Archive for May, 2005

Book sales decline less than 2%

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

The story in today’s papers (or at least my paper) was written the way it usually is, and I think it’s fair to blame the Book Industry Study Group for spinning the numbers this way:

That is:

  • The decline in books sold in the U.S. last year was announced in big fat numbers, 44 million of them. Wow! We’re all becoming illiterate!
  • The increase in book sales revenue was announced in percentages, 2.8% of them.
  • Accordingly, we see a trivial increase in revenue with a huge whopping end-of-the-world sky is falling decline in actual books sold.

44 million is a lot of books. But so is 2.295 billion, last year’s U.S. book sales. That comes out to 7.76 books per person, infants included.

In other words, nobody buys books any more. Or, by and large, any less either. (Last year had neither a Harry Potter book nor any other blockbuster books. It did have 175,000 new titles, which seems to be a Bad Thing to the BISG spokesperson.)

(What about libraries and ebooks? My best guess, looking at numbers, is that libraries might account for 10% of these sales. Ebooks account for something between 0.08% and 0.2%, depending on how much you believe in them.)

[If your aggregator picked this up again, apologies: I corrected a missing end-italics tag.]

Right-click for advanced users?

Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

LibraryTechtonics has this brief post regarding right-clicking in libraries. I found this observation interesting:

I had always thought of the right-click menu as a tool for intermediate to power users, with most other users better acquainted with the Edit menu. However, I’m noticing that the majority of our users, even at the basic computer knowledge level, are asking how to perform specific tasks because the right-click menu isn’t available, not knowing that keyboard shortcuts or the Edit menu are an option.

I would never have thought of right-clicks as “intermediate to power” usage, unless you’re a user who started on the Mac and moved to Windows. Right-clicks are powerful precisely because your set of choices appears where you are and is (in most cases) contextually appropriate for where you are.

The Edit menu is remote. As for keyboard shortcuts, they fall into the “once you’ve internalized them, they’re great” category, and are to some extent a command-line remnant.

Right-click menus give you a set of choices; keyboard shortcuts work only when you remember what they are (and assume they’ll work–for example, Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V only copy and paste if those functions are enabled in the program and document you’re working with.)

It would seem to me that learning one fairly obvious trick–“try right-clicking and see what’s available” is a great way for a beginner to make progress, where “learn which menu has your function, or learn what keyboard shortcut might do what you want” is a learning curve.

As always, your mileage may vary.

Good news for Michigan and New York wine lovers

Monday, May 16th, 2005

Susan Crawford (no relation) posts on a Supreme Court decision (and provides the PDF of the 73-page decision itself) that strikes down Michigan’s and New York’s ban on direct shipment of wine by out-of-state wineries–given that in-state wineries are permitted to ship directly to consumers.

That still doesn’t take care of states that forbid all direct shipment of wine; that’s another case, and might be tougher to win.

Primary benefits: Consumers get wider variety, access to boutique wineries, and probably lower prices.

Followup: The library link to “Nashville Cats”

Monday, May 16th, 2005

In this post I asked if anyone could identify the (admittedly indirect) library connection to the song from which I quoted two lines, and for that matter the other category I could have used.

Despite some cute comments, nobody had the answer–but then, this blog has a moderately small readership, which is as it should be.

The library link is actually the New York Public Library, and the missing category is “Movies and TV.”

To wit:

  • The post’s title is the first line (except for the refain and “Well,”) and the last line of the post is the last line of “Nashville Cats,” a song from Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful, the second album by the Lovin’ Spoonful. (John B. Sebastian sings the song and, I believe, wrote it, as he did most of Lovin’ Spoonful’s eleven, count them, eleven hits during its brief life as a group.)
  • The Lovin’ Spoonful provided part of the music for Francis Ford Coppola’s You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), including the title song (also sung by John B. Sebastian).
  • Parts of that movie (starring Rip Torn, Julie Harris, Elizabeth Hartman, Karen Black…) are set in the New York Public Library, where the hero of the piece has a job (as a page, fetching books on roller skates). I believe his father (Rip Torn) is supposed to be an official at NYPL.

(I now see that IMDB does not provide the connection, as they list someone else as providing the score–apparently, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s contributions were added to make an odd movie more commercial. I also see that John B. Sebastian is back in the music biz, which is a surprise…)

Those of you younger than dirt might have heard “Summer in the City” or “Do You Believe in Magic” or maybe “Coconut Grove” or “Rain on the Roof.” The Lovin’ Spoonful didn’t last long (drug problems), but had a remarkable string of feel-good hits while they did last.

Congrats here as well

Sunday, May 15th, 2005

I’m certainly not the first, but I shouldn’t be the last either: Dorothea Salo is an official librarian, degree and all.

She’s one of a number of library school students (or, now, former library school students) who have used net media to make an impression in the field before their first (library) professional job.

I note Dorothea because she’s challenged (and at times supported) me in ways that always leave me more thoughtful and perhaps a little wiser. That’s why I’ll use a first name even though (AFAIK) we’ve never met.

SciFi Classics 50-movie Pack, Disc 1

Sunday, May 15th, 2005

I said I’d post “reviews” of individual discs in the two Treeline 50-movie Megapacks I’m currently using to keep me on the treadmill, since interleaving two sets means it will be 5 or 6 months (or more) before I’m through with half of either set. So, here’s the first installment, as it may eventually appear in a future Cites & Insights (with different formatting, to be sure. Long post!

Some of us make a distinction between science fiction and scifi. These are definitely scifi, when they’re even that (quite a few don’t qualify), but that’s what you expect at 50 movies for $26, all of them presumably out of copyright. Some of these movies are the sort that Mystery Science Theater 3000 immortalized. Some aren’t good enough for that treatment.

All of which says that a different critical standard is needed than I applied to the first two megapacks. I’m not looking for classics here. I’m looking for mildly entertaining stuff, sometimes entertaining because of its earnest mediocrity or intentional badness—just something to keep me on the treadmill.

That said, this pack starts off on the wrong foot. Most Treeline megapacks put two movies on each side of each disc, roughly three hours per side—but somehow the two extra movies need to be crammed in somewhere within the dozen discs. (The TV-movie pack I’m watching intermingled with this one had an interesting solution to that dilemma: A thirteenth single-sided disc.) The SciFi Classics pack gets them out of the way up front: The first disc includes three movies on each side, each movie right around an hour long. These were presumably all produced as fillers for double bills.

As usual, if there’s a second timing in square brackets, it’s because the Treeline version was at least one minute shorter (or longer) than the time shown at imdb. Assume sound and a decent-quality (VHS-quality) print with some damage unless otherwise noted.

Disc 1

The Incredible Petrified World, 1957, b&w, Jerry Warren (dir.), John Carradine, Phyllis Coates, Lloyd Nelson (in a minor role). 1:10 [1:03]

I don’t see how this gets labeled scifi, but I suppose the diving bell (how could man ever hope to penetrate the depths of the ocean!) might count. Diving bell on its first deep-sea dive breaks loose, four inhabitants presumed crushed at the bottom of the sea (or something), but they find there’s light, and swim up to…caverns, which they’re certain will have plenty of food and fresh water and air. And, of course, they’re right. Eventually, they even meet a crazy old man who’s been trapped there—under a volcano, as it turns out—for 14 years. And after spending most of the movie walking up and down sections of Colossal Caverns in Tucson, where this was filmed, they manage to get rescued by a rival diving bell. Losing seven minutes probably helps, but the flick is still awfully slow moving. The mediocre print does the film justice. $1 as a curiosity.

Queen of the Amazons, 1947, b&w, Edward Finney (dir.), Robert Lowery, Patricia Morison, other big names. 1:01 [1:00]

The Amazons, in this case, are in Africa, and consist of a bunch of beautiful white women whose parents survived a shipwreck a couple of decades before—and who are in caots (perhaps unwillingly) with an ivory smuggler (but only too happy to help get him killed). They’re discovered by an expedition put together by a woman whose fiancé disappeared (on an expedition that started in India and wound up in Africa). After thrills, chills, locusts and lions, they discover that the fiancé is quite happy to stay with the Queen of the Amazons—which works out, since the woman hunting him has fallen for her guide. Oh, never mind. Cheap fun, and not terrible, although also not scifi by any stretch of the imagination. The print’s not perfect. Neither is the movie. $1.50.

The Robot Monster, 1953, b&w, Phil Tucker (dir.), George Nader, Claudia Barrett. 1:06 [1:02]

According to IMDB, this movie was “so universally scorned and derided by reviewers” that the director couldn’t get any more film work. He attempted suicide by shooting himself—and missed. It was originally in 3D, which might be why reviewers even bothered to deride it. The title (probably really dramatic in 3D!) appears over a montage of cheesy scifi and horror comics or magazines—not the good stuff (Astounding, for example). The early going seems to make no sense: First there are dinosaurs, then a kid’s chatting with some archaeologists—maybe they’re unearthing dinosaur remains?—then, suddenly, we have a group of six people who are apparently the only people alive on earth (or maybe there are two others), thanks to Ro-man, a fearsome—well, slow-moving gorilla with a fishtank on his head, but he’s wiped out almost everyone to make way for the Ro-people (or robots, or whatever). He’s flummoxed by these six, although he manages to kill off two or three of them during this flick, before Ro-man’s superior on some other world decides to finish the job with…well, somehow, with dinosaurs and earthquakes. It’s all resolved when it turns out to be (work with me here!) A Bad Dream after the kid fell and hit his head: it winds up with him back talking to the archaeologists. I couldn’t make this stuff up on a bet. At least it is scifi, at its worst. The Treeline blurb gets the plot completely wrong, possibly because nobody would sit through the whole thing. Somehow, a gorilla suit and fishtank helmet never became the standard image of a robot; I can’t imagine why. The most remarkable thing about this movie comes at the end of the credits: Music composed and directed by Elmer Bernstein. Really? $1, again as a curiosity.

She Gods of Shark Reef, 1958, color, Roger Corman (dir.), Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell, Carol Lindsay. 1:03

Another Corman “I’m on location anyway, let’s make another movie”—filmed in Hawaii (Kauai) as he was making Naked Paradise, then eventually released as part of a prepackaged double feature. It’s not scifi by any stretch of the imagination. It is in color, sort of, with short Hawaiian outfits for the beautiful women (and only women are allowed on this island paradise, where all is provided by “the company” in return for pearls) and even shorter outfits for the two hunky men who are on the run. And who are greeted when they wash up at the island by being told that no guests are allowed—then escorted to the nicely furnished guesthouse. Just enough plot, most of it as sensible as that incident, to make it through the hour. Not enough skill to make the movie worth watching. Either the print’s not good enough to make the scenery worthwhile, or it was filmed badly. Not worth a dime.

The Amazing Transparent Man, 1960, b&w, Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith. 0:57

More IMDB trivia: Filmed back-to-back with Beyond the Time Barrier with a combined shooting schedule of two weeks. All things considered, this isn’t awful. Mediocre but not awful. They did come up with one way to get rid of the mad scientist’s lab in a remote house (or, in this case, the scientist forced to work for a mad ex-military man who wants to create an army of invisible soldiers to sell to the highest bidder, and who keeps the scientist in tow by locking his beautiful daughter away): Since the transparency process relies on exotic radioactive materials (and reduces the lifespan of its subjects to, oh, two or three weeks from first invisibility), the lab disappears in a mushroom cloud shortly before the end of the movie. $1.

The Atomic Brain, 1964, b&w, Joseph V. Mascelli (dir.), Frank Gerstle, Erika Peters, Bradford Dillman. Original title Monstrosity. 1:04.

I can’t resist: IMDB sez, “If you like this title, we also recommend The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.” The difference between the two is that I was willing to watch this all the way through, maybe because it’s less competent as a horror movie. This time, exotic radioactive materials are used to make brain transplants possible, funded by an evil old woman who wants to put her brain in a beautiful young body. By far the best acting is the third-most-beautiful woman (three maids are hired, all with no relatives, you know the drill) after a cat’s brain has been transplanted into her skull: A truly feline performance. The narration (Bradford Dillman) seems to suggest that this sort of thing is going on in all sorts of labs run by mad scientists in remote houses. Also not terrible, but close to it. $1.

After this lot, I’m certain that my decision to interleave SciFi and TV-Movies was the right one, for sanity’s sake if no other reason!

There’s 1352 guitar pickers in Nashville

Friday, May 13th, 2005

Time for a Friday entry.

Some of you read the title to this post and already have the song running through your heads. If you hate the song, my bad.

Others have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s hardly surprising; it was a long time ago, and this particular song wasn’t a big hit.

Over time (if this weblog exists “over time”) expect lots of posts with tiny pieces of song lyrics as titles. When you listen to limited sets of music over a long time, lots of the songs become part of you, lyrics and all. One question that’s been raised about modern music services is whether individual songs become less meaningful when people are stuffing iPods (and competitors) with thousands and thousands of songs. I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if there is one.

Another angle to this: The song celebrates profuse guitar picking–“they can play more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill.” While I love that style when it’s acoustic and suits the music, I’m also fond of the other end–“not that many notes, but the right ones.” But of course, the pickers referred to in this song did play the right notes…

The “libraries” category? There is a connection. I invite a comment from someone who knows the connection. If you have to research it, include the research path you followed; if it’s personal knowledge, that’s even better. (I’ll add a comment or a new post on Monday or Tuesday if nobody’s responded.) For that matter, there’s another category that could be checked…

Meanwhile, I sure am glad I got a chance to say a word about the music and the mothers from Nashville…

An odd time to start

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

Looking back, I can’t believe that I started this weblog on April 1–or at any time in April.

If a few postings have seemed more scatterbrained and on-edge than you’d expect even in a “random” weblog, there’s a reason. These have been strange times at work. (Among other things, I’ve spent 90% of my time in April and May so far doing things that were never previously part of my portfolio, using tools that I’d never seen in March, working with a data source that didn’t exist until March and was still being debugged… After a few weeks of beating my head against tool problems and data sources, it’s actually proving to be worthwhile. Reminds me of back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was doing MARC-based programming with no role models…)

You don’t need more details. Those of you who use RLG services know that the transition we’re going through has taken a little longer and been a little tougher than expected. I think we’re coming out of it stronger, and in ways that will soon be better for users as well. I know I’m coming out of it with a lot more duties, but also the tools to do some of them more effectively.

What the heck. Maybe starting a weblog at the worst possible time was a great idea for the long term.

That was the first work-related post I’ve done. Likely the last for a while as well.

How do you cite blogging vs. publishing?

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

I’m posting this separately from the comments here because I think this is a good topic for discussion. I don’t intend to say much, but certainly invite continued comments.

Here’s what I believe to be the issue or question:

How would or should you note blogging, or specifically conference blogging, or specifically participating in a conference group blog, on your vita or resume?

as contrasted to

How would or should you note the publication of a report on all or part of that conference, particularly if the publication is in an unusual medium such as Cites & Insights?

I don’t have ready answers. It’s still an evolving situation.

As a reader, how did you treat the PLA Blog reports from ALA Midwinter as compared to the few formal writeups of sessions that appeared? As a writer, how would you view the comparison?

(As someone reading a vita or resume for possible interviewing/hiring, what would you expect to see?)

Your thoughts?

Finding a copyright middle ground

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

Go read this post at Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought weblog.

Yes, I know that’s two traditional/metablog entries in a row–but both are deserved. Jenny (see previous post) offers a fascinating situation with troubling implications. Seth offers a thoughtful essay on an aspect of copyright that I, for one, find enormously troubling: The tendency of both “sides” to deny the possibility of a balanced middle ground.

EFF says it’s for balanced copyright but behaves as though it’s for people doing anything they can get away with, with no consequences. Big Media says it’s for respecting rights, but really wants to lock down all media-related technology and maintain absolute control over the stuff that it owns (not “created,” since apart from movies, Big Media creates very little of what it controls). Larry Lessig–whose stance is, I think, quite different from mine but still within the great middle–gets assailed as some kind of commie anti-property radical.

Finkelstein also reminds us of something I’ve known for a long time, certainly since Berkeley days, something that Phil Ochs spelled out in his song “Love me, I’m a liberal”:

As a rule, liberals and radicals hate each other. They’re often more destructive to each other than the nominal common enemy, in a way ordinarily misattributed to “personal” or “ego” (which means stop thinking about it). Rather, they’re competing for the same resources, and attacking a competitor is viewed as a good strategic move.

I would promise that the next post won’t be metablogging–but I think it’s going to continue a conversation in a previous post’s comments, so that’s a faulty promise.