Archive for June, 2007

Tri-tip: A Food Question

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

The question’s simple enough, aimed mostly at people outside the U.S. “far west”:

Have you ever heard of tri-tip? Do supermarkets in your area sell it?

Here’s the background. Two Sundays ago, my wife and I attended a biannual get-together of a distantly-related family (she’s doing genealogical research, located these folks, answered some questions from them, got invited). In the Altamont pass wind-farm country (near Livermore). The primary barbecue was tri-tip–marinated and seasoned.

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to my brother’s first-anniversary party, at his house in Livermore. He provided the barbequed meat and drink. The meat was tri-tip, marinated and seasoned.

We were in Santa Maria year before last, and of course I had tri-tip for dinner, since Santa Maria tri-tip is a key local dish.

At the get-together and again at the first anniversary, people familiar with the meat industry said that tri-tip is unknown outside of the West–that it gets used for hamburger or sold as parts of different cuts elsewhere. It’s a tricky cut: It really needs thin-slicing and typically marinade to avoid being too tough to eat. But it’s also a great barbecue meat when it is marinated and thinly sliced. (One of my favorite lunch spots, years ago, used to serve a tri-tip sandwich once in a while: Great.)

So: Is this a Western urban legend? Do you get tri-tip in New York or Texas (well, Texas may count as “the west”) or Illinois or Great Britain or Australia or Toronto or Wisconsin?

(We’re finishing a trifecta today, really unusual for a not-terribly-sociable couple: Going to brunch today with a dear long-time friend…once again, in Livermore, but this time in a restaurant. I suspect tri-tip won’t be on the menu.)

Beyond that: We seem to be well into stone fruit season, and the local farmer’s market is rich with great peaches, superb plums, wonderful apricots, and magnificent cherries. We’re hoping to get a few Blenheim apricots from our own tree, but the birds may beat us to it… I do love stone fruit season, particularly as it ends the several-week near-drought of fresh local fruit!

Social software/social networks: YMMV

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

That’s obvious, though. Some of us find some spaces and tools more natural. Some of us have more time and affinity for “life online.”

When I’m wriitng anything substantial (some posts, all columns, most Cites & Insights pieces, certainly any books), that’s all I do. No minimized email window(s), no music, certainly no chat rooms or anything else.

At work, there’s always at least one minimized mail window (Outlook) and generally two (Gmail)–although we don’t have speakers, and I usually have headphones plugged in but lying there, so there’s no audible announcement of new interruptions. Still, it’s harder to get the kind of concentration at work that I can at home–good writing probably takes at least 50% longer.

The current stuff I’m doing as the transition winds down frequently does not require (or reward) complete concentration, but requires enough attention that you really can’t focus on any other major task. That’s particularly true for the 2nd through 10th working day of the month (more or less).

What does all this rambling lead up to? Well, the relatively unfocused nature of this post may suggest–correctly–that I’m multitasking: Checking in on a Meebo room as I write this. And it turns out that, for me, for now, for times when some attention is available, this particularly library-related Meebo room is a pretty good form of socialization.

It’s certainly not a secret clubhouse. (It is passworded, but only because a pr0n spambot was attacking any Meebo room with more than a couple of participants, which made it useless.) If anything, it’s a little like Cheers–a welcoming place where, once you’ve been there once or twice, everybody knows your name. Or at least your screen name. Some people use transparent screen names (the abbreviation of their blog). Some need asking to relate screen name to real-world name (and, of course, they don’t have to answer). Quite a few–myself included–just use their full names as one word. You can change your nickname any old time, but that’s not a big problem.

In this particular room, I’ve found lots of interesting idle chatter–and a fair amount of useful professional advice (some received a little given). There’s an air of full equality in the room: No leaders, no followers. People drift in and drift out. Sometimes there’s a round of “Hi X” when X shows up on the sidebar. Sometimes there isn’t.

If this particular room is indicative (and I have no reason to believe it is), things work best when there are anywhere from five to ten people in the room. Fewer than five, conversation tends to dwindle away. More than ten, the flood of overlapping conversations can get hard to deal with, although it’s certainly interesting. There are, to be sure, rooms where that’s simply not a problem: I know of two library-related rooms that almost never have anyone in them at all. That’s the way things go sometimes.

I’ve never been much for chat. I got introduced to it by default: Gmail now comes with its own chat client automatically enabled. Used it once in a while (rarely). The Meebo Rooms are a little different, because they’re occupied by several people all of whom see what everyone says. I guess they’re like IRC, but since I’ve never used that…

As for other social networks/social spaces, here’s where I stand now, if you care:

  • Ning (specifically Library 2.0): I think you need to spend a lot of time there and/or be enormously patient to get much out of it. It’s the most, um, leisurely online application I’ve dealt with. I’ve been in the Library 2.0 and Library Blogger Ning spaces for some time, mostly passively, accepting “friends” upon request, sending some invitations. For me, it seems not to work very well, My current guess is I’ll remove myself from Ning following ALA. It may be the greatest thing since artisanal bread for others.
  • Second Life: Didn’t work for me at all. Oh, I tried it and managed to get around, but felt like it was a complete waste of time for me, for now.
  • MySpace: Haven’t tried it. Yet. Might.
  • LinkedIn: I’ve had a profile for some time and have a pretty good network built up, largely since a former colleague told me she’d gotten three interviews (and her new job) through LinkedIn contacts. When I was doing an emailing on my future availability, first two people whose addresses I knew from gmail contact, I thought I’d add more names from my LinkedIn network. Turns out there was nobody in that group who I could conceivably send the email to who I hadn’t already sent it to. So, for me, it’s just not clear whether LinkedIn works. (They now operate in much of the rest of the building I work in.)
  • Twitter: Not yet. I may set up an account for use during ALA, just as I picked up a text-oriented cell phone for use during ALA. Guess I’d better do that within the next week or so…if it’s going to be of any use at all. In general, though, I don’t think I’m a twitter kind of person.

Of course, there are other social networks that just don’t work the same way. I’d call the loose collection of libloggers a network of sorts, connected through posts, comments, linked posts–and all those background emails that don’t quite work as comments. To some extent, lists can be vague social networks. LISNews has elements of a crude network. I’m probably missing some.

Will I keep up with Meebo Rooms in the future? Hard to say. I have to admit it’s made writing this post slow and clumsy–but that’s partly because I did it wrong (two Firefox tabs instead of two overlapping windows).

No real point here. I think each person needs to figure out their own comfort level and appropriate set of social spaces. Some hardy souls seem able to handle them all and revel in the process; I think that would drive me (even more) nuts. Some people avoid the whole concept, not an unreasonable choice. I just thought I’d say a few words about my current choices.

Balanced Libraries: Recent reviews

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

I know I said I was going to point to reviews and comments on Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change in this post, updating it as required.

I lied.

There is no way I can let John Dupuis’ review at Confessions of a Science Librarian go by without special notice–just as I found a way to highlight Mark Lindner’s review.

John Dupuis disagrees with me on some issues. That’s good. He found himself thinking about things, whether or not he wound up agreeing with me. That’s even better.

I won’t add any more comments. The review stands on its own, and was clearly written with care and thought. Oh, and as to using blogs as my primary source materials in most cases–well, yes, and I expect to write more about that in the future.

Cites & Insights Plus: One partial “What’s Next?” Scenario

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

First, a quick update on this announcement and this update:

Not really much to say. One more ALA conversation to discuss possible “piecemeal” things. I have, in fact, given in and purchased a cell phone, which will mostly be off, and will provide the number to those who contact me beforehand about getting together at ALA. I may yet set up a Twitter account to serve that purpose as well (the phone is specifically designed for texting, with a QWERTY keyboard too small for thumbing but OK for one-finger typing). Certainly no offers have come “pouring in” that are so wonderful that I’d take them before ALA Annual and give up the discussions…nor was I expecting any.

One reason for a less than stunning flow of offers (besides this being the real world, of course) may be that I’ve been pretty vague about what I’m looking for. There are two reasons for that–both a deliberate attempt to stay open to the widest range of possibilities and being a little uncertain as to The Path I want to follow–including whether that comes down to one path or many.

Still, it might not hurt to flesh out one or two scenarios. So here’s one–one that would not (I believe) lead to a full-time equivalence or anything close to it, but that might represent an interesting part of a whole if some publisher or sponsoring company/agency is interested.

Here’s the scenario:

  • Cites & Insights continues, still free to the reader, still slightly less than predictable, still full of the writing I seem to do best (or at least most). Potentially larger sponsorship; potentially an ad or two within the publication; potentially cross-promotion or reuse of C&I material elsewhere.
  • C&I appears to have an immediate core readership in the 1,500 to 2,000 range, with overall readership over the course of a year or so slowly ramping up to 3,000 or more–except for special cases, which can and have exceeded 10,000 and even 20,000 readers. (I believe Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0” is past the 25,000 mark now.) I assert that these are all actual readers, not just recipients, since it’s hard to justify fetching and printing C&I if you don’t plan to read it.
  • That audience may be the “natural” readership for C&I. It’s a dense, even demanding publication with lengthy essays that require some serious reading and, once in a while, thinking. I assume a fair amount of background on the part of readers. I suspect C&I is both too long and too dense for most library people–which is a reflection on C&I, not on them.
  • At the same time, one newish section of C&I is becoming more important to me and almost unmanageable in terms of source material that I want to discuss and synthesize. It’s also perhaps the most relevant section to a broader range of librarians.
  • Possibility 1: Spin off a separate epublication–let’s call it Making it Work: The Balanced Library Journal for now, although that title could change–incorporating what’s now in “Making it Work” and, possibly, “Library Access to Scholarship.” Aim for at least every other month initially, but probably monthly rather quickly (particularly if there’s actual income associated with it). Most desirable: Free to the end user with a CC BY-NC license (like C&I), and with advertising and/or sponsorship. Less desirable but worth considering: Subscription basis, preferably with a slight-delay open availability.
  • Possibility 2: A separate publication, possibly print, possibly epub, based on Cites & Insights (and/or Making it Work) but with a substantially different approach: Limited length (say 8 or 12 pages per issue, period); shorter and less convoluted essays (most no more than one page, with perhaps one two-page primary essay in each issue), more background as appropriate, more of a “column style” to the essays. Either sponsored with advertising or by subscription; might cover some new ground, but would mostly recast C&I material; would point to C&I for longer/denser coverage. I have no idea what this might be called, but I believe it could reach several thousand librarians and other library people who really (and legitimately) don’t have the time to spend on C&I.
  • C&I Books could also be part of this package, either in its current form or in a more traditional state. I have two projects on the back burner now, and a series of other possibilities for the future.

Possibility 1 might happen anyway, if I wind up in a part-time position (or set of activities) that allows enough time and focus to do this. Possibility 2 cannot happen without someone else’s involvement. I’m not about to start handling subscriptions or fulfillment (or advertising) for several reasons.

I believe this package (in whole or in part) could be attractive to a number of parties–but I’m not sure. I am sure that I want Cites & Insights to stick around. I am sure that I want to write more about “making it work.” I am reasonably certain that I’ve put together a combination of scanning, synthesis, commentary, writing and overall stance that’s unique within the field, even if only by accident. I’d like to build on that, even if only as a piece of a complex whole.

So there’s a scenario. If you’re interested, get in touch. You know the mail system (gmail) and the username (waltcrawford). You know I’d prefer to set up meetings during the ALA Annual Conference and that the more ambitious parts of this concept can’t happen until October 2007 at the earliest.

Otherwise, well, I’m still open to all sorts of possibilities, even as I do background work related to one or two discussions.

Choosing your patrons: A cautionary tale

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Shortly after we moved to Mountain View nine years ago, we started walking to dinner every Saturday night–either some place really close (0.7 miles each way), some or one of many further away (about 1.2 miles to Los Altos, about 1.5 miles to downtown Mountain View).

For a while, there was really only one “nearby” restaurant: a local pizza parlor that also happened to produce really good food–calzones with no grease on the plate, pizzas with vibrant flavors, a small assortment of very well made Italian dishes. Local (not part of a chain), and a “neighborhood pizza place” to the extent of sponsoring youth soccer teams and having a banquet room where various kids-league teams would hold end-of-season dinners.

We went there anywhere from once every two weeks to once a month–more often in the winter (when the longer walks are less desirable), a little less often once we discovered that the Chinese restaurant in the same neighborhood center was really quite good.

The last year or so, we started encountering situations where we really couldn’t enjoy our meal: In addition to the big group in the banquet room, there would be another big group in the main dining room, with parents making no efforts to keep their kids from shouting. So, for a while, we’d call before going, ask if there were going to be multiple parties coming in during the time we were planning, and plan accordingly.

That started breaking down a couple of months ago and finally broke down entirely last Saturday. First we’d call and the person answering the phone either didn’t understand my question (being only marginally English-speaking) or just said “No problem.” We’d arrive, the place would be intolerably loud with parties that had made reservations, and we’d go eat Chinese food.

Last Saturday, we called. The person wouldn’t or couldn’t answer the question. We went over. Walking in, we asked; the hostess said “Just one party, and it’s in the banquet room.” Good enough. We ordered.

And the kids started trooping in. By and large, the kids moved along to the banquet room, but some of the parents wanted to stand around with their kids, and one of the kids was literally whooping every few seconds. (Eventually, that parent took the kid outside…and then came back a couple of minutes later, and the whooping resumed.) But as it turned out, this time the kids weren’t the main problem–or at least not the underage kids.

This time, apparently many of the parents didn’t want to be with their kids. So they stood three-deep around the “bar” (beer and wine, but they weren’t ordering anything), talking loudly and MORE LOUDLY and EVEN MORE LOUDLY as more of them gathered. (There was about 3 feet between the bar and the booths; we retreated to the most distant booth, 6 feet away, but that made no difference.)

We could not and did not enjoy the meal. We finished it, paid (yes, with a good tip), and left. And my wife said “We’re not going back. Ever.” I can’t disagree.

The owner has obviously chosen to give precedence to big groups–and not to make any effort to remind them that it’s also a restaurant and that others may not be as excited as they are. I think that used to be different. As my wife said, it’s probably the right decision–for the 12 weekends/24 days a year when there are team banquets. But if enough regular customers feel the way we do, it may not be such a hot decision for the other 288 days. Used to be, we’d see half a dozen or more couples and family groups there when we were there. This time? One other couple, and they didn’t look real happy either. (This is actually passing strange, since the owner also recently switched from one-sheet paper menus to nice multipage menus with an expanded menu–seemingly trying to attract the same diners he’s driving away.)

I noted that, the previous Saturday when I’d planned to have lunch at the Chinese place, there was a sign on the door: “Banquet in progress. Takeout only.” Those owners decided that they really couldn’t handle both at the same time, and didn’t attempt to. Unquestionably, they would have answered a phoned question correctly…and we would have come back another day.

Library implications? Maybe. Meredith Farkas posted about her husband’s experience seeing a favorite magazine go bad because it shifted its attention and resources to the web. (An excellent post, by the way, which you should go read if you haven’t already.) Part way through, Farkas adds this note:

(Aside: As I’m writing this, I realize this offers another lesson that librarians need to heed. While it’s important that we provide better services for teens and those in their early 20s, we shouldn’t do it at the expense of services to the rest of our patrons. We do not want to lose that core audience any more than we want to lose the Gen Y folks.)

Yep. Don’t look for a denunciation of gaming in libraries here because such a mass denunciation would be as absurd as saying that every library needs a gaming librarian (which I’m sure nobody would actually say). But I do wonder: Are those wonderful at-the-library gaming tournaments, particularly ones with such quiet pursuits as DDR, driving out older patrons who have loyally supported the library? If so, will they come back or will they just give up–and vote against the next tax override?

I don’t know the answer. Well, that’s not true: I do know that there is no single answer. I’m sure some libraries, maybe even every single one that does these gaming nights/tournaments, have set things up so that the noise and disruption from one activity doesn’t upset the browsers and readers in the rest of the library.

But I also know that it would not be an answer to say “We need the gamers, so we’ll just have to let the old folks go.” And, just to clarify, I haven’t heard anyone say that either.

Oh, and Meredith? That magazine isn’t the only one. PC Magazine has dropped almost all specs and details from its printed reviews, substituting glossy columns and big pictures; effectively, the print magazine is now sort of a sideshow to the web version. Except, of course, that I’m not interested in the web version…and will think long and hard before renewing the print version. (After all, I get the web version free anyway…)

Getting your fifteen minutes

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Woohoo! I’m in the top 45,000 Technorati rankings!

Probably for about a day. I may have been there for an hour or two earlier in the week.

No, I don’t check Technorati daily. But when the blog dashboard shows some inbound links I wasn’t expecting and I check them out (hi Heather Coates!), I sometimes click on the “more” link, which brings up a Technorati search.

Lately this blog has been in the top 50,000–I’ve been blogging a bit more than usual and on topics that drew a fair number of links (OK, one topic in particular, and you have no idea how much I really appreciate it). Most of the time, I think W.a.r. sits somewhere in the top 150,000–which seems about right.

Noting Steven M. Cohen’s million-pageview month, I looked at that number for this blog 5/2-6/2 (it’s not a number I normally check; “average sessions per day” is my usual benchmark, typically around 1,600 on weekdays). Hmm. 85,100 for the period: About one-twelfth of Library Stuff’s audience. That also sounds about right.

Since all these numbers are a bit iffy anyway (given the effects of aggregators, spiders, and other stuff), I have a simple answer to how many people actually read this blog: “Enough, but more are always welcome.”

50 Movie Pack Classic Musicals, Disc 11

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

If it seems as though this set of reviews came fairly soon after Disc 10, the reason’s simple enough: Side A is, once again, movies that I’ve already reviewed in other Movie Packs–and the first movie on Side B was short.

Jack and the Beanstalk, 1952, color and sepiatone, Jean Yarbrough (dir.), Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Buddy Baer. 1:10. [1:21]

[Also in Family Classics pack, not rereviewed.] I’m not sure why IMDB lists this as 11 minutes shorter than the running time on the DVD, but an Argentine release was apparently somewhere in the middle. This was another pleasant surprise. The surround, in sepia, has Abbott and Costello trying to babysit a rotten kid. The middle, in color, is the book Costello reads to him—or, rather, has the kid read to Costello. It’s a vivid retelling with songs added (which don’t help), with Costello as Jack and Abbott as the greedy butcher (who also climbs up to the castle). Not a laugh a minute, but well done. The print’s good but the sound is a little harsh sometimes. As for the acting, it’s fine—except for the Handsome Prince, who—when supposedly courting the Beautiful Princess (both assuming the roles of commoners, both held by the Giant)—seems to be looking over her shoulder either in a mirror or at his boyfriend. All in all, though, pretty good. $1.50

The Road to Hollywood, 1946, b&w, Bud Pollard (dir.), Bing Crosby, Bud Pollard (narrator). 0:56 [0:53]

[Also in Family Classics pack, not rereviewed.] Bud Pollard, an exploitation director, came up with a stunt to make some quick bucks. He uncovered three comedy shorts made by Danny Kaye for Mack Sennett; when Danny Kaye hit it big in the movies, Pollard stitched footage from the three into a movie he called Birth of a Star—a perfect second feature for theaters that could advertise a big-name star. So Pollard did the same again, this time stitching together excerpts from four Mack Sennett two-reelers starring Bing Crosby, made in 1931 and 1932, with lots of Pollard narration and laudatory comments. The whole thing is just a different form of exploitation. The four short musical comedies on their own might be interesting; the composite is a mess. The print’s only so-so. $0.50

The Big Show, 1936, b&w, Mack V. Wright (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Kay Hughes, Sally Payne, William Newell, Max Terhune, Sons of the Pioneers, the Jones Boys, the Beverly Hillbillies, the Light Crust Doughboys, Champion, Rex King. 1:10/0:54. [0:55]

The plot: Tom Ford’s making a movie with Gene Autry as his stuntman. Ford goes on vacation (and to hide out from $10,000 gambling debts) and the studio publicist says he’s needed at the Texas World’s Fair in Dallas (where most of this was filmed). Solution? Have Gene Autry don a fake mustache and impersonate Tom Ford. But Ford doesn’t sing—and that’s Autry’s big thing. Lots of music, lots of action with the gangster (who decides to blackmail the studio about the Autry-as-Ford thing, which doesn’t work well because the studio loves having a singing cowboy). Autry wasn’t that hot as an actor at the time, but since he was also playing Ford, he acted as well as Ford. More show biz than western, but plenty of music—and the Beverly Hillbillies were a western singing group a long time before it was a TV show. $1.50.

Black Tights (orig. 1-2-3-4 ou Les Collants noirs), 1960, color, Terence Young (dir.), Maurice Chevalier, Zizi Jeanmaire, Cyd Charisse, Roland Petit, Moira Shearer, Ballets de Paris of Roland Petit. 2:20/2:05 [2:03]

This one’s odd and tough to evaluate. It’s four dance performances—The Diamond Crusher, Cyrano de Bergerac, A Merry Mourning and Carmen—with Maurice Chevalier introducing them and providing some English narration. I have no idea how good the dances are (the costumes are fine and done by name designers), although they seemed enjoyable enough. I’d guess this isn’t world-class choreography. The print’s OK (not great), the sound’s OK as well. The big problem: This is a widescreen film, using “curtains” of sorts as black bars. It’s mediocre VHS quality. That means there just isn’t much picture detail to work with—maybe 2/3 of VHS’ 230 lines, if that. As a result, wide shots involving more than two people are so soft as to be uninteresting. A true DVD version (using all 480 lines of DVD, with anamorphic conversion for the widescreen) might or might not be more interesting. As it is, I’m almost reluctant to say $1.25.

Almost there: trimming the sidebar

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

I noticed that the Archive links in the sidebar were getting to take up a lot of space–as they do on most blogs that have been around for a while. I also noticed that some blogs have either pull-down menus or a nice little year/month matrix.

So, since I’m not a hot HTML honcho and perfectly willing to ask for help, I asked a small but interesting group if they knew of an easy way to get one of those compact archives. Dorothea Salo immediately pointed me to two WordPress plugins.

With Blake Carver’s help (for reasons having to do with how and when this blog began, I don’t have full SFTP access to the directories), I’m now using Rob Marsh’s “Compact Archive” plugin. You can see the effect over to the right: One line per year of archives, not one list item (taller than a regular line) per month.

The only problem–presumably also obvious–is that my sidebar isn’t quite wide enough to hold all 12 month, so there’s a little wrap. Still compact but a bit ugly.

As I’ve looked at the template files, I can’t find a way to widen the sidebar (and presumably the overall page) a little bit–or, rather, I can find ways, but they don’t seem to have any effect.

If some knowledgeable CSS/template/WordPress person sends me a suggestion, I’d be delighted. Meanwhile, well, I claim to have a lot of skills. This isn’t one of them.

Update 6/2/07: Peter Murray suggested a solution–one that I would swear I had already tried, but maybe not. Anyway, it’s fixed now. Thanks, Peter!