.

I’ve replaced Collapsing Archives with Moo Collapsing Archives (an updated fork). It sort of works–the “sort of” being that months won’t collapse into years. That makes the sidebar longer than I’d like. I’ve coped, sort of, by moving categories to come before the date archive (and pages to come after).

I guess this will do for now, until I have time to find something better. Meanwhile, on to get something accomplished…

Transforming Your Library Through Strategic Dynamism

Posted in Stuff on June 19th, 2012

Maybe that should be the theme of my next effort.

Heck, maybe I could become a Strategic Dynamism guru.

Or, you know, maybe not.

[Although Strategic Dynamism has the considerable guruhood strength of being a wholly meaningless bit of bafflegab, as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep a straight face long enough to Earn Big Bucks as a Strategic Dynamism Guru.]

Which one if either? A Kickstarter trilemma

Posted in Books and publishing, Stuff on June 18th, 2012

Regular readers (if such an animal exists) will know that I’ve been enthusiastic about two research projects, both related to public libraries, either of which involves money issues and either of which could potentially be funded via Kickstarter.

[There’s also The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, which could leader to speaking invitations, and Open Access: What You Need to Know Now. And, for that matter, Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries, which will emerge from ALA Editions later this year. That last is directly related to the first of these two projects.]

There are still other possible routes through which I could get enough funding to maintain some level of research (and keep my hand in librarianship, including attending at least one conference a year most years), but there’s no real progress on those routes.

So I’m at a decision point of sorts–a trilemma: Do I try for a Kickstarter project on the first project, the second project or neither?

Here’s how I see the situation right now. Your advice & suggestions are very much invited. You might find this post to be useful overall background, although it preceded the preliminary example of the second project.

Update, Tuesday, June 19, 2012: Given the new American Libraries Summer 2012 Digital Supplement, “Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-2012,” and given responses to this post to date (none), I now believe that Project One is off the table. The study doesn’t cover quite as many libraries, and I’m not sure I believe the 70%-social-networking figure (that represents enormous growth in the past eight months, or maybe the other 12 states have 100% participation to balance the just slightly over half of libraries in 38 sates), but I just can’t see people contributing to an expensive survey that slightly extends a freebie. The 38-state study formed the basis of what I believe will be a good book; barring miracles, I’ll leave it like that. So the question really is:

Is it plausible to attempt a Kickstarter project for #2, or isn’t it?

Silence constitutes a perfectly reasonable answer: It isn’t.

Project One: Social Networking Survey

Background: Primarily this prospectus, with additional notes here and here.

Short version: The first year of a possible ongoing external survey of all public libraries in the U.S. (systems and standalone, not branches) and their social networking activity, specifically looking at Facebook, Twitter and Google+, including (for the first year) changes over time for libraries in 38 states. Also, as part of the first-year project, gathering “library mottoes” that appear on library websites toward a little “A library is…” book.

Size: The Kickstarter project would need to be for $18,000 to make sense, given the overhead of Kickstarter itself and the incentives needed; the idea would be to net $15,000.

Results: A booklength study of the results, plus an available spreadsheet. The spreadsheet would be CC 0 (it’s data in any case, even though it springs from hundreds of hours of labor); the PDF of the book would be free or nominally priced, while the print version (or EPUB version if done) would be priced so as to yield some revenue for a second year’s study. Also, the “A library is…” book.

Incentives: Probably a free PDF version of “A library is…” for sub-$100 levels, probably a print version for $250, a signed print version (or a hardcover version) for $500, and a signed print version and $500 discount on a future speaking engagement (if desired) for $1,000 or more. Alternatively, print versions of the study itself could be offered.

Pluses: The output would carry forward and enhance what I believe will be a worthwhile book (based on the 38-state 2011 study); this would be interesting and possibly worthwhile documentation on how (and the extent to which) public libraries are using social networks and how that’s changing over time, which should be useful to public libraries; the “A library is…” would, I think, be charming and fun, although perhaps not deeply meaningful.

Minuses: It’s a huge amount of work–data gathering alone would involve several hundred hours of the kind of work you can’t keep doing without lots of breaks. And, frankly, it’s never been clear how many public libraries are interested in studies of change over time or of having actual objective evidence of their use of social networks.

Project Two: Give Us a Dollar…

Background: The best background is the preliminary edition of the book itself, Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. But there’s also a four-part post (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), the fourth part of which suggests an alternate vision for the next time around. (Note: These links do work–the Tuesday one was mangled in Part 3 and Part 4, and those have also been fixed.)

Short version: This study would happen after IMLS releases the 2010 public library database. I’d massage the data, creating a benefit ratio and several derivative measures, and prepare a book-length study that should allow libraries to help prepare their cases for better funding (or at least to avoid funding cuts), by showing that they’re good stewards of public funds, how they compare with “similar” libraries and where they could provide even better value through added funding.

Size: If I used Kickstarter, it would be to create an ebook (yes, I’d get it into EPUB format) that was available at nominal prices (the least Lulu would allow for distribution purposes, and free as a PDF from Lulu itself) and a print book (priced to yield about $1.50 net per copy). I’d say $8,500: Basically, a dollar for each library fully included in the study (assuming that about 700 libraries fall out in 2010 as they did in 2009). Note that this price includes my promise to email data lines for libraries on request; I don’t want to mount the whole database because I’m not interested in making it easy to do invidious comparisons.

Incentives: Not clear. If the $8,500 is to free the ebook, then what do I send people that doesn’t wind up chewing up the revenue?

Pluses: I think most public libraries could benefit from this, and for several thousand libraries, it’s a better deal than paying for a consultant or priced library data services. Also, since I’ve already done some of the prep work, it’s not an enormous project–maybe 50 to 100 hours of data analysis and a couple hundred hours to put the book in proper shape. Plus, to be sure, five minutes for each library that asks for a data line…

Minuses: I’m not sure that public libraries are interested. After an initial six sales of the preliminary edition on the first day, there have been exactly zero since, even though the price was as low as $24 for a while–and two open calls to request free PDF review copies have, to date, received exactly one request. If 10% of American public libraries thought this was worthwhile, no Kickstarter or other funding would be required. If 1% (90) were interested enough to try the preliminary edition and provide feedback, I’d probably proceed in any case (if the feedback says I should). On the other hand, if less than 0.1% are interested, well, there’s really no point. Oh, and I’m really not sure what to offer as incentives (other than thank-you notes).

Third Option: Neither

When I was thinking about Kickstarter for the first project, I was also reading Jason Scott’s notes about successful use of Kickstarter, including the absolutely mandatory nature of the “optional” video. That bothered me a little, ’cause I’m not a visual artist or videographer. Sure, I have the minimal equipment (my notebook has a camera and microphone), but…

Then, as I was ramping up to make a decision, I was pointed to this post on “How to Run a Successful Kickstarter Campaign.” Which sets the bar even higher than Scott did–and which seems to be pretty sensible.

Since I’ve been dealing with “four factors” a lot this past week (writing Part 2 of a Fair Use roundup, which will make up most of the July 2012 Cites & Insights), I’m tempted to look at each factor and see where I stand.

  1. Back Other Projects Before You Launch. Fail. I haven’t.
  2. Three Things One: Only a very small portion of your network will back your project on Kickstarter. The author says not to think like “if only half of those who read my blog each month contribute…” and I’ve pretty much learned that already. If only 10% of those who apparently read Cites & Insights kicked in $25 a year, I’d already have enough funding to attend one conference a year; as it is, I don’t have enough this year to cover my domain charges and hosting fees (which total less than $200). And while Walt at Random seems to have between 700 and 1200 readers, I’m not sure that it actually has more than a few dozen. Realistically, the FF LSW community is the closest thing I have to a large network, and that’s only about 700 people. This has always been a questionable aspect for me of Kickstarter–while thousands of library people “know my name,” they’re not really a network. (They’ve already done more for me than I could have ever expected, for which I’ll always be grateful.)
  3. Three Things Two: People will tell you that your idea is stuipid or that you are the wrong person to bring the idea to life. That’s already happened, more or less, with the second project–but most feedback, such as it’s been, has been positive. So I think I’m OK on that one.
  4. Three Things Three: [Paraphrased: Will I do it whether Kickstarter succeeds or not?] A good question. I don’t have a great answer, although for Project One the answer’s pretty clearly “without some form of backing, it’s way too much of a time sink.”
  5. Make a kickass Kickstarter video. Fail, big time. If that’s the rule, and Scott also seems to suggest this, then I’m dead before I begin.
  6. Money, Money, Money, Money. (You need to read the original post–but that’s true anyway!) Not sure what to say here.
  7. Rewards Matter and They Take Time and Money to Fulfill. Understood, and more of an issue for Project Two. In my mind, the biggest Kickstarter funding to date was really a whole bunch of people paying for $100 watches in advance. I don’t have such enticing rewards. Not sure about this one.
  8. Give People a Reason to Trust You. Within the library community, I believe I win on this one–if my reputation for honesty & transparency isn’t clear, it’s too late.
  9. If You Build It They Won’t Just Come. This basically says to me that I need to be an extroverted social network champion to have a chance at this. That’s a big problem.

There are three more discussions, but I’ve probably let this run on too long as is. I see one reasonable win (#8), a couple of big hurdles (#9, #5, #2, maybe #1), and…well…I’m not sure.

Advice? Feedback? Right now, the third option seems most plausible, but maybe I’m overreacting. Not that I would ever do that, of course…



Open Access: One easy thing to do now

Posted in Stuff on May 23rd, 2012

Assuming I have any readers at all that haven’t already done so:

Go sign the petition to the White House to

Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.

You’ll need to create a account if you don’t already have one; that takes maybe 2-3 minutes (mostly waiting for verification email).

The petition was mounted Monday. It’s almost halfway to the required 25,000 signatures already. It won’t–by itself-change anything, but it couldn’t hurt.

Oh, and if you’d like to know more about open access itself, you could buy my book (from ALA Editions): Open Access: What You Need to Know Now. It’s a reasonably quick read with lots of good resources.

Accepting one challenge

Posted in Stuff on May 17th, 2012

In a thread elsewhere, somebody faulted me for suggesting that most Big Business Books, especially those claiming to identify The Secrets to Success through Statistical Analysis of What Works, are largely bogus…especially for not having actually read Jim Collins’ Good to Great, which, I was assured, was The Real Stuff, deeply inspirational and not to be missed.

OK, I’m paraphrasing and probably exaggerating. But…I certainly got the sense that the book would be life-changing and all that.

So I borrowed the book from the library. And read it.

Of course, it got a little odd along the way, frequently being reminded that Circuit City is one of the (only 11!) “good to great” companies assured of everlasting super-success due to its following the set of new cliches offered in the book (there has to be a Snappy Phrase for everything, of course).

Since, y’know, Circuit City is bankrupt.

I wasn’t entirely convinced that Fannie Mae was a sterling example of lasting greatness either. Since, y’know…well, Fannie Mae is a complex story.

And, yes, I’m among those who has trouble regarding a huge peddler of legal poison (lifestyle products that tend to kill their users when used as directed) as being a lasting great company.

But, hey, that’s only three out of eleven. The other eight must be prime examples and prove the theses of the book.

Hmm. One company’s agreed to pay more than $1 billion for illegal marketing. Another no longer exists, having been bought out by another company.  But hey, that still leaves six, more than half of the original group.

But the book only seems to pertain to companies that plan to plod along for 20 or more years, then take on a different path: There’s nothing to indicate that it offers lessons for companies planning to be the next Intel or Microsoft or Apple or… (and at least one of its lessons absolutely, positively rules out Apple or Microsoft!)

And as I was reading and thinking, I started hearing a little voice:

“Correlation does not equal causation.”

Overall? I’m afraid I didn’t find the book life-changing. Nor did I find it a plausible Recipe for Greatness (even if “Greatness” is defined by profitability/stock market success, which bothers me more than a little).

And, well, I think I need to read The Halo Effect.

But I will say this: The book wasn’t quite as padded as a great many Big Business Books are. And Collins is a reasonably good storyteller.

Trends 2

Posted in Stuff on May 4th, 2012

On April 27, I posted a mystery graph with four data points: “a real-world graph, representing honest information about a current situation.” I asked some questions based on the graph.

I got one guess, from Michael Golrick, and it was an excellent set of estimates based only on the information available in the graph.

I said I’d provide more information later, and so I shall. But not, just yet, a lot more information–although what I provide here just might be enough to give away the mystery.

More data points

Here’s the same real-world graph–but with nine additional data points added preceding the four in the previous graph. For consistency, I’ve numbered the new points 0 through -8.

At this point, asking for guesses as to data points 5, 6, 7, and 8 may seem absurd…as may asking when it will hit 100.

But I’ll take whatever comments you have, for about another week. Although this may be enough to note that even legitimate subsets of data may be wildly misleading…



Posted in Stuff on April 27th, 2012

Here’s a real-world graph, representing honest information about a current situation.

And here’s the fun part:

  • What would you expect value #5 to be?
  • What about #6 or #7 or #8?
  • At what point will the value pass 100?

The real-world answers and probability in another week or two, I think.

A post not written

Posted in Stuff on April 19th, 2012

I was just writing a post about an odds quandary (related to video poker), a case where I couldn’t accept what I’d read. (To wit: that the odds in triple-play/three-hand slot power, where each hand is drawn independently from the 47 cards remaining after the initial deal, are *exactly* the same as in Spin Poker, where the three rows are filled in from the single set of 47 cads remaining after the initial deal.)

And as I was writing it, I was spelling out the calculations involved (my problem: in triple-play starting with three of a kind, it’s possible to get two or three four-of-a-kind; in spin poker, that’s not possible, since once the fourth card is dealt, it’s gone–so I figured spin poker has slightly inferior odds). And as I spelled them out, and did them…

I realized that what I’d been reading was right. Your chances of getting one four-of-a-kind in spin poker are a little better than in triple-play because the draws aren’t independent: Just enough better to make up for the impossibility of getting two four-of-a-kind rows.

Well, so much for that post…except that I wrote this senseless one instead.

With a little side note: I was playing a round of Spin Poker, today’s contest, playing deuces wild, and 45 coins per hand (something I would never do in an actual casino) because that’s how it works.

And I was dealt 810JQA of spades. A sure-fire winner: 9 x 15.

And I kept the 10JQA, dropping the 8. And got nothing. Zero. Nada.

It was absolutely the right thing to do. The odds were (roughly) 3/47 of drawing a pure royal flush, which pays 4000. (They were roughly 12/47 of drawing a royal flush with deuces, which pays 125, and there’s even the chance of drawing two or three of those…and, of course, a good chance of getting back the flush.)

But it’s still painful–and would be even more so if I had, say, $4.50 in the machine (playing dimes) and saw $13.50 turn into $0. Fortunately, it was only electrons. And made a nice break from working on an essay.

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