Archive for March, 2007


Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Rachel Singer Gordon has an interesting idea, but I’m afraid I can only half-participate.

The half: I can name five blogs that I subscribe to that aren’t liblogs. Are they entirely non-library-related? That’s a tough call. Some are blogs that can and do serve as source material for essays in Cites & Insights. Some aren’t. You tell me.

  • Good Math, Bad Math by Mark Chu-Carroll (was at IBM, will be at Google) is interesting if you’re a little bit of a math geek, but also for his occasional deconstruction of nonsensical arguments that use math badly. Part of scienceblogs, which has some really interesting alternatives. (I started out college intending to be a math major. Life changes.)
  • Many2Many, a group weblog on social software. One participant–Liz Lawley–is an old friend and wise soul. One participant (Clay Shirky) drives me nuts at times, but certainly has interesting things to say even if I frequently disagree and think he tends toward easy and defective generalizations. The others, certainly including danah boyd, are also interesting.
  • “Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought blog (DMCA, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics).” For some reason, this is in my library cluster, maybe because of Finkelstein’s censorware work. Always provocative, frequently research-based. Great coverage of the Wikipedia “credentials” brouhaha…
  • Freedom to Tinker by Ed Felten (with occasional contributions from his grad students and coworkers). DMCA and more, from the man who could have been a test case for the absurdity of some DMCA provisions. Always worth reading.
  • Improbable Research from the IgNobel people (the Annals of Improbable Research and the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists). Just because.

What I can’t/won’t do: use “fiveblogs” as a tag. I don’t do tags.

YouTube, Viacom, Safe Harbor and the Big Media Bait-n-Switch

Friday, March 16th, 2007

A quick post because a C&I copyright essay’s not likely for at least a month or two…and because today’s SF Chronicle TV column leaves out crucial things, not at all surprising given the writer’s predilections.

Admission up front: I’m no fan of Tim Goodman. We had a great local TV commentator before Hearst bought the Chron. The great TV writer retired. We’re left with…well, Goodman.

Today’s piece is about who’s “right” in the Viacom infringement suit against YouTube. And, big surprise, Goodman says there’s no question: Viacom’s right, YouTube’s wrong, fair use isn’t even an issue. Because, you know, Viacom produces all that Content, while YouTube does nothing but distribute. By implication, nobody watches anything on YouTube except clips pilfered from Big Media productions.

On its own, it’s a seriously muddled column. He says, and I agree, that most people are going to watch most shows on TVs and get them from traditional sources for a very long time to come–that most people don’t much want to watch long-form video on handhelds or cell phones or even PCs. Which, of course, means that YouTube is an attractor for Viacom and friends, to the extent that people watch Big Media stuff on YouTube. He doesn’t really discuss that.

The reason for this quick post, though, is what Goodman leaves entirely out of the lawsuit equation. YouTube’s primary defense isn’t Fair Use (although it possibly could be). It’s the DMCA Safe Harbor provision. One tiny little “pro-consumer” piece of that vastly pro-Big Media bill basically says that digital carriers can’t be held liable for infringement as long as they remove copyright material upon request (and aren’t actively encouraging infringement, and take reasonable efforts to discourage infringement).

YouTube famously removes material as soon as it’s informed that the material infringes copyright–probably without even checking whether that’s a legitimate claim. (Fair use provisions do mean that, in some cases, it’s legitimate for a YouTube video to contain elements of broadcast TV.) In practice, safe harbor provisions favor copyright holders: The digital sites respond immediately to take-down requests, not negotiating the reality.

But, of course, that’s not good enough for Big Media: Now that it has the extreme copyright protections of DMCA, it wants to undermine the balancing clauses. To do so would mean that video-sharing sites would have to require some sort of proof that each uploaded video wasn’t an infringement. Good luck with that. Realistically, Big Media doesn’t want sharing sites to be around, unless it controls them or at least gets paid everytime somebody watches a clip that might be under its control.

Actually, take away the safe harbor provision and every web service that stores any user-generated content is in trouble. Upload a vcast that happens to have the TV or radio on in the background? That could be claimed as copyright infringement (rightly or wrongly). Heck, quote a line of a pop song in a blog entry? Some writers and publishers claim that even a single line of a poem is too much for fair use.

This isn’t new. The Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) was a pro-copyright compromise, that explicitly legalized copying music digitally from radio (etc.) for your own use, while “rewarding” copyright holders by adding a surcharge to recorders and blank media and distributing that surcharge to copyright holders. That’s why “audio CD-Rs” cost more than data CD-Rs and standalone CD recorders won’t record on data CD-Rs: AHRA.

Now, of course, Big Media’s taking legal action to prevent people from intelligently recording XM or Sirius radio (that is, recording individual songs), claiming it’s copyright infringement and carefully ignoring AHRA. It’s the same bait and switch: Bait an unbalanced law with supposed consumer protections, then switch back to claim that the protection is excessive and either ignore it or try to get it reversed.

Something’s coming…

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Without breaking into West Side Story song (a great musical, but do you have any idea how hard Bernstein is to sing?), a head’s-up:

The book I’ve been threatening/promising is almost ready–this close.

It’s actually published, according to Lulu, but I’m the only one who can buy copies–until I get the first copy and make sure nothing’s too awfully wrong.

There’s also one bit of administrivia that needs to be settled, but I don’t doubt it will be.

Once both of those are done–with any luck, about a week from now–I’ll publicize it here and in the April issue of Cites & Insights (which won’t come out until the book’s available, unless there’s a big delay).

Hey, it’s the first book I’ve written in four years (unless you count the Library Technology Reports issue I did in 2005, and those are on the short side for books), and the longest book I’ve written in 15 years. Not that it’s all that long: just under 72,000 words (roughly 52,000 of them mine, 20,000 quoted from various blogs and posts and the like)–but my three ALA Editions books were all on the short side by contract.

What’s it about?

It’s about 247 pages.

Sorry. That’s true (252 print pages of which 247 are numbered; 6×9 trade paperback size), but probably not the answer you were looking for.

The rest of the answer needs to wait until I tell Lulu that anyone can buy it (for $21.50 plus shipping, which is I believe about $2.50 for USPS Media Mail). So, until next week…

If you read me via Bloglines, please…

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Unsubscribe and resubscribe using the first option (although actually any new subscription should work), which will give you a Feedburner subscription.
Not because of the Feedburner statistics–it’s going to be a long time (if ever) before they’re a meaningful portion of readership–but because you might actually see new posts in a timely manner.

That’s right: The Bloglines problem has recurred, and it ain’t just me.

If you’re wondering whether ACRLog,
Wandering Eyre,
Library Monk,
Shifted Librarian

and Walking Paper all took brief blogvacations after last Saturday:

Nope. Every one of those blogs has at least one post today. In an informal scan of Bloglines, not one of them shows an update date more recent than 3/10.

They’re all, as it happens, hosted by LISHost (as am I, and in this case the URL makes it pretty obvious).

This is not a LISHost problem, as far as anyone can tell, except in its consequences: That is, LISHost is not to blame. Blake runs a great hosting service, and I’m pleased to have all three of my web presences hosted here.

Bloglines “works on it,” and for a while everything’s OK (and you see big chunks of posts arrive all at once). Then it keels over again–and it seems to keel over for everything from that server at once.

I still like Bloglines better than Google Reader (mostly for the subscriber count, but there you go). And I believe that some feeds that show up in Bloglines aren’t showing up in Google Reader, but I’m not sure of that. Fortunately, it only takes five minutes to do a quick-scroll through 100+ posts at GR after reading (most of) the posts at Bloglines.

It’s infuriating, to be sure. As of right now, my Feedburner feed has seven Bloglines subscribers. My other feed(s) [excluding comment feeds] have 418. Neither one’s a particularly big number, and W.a.R. is a peculiar little blog, but still…

Kid lit bloggers have more fun

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

With a tip of the hat to A Fuse #8 Production, I send you here for the best comment I’ve seen on a particular “controversy.”

And you gotta love Fuse’s labels, particularly the first one (Metaphorical Scrotums). Which, to be sure, sent me to look for the proper plural form; Merriam-Webster Online gives “scrota” first but “scrotums” as an alternative, so Fuse as usual gets full approval. (Yes, Wiktionary shows up first at Ask–but I trust M-W for the usual reasons.)

OK, here’s a bizarre one: “plural of scrotum” as a Google search. The first result is from Google Book Search; clicking on that yields 232 results…and a context-sensitive ad that I won’t mention here.

Cable broadband: Exceeding the unstated speed limit

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Here’s a remarkable story (I’m linking to Furdlog, which in turn offers links to the news story itself).

Seems like you can lose your Comcast broadband “privileges” if you use too much of it.

How much is too much? Comcast won’t say. Apparently customer reps don’t even know there is a limit. I guess it’s like pornography: Comcast knows it when they see it.

Comcast’s big selling point over DSL is fast fast fast. It’s certainly not price!

They don’t say “fast but don’t use too much, whatever we currently deem to be too much.”

Sure, there’s a license agreement, and of course we all read every word of those agreements before accepting them.

Me? I’ve got DSL–SBC Yahoo! or AT&T Yahoo! or whatever it’s called these days. The slowest version (1.5mb), because our house is too far from the switching office for faster versions. I don’t download lots of video, so I’ve never noticed a problem.

DSL’s architecture is different (as the story notes): My use doesn’t affect my neighbor’s use.

I would say that the chances of my moving to Comcast broadband have just gone down, but it’s really hard to go lower than zero…

Where your patrons are–or are they?

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Putting on my asbestos gloves, I write a mildly cautionary post.

If you love Second Life, more power to you. I tried it–had to, for a contest, at some length–and didn’t care for it. I’m one of perhaps four million ghost avatars, always to be counted by Linden but never to return (I have no idea what my password is, for that matter.)

That’s me. I probably wouldn’t care for most virtual worlds (except those in fiction). That’s me.

If you want to spend your spare time building library facilities in Second Life, that may be a great thing. I can see possible good learning outcomes. You may get to chat with lots of other SLibrarians and maybe even some who aren’t.

Just don’t tell me that libraries need to be involved in Second Life, in 2007, because it’s “where our users are.” That’s simply not true, at least not for most real-world communities.

How many people actually use Second Life? It’s definitely not the 4.47 million “Residents” number you’ll see from Linden–that’s everybody who’s ever gotten far enough into the signup to register an avatar, even if they’ve never come back.

Even some pro-Second Life enthusiasts who’ve studied the numbers seem to agree that no more than 10% to 15% of these people stick around–one highly pro-SL source uses “10% at 90 days” as an estimate. That would yield no more than about 440K ongoing users.

You can’t use any of SL’s “visited within X days” as particularly meaningful, because “visited” includes all of those who sign up (or start signing up) and never return–and if you look at the growth rate of total Residents, you see that most of those “visits” are actually initial signups.

Clay Shirky (at Many2Many) and Nick Carr (at Rough Type) have been blogging about this, as have quite a few others.

I’ve seen estimates of as low as tens of thousands of ongoing users (probably far too low, depending on how you define “ongoing”). A 15% retention rate yields about 670,000 avatars, which probably represent considerably fewer people–and that may be too high. If you think about how long SL aficionados tend to spend in SL, and the average concurrent users, somewhere in the low six figures seems most likely. (There are something like 50,000 paid accounts, which may be a baseline. If you assume ten “real users” for every premium account, that’s half a million overall.).

But heck, let’s say 670,000–or, being very optimistic, let’s say a million active users, where I define “active” as “spends some time in SL at least once a month, and has returned at least a month after first signing up.” (If you use “at least once a week”–which seems reasonable for anybody who really cares about SL–then Linden’s own figures give you less than 500,000, and that includes a week’s worth of churn, new signups who will never return.)

Best estimates are that slightly less than half of SL avatars are from within the U.S. So that’s half a million, using the most optimistic numbers, or more likely around 250,000.
Out of a population of over 300 million.

In other words, one-sixth of one percent of your users, using optimistic numbers.

By any reasonable standard, your users are not in Second Life. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be. Just means that “that’s where our patrons are” is a poor excuse to prioritize SL activity over much of anything else. “That’s where our patrons might be eventually, and we’d like to understand it”–that’s a decent reason if you have spare time and no competing priorities.

Postscript: Is it fair to assume that SL will grow to be a true mass phenomenon, where as many as five or ten percent of your patrons might show up there once a month or more? I have no idea. Clay Shirky doesn’t think so; he thinks it will always be a niche. I think he’s wrong on a lot of other things, so I’m not suddenly going to hold him up as The Expert here.

Personally, I doubt it, but that doubt is not based on solid knowledge.

Why I don’t call it “snail mail”

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Just a little coffee-break post (and way of letting you know I haven’t disappeared entirely)…

A couple of months ago, I ordered two DVD/TV collections that were set to be released Tuesday (March 6). I also ordered a third that was already available, but since we wouldn’t get to it before March, I told Amazon to use the fewest shipments possible and cheapest (free) shipping, which means USPS, presumably Media Mail. Cheap, but no guarantee as to timeliness.

Email from Amazon on March 5 said the order had been shipped–I guess it’s OK to ship a day early as long as nobody actually gets the DVDs until the on-sale date.

The package arrived day before yesterday. March 6. Via USPS, cheapest available rate.

This isn’t Netflix, where the nearest shipping facility (and company headquarters) are only a few miles from our house. This is Amazon, where the shipping facility is in Nevada

I don’t know how postal service is elsewhere. Around here, it’s pretty dang good.


Postscripts, while I still have five minutes left on my break:

1. If you care–Season Five of Moonlighting, Seasons Five and Six of Northern Exposure. We’re currently on season three of Northern Exposure but had run out of Moonlighting.

2. I’m not always a huge Amazon enthusiast, and I do prefer local stores when feasible–but there’s no local DVD/CD store to speak of (and our Target hadn’t been carrying these series), and even when Tower was still around, I refused to pay their absurdly higher prices for their “you’re not really young and punk enough to shop here” attitude. For books, I still check local bookstores first–and we do have local bookstores.

Wikipedia: A bigger problem than supposed liberalism

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

I don’t do many linkposts, but in this case it makes sense.

OK, every librarian knows that Wikipedia should only be a starting point toward verifiable answers. (No emoticon, but how many of you actually verify supposed information you see on Wikipedia, if you’re just answering a question rather than writing a formal paper? Not many hands up, are there? But let’s assume for this discussion that you all do what you know to be proper.)

Let’s suppose that you’re a faculty member who’s nervous about Wikipedia’s quality in a given area and tend to prefer that it really not be taken seriously in that area. Until you’re assured by another PhD. faculty member that, yes, the sources are excellent–and this faculty member should know, as he’s one of the People With Power at Wikipedia.

Then let’s assume that it turns out this faculty member actually has no advanced degrees and his faculty membership is part of his Wikipedia “identity” with no basis in the real wor.d

Problem? Well, Jimbo Wales didn’t think so, and neither (apparently) did lots of Wikipedians.

Until Jimbo was informed that this would-be-PhD was using his faux credentials to make points within the Wikipedia universe.

In other words: It’s OK to lie to outsiders about your credentials. It’s OK to lie to major media about your credentials. (How OK? Wales actually hired this guy after the external lies were exposed.) But it’s not OK to use your faux credentials to win points within the magic circle.

But that’s a short and probably faulty summary. Seth Finkelstein has put together a bunch of stuff (as has Nicholas Carr, but I’m linking you to Seth): here [1], here [2], here [3], here [4], here [5], here [6], here [7] and here [8], so far.

There may be earlier pieces I haven’t picked up. It’s an interesting story, and I tend to agree that the implications are more interesting than the facts. Do note that, if you want to find all the background, you’ll have to work from Finkelstein’s posts or some other set of posts–in the spirit of full disclosure as practiced at Walesopedia Wikipedia, big chunks of the background have been disappeared from the various discussion pages.

Classic Musicals 50 Movie Pack, Disc 5

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Second Chorus, 1940, b&w, H.C. Potter (dir.), Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Artie Shaw, Charles Butterworth, Burgess Meredith. 1:24.

The timeless Fred Astaire and a very young Burgess Meredith as two “friendly”-rival musicians who’ve managed to stay in college, running a collegiate band, for seven years. They hire a gorgeous (and very effective) manager, somehow both graduate, and both try to get into Artie Shaw’s band, sabotaging each other along the way. Some slapstick, decent plot, lots of Shaw’s music and some other good numbers, and there’s a little dancing in there too. $1.50.

Trocadero, 1944, b&w, William Nigh (dir.), Rosemary Lane, Johnny Downs, Ralph Morgan, Sheldon Leonard, Marjorie Manners, Cliff Nazarro. 1:14 [1:08]

This one has an actual plot, albeit told entirely in flashbacks. Tony Rocadero leaves his restaurant/night club to his (adopted?) kids, who have trouble making a go of it. But they get some good advice and book some newer jazz/swing performers. Along the way, just as they’re about to shut down, one who has his eyes on the woman manager offers to finance a rebuilding and wants a bigger, fancier sign with hotter name—and Tony Rocadero’s becomes the Trocadero. Interesting variety of music, but this one’s as much plot as it is musical. Downgraded for soundtrack problems. $1.25.

People Are Funny, 1946, b&w, Sam White (dir.), Jack Haley, Helen Walker, Rudy Vallee, Ozzie Nelson, Art Linkletter, Frances Langford. 1:33 [1:27].

Another “friendly” rivals situation, with two radio producers (Nelson one of them) trying to sell a show to a grumbly sponsor (Vallee, who sings once), both trying to work from a premise involving the ordinary folks in a small town. After various hijinks, “People are Funny” is born. Running gag with one musical group that keeps trying to audition for one producer—unfortunately, once in blackface. Decent plot, decent music, nothing special. I wonder what’s in the missing six minutes… $1.25.

Doll Face, 1945, b&w, Lewis Seiler (dir.), Vivian Blaine, Dennis O’Keefe, Perry Como, Carmen Miranda, Martha Stewart. 1:20 [1:18].

Let’s see: A musical based on a play written by Gypsy Rose Lee, telling the story of a burlesque star who writes a book (or, rather, works with a ghostwriter, thus establishing romantic tension with her producer/manager/boyfriend O’Keefe) to show she’s classy enough for the legit stage—and winds up doing a Broadway show based on the story she wrote. Self-referential as all get out, and well done to boot. (Carmen Miranda’s character makes a deprecating joke when someone compares her to Carmen Miranda…) Good musical numbers including some fully-staged showpieces. Obvious missing frames and bad cuts lower this to $1.25.