Archive for April, 2008

Better living through contest-oriented mail order

Friday, April 11th, 2008

A Friday Funny of sorts:

OK, so I get Publishers’ Clearing House email–hey, at one point I actually found PCH to be a reasonable way to buy subscriptions, and this way I’m not spending $0.41 on the miniscule chance of Winning Big Bucks. (Or the 10 minutes it used to take to find the right stickers…)

I haven’t taken them up on any of the offers for online merchandise (sometimes subscriptions, more often not)–but I was impressed by two of the offers in today’s contest email:

  • Apocalypse – 20 Movies on 4 DVDs
  • Chilling Classics – 20 movies on 6 DVDs

Each of them just $4.99–per installment, with a mere four installments. I’m told this is 20% off PCH’s regular price.

Oh, plus shipping and handling, which looks to be $6.99 per set.

What a deal! They even show the boxes–which look remarkably similar to those put out by Mill Creek Entertainment, since I’m sure that’s what they are. (There’s also a set of 15 John Wayne movies–but those are in a tin box, so how can you make value comparisons?)

Here’s the thing: As noted in a previous post, Amazon now sells Mill Creek’s 50-movie packs for less than $20–sometimes much less than $20. And, of course, if you buy two of them (or one and almost anything else), shipping is free. To the best of my knowledge, nearly all of the movies in 20-packs come from larger packs (checking one of these two, one film out of 20 might not be in 50-packs or 100-packs). For that matter, Amazon itself sells one of these two packs for about $9, as it does some of the other 20-packs.

I’m not a great fan of supersizing meals–but somehow, given that the discs will be exactly the same quality whether in 50-packs or 20-packs, I can’t see paying more to get less (or, if you really just want the 20, paying more than twice as much because it’s warm and cuddly PCH instead of mean ol’ Amazon).

50 Movie Hollywood Legends, Disc 7

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Let’s Live a Little, 1948, b&w. Richard Wallace (dir.), Hedy Lamarr, Robert Cummings, Anna Sten, Robert Shayne. 1:25 [1:24].

Robert (Bob) Cummings plays an overworked ad man (Duke Crawford—what a name!) who’s ex-fiancée is also his client—and wants him back, holding up the contract renewal to get him. Meanwhile, there’s a psychiatrist with a new book entitled Let’s Live a Little and he’s assigned to work on promoting it. He meets the psychiatrist, a beautiful woman, and he’s having a bit of a nervous breakdown. Oh, the psychiatrist shares an office suite with her maybe-boyfriend, a surgeon (doesn’t every shrink work next to a cutter?). Various light romantic-comedy stuff ensues, as does semi-psychiatric stuff—people hearing bells and seeing the wrong people–with what is apparently a happy ending. There’s a wonderful sequence early on—Cummings is on his way to meet the doctor, hasn’t had time to shave, so jumps into one of a fleet of cabs equipped with electric razors: An idea he created. He gets distracted and shaves off half his mustache—thus, not unreasonably, causing the office receptionist and doctor to assume he’s a patient.

Cummings is great at this sort of role. Hedy Lamarr as the psychiatrist is first-rate (isn’t she always?). Anna Sten as the ex-fiancée/cosmetics boss chews the scenery a little, and that’s probably appropriate for her role. It’s a decent little romantic-neurosis comedy. The print’s a little choppy at times, and there’s a significant break in flow that’s either some missing minutes or pretty abrupt editing. One real oddity: In the opening credits, there’s a black shape superimposed on the lower right corner of the screen, pretty obviously added in post-production. Did the original production company bail, leaving this to “United California Productions Inc.,” which as far as I can tell never released another movie? The sound is marred by heavy white noise, unfortunately, the main reason I can’t give this more than $1.00.

Lady of Burlesque, 1943, b&w. William A. Wellman (dir.), Barbara Stanwyck, Michael O’Shea, Iris Adrian, Charles Dingle, J. Edward Bromberg, Frank Conroy, Pinky Lee. 1:31 [1:27].

This is a mystery with comedy and musical numbers, based on The G-string Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s a charmer, making burlesque (clean burlesque in this case—comedy, music and dancing) neither glamorous nor too seedy (just seedy enough). Along with various personal and professional jealousies that arise (and which dominate the picture), we get the mystery itself—and it’s not as much a murder mystery as it might seem, although there are a couple of murders, both involving G-strings. (There’s also a great song, “Take it off the E string, play it on the G string.”) It’s distinctly a who-dun-it: Who’s trying to shut down the show—or the theatre—and why?

Well written and well acted. I have to downgrade it a little for the print quality: There are gaps at times, which is always disconcerting. Still, it’s an enjoyable, well made picture. $1.25.

Love Affair, 1939, b&w. Leo McCarey (dir.), Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya. 1:27.

A classic—not exactly a romantic comedy, since there’s very little comedy, but a great romantic flick. He (Charles Boyer) is an engaged French playboy. She (Irene Dunne) is an American with a boyfriend. They meet on an ocean liner, share dinner, try to avoid making a scene. There’s a great sequence at his grandmother’s place—and Maria Ouspenskaya is magnificent in the role. At the end of the cruise, in New York, she proposes that, if it makes sense for both of them, they’ll meet in on July 1 at the top of the Empire State Building and take it from there. Complications ensue—fairly serious complications. There’s a happy ending…of sorts. This one’s the original. It was remade twice, once by the same director as An Affair to Remember (and sleepless people can think of at least one more picture inspired by it).

Great stars, great acting, (Dunne and Ouspenskaya were both up for Oscars, as was the picture), well written (another nomination), well made. This version has two flaws (in addition to the usual VHS-quality print): the soundtrack’s a little damaged at points, and there are some fade-to-black breaks that make no sense thematically but might be well timed for advertisements. Even so, I’ll give it $1.75.

Letter of Introduction, 1938, b&w. John M. Stahl (dir.), Adolphe Menjoy, Adrea Leeds, George Murphy, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd (in a bit part), Ann Sheridan, Eve Arden. 1:44 [1:29].

An unusual movie in several respects. It’s a drama—but with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, as well as Eve Arden. It’s romantic—but in an odd way. Adolphe Menjou plays an oft-divorced actor who’s been away from the stage for years. Kay (Andrea Leeds) shows up with a letter of introduction—from her mother, letting Menjou know that she’s his daughter. (The sleeve gets it wrong: He didn’t “sever his relationship” with her—he never knew she existed.) As he tries to make things right—but without simply announcing that she’s his daughter—various complications ensue. What more to say?

Well played, but the print’s dirty, there must be some significant gaps and the sound’s not all that good. For this copy, no more than $1.25.

Disappointment and the Nancy Pearl Rule

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Looking for deep thoughts? Boy, have you come to the wrong place…

Disappointment: We watched The Bourne Ultimatum on Saturday night. We’d seen The Bourne Identity. Somehow, the second flick (these are flicks, not films) is way down on our Netflix list… Anyway: A little ways in, my wife noted that she didn’t remember the plot of the first flick. At the end, we agreed there was a reason: Neither of us would remember the plot of this one two weeks later, much less a few months later. Lots of action, lots of car crashes, no heart, no real plot… A flick many people would love, but it sort of felt like a waste of a couple of hours. (If you love the Bourne flicks or novels, more power to you. Just not really our thing.)

The Pearl Rule (if I have it right): When I picked up a few books at Mountain View Public Library last time around (three weeks ago–I’ll take them back later this week), one of them was George Carlin’s 2004 book. I seem to remember liking George Carlin as a comic–snarky, a little mean-spirited, but literate and funny–so expected th like the book. Five or six pages in, I realized that it wasn’t so much a book as a bunch of little observations slapped together in no apparent sequence–like a blook, but less coherent than most of those. OK by me…

Then, a few more pages in, I found that I was getting lots of dystopian views, an enormous amount of bitterness, and damn little humor. And, speaking of “damn,” a different four-letter word was being used to an extent that, frankly, comes off as a lack of a real vocabulary. That word can be effective used sparingly. When we start a movie where it’s used in every other line of dialog, we usually don’t bother–and here, it seemed to show up at least every couple of paragraphs. Sure, that reduces the shock value–but it also means the prose reads badly.

Well, OK, no problem: You’re not going to like every book you pick up, and apparently Carlin’s aged differently than I have. He’s turned into one of those who frowns upon any questionable pleasures that don’t happen to be his own while, of course, frowning even harder upon anyone who disagrees with him. And somewhere along the way, he seems to have lost his humor.

I made it to Page 38. Which is where the Nancy Pearl Rule comes in, if I remember it rightly.

That rule? Once you’ve decided to give a book a try, you should give it a fair try–which starts out as being “read the first 50 pages,” but as we age, we find that life is too short. Thus, the rule as I remember it: Read the first 100 pages minus your age–so, for me, the first 38 pages.

Over the last couple of months, I had the other half of the Nancy Pearl Rule, in both cases with Connie Willis novels. (I love Connie WIllis’ short stories, but hadn’t really been familiar with her novels.) To Say Nothing of the Dog was, for some reason, a little difficult–maybe because I was initially reading it in short spurts, which wasn’t the way to read it. But at Page 38, it was clear that I should give it a few more pages–and by Page 100, I was hooked. This month, I picked up her Doomsday Book–which is a big book (578 pages in the mass-market paperback my local library has) and “five years in the writing.” It also took a little getting into, because it is a big, serious book–but by Page 38, I knew I was going to read the whole thing. And loved it, of course.

Then there’s Donald E. Westlake and a newish Dortmunder novel, What’s So Funny? With Westlake, I don’t need 38 pages. On the other hand, his prose is of a sort where you go through 38 pages pretty quickly…and just keep turning those pages. Not big, serious books, but I do love ’em.

Now to read that serious librarianship book I agreed to review…

Harrumph: When TLIs intermingle

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I hear from semi-reliable sources a grotesque rumor that I was “on” LSW Meebo (is that like being on drugs?) during a presentation on LSW at CiL.

LSW? CiL? What are all these initialisms?

I can only say this to that: I’m as likely to be found on LSW Meebo as I am to post minireviews of old movies.

I would note that any LSW participant (I hear from those deranged types who actually frequent whatever-the-heck it is) can set their screen name to be anything. Michael Gorman, Edgar A. Poe, waltcrawford, you name it…

TLI? Well, LSW isn’t an acronym (at least I can’t think of any reasonable way to pronounce it as a word), so TLA doesn’t work. Besides, I’ll be at TLA (or TxLA, if you prefer) next week…in the flesh, not in some crazy person’s impersonation of me in a room talking about…well, no I’m not going to repeat that. And since LSW Meebo is passworded, you can’t get it from the buffer anyway

23. And still it didn’t crash. Not that I was there to see it, of course..

50 Movie Whatever: A Few Words about Mill Creek Entertainment

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Back in November 2006, I wrote this post–or, rather, I cut it out of an Offtopic Perspective in Cites & Insights and used it as a post, with slight updating.

Since then, I’ve been staying on the treadmill, watching those old movies (and in some cases TV movies), posting each time I get through one disc, and adding a new Offtopic Perspective each time I finish half a box (six DVDs, once in a while seven DVDs). For a while, it seemed as though the company–now named Mill Creek Entertainment–was running on empty, just distributing the 20-odd sets they’d assembled from public domain, TV movies, and other sources where they didn’t need to pay royalties.

A couple of weeks ago, Seth Finkelstein of Infothought sent me an odd email, assuring me it wasn’t spam and he wasn’t getting a commission. He reads C&I sometimes, and knew I watched these old flicks. He saw that was having a two-day sale (sorry, it’s over): Two of the 50-movie packs for $25. I didn’t really need any more movies–I’m on disc nine of one set and disc seven of another, with two more packs (100 more movies) waiting after that–but, hey, 100 movies for $25 is a pretty good deal. So I checked it out–and found a couple of sets I wasn’t aware of, one of them released last month. I ordered two of them (that’s right, I now have more than 200 movies waiting to be watched–I intend to keep using that treadmill for years to come), and decided it was time to take another look at Mill Creek Entertainment.

Here’s what I found: The company’s active–and they’ve come up with some even bigger packs. As I write this, there appear to be thirty different 50-movie megapacks, up from 21 in late November 2006. 50-packs I don’t remember seeing before include Box Office Gold, Combat Classics, Drive-in Movie Classics, Family Fun, Frontier Justice, and Nightmare Worlds.

There are also eight hundred-movie packs–most of them straight combinations of 50-packs with no duplications (e.g., Action Classics combines the Action and Suspense 50-packs), all of them (I believe) composed of movies that are also in 50-packs. There were already some smaller subsets of 50-packs and that continues–I see 24 20-movie packs and nine 10-movie packs. (I could see some people going for the 20-pack of John Wayne flicks, most of them early and short, and some of the thematic packs are interesting.)

For libraries where the “informal circulating collection” model suggested in the earlier post might make sense, Mill Creek now has something else to offer:

250-Movie Packs.

That’s right. Four packs–Family Collection, Horror Collection, Mystery Collection and (predictably, given the 50-packs) Western Collection. The “foil collectors boxes” still have individual cardboard sleeves for each disc. So you’d have 240 informally-circulatable items, each with four or more old movies, for a total outlay of no more than $400 and probably significantly less.

Make that definitely significantly less, if you can buy from Amazon: I see all four 250-movie packs available for $50 each. That’s a thousand old movies for $200–less than a buck per circulating DVD.

I’m not shilling for Mill Creek. There are a couple of the 50-movie packs I’d be reluctant to buy for myself or a library (a couple recent packs are heavy on R-rated schlock), and lots of these movies are from damaged prints, nearly all VHS-quality or worse. When they say “Carefully digitally remastered,” they mean the movies were converted from analog to digital form: Otherwise, they couldn’t put them on DVDs. It does not mean restored or anything of the sort: Not at these prices!

That said, Mill Creek Entertainment is doing a fine job of using the public domain for all it’s worth, and I think that’s a good thing. Sure, you can download a lot of these movies–but why bother?

I just checked Amazon a little further. They appear to have all thirty 50-movie packs at $13 to $18 each) and all eight–whoops, all nine 100-packs (there’s one that isn’t even on Mill Creek’s site yet, and it won’t actually be out until May 2008)–at $27 to $45 each.

Mill Creek has some other stuff–collections of cartoons (300 in one box), TV boxed sets and TV-movie mixes, even a few indie movies and fitness sets. But mostly, Mill Creek is boxes of public domain movies at fair prices. The prints may be (and usually are) mediocre, and lots of the pictures are B or less–but there are also some classic gems. Within the last two weeks, I’ve watched McClintock! and the original, black-and-white, Irene Dunne/Charles Boyer Love Affair. Good stuff.

Clarification: While it’s clear that most Mill Creek releases are from the public domain, most is not all, and MCE never claims that its releases are in the public domain. Some material is from TV shows, TV movies, and movies where rights could be licensed for presumably either nothing or very small sums, given the prices of the sets.

Getting up to date

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

This blog’s been using WordPress 2.0.6. Just a wee bit behind the times.

Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve had so much trouble with paragraph-swallowing.

Since PLN Highlights is moving to the current WP version in the near future, and was already much closer to current form, I thought it finally made sense to move.

Downsides: I don’t get an immediate overall comment count, the Category list is well down the screen instead of being on the right side of the editing window, and you can’t add HTML directly to the visual-editing screen–which is terrible practice anyway. Or, rather, you can add HTML directly to the screen, and WordPress will turn it into displayable text, e.g., attempting to embolden a word by using <b>word</b>–well, you can see the results.

Upsides: For one, I don’t believe this editor will swallow paragraphs, and on any post longer than 200-300 words, the old version was getting really bad in that regard–sometimes, even after I went into HTML view and added explicit marks, it would turn them into line breaks.

Also, the visual editor is much cleaner, is resizable and, tada, you can even go to a full-screen editing mode. What a concept!

Post and comment management also seems much cleaner.

Hmm. This is interesting: In HTML mode, paragraphs show as spaces rather than <p></p> pairs. I don’t believe that was true before. I switched to HTML because horizontal rules won’t work in visual mode.

So I inserted that as <hr> in HTML mode–also much smoother than in WP 2.0.6, since that version popped up a little HTML window as a separate window, where this has it as a tab.

Now, let me complain about LISHost service. Nahh, not really…I don’t have any complaints about LISHost service. I may disagree with Blake Carver about the future for public libraries (“may” is an understatement), but he runs one heck of a hosting service.

I see other library folks migrating to LISHost–and even more folks migrating to WordPress. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a liblogger migrate away from WordPress… (well, except to move from a WordPress-hosted blog to a WordPress blog on their own domain).

Enough blather. For once, I’m up to date. Well, heck, my new(ish) computer is a Core2 Duo, so that’s fairly up to date also. And it’s maroon–that’s something not everybody can say.

Oh, I just noticed something else that makes me happy: “Uncategorized” is no longer tagged by default, so I don’t have to remember to unclick it. Nice.

Now, about tags…well, not this week, not on this blog.

Three years!

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

This exercise in randomness began three years ago today, not at all by accident. (Technically, I wrote the first post earlier…WordPress lets you schedule posts for a future date. They don’t let you go backward; only Gmail does that, and then only on certain days…)

So how’s it going since last year?

Prior to this post, the blog has a total of 729 posts and 2,480 comments. I’m still proud of the comment-to-post ratio: More than three comments per post is on the high side for liblogs, if not for Big Deal Bloggers. And I’m still bemused at the partially-random nature of which posts get lots of comments. For example, of the small handful of posts with more than 20 comments, most were “on topic”–but the one with the most comments of all was about as random as you can get: 27 comments on Tri-tip: A food question.

I guess I’m slowing down a little (not that the last year has been troublesome or anything…): There were slightly fewer posts than in the second year (210 as compared to 247) and significantly fewer comments (733 as compared to 936).

Readership? At the end of the first year (that is, for March 2006), the blog was up to 1,064 sessions/day and 2,370 pageviews/day.

Some alternate months for this past year, compared to the second year:

  • May: 2007 = 1,693 sessions/day, 2,072 pageviews/day, 10,001 unique IP addresses. (2006: 1,254, 3,001, 6,930.)
  • July: 2007 = 1,712 sessions, 2,546 pageviews, 8,194 IP addresses. (2006: 1,215, 2,549, 6,223.)
  • September: 2007 = 1,320 sessions, 2,185 pageviews, 6,456 IP addresses. (2006: 1,219, 2,393, 6,303.)
  • November: 2007 = 1,295 sessions, 2,233 pageviews, 5,839 IP addresses. (2006: 1,389, 2,433, 6,639.)
  • January: 2008 = 1,362 sessions, 2,604 pageviews, 6,139 IP addresses. (2007: 1,445, 3,328, 7,173.)
  • March: 2008 = 1,443 sessions, 2,462 pageviews, 7,115 IP addresses. (2007: 1,628, 3,298, 8,823.)

Over the past year, some 58,762 different IP addresses have visited this blog for a total of 541,816 sessions–and 911,817 pageviews. Last year, I was a little astonished that the IP count for this blog was almost three times that of Cites & Insights for its first nine months on LISHost. This year, it appears that C&I is making up ground: It shows 36,805 IP addresses for the last 12 months, about two-thirds of the W.a.r. total.

If you look at year-to-year trends, if this was a “brand” blog, I might be upset: It’s trending slightly downward year to year. But this isn’t a “brand” blog, and I’m thrilled at there being almost a million pageviews for a blog that ain’t all that much.

As for subscribers…since I didn’t force everyone to resubscribe via Feedburner, I really don’t know how many there are overall. As of mid-March, I had 510 Bloglines subscriptions and 192 Google Reader subscriptions (for one feed, at least); since, of the Feedburner subscriptions I do have (only 77 of the 510 Bloglines, pretty much all of the Google Reader), about three-quarters are for those two readers, I’m inclined to believe there are between 800 and 900 subscriptions in all. That’s probably about the same as a year ago.
It looks as though readership probably reached its peak in the blog’s second year. So did my blogging, for that matter, so I’m not surprised. I’m inclined to believe that blogging in general may have peaked in 2007, and that liblogs might have peaked then, but that’s just a belief.

“Peaked” doesn’t mean “and is now falling apart,” to be sure. I’m not going away, and I continue to be astonished at the number of people who apparently read and respond to what I write here. Neither are liblogs going away (or library blogs, for that matter).

Enough metablogging for one day. (Did I mention: buy my books and join the PALINET Leadership Network?)