Archive for November, 2005

Getting into trouble with PG

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

To some extent, I saw this one coming. The first question, answer, and expansion in OCA and GLP 1 wasn’t really designed to provoke, but I knew it might be considered provocative.

I thought it might serve as a test of reading comprehension: Would the Project Gutenberg supporter be able or willing to understand the distinctions I was making (between the plain text of a book and the pages of the book, for example) or would they just fulminate that I was demeaning PG and the Michael who made it all possible?

Turns out the first response came in two days ago–but it came in to, the special email address for those who verify up front that their comments can be published, and I don’t check that email address very often. (This is the first such submission…)

Two more arrived today.

Bruce Albrecht sent the first response, a long and thoughtful one. He begins:

I would like to take exception to the several places in the December
2005 edition of Cites and Insight
( where you dismiss the Project
Gutenberg as merely a library of e-texts as opposed to e-books, which
are clearly better.

In the lowest common denominator form, PG texts are, as you say, only
etexts. However, many, if not most of the new works contributed to PG
these days from Distributed Proofreaders also include a secondary HTML
version which include all the features of an e-book that Karen Coyle
claims work from PG lack.

He goes on to note an example and all of its features, explain what Distributed Proofreaders is doing, and question my association of typography and page design with the book itself as written by the author, as opposed to the particular edition.

Well, there aren’t “several places…where I dismiss” PG as merely a library of etexts; I only see one place. But never mind. I was mistaken.

I plead guilty: I had grown so sick of Michael Hart’s inflated ego, his wayward ways with facts and figures (particularly back in the late unlamented “Ask Dr. Internet” days), and other aspects of His Project that I hadn’t gone back to Project Gutenberg in a long time. Everything Hart writes continues to emphasize plain ASCII as what PG is all about. When I did visit the site, I still find that emphasis–although there’s a mention of other formats hidden near the end of a very long FAQ.

And, sure enough, if you start clicking on entries in the catalog, eventually you’ll wind up with some HTML offerings (even a PDF or two!).

Because there’s at least one PDF, the answer to my first question (“How many books has Project Gutenberg digitized and made available online?”) should not be “None” but “A few.” Further clarification: There are several thousand “ebooks” by definitions I’d agree with, namely the HTML versions, but only a few digitized books–that is, digital replications of book pages. End of further clarification 12/3/05. The general answer is correct, however: PG’s primary thrust as explicated endlessly by its founder continues to be etexts, not ebooks (and I would note that Hart would probably take offense at the first sentence in the second paragraph of Albrecht’s letter). But even HTML digitizes the text and organization of a book, not the edition itself. (Google’s public domain offerings, as currently planned, offer the digitized editions, but not in ebook form…)

Then there’s the issue of whether an ebook should be a digital facsimile of a print edition, as opposed to a properly-organized version of the work itself. In this case, there are good arguments to be made on several sides. For some purposes, the digital facsimile is superior; for many purposes, the HTML (or TEI, or whatever) version of the work is superior. I think it’s legitimate to call both of these ebooks.

So, to the extent that PG does now include proper HTML versions of works, I’ll say that there are ebooks on PG.

As to the other two pieces of mail:

  • In one case, I’m waiting for permission to publish, since the mail came in to The correspondent raises a similar issue in briefer form, and says “it’s not fair to represent PG’s content so inaccurately.” My best defense is that PG’s founder makes such a point of representing PG that way that it’s easy for mere mortals to get confused.
  • The other case includes a “response” from Michael Hart himself, and since it was posted to a list (and forwarded from that list), I don’t feel I need his permission to quote some excerpts. The problem is that he was responding to exceprts from the article (I assume, given the responses), which leads to some silliness. He seems to assume that I’m holding Google up as the paragon of ebook provision. But Hart’s derision when it comes to caring about typography and page design can’t be missed; apparently caring about anything related to print is “obsessive.” I’m not sure what, if anything, I’ll actually use from Hart’s stuff; it’s too easy to quote without comment, since he doesn’t need much rope…

There will certainly be feedback/followup in the next issue, maybe even a separate essay. I see one discussion possibility already (having nothing to do with pure ASCII)…

Stinking magazines

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Go read this post at Library Dust.

I have no idea what libraries do (although Michael certainly raises an interesting question), but I surely wish that magazine publishers would stop stinking up their products. (My wife, who’s pretty sensitive to that sort of thing, is a tad more vehement…)

Right now, at home that is, I’m trying to read the November Conde Nast Traveler. Apparently there was a perfume insert that I ripped out (or at least I can’t find it), but it’s still strong enough a week later that it’s hard to put up with. (But then, that magazine seems to have odd-smelling paper anyway…)

Actually, the other advertisers should demand that perfume inserts be stopped: I don’t look at ads when I’ve given up and trashed the magazine for stinking up the household…

Cites & Insights 2005 index available

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

The cover sheet and indexes for Cites & Insights 5 (2005) is now available (one cover sheet and two indexes totalling 18 pages).

This completes volume 5.

If your institution actually binds print volumes of C&I, I’d love to hear from you.

Well, I swear…but not that much

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Our Saturday night DVD movie was Flight of the Phoenix–the new one with Dennis Quaid, not the 1965 original with Jimmy Stewart.

My wife doesn’t much care for flying. Amazingly, she made it through the first half hour with only the comment that “I’ll never get on an airplane again.” (Not likely to be true, but it will take a really great cruise on the other end of that flight…)

The rest of the movie? Good, compelling, not too many lapses in logic and continuity. (I don’t remember the 1965 version, so can’t compare. I added both the new and old War of the Worlds to our Netflix queue at the same time, so we can make a comparison.)

But this isn’t a movie review. We enjoyed it. You might; you might not.

We had time to watch the 41-minute “making of” featurette. We were looking forward to it: To what extent did they actually try to accomplish the key plot element, and what were filming conditions actually like (in Namibia, substituting for the Gobi desert)?

We were disappointed in the featurette, for two primary reasons:

  • The studio tried too hard to make the featurette a mini-movie, with lots of dramatic music sometimes swamping the dialogue. That’s minor.
  • The director, John Moore, apparently can’t say ten words without one or two of them being f*ck or f**king. This got real old real fast. Either word used appropriately is, well, appropriate. Either word used instead of having a real vocabulary is just annoying. It got to the point where we both cringed a little whenever Moore appeared on screen

Actually, John Moore generally impressed us as being a first-rate a**h*le. We’ve never seen any of his other movies. With any luck, we never will. It’s fair to say there weren’t a bunch of quotes from cast members saying what a pleasure Moore is to work with. Admittedly, the filming was done under tough conditions–but geez, Moore seems to be a real pill.

Death of a friend

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

Dr. Ilene Rockman died yesterday–and that’s the last time I’ll use “Dr.,” because she was always Ilene to my wife and me.

You may know or know of Ilene through her many professional and editorial activities within ACRL, at the California State University System, and elsewhere. Charles W. Bailey, Jr., posted this notice earlier today; it offers a good brief summary of her career.

I might have met Ilene at some editorial board function many years ago (actually, I almost certainly did)–but we really got to know her when she married Fred Gertler. Fred is a close friend; has been for more than a quarter-century. When Fred married Ilene, she became a close friend too. Fred called this morning to let us know; we just returned from a visit.

Ilene had great intelligence, persistence, energy, and personality. I knew some of her many accomplishments. I also knew she and Fred made a great pair for the last decade–and admired her as a person as much as as a high-achieving librarian.

We always got together for a combined New Year’s/anniversary (ours) brunch, and typically a few more times each year. We’ll miss her. So will the library field (in general) and, I’m sure, thousands of individual librarians.

There’s more to say, but that’s enough for here and now.

Update, November 30: Please see the comments for this entry, including Fred Gertler’s eloquent eulogy.

Cites & Insights 5:14 available

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

Cites & Insights 5:14, December 2005, is now available for downloading.

This somewhat oversized 28-page issue (essays also available as HTML separates from the C&I home page) is, to use a seasonal metaphor, a post-Thanksgiving feast for the mind, with two big helpings of scanning-related goodness, a turkey of a story, a small side dish of crow, and a dessert helping of odd/old flicks.

Enough of the metaphor, here’s the details:

  • Perspective: OCA and GLP 1: Ebooks, Etext, Libraries and the Commons – the first of two essays on the Open Content Alliance and Google Book Search/Google Library Project. This shorter essay consists entirely of my own perspectives on the two projects and related topics.
  • Following Up: Mea Culpa – While this section includes several “following up” notes, the “mea culpa” regards “Analogies, Gatekeepers and Blogging”–Seth Finkelstein and Jon Garfunkel have convinced me that I’m not qualified to deny the existence of “gatekeepers” within the biblioblogosphere. Read why.
  • ©3 Perspective: Sony BMG: DRM Gone Bad – How an innovative, customer-oriented consumer electronics company can also be a Big Media turkey.
  • Perspective: OCA and GLP 2: Steps on the Digitization Road – The big essay (roughly 10K words, 13 pages, and the reason this issue’s so big: Quotes and comments on developments within these complementary projects, organized by topic.
  • Offtopic Perspective: SciFi Classics 50 Movie Pack, Part 1 – a little leavening to finish the issue. From Hercules and Gamera to the Wasp Woman and Pia Zadora, mini-reviews of 26 movies (the first six discs of a megapack that now goes for $20), a few of which deserve the “SciFi” label. Be your own MST3K script writer!

Note: While this is the final issue for volume 5 of Cites & Insights, it is not the end of the volume. The index (a volume title sheet and index) will appear in the reasonably near future, for those few (?) who actually bind Cites & Insights.

Followup on megapacks

Friday, November 25th, 2005

This post noted the availability of several new 50-movie packs, most all with “Classic” in the name, at a new lower price of $19.99 from Overstock (plus a humongous $1.40 shipping and handling charge for USPS shipping).

First a correction: The new company name “Mill Creek Entertainment,” not “Mill Pond,” and that’s about the only change in packaging from the old TreeLine 50-movie packs. Even the UPC company portion is the same, 26831. (The musicals were made in Singapore; three of the four previous packs were made in Taiwan; the first doesn’t have a made-in label. Given the full UPC numbers involved, I’d guess “Classic Musicals” is the 16th such pack–the first, “Family Classics,” was 26831 07001, this one’s 26831 07016, and the others are somewhere in between.)

Second, a little amplification. I ordered the set on Sunday from Overstock in Minnesota, using the cheapest possible shipping. The order shipped on Monday. From Minnesota. It arrived on Wednesday. In Mountain View, California. This is why I don’t pay for rush shipping if USPS or USPS Media Mail is available…around here, at least, I like the Post Office’s performance.

There are 50 titles. Some of them aren’t what you’d think of as “movies” (i.e., two collections of shorts, each running less than 45 minutes total), and some are musical revues rather than musicals as such. Most are in black & white (including at least one marked as color). Five are movies I have in other collections (but that’s OK: The five range from pretty good to first rate, and those five are in color). Most are old, as you’d expect, although one features Tuesday Weld and Chuck Berry. I probably won’t get to these pictures for a year or so, but I’m looking forward to it–quite a few of these are little-known movies that were never widely released, and I suspect there will be some great performances among them.

Third and finally, a possibly-redundant note as to why I find these megapacks so interesting (doing the reviews is just fun…): These packs testify to the wealth of material that is or should be in the public domain–and the hotly competitive and technology-driven DVD market makes it feasible to sell a package of 50 movies for $20, in a box that weighs less than a pound and takes up less shelf space than two videocassettes. These aren’t “DVD quality” remasters from the original films; they’re typically VHS-quality, sometimes not quite that good, leaving lots of room for the best movies to come out as higher-quality DVD releases. But these sets offer extensive looks into movie history and loads of good entertainment, at a price and in a form that was impossible prior to DVDs. They’re great cheap fodder for film studies, understanding the culture, and–well–making fun of the bad’uns.

Similarly, but in a different vein, cheap DVD production costs and compact storage make it possible to release very high quality sets of great old (and new) TV shows with loads of extras and picture and sound quality few of us ever saw when the shows were new. (If the music rights can be cleared, that is–I wonder whether seasons 3 and later of Moonlighting will ever emerge from clearance oblivion…)

DVDs will be gone by 2012? Here are a dozen more reasons I regard that as a silly projection…and why, even with copy protection (which these discs may or may not have), I love DVD.

Giving thanks

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Thanks for growing up in an absurdly functional family, where even as the unexpected final child I knew I was loved, knew reading mattered (and was an everyday thing, given the books, magazines, and newspapers around the house), knew that people were more important than money, and knew that my parents expected me to make my own decisions.

Thanks for growing up with mutual respect–with good values being shown by example, not by rote training, punishment, imposed belief systems or admonition.

Thanks to UC Berkeley for showing me a broader world, allowing me to get a great education if I wanted it, exposing me to world-class teachers (including a Nobel laureate or two), and dispelling any sense that high SAT scores and a facility for writing made me anything special. Thanks to the student co-op for exposing me to so many different viewpoints, making a connection between effort and economics, putting academics first without ignoring socialization, and encouraging me to learn something about user-centered design as part of the advisory committee on the first purpose-built student co-op at Berkeley (and the first co-ed dorm as well). Convincing experienced dorm architects that students need available high-level room lighting for group study and conversation: Priceless.

Thanks to the Doe Library and its people for acculturating me in library ways, putting up with me at times (as a student employee and later), exposing me to a world-class collection, and accidentally turning me into a programmer/analyst/designer along the way…oh, and not incidentally for also employing a woman working her way through library school who filled in for someone else handling a weekly process connected to the data-entry system I designed: The small problem she had in the process resulted in our meeting, me walking her home after work, and our being married almost 28 years so far…

Thanks to RLG for taking me on and providing a range of interesting and usually-worthwhile experiences and areas of growth, and for making it clear that my writing and speaking wouldn’t be controlled or censored. Oh, and for giving me some time off to speak during the years I was in high demand.

Thanks to the people at LC who didn’t have the time to write the book people needed about MARC. Were it not for them (and for the inaccurate information being used at one library school), I would probably never have become a book writer. (And of course thanks to the librarians throughout Berkeley’s branch system and Stanford’s libraries who made it possible to get so much research done over the years–with particular gratitude to the librarians at Berkeley’s former library school library, back when Berkeley had a library school.) (And thanks to Ed Wall for encouraging and publishing my long-running series, to my wife and Kathie Bales for convincing me to apply to edit the LITA Newsletter, and so on, and so on…)

Thanks to the librarians at Stanislaus Public Library when I was growing up, at Redwood City and Menlo Park libraries at various times, and certainly at Mountain View Public Library now. I appreciate the services, the collections, and the people.

Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me to write, invited me to speak, attacked my preconceptions, pushed me on technology and library issues, and generally kept things interesting.

I could go on (and on and…) but I’ll stop here.

Canadians have already had their turn. Now it’s ours. There may be a lot of things wrong with the world, but there’s still a lot of things to be grateful for. These are just a few of mine.

Technology for the rest of us

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

That’s the title of a new book from Libraries Unlimited, edited by Nancy Courtney. Subtitle: “A primer on computer technologies for the low-tech librarian.” ISBN 1-59158-233-4; 184 p. (paper); $40. Here’s the publisher’s description.

I mention it because I just received my author’s copy. The book’s based on the Ohio State University “Technology for the Rest of Us” seminar in May 2004, a wonderful event that I participated in as speaker and listener. My chapter is “OpenURL basics,” the first portion of which appeared in Cites & Insights

Other chapters cover computer networks (Bob Molyneux), Wireless LANs (Bill Drew), Cybertheft and security (Mark Cain), RFID (Eric Schnell), Blogs and RSS (Darlene Fichter and Frank Cervone), XML (Art Rhyno), OAI (Sarah Shreeves), Institutional repositories (Charly Bauer), Adaptive Technologies (Jerry Hensley), and digital image management (Samantha Hastings and Elise Lewis). I seem to remember other speakers, but it was a long time ago…

I haven’t read the book yet, but it was a heck of a 3-day seminar.

Do names matter?

Monday, November 21st, 2005

I wrote this post a few days ago because I thought Google did a smart thing in changing the name “Google Print” to “Google Book Search.” They took a questionable name with implications of availability and turned into a name that focuses on finding, not getting.

Last Saturday, I added an update because I saw two or three library bloggers calling the service “Google Books.” (I didn’t link to any one because it wasn’t just one.)

I’m seeing more of that today. Oh, and one of those who’d done it originally seems to feel that “Book Search” is too many syllables for a Google service. (I wonder what this person calls Google Scholar? Google Schol?)

I would leave well enough alone, except that this particular blogger also very much identifies herself as a Writer.

I believe that if I thought of myself as a Writer, I would also be sensitive to the importance of word choice–and to the desirability of respecting others’ choice of words and names.

Heck, I don’t think of myself as a Writer first and foremost–but I care about the language enough to recognize that there’s a huge difference between “Books” and “Book Search,” and that it’s not likely an accidental choice on Google’s part.

I suppose that, as Martin Luther didn’t say, it all depends whose intentions are being ignored.