Archive for April, 2006

Digitizing microfilm and the Great Quake

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

Originally posted April 18, restored from Bloglines’ archive, thanks to David King’s suggestion

Today’s the hundredth anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake–which, combined with the fire that followed, was the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history until Katrina.

The San Francisco Chronicle has been running a series of long articles regarding the quake, its effects, and the likely results of an equivalent quake these days, along with lots of online features at SFGate (most of which I haven’t looked at). For the last few days, and continuing for the next few, it’s also running full-page facsimiles of the front page of the Chronicle of a century ago—and today’s paper came wrapped in a special section, comprising a facsimile of the four-page special edition of the Chronicle-Call-Examiner (I’m not sure of the full list, but it was all of the SF papers of 1906) published from Oakland the day after the quake, with additional stories in another four modern pages.

This is fascinating stuff, and a lot of it, carefully done. Carl Nolte is the lead writer; he wrote the text for a recent SF Chronicle book, The San Francisco Century. (Note that Chronicle Books is no longer associated with the SF Chronicle; it’s the one piece of the old Chronicle family-owned business that’s still owned by part of that family, who bought it from the rest of the family as they were selling off everything.)

I’d be surprised if a book doesn’t come out of all of this. There’s already more than enough text for a book, I think, and obviously plenty of good photographs. We’re spending way too much time reading the daily paper, because the articles are so well done. (We’re both native Californians. We were here for the much-smaller 1989 quake, living on a hill at the time. We live on flat bedrock, far from landfill, in a single-story wood-frame house. We should bolt a few bookcases to the walls, but otherwise we’re in pretty good shape–and yes, we do have an earthquake kit, renewed every six months or so.)

The digital preservation and usage angles? Those pages from the 1906 paper(s).

Some of them were scanned (digitally) from copies of the newspaper itself kept by historical associations; I’m pretty sure today’s 4-page edition is in that category.

The rest were scanned from the Chronicle’s archives–which means they were scanned from microfilm.

The good news: The results, blown up to full page size (possibly a little larger or smaller than the original page size), are almost always readable, except sometimes for a line or two at the fold, or in at least one case a portion of the leftmost column where the paper wasn’t quite level when it was microfilmed.

The bad news: “Readable” is the word. Easily readable–not so much.

I have no idea how OCR would work against this scanning. For those lines on the fold, probably not at all. Otherwise? Probably pretty well.

Of course, the scanned-and-printed results are a lot better than working with the microfilm itself, at least based on my almost-buried memories:

Long ago (late 1960s or early 1970s, as I remember) and not so far away (Berkeley), I had an idea for a book–and did the research and writing for the only book-length manuscript I’ve written that didn’t result in publication.

The book concerned local press coverage of the Free Speech Movement.

I reviewed the four or five daily papers most involved, in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and (possibly) San Jose), every day during that period and shortly thereafter.

It was a fascinating story. I’m not sure it was all that good a manuscript. It was, of course, typed (on an electric typewriter, but still).

When I say “I reviewed,” I mean “I stared at one of those bloody roll microfilm readers with the facing-forward screens, in the UC Berkeley library, every afternoon after work until my head hurt too badly or my eyes couldn’t take it any more.”

The manuscript has long since disappeared. (It was submitted to, and kindly rejected by, one local publisher. I loaned it to a colleague…who never returned it, and disappeared.)

I can’t say I would never do anything like this again. I can say I’d only do it if there was no other way to do something I really wanted to do. It was agonizing, and I was a lot more resilient back then.

Addendum 4/20: Unfortunately, I have no way to restore the comments on this entry. I will note that a quite substantial photo archive of the Great Quake is available online, hosted by UC Berkeley’s Bancroft archives.

Missing and confused

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

I seem to remember writing one or two posts between April 15 and now.

They’re gone. LISHost had a mishap, apparently unrecoverable.

Comments on posts submitted since April 16 or 17 may also be missing.

My apologies.

If anyone has copies of posts or comments that aren’t on the blog, you could do me a favor by emailing them to me at, so I can restore the posts (commenters can restore their own comments).

There’s another, truly mysterious, problem, apparently unique to this blog: The RSS feed — well, now, a whole host of RSS feeds — show up as “hassam4000talat” or something like that, with a tagline of “Just another WordPress blog.”

Since I can’t even find anything along those lines anywhere within the WP template, I also can’t seem to fix it.

As I noted at LISNews, this would be an ideal opportunity to say “Well, that was interesting,” and just shut down the blog. But I don’t particularly want to do that.

With luck, we’ll find a way to restore this blog’s name (such as it is) and maybe even some of the content.


Northern Exposure

Saturday, April 15th, 2006

As I’ve noted or hinted at before, my wife and I find ourselves watching roughly an hour a night of TV (except Movie Saturday)–but most nights, it’s not really TV. It’s some of the great old series on DVD. (Moonlighting is at least as good as we ever thought it was; Remington Steele is as good as we ever thought it was; Greatest American Hero has its moments and is always fun; we’re finishing the catching-up process on Gilmore Girls–and there, unlike Buffy, Moonlighting, Remington Steele, I don’t think there’s much chance we’ll ever watch the series a second or third time.)

We’d picked up and watched the first short season of Northern Exposure, a series we loved in its day–but it was overpriced compared to the other series we’ve been dealing with, at a discounted $40 for eight episodes as compared to $35-$40 for 22 episodes. That’s particularly annoying because Northern Exposure is such a barebones DVD release: Double-sided DVDs with a few deleted scenes and outtakes. You get a strange little parka, but…

The second season’s just as bad: Two DVDs in a single-width case, seven (eight?) episodes, $40. And this time with music substitutions because of licensing problems. We held off. (No, we haven’t purchased the wildly-expensive Star Trek sets. Or particularly wanted to. We watched all the series, but…well, if we did want to re-view some of them, we’d use Netflix.)

The third season was a full season, 23 episodes, same price (still bare-bones packaging, to be sure, packing 23 episodes on three DVDs instead of the six that, say, Buffy would use).

And I had two Target gift cards (bennies of using good credit cards: $5,000 in purchases yields a $50 gift card). So, what the heck, we picked up seasons two and three. We’d already gone through the tiny first season.

Which is way too much background for this: We watched the second episode last night. And were blown away by the sheer quality and subtlety of the writing (and acting) on this series. The dialogue between Ed and One Who Waits, his 200+-year-old spirit guide, was nothing short of priceless.

The music substitution is dumb (but relatively harmless so far). The packaging and pricing are annoyances. The series…well, maybe the pricing is OK after all. What a pleasure to revisit Cicely.

I wonder whether the biggest problem for contemporary network television isn’t so much the proliferation of cable networks and amateur video as it is “competing with themselves”–competing for our attention with the best series from past decades, in better-than-broadcast video, with extras, and without commercials.

Not only Right, but correct

Friday, April 14th, 2006

Here’s a post I thought I would never write:

I believe that Jack Stephens has it right in this post regarding a potential ALA Blogging Round Table.
Oopsie corrected!

Not only Right, which Stephens always is, but correct.

I thought I would never write it since Stephens has a nasty habit of attacking me at various times, in some cases because he’s somehow convinced that I’m anti-copyright. He doesn’t allow comments at akk, which makes things even more interesting. (I very briefly blacklisted him from commenting here, but lifted that blacklist after thinking it over.)

But in this case, I believe that blogging isn’t an equivalent library interest to, say, government documents or maps & geography or social responsibilities (not that I’m all that fond of SRRT…) or intellectual freedom or…

I could be wrong, of course. That’s a given.

As to his other post, in which he faults KGS for her most recent post on the potential Round Table…well, I’m not biting. KGS does link to the post in question–and that post certainly names the person KGS is disagreeing with. (That person is me, not Jack Stephens.) Doesn’t mean I think KGS is right; I don’t. Does mean I don’t see that she’s engaging in a blindside attack–in this case.

A couple of minor points relating to the KGS and Michael Golrick posts directly and indirectly cited here:

  • LITA’s Fuzzy Match Interest Group, now disbanded, was not created to put on skits. It was created as a forum for research papers and other reports in the vein of the Journal of Irreproducible Results and ASIST’s SIG CON.
    Some truly remarkable papers were presented during the time the IG existed, including papers from some of the most prominent names in the field.The skits at LITA National Conferences were a special activity, involving the talents of some particularly creative Fuzzy Match members and the…um…singing and thespian talents of the rest of them/us.
  • Michael: A teeny-tiny clarification that will only matter to ALA process mavens: I’m not a Past President of LITA, I’m a Former President. I was Past President, the year after I was President. That seems like it was a long time ago, maybe because it was. LITA, unusually, has conference ribbons for its Former Presidents, a nice touch.

Movers, shakers, self-promotion, and C&I

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

I know better than to comment at The Shifted Librarian. Truly I do. It always gets me in trouble–particularly because Jenny Levine’s writing sometimes pushes my buttons, and because disagreeing with Jenny Levine is dangerous sport. But…

A while back, various bloggers were putting together various lists about all the ways libraries were driving away “techie librarians” (not the phrase all of them used). I read the lists. I have no doubt many of the complaints are valid.

Then, in this post, Jenny Levine changed the rhetoric by following a quote from a comment with this line:

How do we start the discussion about keeping our movers and shakers?

Suddenly, there was that pat phrase, the LJ Seal of Stardom, “movers and shakers.”

Maybe I overreacted.

Here’s my comment, in full:

Maybe you need to ask whether you just want to keep “movers and shakers,” the high-profile, self-promoting elite, or whether you’d also like to keep the people who make sure the innovations work properly and keep working. You know, the ones who’ll probably never be in LJ’s annual festival and might not be on the speaking tour, but who have the skills and determination to see projects through to the end. (Once in a while, a determined project person becomes higher-profile, almost by accident, and usually to their considerable astonishment, but that’s not the typical pattern.) Or are us drudges disposable?

Now, I’m sorry, but does anyone out there truly believe that “us drudges” is meant to be taken literally, as saying that anyone who isn’t a Mover and Shaker is a drudge? Sure, some of the Movers and Shakers aren’t self-promoters; that word was probably overreaction.

I won’t quote Jenny Levine’s entire response; this entry is going to be long enough as is and you can read the whole comment stream from the earlier link. Here’s a relevant portion:

Walt, interesting that you’d call yourself a “drudge,” considering how much publishing (American Libraries, books, etc.), speaking (repeated references in your blog, ALA Top Trends Panel in June, etc.), and now blogging ( you’ve done. I’m also not sure where “self-promoting elite” comes from if you’re not including yourself in that (cites & insights, etc.), and not too many drudges get invited to Microsoft’s Search Champs conference (as you were)!

I never said don’t keep a well-rounded staff; you’re obviously reading my post through your own filter. Maybe you’re not aware of them, but there are awards out there for support staff person of the year, trustee of the year, reference librarian of the year, director of the year, etc. that nicely highlight all job roles in our profession. In addition, there are plenty of “drudges” from all walks of librarianship blogging and writing journal articles, which has brought them fandom, readers, new friends, and public notice. Frankly, I’m stunned you’d discont those folks so easily. After all, even “movers and shakers” and “self-promoting elite” had to start out as unknown, young babes in the woods, too. Share with us how you went from drudge to self-promoting elite and I’m sure we’ll see that same pattern.

It’s gone on since then. I thought earlier about bringing part of the conversation over here, but thought better of it–until “Matt” made a comment that I pretty much entirely agree with, but referred to me in a manner that suggested that he thought I felt differently, that I was missing the point. So I tossed in a brief little comment about why I’d gotten embroiled in this discussion in the first place:

Matt, I’ll comment here again since you mention me. Yes, there should be progress and dialogue, respect and credit (which runs both ways). There’s a sentence in your comment that gives me pause (does not being high profile automatically mean that “the work in and of itself” is all the reward you should expect?), but never mind.

Here’s the thing: All of the various lists about how to lose techie (or whatever) librarians were going along. Fine. I might gather some of them up and comment. I might not. I thought the various lists had to do with problems affecting low-profile techies as well as high-profile techies. It was Jenny L. who specifically talked about movers and shakers, changing the tenor of the whole discussion. To reverse your comment: Those who do get a lot of fanfare and credit, the so-called movers and shakers, presumably have their rewards: Fanfare, credit, and most likely an easier time moving to a better job if they get frustrated. (In some cases, maybe those who are frustrated with their library situations just aren’t a good fit and really should be elsewhere; in other cases, probably a majority of cases, there needs to be more mutual respect, understanding, and awareness. Of all “generations” for all “generations.”)

I only got involved here because of Jenny Levine’s sudden addition of “movers and shakers” to the discussion. That simple.

Here’s Jenny Levine’s response to that comment, in full:

Walt, it’s only “simple” in the sense that you define all non-“movers and shakers” as drudges. Talk about over-simplifications….

Hopefully this word count is small enough for you. 😉 *

Sigh. I see three different questions here that bother me a lot, so much so that I’m writing this post when I should be writing about library access to scholarship:

  • The easy one: Is it really possible that Jenny Levine believes that I’m sincerely labeling everyone but the official Movers and Shakers as drudges, including myself? Am I forbidden from using rhetorical contrast? Is it really necessary to be that doggedly literal? How is it possible to read that comment and believe that I’m “disconting” (or even discounting) the people I believe are overlooked because they’re not Movers and Shakers?
  • The tougher one: Am I wrong in believing that Movers & Shakers get a little too much attention in the field, and that they may just possibly have less to complain about than the people who make sure the job gets carried out properly (who probably aren’t devoid of ideas either)? Is the star system really what will move libraries forward in serving their communities?
  • The toughest one, I hope: Do most of you regard Cites & Insights as self-promotion, as Jenny Levine labels it?

That one’s toughest because, if you do, then I’m outta here. Or, at least, C&I is outta here.

After all, if it’s self-promotion, it’s incompetent: Speaking engagements have declined to pretty much zero, I haven’t been submitting articles or proposed columns elsewhere, and I could probably write a book every year or two with the time I take doing C&I. (As I noted in a response, I am not speaking at Top Tech Trends at ALA, since I dropped off that group more than a year ago–but, at the request of the committee, I will be moderating the presentation this summer.)

Of course, if it’s self-promotion, it also seems odd that, when I refer to it, I don’t always pound home the full title, Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large. (The only reason I haven’t dropped the last three words is because they are part of the official title and I don’t want to deal with getting a new ISSN and all that…but the type for that portion of the banner keeps getting smaller, and the “real title” doesn’t include the last three words.)

So, where do we go from here?

I’ve had a great run–never as a Mover & Shaker, but as a contributor in a number of different areas. I’ve been able to accomplish a lot more than I ever expected, mostly through keeping on keeping on. (Starting out by writing MARC for Library Use because it had to be written and nobody who was qualified to write it would touch it–so I wrote it out of sheer desperation.) And yes, I’ve even done a few dozen keynotes and a few dozen other speeches, always by invitation, never through self-promotion.

I like to think that I still contribute to the field, primarily through C&I.

But damn, there’s a lot of other stuff I could just as well be doing. All of it suiting my basically-lazy personality better, some of it more fun. If Jenny Levine is right, then maybe it’s time to hang it up.

Comments invited–here or via email [easiest: waltcrawford via gmail].

*Footnote: The smiley face is WordPress’ doing: It auto-translates certain emoticons from text into icon. The original response has a semicolon, hyphen, right-paren.

The end of DOS

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

Michael Sauers at Travelin’ Librarian posted this, which links to a Microsoft announcement. To wit:

Support for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition (Me) ends on July 11, 2006. Microsoft will end public and technical support by this date. This also includes security updates. Microsoft is providing final notifications to customers to end the extended security update support for these products.

Sauers emphasizes the end of security updates. That may be an unfortunate consequence–but in general, this strikes me as a good and necessary step.

What it means is the end of DOS. Windows ME (“Windows Mistaken Edition”–I know that’s not what it stands for, but that’s the reality) and Windows 98 were the final versions of Windows as a graphical interface running on top of DOS.

Windows XP, like Windows NT/Windows 2000, is an integrated operating system based on the NT kernel. The “DOS window” is a simulation of DOS.

I’m as slow to upgrade some things as anyone. I’m using Office Pro XP (or Office Pro 2001, if you prefer) at home because, well, I have a free copy of the current Office Pro (a bennie from MS Search Champs 4, as arethe fabuloso Natural Wireless keyboard/mouse combo I’m using at home and the Encarta DVD I haven’t loaded yet), but my wife and I haven’t decided who should get it–and Office Pro 2001 still works just fine.

But DOS is well past its pull-by date. Those who still haven’t moved to XP or W2000 probably aren’t coping with security updates anyway. I’d guess that not having to do patches for two entirely different systems should improve the speed and quality of security patches.

All in all, a good thing. I think.


Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

Rochelle Hartman posted this at the LJ Tech blog, pointing to a site that tests a website for readability.

Well, what the heck…

Here are the results for W.a.r., presumably just for the home page, not the whole blog:

Reading Level Results Summary Value
Total sentences 439
Total words 4738
Average words per Sentence 10.79
Words with 1 Syllable 3131
Words with 2 Syllables 1029
Words with 3 Syllables 380
Words with 4 or more Syllables 198
Percentage of word with three or more syllables 12.20%
Average Syllables per Word 1.50
Gunning Fog Index 9.20
Flesch Reading Ease 68.73
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 6.35

So I write at either a sixth-grader’s level or that of a high school frosh. Wonderful. Well, such is the charm of a pseudo-Asimovian writing style (much of Asimov’s simplicity, none of the grace or creativity).

This doesn’t come as a great surprise. One of my columns is based on word count, and the editor and I found that I need to submit about 20% more than the stated word count in order to fill the available space: I use lots of short words. Not necessarily because I don’t know any longer ones, but if you choose to make that supposition, who am I to argue?

Give it up?

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

In the last 24 hours there have been more than 30 spamment attempts, not including the ones that are blocked entirely because they include certain magic words. (I know: By some standards, that’s chicken feed, but it’s a big increase from the 2-6 a day I had been getting. But then, traffic to w.a.r. has been increasing as well.)

None have made it through. Each one is an annoyance and a timewaster. Each one encourages me to do something I’d rather not do, like adding a Capcha-style “type in the vague letters” blocker or some other spam blocker.

Complimenting me on the quality of this blog or certain posts won’t do it–particularly when exactly the same compliment appears on 15 posts in 5 hours. Saying “that’s a good argument” really doesn’t make it when pointed to either the welcome post or one of the others that makes no arguments at all.

I just blocked one more medication name; those are easy to handle. The harder ones are spamments where the only apparent motive is to increase traffic to, or Google level of, or whatever, the URL attached to the commenter’s name. As in all those complimentary comments.

The latest group has been truly weird, since the URL doesn’t even work.

Or are there just people out there who dislike blogs and email enough to try to make them useless?

If so, give it up: It won’t work.

Update 4/9: 23 more spamments, 22 of them from the same idiot sender, plus Jessamyn’s; I’ll send email to Blake asking him to add Jessamyn’s suggested plugin to my directory. (There’s actually a Capcha plugin there already…but I really don’t want to activate it.)

Second update 4:11 Blake’s installed Spam Karma 2 and I’ve activated it, starting with “normal” settings for now–but I’ll toughen as need be. (And I was astonished to see just how many dozens of spamments WordPress had been retaining…without me even seeing them.)

50-Movie All Stars Collection, Disc 7

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Hmm. Since I try to average two posts a week, today takes care of next week entirely…

Before I put the finishing touches on C&I 6:6 (and I’m sure there are goofs–aren’t there always?), I was on the treadmill as usual, finishing up the fourth TV-movie on this set. One winner, one that would be a winner if the picture wasn’t dark, and two OK…

The Pride of Jesse Hallum, 1981, color, Gary Nelson (dir.), Johnny Cash, Brenda Vaccaro, Eli Wallach. 1:37.

Johnny Cash plays Jesse Hallum, an illiterate coal minor who has to move to Cleveland so his daughter can have surgery for scoliosis. After he admits to being illiterate (to Eli Wallach as an aging owner of a produce distribution company, where Hallum gets a menial job), he lowers his pride enough so that vice principal Brenda Vaccaro (daughter of the produce man) can teach him to read. Well done, but the print is dark and occasionally damaged. Even with that, it’s worth $1.25.

Voyage of the Yes, 1973, color, Lee H. Katzin (dir.), Desi Arnaz, Jr., Mike Evans, Scoey Mitchell, Della Reese, Beverly Garland. 1:15.

I was immediately put off by Arnaz and Evans (both sitcom veterans) mauling “El Condor Pasa” under the titles. The story’s absurd: A spoiled high-school grad with his own sailboat wants to sail to Hawaii before entering Stanford, but he’s such a charmer that none of his friends will go along and his parents won’t let him sail solo. Enter Evans, who’s fleeing because he accidentally killed his abusive uncle (Scoey Mitchell, who like Della Reese gets about five minutes in the picture); Arnaz picks him up as a hitchhiker and takes him along. Events ensue, naturally, with distrust, storms, near-death, and bonding…great scenery, acceptable acting. If you can completely turn off your logic switch, not bad; the video quality is very good. $0.75.

Cry of the Innocent, 1980, color, Michael O’Herlihy (dir.), Rod Taylor, Joanna Pettet, Nigel Davenport, Cyril Cusack. 1:33.

A Frederick Forsyth thriller, made (and set) in Ireland, and quite well done. Taylor’s an insurance man who used to be some sort of operative. On holiday, he’s out of the house when a plane crashes into the house, killing his family. The crash turns out to have been intentional, with machinations involving a multinational corporation. Taylor turns the tables on hired guns out to get him. Good video quality, Cusack’s charming as a laid-back Irish police officer, Taylor and Pettet are OK. Good enough to be a second feature. $1.50.

All the Kind Strangers, 1974, color, Burt Kennedy (dir.), Stacy Keach, Samantha Eggar, John Savage, Robby Benson, Arlene Farber. 1:13.

I’m not sure what to say about this one. Photojournalist Keach picks up a kid carrying heavy groceries, delivers him to a house way off in the woods, is forced to accept a dinner invitation when the car won’t start. The household consists of seven children—and a woman in the kitchen they call Mom, who writes “HELP” in the flour she’s working with, when they’re alone for a moment (in a kitchen with a lock outside the door and barred windows). The kids don’t have any parents, and pick up kind strangers who either act as their parents or are “voted out.” Moderately chilling, but it doesn’t go anywhere—the ending basically falls apart. Benson’s better than usual, and the video quality is good. The picture, though, is a real disappointment. Being generous, I’ll say $1.00.

Apology: Siva Vaidhyanathan isn’t Gale Norton

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Not that I actually say he is (in this essay in the current Cites & Insights), but I do make a comparison that Dr. Vaidhyanathan finds unseemly.

He takes exception to my comment in this post at Sivacracy, and says I owe him an apology in a comment on the W.a.r. post just before this one. I have, therefore, apologized for comparing him to Gale Norton.

Notably, he also asks me to provide any facts suggesting that he’s wrong in his absolute statements about Google Library Project. I do so in the essay he objects to, and in previous essays.

I read the Michigan contract. I don’t see Michigan “turning over control” of anything to Google. I don’t see Michigan abandoning their own archival-quality digitizing or anticipating that Google will solve their problems for them. I don’t see a lot of the things that Dr. Vaidhyanathan sees as betrayals of library principles.

I’m not in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s league. I can’t imagine calling an NYU professor “some dude named Siva”; it would seem pointlessly dismissive. But I’m not a professor or an academic, and probably don’t understand the mores of the field.

Is “zealot” too strong a term for Dr. Vaidhyanathan’s commentaries on Google Library Project? Perhaps.

As to a possible factual error: When I wrote the commentary (a month ago…), I did not find Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom in GBS, even with as explicit a search as I see in SV’s post, although I certainly found it in Google. It’s there now.

But then, I’ve commented before and probably will again about the issues of indeterminacy and unaccountability in the results of the large web search engines (maybe not as much in C&I as elsewhere). Those are real issues. They don’t negate the value of better ways to discover books–not as replacements for libraries or library catalogs, but as complementary tools.

Added comment: You might wonder why I didn’t add a comment directly to the “Sivacracy” post in question. That’s fairly simple: Sivacracy requires registration in order to post comments. I suspect that’s necessary, given the volume of spam that a high-profile blog attracts. But I’m disinclined to register at such sites. If a blogger chooses to make commenting difficult, that’s their privilege, and may be the only way they can handle the blog, but I generally don’t comment when commenting is made difficult.