Archive for 2005

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.

More megapacks!

Sunday, November 20th, 2005

It appears that TreeLine Films has found even more flicks that are either public domain or that it can license for next to nothing. I haven’t been to Overstock for many moons, but checking there just now, I see:

  • Classic Musicals (50 musicals), which I’m sure is new
  • Historic Classics (50 movies, all named, all history-related)
  • Gunslinger Classics

in addition to the ones I’ve seen before (all either 50 movies/TV movies, 100 TV episodes or cartoons, or 150 serial episodes, each on 12 double-sided double-density DVDs), e.g. War Classics, Hollywood Legends, Comedy Classics, Mystery Classics, Sci-Fi Classics, Western Classics, Martial Arts Classics…

Indeed, 16 of the 24 DVD box sets on the first of nine pages (ranked by “top sellers”) are TreeLine megapacks. (More than 16, but there are some duplications.)

They’ve also dropped the price to $19.98–and dropped the silly “$199.98” list price to a more plausible $29.99 on all the newer boxes.

I see a few of these (and one more, Dark Crimes) at Amazon, for $26.95. Amazon has a longer listing for the musicals (which I couldn’t pass up)–apparently it includes quite a few music shorts.

Oh, and TreeLine may now be Mill Pond. Whatever.

Google and public libraries: A metablog

Friday, November 18th, 2005

This post at the Official Google Blog comments on Google’s plan for citywide wireless broadband in Mountain View (where I live and work).

Here’s the great quote:

To this end, I am proud to be working with the City Council, the city librarian, the police department, numerous neighborhood associations, both of the school superintendents, and (of course) the bookmobile driver. And huge thanks in particular to Ellis Burns at the City of Mountain View.

Yes, Mountain View does have a bookmobile. (This city of 72,000 doesn’t have any branch libraries, and I suspect given the shape and nature of the city that’s sensible. The main library is heavily used, and got a great shout-out just this week from a Palo Alto writer holding it up as superior to Palo Alto’s libraries–a situation which, if true, comes about partly because Palo Alto has more branches than it can afford to run properly.)

Anyway: Look at the order. The city librarian comes right after the City Council, and the bookmobile driver gets special notice.

Anyone who thinks Google is out to replace public libraries really doesn’t understand Google very well. Not that I do, but this post is certainly an indicator of corporate intentions.

(A question for down the road: Will we be able to drop our recently-added DSL account in favor of free wi-fi? We’ll have to see. Given that we don’t get cell phone coverage within our house, I’m not too sanguine: “Citywide coverage” doesn’t necessarily mean high-bandwidth coverage in every physical location within the city. But it might…or, at the least, the presence of free wi-fi may help to convince SBC to keep the DSL prices low!)

SciFi Classics 50-movie Pack, Disc 6

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

Two of these count as “sci-fi” in B-movie forms. The other two caused me problems as a viewer, but very different problems.

The Lost Jungle, 1934, b&w, David Howard and Armand Schaefer (dir.), Clyde Beatty. 1:08

This is the “feature version” of a serial with the same name, which ran roughly four hours total. Maybe the four-hour version had a more coherent plot. The short version is mostly wild animal “training” and capture, with a pathetic jungle-rescue plot added. Here’s the problem: Clyde Beatty may have been the “good” animal trainer, as opposed to a vicious underling portrayed in the movie, but we’re still talking about removing proud predators from their native environments, “training” them with whips and other methods, and putting them on display. I’m no PETA person, but I am an HSUS member and I couldn’t watch the movie without some disdain and discomfort. Different times, I guess. Otherwise, weakly acted and an erratic plot. $0.

Mesa of Lost Women, 1953, b&w, Ron Ormand and Herbert Tevos (dir.), Jackie Coogan, Lyle Talbot (narration). 1:10 [1:09].

Mad scientist creating giant immortal women and stunted little men—oh, and giant spiders as a byproduct—within a remote Mexican mesa. Thrills! Chills! Really absurd plot and endless guitar strumming! Exotic dances! Portentous narration! A mess, but an amusing mess. Sometimes-damaged print. $0.50.

Assignment Outer Space, 1960, color, Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Rik Von Nutter, Gabriella Farinon, David Montresor. 1:13

A newsman gets assigned to a space station whose commander doesn’t really want him there, and of course there’s an Earth-threatening emergency almost immediately (a derelict space ship that emits a sun-temperature field surrounding it for several thousand miles is about to enter Earth orbit and destroy all life—we do like to launch ambitious projects, don’t we?). Classic B sci-fi and of course there’s a female crew member who almost immediately falls deeply in love with the reporter. Maybe one reason they had trouble with the spaceships is that the meters are obviously audio distortion meters (no attempt to obscure or replace the labels: RMS Wow doesn’t have much to do with navigating a spaceship). Decent production values, somewhat faded color, nothing great but watchable. $1.

Laser Mission, 1990, color, BJ Davis (dir.), Brandon Lee, Debi A. Monahan, Ernest Borgnine, rated R. 1:24.

How do you get a 15-year-old movie with major stars on a cheap 50-movie pack? This one has to be in copyright. Yes, it is that Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son—and how many Ernest Borgnines do you know? Excellent color, no signs of print damage, at least full VHS quality and maybe a little better, good production values. So what’s the problem? It’s meretricious tripe: A story about a mercenary who takes great delight in slaughtering as many “enemies” as he can, occasionally with martial arts moves but mostly with rapid-fire weaponry. And he’s the hero. There’s a “science” twist: a diamond about the size of a golf ball (introduced at a luncheon with maybe two security guards), with which an aging scientist (Borgnine) can, after the rock’s stolen, be coerced into building a “super laser weapon that creates atomic explosions” or something of the sort. The villains appear to be ex-Nazis in South America. I think. Debi Monahan (a looker, of course) is supposed to be the scientist’s daughter—which certainly seems believable as she whips out her thigh-mounted pistol and outshoots Lee. I could only watch it by treating the violence as cartoon violence: The body count was in the hundreds, usually for no apparent reason. I can’t recommend this one even as high camp. $0.

And there it is: The end of the first half. Look for the whole thing in a future issue of Cites & Insights (I would say “the next issue,” but it’s always possible that space problems will force it forward.)

Now, back to the TV movies…

Google Book Search: a name, not an initiative

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

Here’s the post announcing the name change, and going to shows the name change: Google Print is now Google Book Search.

It’s not a new initiative. It’s a name change. In this case, I think it’s an enormously sensible name change–recognizing that the thrust of the project is discovery, not full-text access.

And since the December Cites & Insights, with a big Perspective on OCA and the Google Print Library Project and a smaller (and much more controversial) Perspective trying to put some of this stuff into context, is not out yet and won’t be until at least the weekend after Thanksgiving (U.S. Thanksgiving: the earliest issue date would be November 26), I have plenty of time to make appropriate changes.

Good for Google. Now, if they’d coordinate the public-domain portion of GLP with OCA…(which could happen any time, and about which I have zero insider knowledge)…

Update Saturday, November 19: I’m seeing several bloggers referring to Google Book Search as “Google Books.”

I think that’s unfortunate–that it repeats and even strengthens the misunderstandings engendered by “Google Print.”

Google’s pretty clear that the primary goal of Google Book Search is just that–providing new ways to locate books, and making millions of books part of the set of data searchable (but not always directly retrievable) via Google (just as Google Scholar doesn’t always retrieve the actual articles). While out-of-copyright books scanned as part of GLP may be fully readable on screen, a good case can be made that they’re not really ebooks, given that they can only be read on screen and while connected to Google, one page at a time, with no clear way to bookmark if you were (ahem) ambitious (/ahem) enough to want to read through a whole book that way.

Never being wrong!

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

It must be wonderful to be a pundit–and never be wrong!

John Dvorak wrote a truly atrocious column in the July 18 PC Magazine, “Creative Commons Humbug.” It began with the question “Will someone explain to me the benefits of a trendy system developed by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Stanford?”

Fair enough–but Dvorak sure didn’t seem to be asking an open question. He proceeded to say, “This is one of the dumbest initiatives ever but forth by the tech community. I mean seriously dumb. Eye-rolling dumb…” “Creative Commons actually seems to be a dangerous system with almost zero benefits to the public, copyright holders, or those of us who would like a return to a shorter-length copyright law.” Later, he says that Creative Commons “is similar to a license”–much like his published rant is similar to a column. Later? “This is nonsense.”

He goes on and on…and ends, “Will this nonsense ever end?”

Well…someone called him on it, explained how difficult it is to voluntarily reduce your copyright rights (particularly without abandoning them altogether), and so on. And here I quote Donna Wentworth’s October 28 post at Copyfight:

So will Dvorak write another column admitting that he was wrong? Not so fast. Explains Dvorak:
“My column was never wrong, my column was questioning….I was saying ‘I don’t get it, will somebody explain it to me, please?’…Sometimes you’ve got to go public with your bafflement, which I do…”

Isn’t that wonderful? You can attack something outright, call it nosense, belittle it, and so on–and as long as you include at least one question somewhere–“What is this all about anyway?” should do as an all-purpose question–you never have to admit you’re wrong. You were “questioning.”

Right. Before, I was beginning to regard Dvorak as frequently nonsensical and getting tired. Now, I regard him as a hypocritical jerk, too full of himself and his bafflegab to even admit that he was flat-out wrong, damaging Creative Commons to an audience of more than a million people.

A writer first?

Saturday, November 12th, 2005

A week ago Friday, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of academic librarians in Southern California, as the lead speaker in a most-of-the-day set of presentations on publishing for librarians. This isn’t about my talk. It’s about what I picked up from some of the other speakers–specifically academic librarians who had significant publication track records.

One of them said flat-out that when people ask her what she does, she says she’s a writer. Then, after that, she’s a librarian (and other things). I believe one of the other speakers said something similar, either in their presentation or in informal discussion. It struck me even at the time that I’ve never identified myself as a writer first or primarily. It’s something I do on my own time; it’s not my life. Which may have something to do with the semi-random writing “career” I’ve had and failure to capitalize on possible opportunities (or, you might opine, failure to become a truly Significant Writer).

I’m also thinking about the “why I blog” comments–those I discussed in Life Trumps Blogging and some I’ve seen since. Some of them are based on the blogger’s sense of always or primarily being a writer. In the context of those statements, I commented that–although I hadn’t thought about it–I’ve always been pretty good at writing and “can’t imagine not writing for an extended period.”

Apparently my imagination is suffering memory loss.

Look at the record (some of it not on the record, to be sure), and combining speaking to audiences with writing as two forms of formal communication:

  • Throughout high school, I was active in the National Forensic League (debate, impromptu, extemporaneous speaking–never service-club speeches and never oral interpretation of other people’s words). I graduated from high school in 1962 (part of the American Graffiti class; George Lucas was a classmate). The next time I spoke to a group except on a few minor work occasions and as part of a two-person sketch was 1987, 25 years later. So much for public speaking as something I just do…
  • In the junior year of high school, a group of us (I’m not sure how I was involved, since I’ve never been social and was particularly an outcast in high school) were so disgusted with the high school newspaper that we founded an independent, typeset, ad-supported alternative, etc (I think), which lasted a few issues (after the school principal concluded that the school couldn’t shut it down and, since almost everyone involved was an Honors student, would be ill-advised to try).
  • The next year, that bunch basically took over the high school newspaper and turned it into a prize-winning publication. I was features editor and wrote a regular column. Through much of college, I edited and mostly wrote in-house papers for the co-op I lived in, probably up until 1966 or so. (Hey, it was a better way to fulfill the five-hours-per-week work requirement of the co-op than cleaning communal bathrooms, which I also did at least one semester.)
  • But after that: One article in 1976. A written version of the sketch in 1979. One minor publication each in 1980 and 1981; two publications in 1983 (one article, one minor piece). Then, in 1984, came “Common sense personal computing” (a single article that somehow turned into a 15-year series), MARC for Library Use (an “accidental book” that was the first of 14, to date), and–a year later–starting out as editor of LITA Newsletter

So, realistically, I didn’t write anything for “serious” publication between 1962 and 1976, nothing at all other than internal documents from 1966 to 1976, and no real “track record” between 1962 and 1984–22 years.

Late bloomer? Maybe. Or maybe I’m not really a dedicated, compulsive writer.

In fact, “I can’t imagine not writing for an extended period” is an untruth.

When people stop wanting to read Cites & Insights (i.e., when apparent readership drops below some number, perhaps 100), I’ll stop.

When people stop wanting to read “Walt at Random” (or when I run out of things to say), I’ll shut it down or let it die of disuse.

It’s possible that people have pretty much stopped wanting to hear me speak–and that turns out to be surprisingly OK.

And as for columns, books, and other outlets: They could continue for decades to come–or they could disappear in a year or two.

In other words, I’m a person who frequently writes and sometimes speaks. I’m also a person who loves to read and has about a 30-year backlog of books waiting to be read (at the library, to be sure), who loves music and doesn’t spend enough time with it, who enjoys nature, who occasionally loves to travel, who enjoys TV, and who–first and foremost–loves his wife and the time they spend together. If the writing went away, the rest would fill up the gap.

Shocking, but there it is.


Wednesday, November 9th, 2005

Just a semi-political post, possibly more meaningful to Californians than others.

The bad news: Better than $300 million was wasted on a wholly pointless special election ($50 million of that from the state budget; not $80 million, because lots of cities had elections anyway).

The good news: $7 million of that was the Governator’s money.

The bad news: Prop. 79, the consumer-oriented prescription discount plan, was defeated even worse than Prop. 78, the pharma-oriented stalking horse to undo Prop. 79.

The good news: Both of them were defeated soundly. Maybe prescription drug prices are out of control, but the initiative process is a lousy way to fix that–just as it’s a lousy way to do most things.

The really good news: Eight up, eight down. Every single proposition was defeated. Those that Ahnold was most heavily involved with were among the most soundly defeated–and his idea that the governor should directly control state spending went down big time.

I hear they’re thinking about a sequel to Howard the Duck, with a muscleman (who, after unseating a governor who spent too much time fundraising, managed to spend even more time fundraising) as star: Arnold the Lame Duck.

PS: I’m not entirely against electing actors as politicians. Clint Eastwood was apparently a pretty good mayor of Carmel, and Sheila Kuehl may be doing a great job as a state Senator (Zelda in the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, if you have a long memory).

Update, Thursday, November 10: According to this morning’s paper, Arnold’s “people” now say that the election results don’t show that Californians don’t favor Arnold’s “reform” ideas–just that they didn’t like having a special election.


First, that raises the question of who shoved a special election down California’s throat. That would be one Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Second, that raises the question of just how much advertising, editorializing, or politicking involved “the election is a bad idea” once it was clear that Arnold wouldn’t back off on blowing $50-$80 million on it. Which basically comes down to Zero: Once the election was a fait accompli, attention turned to the issues.

Know who’s happy about this election? TV stations. They got to charge top price, since these weren’t candidate ads, and there were a lot of them…