Archive for June, 2005

Almost an ALA post

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

If I do any “real” ALA-related posts, it won’t be until I’ve gone through the full set of Bloglines feeds waiting for me (380+ library-related posts, 200+ others), at which point I can determine whether I have anything to add that’s worth adding.

Meanwhile, a few random thoughts (just got back yesterday evening, balancing various sorts of catching up, and semi-coherent):

  • I’ve never agreed with the notion that ALA’s Annual Conference is just too big. Now, I’m not so sure.
  • Kudos to Gale for the shuttle service: It was so well planned that I used it (a lot), which I rarely do. Of course, I was at the Hilton, and the Hilton:Conference Center run couldn’t have been easier, but still…splitting the conference hotels into nine small subsets made loads of sense. And must have cost loads of money.
  • Kudos to OCLC and the It’s All Good crew for the library bloggers gathering. Certainly the youngest event I attended at the conference, and one of the most enjoyable. (And they did have “My name is” tags so we could add our Nom de Blogs to our real names, for those with less transparent blogonyms. Oh Gaia, I’m using net neologisms. My only excuse is fatigue.)
  • No kudos whatsoever to the conference registration/exhibits entry layout, a total disaster on Saturday and not much better on Sunday. When you have safety marshals keeping people from getting on escalators, something’s terribly wrong. See the first bullet in this list.
  • Strangest moment in the conference: Not the library bloggers thing, but the Moonies arriving at my hotel in force on Monday evening. And I do mean in force.
  • Striking change for me: being in the audience at Top Tech Trends for the first time.
  • Overall: I attended more programs (but fewer discussion groups) than usual, learned something, and ran into lots of people I know from ALA (as always) and some that I only know through net media (that’s new).

More later, if there’s more useful to say. Now, this evening, to get back to writing after a full month outage…

Apricots and ALA

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

Remember this post?

The first few apria (or apriums) we had were surprisingly good. The next week’s batch were “ok for what they are.”

When we got back from Alaska, our new Blenheim apricot tree had about a dozen apricots, half ready to pick, half not quite there. (It’s a new tree: next year, we’re hoping for several dozen apricots.)

The bad news: when my wife went out the second day to pick the remaining apricots, they were all gone. She grumbled about that. Presumably a squirrel or very adept bird (they were all gone); hard to believe someone would have gone into our gated back yard to grab a few apricots.

The good news: The other apricots were apricots. Comparing them with the apria/apriums is a bit like comparing, say, top-of-the-line filet mignon with a “roast beef” sandwich from a vending machine. Half of one fully ripe, just off the tree, Blenheim apricot is enough for pure ecstacy.

[By the way, I’ll still delete “helpful comments” about how farmer’s markets and direct-from-the-farm services are the best way to get good produce, when they obviously come from someone who’s not a regular reader. The information may be good, but it’s still spam.]

They’re all gone now. Meanwhile, we’re getting some really first-rate pluots…and Bing cherries should be in full swing by the end of ALA. Ah, summer stone fruit season: A wonderful time of year.

“…and ALA”? Just to note that this is probably the last entry here for the next five days or so. I’m off to Chicago to swelter for a few days with a few thousand of my closest friends (and 20,000 to 22,000 library folks overall). I travel without technology, and have no intention of coping with the ALA internet center–so I won’t be dealing with email or weblogs during that time.

Which also means I won’t be moderating any comments that require moderating (which usually includes anything with URLs, and an unknown variety of other triggers) until I return.

I’m also not posting my schedule on the informal ALA wiki or here, partly because it’s very loose, partly because it just seems odd. If you’re trying to get in touch, though, here’s a few possibilities:

  • I’ll be staying at the Chicago Hilton from Friday afternoon through Tuesday late morning.
  • Friday, I hope to be at the LITA Happy Hour and probably at the WebJunction reception.
  • Saturday, I might go to the MARS “metasearch” session and the “Models of scholarly publishing” session (but will definitely be at a small YBP-related gathering)
  • Sunday, I plan to be at LITA Top Technology Trends in the audience, not on the podium and stick around for the LITA Awards Reception; later, I plan to be at the “Library bloggers” get-together that OCLC folks are hosting.
  • Monday, I plan to be at the RLG Eureka Users Group session and, in the afternoon, at the “Google and Libraries” program.

But those aren’t all definite, I’m not sure when I’ll do exhibits (but I’ll certainly spend the 4 to 8 hours exhibits typically require), I’m staying pretty loose on breakfast and lunch plans (which means dining alone or with whoever I run into), and my only current formal dinner plans are Saturday and Monday.

Otherwise–I’ll be back next Wednesday, or maybe Tuesday evening.

Wikis and the LA Times

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

Just a quick note: I’ve read about the LA Times‘ very brief experiment with “wikitorials”–and some quick explanations of why it was probably doomed from the start.

I’ve also seen several bloggers predicting that, to paraphrase, all those anti-wiki people will be out proclaiming “See, wikis are worthless.”

What I haven’t seen so far, however–at least in the blogs I track or those quoted by those blogs–is anyone actually saying that the LA Times failure represents a general problem with wikis, as opposed to a specific failure in this situation.

Where are all the grand nay-sayers that I’m being warned about? Am I just missing a groundswell of “see, we told you” posts?

Addendum, a little later: Here’s the thing: Citing this singular failure as a general failure on the part of wikis makes exactly as much sense as saying, for example:

  • “I just read a book that says nothing and says it badly, and the pages fell out after an hour. Books don’t work.”
  • “I’ve seen a dozen weblogs that are meretricious wastes of time. Weblogs don’t work.”
  • “More than half of new restaurants fail in the first year. Restaurants don’t work.”

I don’t think it’s even worth responding to that sort of criticism. If someone says, as one critic has, that every use of wikis could be done better by a different technology: That’s a criticism worth responding to. (And the calmer responses were pretty convincing.)

Anyway: I haven’t seen any slew of “See? Wikis don’t work” comments. Have you?


Monday, June 20th, 2005

After avoiding it (or, rather, just not doing it) for years now, I’m now connected from home via broadband. The service started today–but it was apparently active yesterday, since that’s when I not only installed the equipment but completed the registration.

I didn’t do it for streaming video. Not that I’ll never watch any, but that certainly wouldn’t justify it.

I didn’t do it for P2P (which I don’t plan to use) or running a “server” from home (I can’t: the plan I signed up for uses a dynamic IP address).

I didn’t do it for downloading music–but I’ll admit that, if I can find sufficiently high quality, track-at-a-time purchasing makes a lot of sense to me to fill in a few hundred missing pieces in my collection without buying a few hundred CDs.

I didn’t even do it to make uploading Cites & Insights faster, although it will surely do that–after all, that’s a savings of maybe a minute once a month.

Certainly not for most of my internet surfing: Bloglines runs just fine at 52K, and most of the sites I visit work well with dialup.

I’d been considering it for “nuisance” reasons–if I just want to check a movie’s provenance or some simple fact like that, and the computer’s on, the 30 seconds for a dialup connection is a nuisance.

On the other hand, I knew I couldn’t keep my personal website unless I took AT&T DSL–and AT&T DSL’s pricing is unattractive.

What finally pushed me was simple, if stupid: The need to keep updating MS Windows and SpySweep and Norton Antivirus and the like. With MS Windows really wanting auto-updates that frequently run several megabytes–and SpySweep having fairly frequent and very large signature updates. (Oddly enough, Spybot doesn’t have big or frequent updates.) I was unwilling to have auto-update for Windows enabled on dialup–but that WARNING! popup each day on startup was a nuisance.

Second push: My wife’s finally at the point where she wants a notebook computer (she had a desktop at home, but never used it–she spends so much time at the computer at work that it wasn’t attractive), and it made sense to have wireless broadband. (I’ve been encouraging this for some time, but until she wanted it, we both knew prices would keep getting better.)

And, the tipping point: SBC, the local phone company, offered SBC Yahoo! DSL Express (the “low-speed” DSL, 384Kb upload, 1.5Mb download) for $14.95 a month for the next year–with wired ethernet router included free, wireless router for $50. Offer good through 6/30.

“What the heck.” I ordered it 6/12. The equipment (the CD, router, and half a dozen DSL/phone line filters) arrived 6/18. Email said that DSL service would begin 6/20, and at first said I shouldn’t do any installation until then. But then a letter said “Go ahead and install; you can finish registration when service begins.” So I did the installation yesterday–and, somehow, registration went just fine. (My guess is they turned the service on at the end of the day Friday.)

It’s a wireless router from a relatively obscure company, but I’ll leave it “wired” to my desktop: Since I needed the Ethernet connection to get it configured, I don’t see the point in spending $ to add a WiFi adapter to my 3-year-old PC when the wireless router is sitting three feet away from the PC. As soon as my wife buys a notebook, all we’ll need to do is load the SBC software and set up the WiFi connection. (Yes, I did know enough to change the default network name, turn off broadcast, and make sure WEP is enabled.)

As I was installing, I thought about how much easier XP has made this whole process. For example, I’d never set up the Ethernet card that I assumed was part of my computer. When I plugged the router’s cable into my Ethernet port, it didn’t establish a connection. I brought up the control panel, noted an Intel PROSet Ethernet-100 option in networking, double-clicked on it, and…well, that’s all there was. Ethernet was working.

So now I have both hardware and software firewalls (since I had a three-year-old Norton AntiVirus and two-year-old Norton Personal Firewall, both with up-to-date signatures, I picked up a 2005 Norton Internet Security package to upgrade both: with rebates, it’s cheaper than renewing the signature subscriptions!), three layers of spyware protection (Norton’s added its own), more spam protection than I can really use (since I still don’t use Outlook Express)–and, to be sure, much faster downloads. (As soon as I installed Norton Internet Security, it wanted to download 8MB of updates–which took about a minute.)

I didn’t exactly resist broadband. I just wasn’t willing to pay big bucks for it and didn’t much see the need for my data requirements. On the other hand, paying $5 less for broadband than I’m paying for dialup (which will continue until I find a new home for my website) was hard to resist.

One note: Anyone know where the SBC Yahoo Browser comes from? It’s not IE; it’s not FireFox; it has a “Mac” feel to it. I’m guessing some Mozilla spinoff, but the “About” tab is no help at all.

A semi-negative consequence: I won’t be doing any more timing tests for how dialup-friendly hot websites are. I’m losing the dialup connection as soon as possible (actually, SBC includes dialup support as part of the DSL subscription).

Will I crave faster speed down the road? I’m aware that the limit on my DSL speed is a software limit; for $10 a month more, I can raise the download speed to “up to 3Mb,” and I believe that speed will continue to rise. If we ever need it, we’ll pay for it.

No big deal here. Just noting that one of the remaining 40% dialup holdouts has dropped in.

Cites & Insights: A pre-ALA announcement

Monday, June 20th, 2005

Some of you may be anticipating a July issue of Cites & Insights coming out just before ALA–that is, right about now.

That’s not going to happen. Indeed, there’s not going to be a July issue at all.

Paying attention to readership patterns and wholly appropriate reading habits during the summer, I’m planning a combined July/August issue for mid to late July. That probably means a total of 13 issues for 2005, which seems as good a number as any.

I do not plan a double-length July/August issue; I’m aiming for 20 to 22 pages, with 24 pages tops. The plan is to produce a little less copy during the summer. Maybe some of you will catch up on some of the issues you skipped or that are sliding off your desk along with other unread stuff… (And maybe I’ll do a more thoughtful issue with more time. Hope springs eternal!)

The decline of the audiocassette

Friday, June 17th, 2005

Furdlog points to this BBC article about the decline in audiocassette sales, with Furdlog calling audiocassettes “the first of the ‘music piracy’ formats?”

Let’s not get into the tiresome “piracy” argument. Furdlog does put scare quotes around the phrase. Audiocassettes may have been the first widespread format for music sharing and mixing–how many people still call custom CD-Rs “mix tapes”?

But there’s an odd quote in the story, worth noting:

Oddly, Philips did not charge royalties on their cassette patent, allowing numerous other companies to use their design for free. This ensured the quick acceptance of it as a new form of media.

I don’t believe it would have required that much research for the BBC reporter to eliminate the “Oddly, ” from that statement. I’m not sure whether I got the information from Nick Lyons’ The Sony Vision (Crown, 1976) or Akio Morita’s Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony (Dutton, 1986), but here’s how I summarized it in Current Technologies in the Library: An Informal Survey (G.K. Hall, 1988, still one of the books I’m proudest of):

Philips fully intended to license its patents to other companies for a modest continuing royalty such as 2 cents per cassette. Around 1960 Sony convinced Philips to make the license royalty-free and offered in exchange a patented automatic recording level system that would make cassette recorders much more useful for casual recording. The Sony-Philips cross-licensing marked the beginning of many agreements between these two companies that would influence non-print media, and helped to make the compact cassette a worldwide standard.

Thanks to Sony’s advice, Philips wound up with a reasonable slice of a huge market instead of a big slice of a tiny proprietary market. The biggest “influence” of the two-company relationship to date has been the CD, licensed under a joint Sony-Philips patent cluster. Not for free, though…

Alaska continued

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

A few more notes on our cruise…

The passengers:

Typical Crystal, by and large: Affluent, well-educated, interesting, with relatively few yahoos and just enough smokers to annoy the breathers (not in dining rooms or the showroom, certainly, but elsewhere).

The ship wasn’t full–the first in the Alaska series usually isn’t–and had some 700-odd people (out of 940 capacity, with 535 crew). The way the captain summarized it at his welcome party: people from 14 other countries, including 12 from Canada, 21 from the UK, 8(?) from Japan–I think it added up to around 100 overall. Then: “240 from the United States, and 350 from California.”

While Californians have been well-represented on every cruise we’ve taken (typically anywhere from 20 to 30%, which makes sense since most of these cruises are marketed only in the U.S. and Canada, California makes up around 18% of the U.S. population, and people in coastal states typically cruise and travel abroad more than people in the interior, this is the first time it’s been half the ship. But sailing out of SF, it really was convenient; I’d guess 100 of the 350 might have been from the Bay Area, maybe more. Beyond that, there were 36 from Texas, 33 Florida, 21 Arizona, 21 Hawaii (one group of food & wine aficionados traveling together), 15 New Jersey, 14 Illinois, 13 Colorado, 10 Nevada, 8 Massachusetts, 7 each Michigan and New York, 6 each Indiana and Tennessee, and 55 from the 38 other states & DC. That breakdown is also unusual–more typically (and maybe not true of Alaska cruises), Florida, New York, and Texas would be 2nd-4th in that order.

The greatest elements:

Alaska first and foremost: The grandeur, the beauty, the wildlife, the people.

Tracy Arm (already noted) was new to us and spectacular. The Misty Fjords were new to us and somewhat less spectacular; maybe the weather was too good for proper enjoyment. Glacier Bay was definitely not new to us but always worthwhile.

Allen Marine tours–a tip for people who love aquatic wildlife and plan Alaska trips. Allen Marine builds its own waterjet catamarans in its Sitka shipyard and runs its own tours, always with a naturalist aboard, always (in our experience) comfortable, well-equipped (with binoculars and route maps, good marine heads and galleys with free beverages and snacks), designed for great viewing, and run to get the most out of the two to four hour tour. You won’t see Allen Marine listed in a shore-excursion book. Look for “Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest” or “Mendenhall Glacier & Wildlife Quest” in Juneau, “Ketchikan Explorer by Land & Sea” or “Misty Fjords & Wildlife Quest” in Ketchikan, “Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest” or a couple of others (with “wildlife quest” in the name, generally) in Sitka. (A bunch of Allen Marine boats are in use as passenger ferries in New York, and the Tlingit-owned ferry we took from Skagway to Haines was actually an Allen Marine boat…)

The food, to be sure–and the wine, including the new “C” vintages (prepared exclusively for Crystal). The “C” Chardonnay was a good moderately-priced California Chardonnay–but the C Reserve, a central coast wine, was superb and a bargain as a shipboard restaurant wine ($8.50/glass, $34/bottle).

Some of the production shows: One with the music of Irving Berlin, one Rodgers & Hammerstein, one “Rock Around the Clock.” A cast of eight remarkably talented singers and dancers augmented by two leads (in all, five men, five women); the male lead had enormous vocal range and depth, and they were all first-rate.

Enough for now. We’ll get pictures back in a couple of days; those might inspire more comments. (Great as the vacation was, work’s been hectic enough to drive much of it out of my mind–and may explain why “regular blogging,” whatever that might mean, won’t return for a while yet.)

In the meantime, by now you should know the bottom line: While it may be true that we’re loving Southeast Alaska to death, it’s also true that Southeast Alaska is the essential cruise for anyone who cares about spectacular scenery and wildlife. There’s really no other good way to see the area. Whether on a small expedition-type ship (which my brother’s doing next month, along with one of his daughters and granddaughters), the Empress of the North (a 235-passenger sternwheeler, the only ocean-going sternwheeler), a medium-size luxury ship (the Crystal Harmony or a Seven Seas competitor), or even–maybe–one of the megaships, it’s worth doing at least once.

Gorman’s latest

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

I feel no obligation to comment on every issue related to Michael Gorman. The fact that we coauthored a book a decade ago is pretty much irrelevant to what’s happening in 2005. I was not part of his campaign committee this time around. I’m not part of his inner circle.

And I think it’s odd, maybe even ludicrous, to (a) call ALA a bunch of idiots because Gorman was elected president, (b) quit ALA because you disagree with one person who will be president next year, (c) impute the worst possible motives for every careless or badly-worded statement made. (I happen to like people who have taken each of those stances; different issue.)

At the same time, I’m not real thrilled about Gorman’s statements, either the latest or some of the earlier ones. I don’t think they reflect favorably on ALA. They certainly don’t represent my positions.

Too much is being written about this; that’s the nature of Net Media. I don’t intend to contribute a whole essay to that overcoverage.

For now, Sarah‘s brief commentary strikes me as pretty much on the money. (Not to say that others aren’t, but I’m not going on a linkfest here.)

Back, sort of

Monday, June 13th, 2005

Why would someone automatically suppose that a comment about infrequent/erratic posting and moderating for 10-12 days means a vacation? It could mean a speaking trip, planned surgery, illness, family commitments, computer problems, any number of things.

More to the point, why would someone make such a weblog entry with no referent, no significance, no reason whatsoever? I’m not quite paranoid enough to believe that this particular blogger (I’m not about to provide a link, as the last thing I want is to provide this jerk with added readership) was pointing out that our house might be open to robbery during that period (which, fortunately, was not the case), but otherwise…well, why on earth would you blog that someone who you don’t know and who has never said so is going on an “extended vacation”?


As it happens…well, the series of cruise entries may be a tipoff. All of those entries were composed on or before May 30, postdated, but in a typical one-pass “zeroth draft” mode. We were on our final Crystal Harmony cruise to Alaska, a 12-night round trip out of San Francisco. Final only because the Crystal Harmony disappears in December, taken over by Crystal Cruises’ parent, NYK Shipping, for luxury Japanese cruising under a different name. It’s the third time we’ve done this cruise, the second time we’ve taken the first in the summer series, despite the possibility of inferior weather at the beginning of the season.

I’m not going to write about the whole trip for the moment (too tired–and after today at work, really too tired). I will note that poor weather turned out to be a problem only in one minor sense: When the skies are as clear and sunny as they were in every single port–blue skies in Ketchikan!–you see a lot less wildlife on the wildlife-watching excursions we took. Eagles and others tend to stay in the shade, coming out more on overcast days. So we only saw maybe two or three dozen eagles, maybe 15-20 humpbacks, maybe 20-30 orcas (“killer whales”), possibly two dozen sea otters, a dozen or so sea lions, and three mooses. The mooses were new to us. Otherwise, it’s fair to say that, spectacular as bald eagles always are in flight (and even as “golf balls in trees,” the standard spotting suggestion), this year was nothing compared to the hundreds we encountered two years ago.

Short version: Wonderful cruise. Rain only in Glacier Bay. Tracy Arm, new to us, was spectacular–and our captain, unlike another “big ship” captain, wasn’t about to let some floating ice (lots of floating ice) keep the ship out of the 22-mile fjord. Glorious weather in Skagway (and Haines, where we spent most of that day), Sitka, Juneau–and, to repeat, blue skies in Ketchikan. People who know Alaska will know how odd that is. (The Misty Fjords weren’t misty when we were there…)

Intermittent posting as I catch up with everything–and, of course, there’s ALA in another 11 days. Where I’ll be sans technology as usual.

Notes about cruising 6: Windstar

Friday, June 10th, 2005

I’ll try to keep this one short–after all, these ships are small. The three originals (the Wind Song, Wind Star, and Wind Spirit) hold 148 passengers in 74 cabins–73 of them identical (plus one “owner’s suite). The Wind Song was put out of commission by a fire.

WindStar picked up the Club Med II (a much larger, coarser version of the WindStar idea built after WindStar’s ships), renamed it the Wind Surf, and converted one deck’s worth of 188sqft. cabins into 376sq.ft. suites by removing interior walls. (As a result, they’re the only small suites I’ve ever heard of with two full bathrooms!) That ship still carries 308 passengers, more than twice as many as the “real” WindStar ships; it has more public spaces, but it’s not as classic.

How classic? WindStar ships are “wind cruisers.” They have regular engines–but they also have masts. When the wind reaches 10 knots, the captain pushes a button and little motors unfurl glorious sails from the (turning) masts. The ships run faster under sail than under engines, and when conditions are right the only running engine is the one required for electricity and the like, resulting in glorious quiet. There’s no sailing crew, but these are sailing ships.

We haven’t been on the Wind Surf, so can’t comment. The others are first-rate at what they do. The cabins are extremely well designed and comfortable, but there are no verandahs (and you get big portholes, not windows). There aren’t a lot of public spaces, there’s no neon or glitz, and they don’t schedule boatloads of Events to keep you busy.

What they do is sail into interesting ports with a small group of interesting people, serve restaurant-quality food in a restaurant-like setting (open seating, and although there’s a limited menu all food is cooked to order), offer some low-key local entertainment when appropriate in the single lounge/meeting space/bar, and maintain a great casual gathering spot on the open top deck, with a modest pool, a pool bar, and interesting snacks or special cooking demonstrations some afternoons. There’s actually a second restaurant where breakfast and (usually) lunch is served, a combination of buffet and menu items. WindStar gets local fish and produce whenever that’s possible, and if you go out fishing they’re only too happy to cook the results.

Oh, your room has a TV and either DVD player or VCR; the reception desk checks out movies. There’s a tiny so-called casino (two tables and four or five slot machines). There’s music and dancing at times. And, whenever the ship’s anchored in calm waters, there’s a water-sports platform opening directly from the stern, with all water sports except scuba free (snorkeling–they have equipment; ocean kayaks; windsurf boards; and more).

Not a cruise line for those who need to be Entertained. Not a cruise line for those who love formal dress: The dress code at dinner is always “resort casual,” which means nice shirts or equivalent but certainly not ties or formalwear. Also not for those who get seasick easily: small ships running under sail are going to sway a lot more than big cruiseliners with stabilizers. (On one cruise, there were evenings when we joked that anyone walking upright through the dining room had had way too much to drink!

Great destinations; well-planned shore excursions; interesting people; and you set your own pace. We love it. Others might not. It’s not cheap, and, yes, it is technically part of Holland America, which in turn means it’s owned by Carnival. Although we weren’t crazy about Holland America and are unlikely to cruise on Carnival, WindStar suits us fine.