Archive for April, 2005

CIPA as-applied challenge?

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Jessamyn points out an ACLU press release (but I couldn’t open the PDF) about a survey of Rhode Island libraries suggesting that CIPA is being applied in ways that don’t fit the Supreme Court’s reworking of the law: That is, unblocking isn’t being done on request (without explanation for the request) for adult users.

Maybe you’ll have better luck fetching the press release and survey…

There seems little question that a majority of SCOTUS would strike down CIPA if it was impossible to implement filters in the manner described in the decision.

But if some libraries are able to do that, then I’d guess it’s not a question of CIPA’s constitutionality but of how given libraries have chosen to implement filters. In which case, ACLU’s suit will be against the library, not CIPA, and things could get very messy for the library/libraries involved.

Anyway, worth watching! Thanks, Jessamyn.

Update: Seth Finkelstein has confirmed, by asking them, that ACLU does not plan to mount an as-applied challenge to CIPA. More’s the pity.

The joys of not posting

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Yes, it’s metablog time again–sort of.

Twice this morning, making the usual morning sweep of Bloglines, email, and LISNews, I wrote responses to something I read. Once, I considered copying a link and writing a discursive response here.

The first two times, I finished writing what I had to say, looked at it, and clicked away from the comment page–not posting or submitting the comment. In the third case, I didn’t even bother to prepare a draft, then delete it.

Details of the situations are unimportant. Suffice it to say that, in one case, I caught a whiff of “poor, poor, pitiful me” in the response, laughed at myself, and moved on. In the other, I realized that I was responding to an anonymous coward who was doing a good job of trolling–and just moved on.

There’s a lot to be said for responses not posted, and blog essays never blogged. Writing it down is great as a safety valve. Submitting it for anyone else to see is frequently pointless (and sometimes dangerous). Back before ubiquitous “communications” paths, the safety valve was just writing down something and crumpling it up, and the danger of overcommunication was limited by the difficulty of reaching beyond your friends.

Geez, I’m getting philosophical for a Tuesday morning. Time for some good old California contemplation, I guess (which is a vague hint at the topic of one of the unposted responses).

Critical thinking about library technology

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Dorothea comments on two entries in a librarian’s weblog that I don’t normally see, and the comments around those entries. Both entries condemned library technophilia in broad and brusque terms.

I had seen the first of the two entries and some of the reactions. I’d even printed out the essay itself and a few reactions toward possible commentary here or in Cites & Insights.

I decided against it then–partly because I’m not really even in a library, partly for other reasons (not that I agreed with the essay, but that I didn’t feel I could add much useful to the discussion). Now, looking at Dorothea’s thoughtful commentary on the whole situation, I feel I should add a couple of points.

Dorothea is perhaps too complimentary here:

Compare this to Walt Crawford, who goes after specific technologies that he thinks are wrongheaded, always has clear and well-articulated reasons for his dislike, offers alternatives when appropriate, and is always willing to engage in discussion and even change his mind.

That’s my intention, but I’ve certainly been accused of raising straw men and some of the other sins Dorothea’s accusing Chuck of. (There have been librarians who dismiss print as obsolete, and I think still are…and, for that matter, there have been librarians far too eager to take on every shiny new thing. In both cases, when I’ve tried to spare specific librarians from personal attacks, I’ve been accused of attacking nonexistant enemies. I’m a bit sensitive, maybe even scarred, on this subject.)

But then there’s this flat statement in the blog about which Dorothea is opining [and I apologize up front for this sentence]:

I really don’t think technology should be thrown out, but there is NO CRITICAL THINKING in the library world about technology

To which I can only respond, in the tenor of my most recent post, bullshit. Maybe this blogger doesn’t pay any attention to the critical thinking. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. At that point in his second essay, he’s not so much burning down strawmen as (apparently) lumping the entire profession in with his over-eager advocates.

Funny, but as a technological conservative, that’s certainly not what I’m seeing in library journals, in library-related blogs, or even on library-tech lists…

“Bad” language and context

Sunday, April 17th, 2005

Two little semi-related items:

A few weeks back, we were watching our weekly Saturday night DVD–a Netflix blend of indies, mainstream (non-horror, low violence, broad-ranging otherwise), whatever local critics thought well of. I don’t remember the movie; I do remember that my wife felt that the characters used the F-word so casually as to be irritating and not particularly realistic.

Last night, the picture was Human Nature (a charming and very well made little movie that I’d recommend). The F-word was used a number of times. Neither of us found it at all objectionable–because it was always contextually appropriate and what you’d expect a real person to say under the circumstances. (By the way, that’s two unusual and very good movies in a row, with an actor who links them: The Station Attendant, which we saw a week ago, is also first-rate. Peter Dinklage, the dwarf who’s the star of the latter, has a small but pivotal role in Human Nature. As usual with Dinklage, he’s very good in both.)

The other item: Reading the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Book Review section today (almost entirely locally-written). Near the end was a review by Kenneth Baker, the Chron‘s principal art critic, of Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit, the surprise best-seller from Princeton University Press. Good review.

Except for one thing: Throughout the review, buried near the bottom of the fifth page of a serious book review section, what you saw was “bull—” and “Bull—-“.

I must say, I never thought of San Francisco as so conservative that “bullshit” was too strong a word to be used in public, particularly when it’s part of the title of a serious work. (Which is indeed about bullshit, and the extent to which it’s worse than deliberate lying).

Note that I’m fairly conservative: I won’t use the F-word on this blog or elsewhere in print. But not use bullshit? Now, that’s bullshit!

Intuitive interfaces and reality

Saturday, April 16th, 2005

We were down visiting my father last Sunday. He was asking about Google–he’s 96 and has an iMac (“the kids” agreed on a Mac because my brother, who uses them by preference, would clearly be the one to set it up and get it working), but doesn’t use it intensively–so I offered to show him a couple of searches and the significance of what you get back.

And quickly discovered that the wonderfully intuitive and wholly natural interface of the Mac is wonderfully intuitive and wholly natural after you’ve learned to use it–and that, for an experienced Windows user, it is about as intuitive as AACR2.

Click on the browser. Nope, that doesn’t open the ISP. Click on AOL. Then click on the browser. Right-click to…oops, no right mouse button… Anyway, I managed to do a search and show him what I wanted to show him. Then I wanted to shut down. Geez, that was loads of fun. Eventually, we managed to get it turned off. I’m sure “Special” is intuitively the label under which you’d expect “Stop,” where putting Stop on a Start menu (like a light switch) has been roundly denounced for being counterintuitive.

And I know that it’s really a bad thing to be able to do something four different ways, as is convenient or habitual, instead of the One True Way that’s allowed on the Mac.

I’m not criticizing the Mac. I’m certainly not suggesting that a Mac user switch to Windows (and have never done so).

But when I read (as I just did in Computer Shopper that thus-and-such (in this case, the “glacially slow” Mac Mini) means that “Windows users are running out of excuses not to switch to Mac OS X,” my politer response is “I know how to use my computer. It’s pretty clear that Windows skills don’t translate to the Mac. At this point, I find the Mac wildly counter to my own intuition. Why do I need excuses?”

All of which comes down to: In the real world, there’s rarely One True Path.

Gorman, Cohen, Bell, and Berman collaboration?

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Bet you never knew that Michael Gorman, Steven M. Cohen, Steven Bell, and Sanford Berman had co-written a scholarly paper–much less a scholarly paper in computer science.

Well, I’ve read such a paper, “Khond: A methodology for the exploration of wide-area networks.” I even have the PDF on my hard drive. Here’s the abstract:

Stochastic algorithms and the World Wide Web have garnered profound interest from both security experts and experts in the last several years [1]. Given the current status of game-theoretic theory, scholars compellingly desire the investigation of the Ethernet, which embodies the technical plrinciples of cryptoanalysis. In this work we disprove that Scheme can be made compact, peer-to-peer, and client-server.

Once you get past the abstract, the paper looks to be somewhat sloppily-edited: a variant form of the same sentence appears twice, and the set of topics being discussed seems curiously helter-skelter.

Would this paper be accepted by a computer science conference?

Well, one with equally good credentials was–and it’s a great story. Some MIT students, apparently upset at what they consider to be meritless conferences within the compsci area, developed a paper generator. They used it to generate a paper, then submitted the paper to a conference. It was accepted.

In case you’re badly irony-impaired and don’t read very well, no, Gorman, Cohen, Bell, and Berman didn’t coauthor a compsci paper. I have the paper–which was generated by the program.

Here’s a link to the paper that was accepted.

And here’s one to generate your own paper, with up to five authors that you supply.

Wouldn’t a good, solid computer science scholarly paper from, say, Chuck Munson, David Weed, Greg Schwartz, and Steven Cohen look good right about now?

(Yes, that’s the only comment I plan to make on today’s library-blog sensation. Particularly with Dave buying into “printed books disappearing.”)

[My apologies: Thanks to Kairosnews for the tip.]

Books are widgets?

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

Junger posted “Books are widgets:” how to get published at Pop goes the library. It’s a report on a conference session at which “Pamela Redmond Satran, author and contributing editor at Parenting magazine, gave us the real deal on publishing fiction and non-fiction.”

The problem with “the real deal” is when it gets cast as universal. Take this section:

To publish non-fiction, you need to approach an agent with a proposal (and it is nearly impossible to get published without an agent). Your proposal should be written in the style in which you intend to write your book and should contain an introduction and a sample chapter. You should include an outline or plan for the entire book and explain why you are especially suited to write it. And a great title is key.

Consider that parenthetical clause: (and it is nearly impossible to get published without an agent).

I’ve never had an agent. To the best of my knowledge, ALA Editions not only doesn’t require an agent, I think they prefer not working through one. I suspect the same is true for most other library publishers–and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s true for most niche publishers.

After all, an agent normally gets paid by taking a slice of those huge advances you’re going to get for your book. You’re not going to get a huge advance from a library publisher, or at least I never have.

Would I be rolling in dough if I’d hired an “independent agent,” presumably one who gets paid up front instead of taking a percentage? I’m guessing not.

Rethinking silent movies

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

In the sets of public-domain movies I’ve been exercising to (and writing about in C&I “Offtopic Perspectives”), I’ve encountered a variety of approaches to silent movies, some of which I’ll review in the next installment (probably in the May C&I):

  • Truly silent movies–no sound at all on the DVD.
  • Silent movies with wholly unrelated scores superimposed.
  • Silent movies with scores composed for the movie.
  • Silent movies in “color”–or something akin to color.
  • One “half-silent” movie: The first half silent with title cards, the second half full sound, including dialogue and dramatic sound effects.
  • And now: A silent movie with full composed score, continuous narration, and sound effects.

That’s The Iron Mask–made in 1929, starring Douglas Fairbanks as d’Artagnan, originally running 90 minutes or more, apparently with some tinted sequences, maybe with some sound sequences. Or not.

The way I just finished seeing it, the release date is 1952, it’s a lot shorter (1:12), and there’s sound throughout–a composed musical score, generally-appropriate sound effects (horses, dogs, pistol shots), and most importantly, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. does a rousing narration throughout the movie. Impressive. Although I wonder about the other 20 minutes. Maybe they were cut on purpose: One review of the full flick says it’s slowed by long flashback sequences, and there are no flashbacks in the movie I saw.

You may think of Douglas Fairbanks as “Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.”–but of course he was never billed that way!

Spotting the newbies: There’s no “The” there

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

How do you spot radio & tv announcers (and others) in Northern California who haven’t been here long, particularly those who moved from Southern California (and thus can’t be spotted by accent)?

Get them to give a traffic report or just talk about traffic, routes, etc.

There’s a dead giveaway: The

For long-time locals, it’s “880” and “101” and “280” and “273” and the like.

For them Southerners, it’s “the 880” and “the 101” and so on.

Another post with the deep significance you’ve come to expect here.

CDs and DVDs: Apples and Kumquats

Monday, April 11th, 2005

Alan Wexelblat at Copyfight posted “Death of the CD?” on April 9. He raises a question I’ve thought about, albeit not in those terms, as follows (Yes, Copyfight operates under a Creative Commons license, so this full quotation is legal):

I’m traveling this week back and forth to Portland. In the airports are a series of shops advertising “$20/2.” Reading the fine print shows that you can buy two DVDs or CDs for USD 20. This is, in my mind, a sign of the impending death of the CD.

Look at the difference: with the CD you get some music tracks, maybe some liner notes if you’re lucky, and… um, well, that’s about it.

Or, for the same $10 you can get a couple hours of video, plus commentary, alternate tracks, possibly multiple languages, maybe a behind-the-scenes or other feature. If you’re really jonesing for music you can buy concert DVDs of the same pop stars (these shops have tiny inventory – it’s all hit-oriented material). The concerts cover the new songs, and you get to watch your idol perform them (or lip-synch) and get a backstage view or maybe a bonus track with an interview or tourbus footage.

Explain to me again why you’d buy a CD?

I was going to post some of the answers here–but it turns out that comments on the post cover the essential points, e.g.:

  • CDs are malleable–any CD with the “Compact Disc Audio Disc” imprint must not have copy protection (according to Philips), so can be ripped to MP3 or a lossless codec, have tracks combined with other tracks to make custom CD-Rs, have tracks downloaded to portable players, etc., etc. You can’t do anything with the music on a music DVD except listen to it on a DVD player (unless you’re a hacker and don’t mind violating DMCA).
  • CDs offer reasonably full fidelity (some audiophiles will claim that they’re not as good as they should be, but)…as opposed to the compromised sound offered on downloads of any sort.
  • Most important: We (many of us) listen to certain songs or pieces of music hundreds, maybe thousands of times; almost nobody other than a projectionist will watch a movie more than a few times (possibly excepting some kid’s movies).

Actually, CDs priced equally to DVDs that have been out for a year or more is pretty good pricing for the CDs. You can readily buy Hollywood releases for $10 or $7.50 after the studios have sold as many copies for $20 as they think they’re going to–while most record companies waitt many years to rerelease an album for much less than $10 to $12, if they ever do.

The medium-to-medium comparison just doesn’t work: DVDs and CDs serve fundamentally different purposes.