Archive for September, 2006

Bloglines improvements: Yabbut

Friday, September 29th, 2006

I rely on Bloglines. There’s no way I could keep up with 400 (or so) blogs without it (or some equivalent web-based reader, since blog reading is partly during breaks at work, partly at home).

This morning, there are change. Maybe improvements. Mostly improvements. But…

Two basic changes:

  • As you read feeds, the overall number of unread messages changes instead of staying constant (with a little yellow highlight, briefly, each time it changes). All to the good: you have a better sense of how far you have left to go.
  • Your set of feeds with unread messages, and message counts, auto-refreshes…on a fairly frequent basis. (It may have always auto-refreshed, but so infrequently that I never noticed.)

That second change is probably all to the good in gneeral, but it could be a little unnerving if you’re catching up after a few days…I can just see getting the unread number down to, say, 200 and suddenly having it start moving up again as feeds are refreshed…

All in all, though, good changes.

TV and spam redux

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

No direct connection between the two; just a little coffee-break post about TV–with an update on spam, since Spam Karma trapped more than 200 items on this low-traffic blog in the last 14 hours and 45 minutes (that’s after Blake Carver’s upgraded server spam control)!

TV: Here’s the awful truth. My wife and I watch TV year-round, about an hour a day (five or six days a week) during most of the year (two on Saturday, because that’s movie night). “Year round” means that we watch series when they’re new episodes and worth watching, TV-on-DVD otherwise. (Which means “about an hour” is really “42 to 48 minutes” in many cases.)

Our set of TV-on-DVD choices is strong enough that we’re reluctant to take on new on-air series unless they really suit us. That doesn’t mean Big Challenging Shows; it means entertainment, and it’s normally in the 8-10 period. I won’t give you the list; I just wanted to note one new show that did capture our interest–and that’s already completed its first [very short] season. Dunno whether it will be rerun; dunno whether it will return, but we hope so. It’s not world-shattering material, but…oh, wait, maybe it is. The show was Three Moons over Milford, set in Milford, Vermont, and the premise is that a space collision has shattered the moon into three parts–and any one or all of them could come down at any time and presumably wipe out humanity. Which tells you very little about the show, actually, except that it’s a fairly lighthearted study of how people might cope with “this might be your last day” as more of a reality.

It’s on ABC Family. The first season ended last Sunday night. It’s no Moonlighting or Northern Exposure, but it’s not half bad. If they do rerun it, you might give it a try. You might like it. You might not.

Spam: 218 in less than 15 hours, and this isn’t a high-traffic site. The breakdown’s very different this time:

  • 99 “Baby buffalo” (you’d have to be a James Taylor fan)–that is, ones with “Are you there?” as all or most of the text, and the spam as the URL.
  • 57 cellphone offers (that’s not that different)
  • 24 p**n of some sort
  • 19 gambling, all of them for exactly the same site
  • 12 various inoffensive goods and services
  • Six various compliments to drive URLs or links
  • One truly random.

A gentle reminder: If you send a legitimate comment and it’s delayed, it probably looked like spam. If it never shows up, it’s because I was off the air for more than 2-3 days and just couldn’t cope with plowing through hundreds or thousands of these to find the mistagged nuggets. And I don’t wonder that high-traffic blogs turn off comments!

Update: Blake Carver, proprietor of LISHost, has done some tweaking of server-side blocks (including blocking all trackbacks, since I don’t allow them anyway). The result: I seem to be down to 10-20 spam attempts a day, a level that I can deal with even after an absence. Thanks, Blake–and if anyone wonders why I recommend LISHost as a host, this is certainly one reason!

Update 2: It was nice while it lasted. The trackbacks are (almost) all gone–but comment spam is back worse than ever: 257 attempts since yesterday afternoon, almost all of them during a one-hour period, pretty much all of them of the “Nice blog!” (and endless variations) variety of link-url spam. All of them, I believe, machine-generated. Man, narcissists out there must have a s*tload of spamments. After all: If they didn’t get through, the jackasses would stop creating them.

Ross Singer, Umlaut, and Judging

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

I’m pleased to note that Ross Singer’s Umlaut has just been announced as winner of the Second OCLC Research Software Contest. (The link is to OCLC’s announcement.) (Ross Singer is at Georgia Tech; Umlaut is currently running on Georgia Tech’s catalog. Details are available from the link.)

Umlaut is an interesting approach to OpenURL link resolution, using a number of innovative techniques (and a number of OCLC and other web services) to provide better results–and specifically to get the user directly to full text whenever that’s feasible.

In the spirit of a recent post, you could say it’s an unusually elegant “mashup” (or combination) of various web services to improve effective online use of library resources.

I participated in this year’s judging, along with three old friends and acquaintances (Liz Lane Lawley and Roy Tennant, both of whom I’ve known for more than a decade, and Thom Hickey, who I’ve certainly known of but only recently gotten to know better). The others also judged last year’s competition, and unanimously agreed that this year had a stronger (and larger) group of entries. The judging process was interesting and a little intense; the conference call that concluded the process was collegial, frank, and a true meeting of minds

Congratulations, Ross–and thanks, Thom, for asking me to judge.

Societies and open access

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

T. Scott had a post about OA advocates seeming to be in “unyielding opposition” to professional societies that are also publishers. I wanted to say something about that post, and might yet do so in a future Cites & Insights.

In the meantime, however, Dorothea Salo has written a response that probably says it better than I could, even though some of the themes–particularly the point that professional societies are not inherently entitled to subsidize their activities out of library budgets–are ones I’ve been making, over and over again.

Realistically, it’s going to be a long time (if ever) before OA affects those societies that publish journals at a fair price, where “fair” can certainly include a positive yield in excess of direct expenses. (Not “profit”–nonprofits don’t earn “profits,” although the dollars look very similar.) That might be wrong: Some such societies may find it in their interest to become OA publishers or at least strongly support OA archiving. But professional societies tend to publish fairly significant journals (at least in my narrow experience); if those journals are priced fairly, they’re not going to be high on cancellation lists.

There’s a big if there: Fair pricing. Some society-based journals are priced too high, either because they’ve been turned over to the big commercial houses or because the societies are using them as cash cows for other society purposes. The latter is simply not workable for the long term, particularly in those cases where the bulk of non-member subscriptions come from libraries. As I’ve said before: If a society can make the case that academia should subsidize its activities in addition to membership dues, that subsidy should come directly from the appropriate department. It should not, and in the long run cannot, be hidden in journal prices and paid for by the library.

It would help if spokespeople from scholarly societies weren’t prone to repeating the same, uh, “untruths” about OA that publishers tend to spout–you know, death of proper review, Every Paper Costs Big Bucks Directly for the Author, higher overall costs for big universities, all that good stuff.

What’s wrong with “combination”?

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

This isn’t original–credit goes to James Fallows’ “Homo Conexus” in Technology Review–but when I saw it I had a little “aha!” moment.

To wit, “mashup” has always struck me as an odd term within the x2.0 environment. To me, “mashup” on its own has some negative connotations–you mash things together and wind up with a mush of mess.

That’s not what so-called “mashups” do, at least not when they’re done right. They combine information from two or more web resources to create a new resource. They do so discretely (note spelling: I suppose if they hide where the information comes from, they’re also doing it discreetly) and in an orderly fashion. You wind up with new and presumably useful, interesting, or entertaining stuff based on what you wanted.

Here’s what Fallows says, in the context of trying to do as much using “Web 2.0” services as possible:

(The single most annoying aspect of the annoyingly named Web 2.0 movement is the use of the term “mashing up” to denote what in English we call “combining.”)

I know this one’s not winnable, but I do wonder at the urge for an apparently needless neologism–more particularly one that has a third-grader feel to it. “Hey, let’s go mash up some stuff!” (Exclamation point, of course, mandatory.)

Back when I used to like Reese’s Cups, a classic combination, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have liked them as well if they were just chocolate and peanut butter mashed together.

All I can say is: This library professional plans to use web 2.0 and “library 2.0” services whenever they make sense. This library professional won’t actually wince when someone uses childish phrases or sentence structure. This library professional doesn’t have to like it, though.

Update: Maybe “mashup” does make sense. Separately, I’m seeing (a few) more examples of childish syntax/repetitive structure (made mild fun of in the preceding paragraph) becoming a hallmark of (certain high-profile) Library 2.0 advocates. I have no idea what to make of that. Nursery rhymes as the new paradigm?

Just a little egoboo

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

I’m sorry, but this one I just can’t resist–given my respect for Peter Suber and my ambivalence about the quality of the essay in question.

[The last sentence, that is….]

I’ll repeat publicly what I immediately said to Peter Suber privately: Thanks!

Cites & Insights 6:12 available

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Cites & Insights 6:12, October 2006, is now available for downloading.

The 26-page issue (PDF as usual, but you can download HTML separates), which seems to have mostly long essays with long titles, includes:

  • Open Access Perspective, Part I: Pioneer OA Journals: The Arc of Enthusiasm, Five Years Later – If you’re aware of my 2001 study, Getting Past the Arc of Enthusiasm, you’ll know what this is about: Seeing how many early free scholarly ejournals made it through more than a decade of publishing.
  • Old Media/New Media: Books, Bookstores and Ebooks – Inaugurating a new section with various items on print books, bookstores (OK, mostly Cody’s), and ebooks.
  • Interesting & Peculiar Products – seven items, including good inexpensive keyboards (think name brand), cheap steganography, and the 25 worst tech products.
  • Open Access Perspective, Part II: Pioneer OA Journals: Preliminary Additions from DOAJ – How many other free scholarly ejournals have been around since 1995? This piece provides a preliminary answer to that question (maybe somewhere between 84 and 147, maybe not).
  • Offtopic Perspective: SciFi Classics 50 Movie Pack, Part 2 – 24 more flicks, from Pongo to Eegah, John Agar (& Zontar!) to Gamera, no-budget redneck nonsense to the sons of Hercules.

Going where the story leads you

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

A proper well organized writer probably has an idea or proposal, prepares an outline, understands the length, and makes sure that the article or essay follows the outline and comes in at the desired length.

I do the “desired length” part for columns–a one-page column has to be one page (in my case, for one magazine, about 820 words because I use short ones); a “2,000-word” article can probably be anywhere from 1,800 to 2,100 words, but it can’t be 1,000 or 3,000. And if an article or column is written based on a proposal or commission, it had better match that proposal or commission fairly well.

But Cites & Insights, as noted yesterday, is different.

I’ve found that some stories want to go places beyond where I’d anticipated taking them. I’ve concluded that whenever a story seems to take on a life of its own, it’s probably sound to see where it goes.

The October issue of Cites & Insights will mostly be one of those stories–but split into two parts. Here’s the situation:

  • As noted here, I’d planned to do a five-year followup on “Getting Past the Arc of Enthusiasm” (May 2001), my study of pioneer free ejournals (what we’d now call OA journals, but that term didn’t exist in 1995).
  • As I was completing that essay, using DOAJ as a primary source for URLs, I noted that other listings showed dates of 1995 or before. And began wondering just how many other “pioneers” were around, that hadn’t been reported to ARL for its 1995 directory for one reason or another.
  • I did that “investigation”–there are 189 additional journal listings, but it’s pretty clear that not all of those began to provide free online access in 1995 or before. I’ve written up the results, including my guess/opinion/suspicion as to each journal’s actual status, as Part II of a two-part Perspective. (It suggests avenues for further investigation of the first decade of free ejournals…avenues I’m thinking about).

What would have been 4,500 words is now over 10,000. Does it deserve that length? Maybe, maybe not.

The rest of the issue? Actually, it does follow the short-term projeciton, sort of: A fairly long Old Media/New Media piece on books, bookstores and ebooks. Interesting & Peculiar Products. And the second half of the SciFi Classics 50 Movie Pack (hey, there’s no My Back Pages, and we need some fun here and there.)

When will it come out? Probably this evening. Intrepid early readers who can guess the URL might even find it earlier. And the URLs are so hard to guess…

Belatedly recognizing newfound flexibility

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Boy, I just love meaningful titles…good thing I’m not out to Maximize Blog Views for Fun and Profit (particularly now that I’ve removed the Google AdSense code–and yes, they paid me the $10 I’d earned over several months).

This is a two-part incidental post.

Part 1: I’ve just consciously recognized something about Cites & Insights that has been true for a while, but I’ve been resisting it.

To wit, while it’s a “print publication delivered via the web,” it’s also–and perhaps more significantly–a publication that wouldn’t be feasible without the web, and a big part of that is flexibility.


Bear with me.

C&I began as an experiment to complement my Library Hi Tech News mini-newsletter (“Crawford’s Corner”), providing more up-to-date stuff than the 8-10 pages of the LHTN section. I really hoped to turn it into a subscription print newsletter, maybe 12 pages (brief enough so it could be mailed at 2oz. first-class rates), maybe $100-$150/year. (Run the economics of very-short-run newsletter printing and mailing, assuming your time is worth $20 an hour or more, and you’ll see why subscription rates are high.)

That didn’t happen. I stopped doing the LHTN section. I rapidly abandoned the idea of doing a paid print subscription newsletter. And, after a while, 16 pages became a goal that was typically exceeded. (Also, the monthly schedule immediately became a minimum: every volume has had at least 13 issues.)

In the last two or three years, there have been several occasions where an essay or group of closely-related essays were long enough to require single-essay issues or significantly longer issues. The extreme case was one 32-page essay–not all that much shorter than a Library Technology Reports edition if I used larger type and bigger margins. (I did an LTR edition last year, v. 41 #2, “Policy and Library Technology,” so I know whereof I speak.)

Every time I had an essay more than 6 pages long–the longest that could ever fit into a real newsletter–I thought about chopping it back to a short piece. Most times, I failed.

Then I looked at the most widely-read and widely-cited issues and essays. Almost uniformly, they were the long ones. And the long ones were long for a reason: I needed that much space to tell the story.

So, OK, I finally get it. C&I is still designed for printing–it’s always going to be an even number of pages with no more than a quarter-column empty space at the end, if I can possibly manage that. And I don’t intend to produce issues even longer than this year’s have been–but that’s not a promise.

C&I allows me to do something that traditional outlets wouldn’t: Expore a story at the length that’s right for that story, even when–as is frequently the case–that length is much longer than would fit in a library magazine (typically 2,000 words or so, rarely more than 3,500 words) and much shorter than could justify being called a book (say 35,000 words). That flexibility allows for deeper exploration and the inclusion of more viewpoints. Those too-long-for-an-essay essays seem to be the most widely read and most lasting.

C&I is something genuinely new (and possibly unique). I should deal with it as it is, not pretend that it’s something else.

Yes, of course, this applies to the issue I’m currently working on. More on that a bit later, maybe this evening.

Part 2: Spam spam spam spam…

Spam Karma 2’s working pretty well. The number at the bottom of the screen is legitimate, although WordPress’ own controls would have trapped a lot of those (and trackbacks aren’t supposed to work at all in this blog). I’ve had to moderate half a dozen spamments as spam in the last month, I think one or two temporarily made it through to comments until I removed them–and I think two legitimate comments were flagged as spam. For that reason, as long as it’s feasible, I do actually go through the spamments, 20 at a time, before fully deleting them. (Next time we go on a long vacation, that might not happen…)

Spamments come in waves. I thought I’d summarize the last 20 hours:

Porn: 50. Chinese URLs or text: 44. “Are you there?” with the ad in the URL: 10. Travel: 15. Cell phones and ringtones: 8, but these come by the hundreds some days. Meds: Only two; email spam seems to be the big outlet for meds. “Hello, nice site” and similar “social engineering”: Just three. True mystery spam (apparent news items vaguely related to the post, but clearly not legitimate comments): 2. Miscellaneous products and services: 11.

Number that made it through: Zero.

50 Movie Pack SciFi Classics, Disc 12

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Yes, it’s that time again–but it’s the last time for “SciFi Classics.” I’m a little saddened by that, actually…

Colossus and the Amazon Queen, 1960, color, Vittorio Sala (dir.), Rod Taylor, Ed Fury, Dorian Gray, Gianna Maria Canale, Alberto Farnese, Adriana Facchetti. 1:30 [1:23].

This one’s strange: Another Hercules-style cheesecake-and-beefcake spectacular (more cheesecake than beefcake, since the Amazons are all great looking warriors in typically minimal outfits)—but played for laughs, almost certainly in the original Italian as well as the dubbed version. Light jazz as background music, ridiculous plot twists, you name it. $1, maybe $1.25 if you’re in the right mood.

Eegah, 1962, color, Arch Hall Sr. (dir.), Arch Hall Jr. and Sr., Marilyn Manning, Richard Kiel. 1:30.

Remember Richard Kiel? Jaws? Moonraker? Put him in animal skins, give him a club, have him living in a cave near some Southern California beach town—and you have Eegah, the last of some oversize race of slightly pre-human folks, good at cave drawings but not so much at language. It’s all downhill from there, with a truly untalented teenager, his girlfriend, and the girlfriend’s scientist dad as the main characters. The teen has a tendency to pull out an acoustic guitar, start strumming, and suddenly there’s an invisible group of background singers and instrumentalists for his lame ballads. Other than Kiel, lame is the right word across the board—but watchable in its own odd way. $0.75

War of the Planets, 1977, color, Alfonso Brescia (dir.), John Richardson, Yanti Sommer, Katia Chrstine, Vassili Karis. 1:29.

The seventies? This one should come from the sixties, as only lots of drugs during the screenwriting, filming, and editing could explain this mess. There’s a mixed-gender spaceship crew (all wearing pretty much identical skintight costumes); whenever they get in peril and somehow manage to escape—which happens a lot, because they seem to be incompetent—all of them get out of their chairs and start joyously jumping around and embracing. I would try to describe the plot, but that’s nearly impossible. I could suggest that the reels got scrambled during the transfer, but I suspect the movie wouldn’t make sense under any circumstances. $0.75.

Destroy All Planets, 1968, color, Noriaki Yuasa (dir.), Kojiro Hongo, Carl Craig, Toru Takatsuka. 1:30.

By all rights, the 50th and final flick on this set should star Gamera and one of the Sons of Hercules in a spaceship flying from a jungle full of unknown beasts to some hidden planet. As far as I know, Gamera and the Herculesians never starred in the same film, so we’ll have to settle for Gamera. This time, the evil conquerors out to conquer the Earth and destroy all earthlings (not the planet—and, incidentally, the sleeve precedes the title with Cosmos, that four-word title being one of five titles for this flick) figure to outsmart Gamera by snatching two mischief-prone little boys (Boy Scouts, or some Japanese variant). After all, Gamera (you know—the jet-propelled turtle/flying saucer with a really bad breath problem) just loves little kids, so he’ll do anything to protect these two. Even destroy Tokyo, presumably killing a few hundred thousand kids along the way—well, hey, nobody said Gamera was good on complex reasoning. Neither, apparently, is the U.N. Security Council, which—given an ultimatum—unanimously votes to surrender Earth to the aliens rather than attacking the spaceship and possibly killing the two kids. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. This film marked a new level of cost savings for special effects in Japanese monster movies: The discursive alien computer can read Gamera’s mind, and decides it’s important to show what Gamera’s done in the past—by showing twenty minutes of footage from previous Gamera movies, some of it in glorious black and white. Now that’s clever filmmaking. $1.