Archive for July, 2008

Fox Home Video: A customer service contrast

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

DVDs can be or become defective–either through pressing errors or through play. That’s just a fact of life.

Those of you who are Netflix subscribers know how they handle defective DVDs: You log on to your account, report the DVD as defective–a very easy process, since it’s right there in your account listing–and they immediately ship you a replacement. When you get around to it, you send back the defective copy.

Long-time readers may remember this post–where I report on what happened when one side of one disc in a 12-disc 50-movie set from Mill Creek Entertainment wasn’t so much defective as odd. It had the wrong movies on it, although they were perfectly playable (and the other side was OK). I used Mill Creek’s contact form to let them know about this–but since I had no receipt and had spent so little on the set (maybe $12, maybe $18), I wasn’t too concerned about their response.

Which, in fact, blew me away. They responded on the next business day–apologizing and saying they’d send out a replacement disc and another DVD set as an apology. Which they did: As noted in the post, I got a new disc in its usual cardboard sleeve and three multidisc DVD sets.

Then there’s Fox. We’ve been going through Angel on DVD, roughly one episode a week, and we’re not quite halfway through Season 4. I’d purchased Seasons 2-5 some time back–long enough that I certainly don’t have a receipt handy. Probably paid $25 or so; it sells for $19 or $20 now (it’s the slimpack–apparently the fancy multifold packs sell for more). And when we put in Disc 3 last Friday, it didn’t play. Period. The DVD player either said there was no disc in the drive or simply froze. (Yes, it’s a cheap player–we paid $0, since Safeway gave it to us. But it’s apparently good enough for Holland America: The same player was attached to the TV in our stateroom.)

So I logged on to Interestingly, the contact button leads to a form that assumes you have a defective disc. I guess that’s the only kind of contact they deal with. So I filled it in, with all the details including a textual description.

Now, remember what we’re talking about here: One disc out of a $20 six-disc set.

Here’s what Fox could have done:

  • Sent me a replacement disc in a Tyvek sleeve, since there’s no record of anyone from this address ever asking for a replacement disc before or somehow trying to accumulate a free set of Angel.
  • Asked me to mail them the proof of purchase corner from the booklet as proof that I owned a set.
  • Offered to replace the disc for, say, $4 or so as a convenience.

Here’s what Fox did do: Sent an email response consisting of the following (address deleted):

Please return your defective to the following address:…

We strongly suggest to please mail (US Postal) your item insured and/or in traceable method as we are not responsible for lost and/or stolen items.

Also provide us with a copy of your receipt (must be dated within a reasonable time frame), your name, physical address and a phone number where we may reach you. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.
*** If you have a defective disk that’s part of a box set, the entire box set has to be returned to us ***
Please remember if the instructions are not as followed your item will be sent back to you.

(Other than replacing the address with ellipses, that’s an exact copy, interesting syntax/grammar included.)

Well now. They want me to send the whole set back via insured mail. That would cost me at least $4 (MediaMail plus insurance) plus the cost of a box–more than the disc is worth.

And they want six to eight weeks before they replace it.

And, of course, they want a receipt “dated within a reasonable time frame”–but don’t specify what that time frame is.

Now, for all I know, this might be a perfectly reasonable policy and standard for home video divisions of big studios–but it doesn’t strike me as enormously customer-friendly. It certainly offers a sharp contrast to Mill Creek Entertainment and Netflix.

Oh, if you’re wondering: I sent them a mildly upset email in response, looked up Angel Season 4 Disc 3 on Netflix, jumped it to the top of our queue, and we watched the first of three episodes on the disc last night. Next time we go through the set–which probably won’t be for a few years–we’ll do the same thing, I guess.

And, to be sure, when we think about possible future DVD-set or movie acquisitions, I’ll be a little more cautious about buying anything with the Fox label on it. But, you know, movie studios and distributors are like journal publishers: They have effective monopolies, since if we want a show or a movie there’s no clear substitute from another source. Which I suppose encourages this form of customer service.

My first cat picture(s)

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

And no, there won’t be a LOLCatz in the offing.

We adopted a kitten just before ALA. We call him Oz. He’s four months old at this point…and I think he and our older cat are getting along. Most of the time.

My wife the photographer (and actual librarian) also made the Digital Camera Plunge. One reason to get the camera now, before our next vacation: a few pictures of the kitten as he grows up.

So, without further ado–noting that she wanted to get him sleeping, but he yawned instead:

Oz yawning 1


Of course, I can’t stop anyone else from turning those into LOLcats.

Blogging less?

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

I seem to remember reading a post from a liblogger suggesting that, in general, libloggers were posting less now than in the past–and, if I remember correctly, suggesting that I might have actual numbers. (Sorry, lost track of the post where this was mentioned.)

Well, I do and I don’t–and the situation’s a little complicated.

In the immediate sense, it’s almost certainly true that libloggers (that is, library people who blog) are posting less now–because it’s summer, a whole bunch of people have announced they’re taking the summer off from blogging, people are on vacation more…

In a broader sense? Yes, I have the same naive sense–and eventually I should have reasonably good evidence, probably with a whole bunch of ancillary suggestions. (Yes, I’m the midst of One Project. More on that soon, either here or in C&I.)

So far, I can look at “200” liblogs (well, actually 197, but who’s counting?), of which 154 had posts both in March-May 2007 and March-May 2008. (Some of the others began between June and December 2007, my cutoff; some shut down before March 2008; some simply didn’t have any posts during one quarter or the other.)

BUT–and it’s a big caveat–I have no reason at all to believe those 197 liblogs are representative of the “visible English-language liblog universe,” even as I define it (which contains somewhere around 580 liblogs in all). They might be; they might not. What they have in common is that the sortable blog names (that is, shorn of initial articles and odd punctuation) begin with A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H–and the first four of 40-odd ones beginning with I.

So these numbers may mean nothing at all, but here they are:

  • 42 of the 154 (27%) had significantly more posts in 2008 than in 2007–I’m defining “significantly” as at least 10% more. Of those, 31 (20%) had at least 25% more posts.
  • 14–that is, 9%–stayed roughly the same, with from 10% fewer to 10% more posts in 2008.
  • 98 of the 154 (64%) had significantly fewer posts in 2008 than in 2007, including 51 (one-third) with fewer than half as many posts. There’s your big figure: More libloggers posted less than half as often in 2008 than posted significantly more often.
  • Overall, there were 23% fewer posts among these blogs.

There are all sorts of correlations you could do (are the posts longer, for example), and I plan to do some of those. I did one quick one, because I also had a naive sense about this: That, in general, people might be commenting more on each post.

Just looking at cases where there were significant changes in comments per post (again using +10% or -10% as the boundaries for significance):

  • 58 of the 154 (38%) had at least 10% more comments per post, and in all casea had at least 20% more comments per post. Of those, 49 (32%) hat at least 50% more comments per post.
  • 48 of the 154 (31%) had at least 10% fewer comments per post–but only 18 (12%) had fewer than half as many comments per post. (The rest? Some had no real changes; some don’t allow comments; some simply didn’t have any comments in 2007–in which case percentages couldn’t be calculated.)
  • So: More liblogs had at least 50% more comments per post in 2008 than had any significant decline in comments per post. For this subgroup, it appears to be true that people are commenting more on each post.

That’s enough numbers for now, particularly given that huge caveat. Would the umpty-zillion liblogs beginning with “L” show sharply different characteristics? Time will tell…or not, because that’s sort of a silly subanalysis once the metrics are complete.

[“Umpty-zillion” is a term useful in NSWAG work–that is, non-scientific wild-ass guessing. I think the actual number for this universe is somewhere betweeen 80 and 120. Isn’t it odd that so many liblogs start with “l”–and mostly with “lib”! Imagine that.]

In other news, for anyone who’s read this far: Yahoo! is giving another object lesson in Why You Don’t Own DRM-Heavy Purchases–You’re Just Renting Them (under terms you don’t control).

That’s right–the protected music you purchased from Yahoo! will soon lose its transferability, unless you evade the DRM by burning the tracks to CD as CD Audio, then reripping. And, of course, if you rerip in any lossy format, the results will probably be worse than the originals, since taking music through multiple lossy compression/expansion cycles works even worse than it does with photos.

Microsoft was ready to do the same thing, but after uproar they’ve decided to support the servers for at least a few more years.

Admittedly, we’re dealing with tiny obscure little companies here. Presumably you feel safe that a giant like Apple would never, ever shut down a service, so you’re safe with your DRM tracks from iTunes…

No, I’m not directly affected: I’ve never purchased downloadable audio of any sort, and if I do, it will be DRM-free. I may be indirectly affected, though: I used and loved MusicMatch Jukebox Pro to manage my all-ripped-from-my-CDs music collection (it had great label-printing and CD insert-printing facilities and, in the Pro version, solid ripping and burning capabilities). Yahoo bought the company and shut down MusicMatch Jukebox. The transfer to Yahoo Jukebox eventually worked fairly well…but I’m wondering whether there is any long-term future for that program and whether my software will eventually come up short. Note that this was Pro: I paid for the software. (Comments on the desirability of switching to iTunes will be cheerfully ignored.)

Remember: DRM protects the publisher‘s “rights,” not yours–Digital Restrictions Management continues to be a better expansion of the term. (Yes, sigh, I do buy media with DRM…but they’re physical media–DVDs–so there are slightly fewer issues. And I don’t much care for it even there.)

It’s not the MPG

Friday, July 25th, 2008

It’s the GPW…gallons per week.

Or, “why it would make no sense to trade in my seven-year-old Honda Civic for a brand-new Prius or Civic Hybrid.”

It’s interesting to see Americans get a little religion about fuel economy, now that prices are a sizable fraction of what they are in some European countries. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people retain some realism if prices decline a little (hey, I can hope, can’t I)?

Meanwhile, I looked at our peculiar situation and realized that my responsible choices are:

  • Do nothing–keep the 2001 Civic EX and 2006 Civic EX (my wife’s car) maintained and drive them into the ground.
  • Find a way to sell the 2001 and use cabs or shuttles when we need a second car (which is almost exclusively when I’m going to the airport).

Sure, we’d get better MPG (in town) with a Prius (our real highway mileage in either car is 40-44, which is about what the Prius does, I believe) and maybe slightly better MPG with a Civic Hybrid or a Honda Fit (but my wife hates the look of the Fit, and the Civic Hybrid lacks some of the EX’s features). (Neither of us loves the look of the Prius either, but there are hundreds of them around here, so you get used to them.)

But that would also involve adding one more car to the road, one way or another–and given our GPW, that makes no sense.

GPW depends on how and where you drive–and when you use something other than a car.

A year ago, I was driving to and from work (about five miles each way–we paid a small fortune to move close to work) and typically to and from lunch (about 1.5 miles each way), plus maybe 20 miles on various errands during the week and over the weekend. Figure about 60 miles per week, or about 2.4 GPW (the 2001 gets right around 25 MPG in stop-and-start city driving). If we did take longer trips (which we don’t do all that often), we’d use the newer car, of course.

(No, I’m not making that up. In a seven-month interval between servicings, the mileage changed by 1,800 miles–that’s 60 miles per week.)

Now? I telecommute–and I walk to and from lunch (either to dine out or to buy a sandwich). Which (along with continued treadmill time) has cut my weight down to where I’d really like it to be; there’s a lot to be said for the 10,000-step regime, particularly if you can get fresh air during a big chunk of that. Even including trips to airports and the like, I’m down to 25 miles per week–or about one GPW. (My wife’s GPW is probably similar–some slightly longer trips, even fewer errands.)

At one GPW, there’s just no way you can ever justify trading a reasonably-efficient car in for a highly-efficient one.

That’s my peculiar situation. I recognize that it’s peculiar. But there are lots of us who could probably combine errands, walk to nearby businesses (and parks and libraries) instead of driving, walk to lunch instead of driving (or pack a lunch and spend half the time enjoying nature)…and do other things that would reduce our GPW by a fair amount. And, you know, walking an extra mile a day can be good for your health, your weight, your endurance, maybe even your disposition.

Oh, one other note: that “walkable places” website says I’m car-bound, with our house getting only 45 out of 100. Well, they miss one of our parks (that is within the magic quarter-mile radius), I don’t find that three-quarters of a mile is excessive for post office, supermarket, drug store, restaurants…but then, I didn’t make the rules for walkability. Lots of people walk in our neighborhood; maybe they need a car now and then, but that doesn’t make this an unwalkable neighborhood.

50 Movie Hollywood Legends, Disc 9

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Penny Serenade, 1941, b&w. George Stevens (dir.), Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan. 1:59 [1:57].

Great stars, a generally good print, good soundtrack—but I found this one disappointing. It’s told entirely in flashbacks as Irene Dunne plays records from the “Album of a Happy Marriage” as she’s about to walk out the door. Seems Grant, a reporter, meets her while she’s working in a music store, romances her, gets sent to Japan and marries her just before leaving. She shows up in Japan, pregnant, and they’re happy. He gets a (modest) inheritance and decides to blow the job. And a huge earthquake hits, taking away the baby and her ability to have others. So they look into adoption—while he’s put his inheritance into a failing weekly paper in a small town. With the help of an adoption-agency person, they do find a baby girl—and somehow manage to keep her, a year later, despite having no source of income. (There’s some good domestic comedy along the way—many parts of this film are quite good.) Everything’s wonderful…until the girl dies suddenly at age six. And the two seem to have nothing to say to each other, which is why she’s leaving.

Enough plot for you? I was wondering how it would end—and the ending, which I assume to be considered a happy ending, struck me as a bit creepy. I won’t give it away just in case you might see it, but let’s say that it doesn’t do anything to reassure me that these two have a fundamentally sound marriage. Oh, there’s an interesting third character, Applejack (played by Edgar Buchanan), who’s known them all along—and who somehow manages to stay around the little town (he was hired as press manager and troubleshooter) even though the newspaper’s gone under. He does a fine job (hey, he’s Edgar Buchanan), as do all the actors. I just found the movie more depressing than uplifting and the ending odd at best. I’ll give it $1.25.

Dark Mountain, 1944, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Robert Lowery, Ellen Drew, Regis Toomey, Eddie Quillan. 0:56.

This one’s unusual—a combination of noir and comedy wrapped up in a tightly-made hour. Basically, you have the forest ranger who disobeys orders to save his horses—and shortly thereafter gets promoted, which means he has the money to pursue his old girlfriend. Who has since gotten married…to a smuggler (Regis Toomey), who shortly thereafter kills two (or three) people and goes on the lam. The rest has to do with hideouts, psychology, the whole thing. Meanwhile, there’s another ranger who’s basically a funny sidekick (with a wife in the military, in Africa—this is set in WWII).

It’s well-written, well acted and moves nicely. I really have no particular criticism of this flick; it’s quite good. The value is based on its short running time—but even so it gets $1.25.

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]

[Note: This movie also appears in the Classic Musicals set, and this review was done for that copy. The price has been adjusted downward since I no longer allow for more than $1.25 for a one-hour movie.] 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. $1.25.

The Joyless Street, 1925, silent, b&w (sepiatone), original title Die Freudlose Gasse. Georg Wilhelm Pabst (dir.), Greta Garbo, Werner Krauss, Asta Nielsen and a bunch of others—none of them credited (including Garbo). 2:05 to 2:55 [1:00].

This sepiatone rerelease of a silent movie (with symphonic, entirely unrelated, soundtrack added) leaves no doubt as to why it was rereleased: “The incomparable Greta Garbo” with preliminary title cards about getting to see her wonderful mannerisms, etc.—and when Greta (a character in the movie) first appears, the new title card makes sure you know that Greta is Greta Garbo! (Apparently, she wasn’t the star in the original film.)

Take away the supposed star power and it’s a sad little story of postwar Vienna (The Great War, that is). It starts with a downtrodden family in a flat—the daughter comes back without meat (the butcher doesn’t have any) and the father beats her. Then we go upstairs to a flat with a retired civil servant and two daughters (one the fully-grown Greta, the other a subteen girl)—and that’s it for the first family: They’re never heard from again. Unless the daughter was in the long line overnight at the butcher’s for promised “frozen beef tomorrow”—with little enough that most are turned away.

There’s almost too much plot to summarize, having to do with the father making incredibly stupid decisions for a retiree (“let’s cash out our pension and buy speculative stock on margin!”), leering bosses, stock manipulation, cabarets, American relief workers and an ending that feels pulled out of nowhere. Maybe it’s the fact that this is somewhere between one-third and one-half of the original film. Maybe it’s bad English titles. Without Garbo, I’d say it’s a curious little relic, worth maybe $0.75—the print’s not too bad. With Garbo—well, she may have been incomparable, but in this movie she just seemed to be overacting and her famed beauty mostly seemed to be huge eyes. I’ll stick with $0.75.

Blood and Sand, 1922, silent, b&w. Fred Niblo (dir.), Rudolph Valentino, Rosa Rosanova, Leo White, Lila Lee, Nita Naldi. 1:48 [1:00].

Another silent with unrelated music—but this one’s in generally-good black & white, and every significant actor is introduced with a title card show the role and the actor’s name, not just the star. (No credits on this one either.) Oh, and Rudolph Valentino was clearly the star in this one—and he doesn’t overact and does display a pretty fair amount of magnetism. (Actually, for a silent-movie, he acts fairly subtly.)

The story? If you haven’t heard it by now… Poor boy becomes toreador, marries childhood sweetheart, becomes a Very Big Deal, gets seduced by a society type, and all does not go well. Strong anti-bullfighting messages in the titles and one side character. Still a lot missing (20 to 48 minutes), but what’s there works reasonably well. Well done for what it is; I’ll give it $1.00.

Is “everyone” in Canada on Facebook?

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Just a quicky tea-break post…

I encountered this post (on the O’Reilly Radar blog) through a secondary source…

If I’m reading one of the charts correctly, the U.S. has about 28 million Facebook accounts…and Canada has about 11 million (that’s eyeballing: both numbers could be off quite a bit).

Current estimates for Canada’s population: a little over 33 million.

Current estimates for the U.S. population: a little over 301 million.

So one out of three Canadians is on Facebook–as opposed to something under one out of ten U.S. residents?

(Hey, by any reasonable standard, one-third of everybody in a country, including infants, being on a social network is close enough to “everyone” for everyday use.)


(I’m still thinking about whether to set up an account…slowly, very slowly.)

Stone fruit

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

It’s that wonderful time of the year…the weather’s pretty much settled down to “summer conditions” (which here means most days have highs in the mid-70s, maybe into the low 80s: our hot spells are still considered atypical) and it’s stone fruit season!

Last year was a disappointment. I seem to remember there being very few cherries, and most of those not very good. Our apricot tree produced just a little fruit… But we managed, with peaches, plums, etc.

This year, so far, much better:

  • My wife had to hand-pollenate the apricot trees (near-absence of bees earlier in the year), but that worked. She thought the apricots were all going to ripen while we were on vacation, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, there was loads of fruit ripening in late June and early July. Too much fruit, really–and I missed a few days of great Blenheim apricots because of ALA Anaheim. Still, for a couple of weeks, we were getting more first-rate apricots (the only kind that really taste like apricots, the ones picked directly from a tree) than we could eat. A few neighbors got bags of apricots… And we’ve seen one or two trees in the neighborhood that make us sigh: Heavy with fruit, in one case ripening now (two weeks later than ours)…and apparently nobody using that glorious fruit. Sigh. (Our second apricot tree isn’t doing well: One bearing branch.)
  • The Bing cherries from California growers were good, but they’re gone. The Bing cherries from Washington are here now, and they’re great. (Not as cheap as in some years, but plentiful and excellent.) Dunno how much longer we get them–two weeks? Three?–but I’m enjoying them while they’re here.
  • Rainiers, on the other hand… There were some decent local ones at the farmer’s market in early July, but the California season’s been over for a while. We have yet to see any northwest Rainiers that we’d buy–apparently they’re just not holding up to shipping very well. (Too many of them bruised.)
  • Peaches. Ah, peaches. They’ve ranged from very good to the kind you can smell six feet away and are just incredibly satisfying.
  • As usual, some new-to-us varieties of nectarines and other stone fruit–mango nectarines, black apricots, what have you. Some of them excellent. Some not so much.

If you love apples and don’t care about buying local, I suppose you always have good fruit available. Neither of us do well with apples. So for us, the absolute best fruit season is stone fruit season…and I hope it stays around at least a month more.

Some of the best work never gets reported

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

This is a nostalgic post; if you detest nostalgia, skip it. I was thinking about some of the 27 years I spent at RLG and some of the interesting things I did during that time. Not all, to be sure–I’ve forgotten a lot of it, sometimes deliberately (if projects never fail, you’re not taking enough chances…).

Specifically, I was thinking about how interesting it was to do what might now be called data wrangling–anything from large-scale data analysis and test runs through the grueling but useful task of session analysis (via log analysis). I did a lot of that during my tenure there (and some beforehand, to be sure–dating back to the days at Berkeley before I moved to the Library Systems Office).

Two fairly sizable projects have left semi-durable traces. I wrote a simple program to break down a batch of MARC records on a field-by-field basis: How often fields occurred, the total length of occurrences of each field, and the longest occurrence of each fields. Three big arrays in a fairly small PL/I program. In 1986 and again in 1988, we ran the program against a sample of more than 600,000 MARC records (the most recent 45 days of new cataloging and maintenance work on RLIN)

  • The 1986 run showed up as several tables in Bibliographic Displays in the Online Catalog, published in 1986 (and coauthored by Lennie Stovel and Kathleen Bales). That book is based on another large-scale data analysis process, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

The second project was one that made a lot of sense in 1986–and probably no sense a decade later. Back then, you could assume that almost any online catalog display, whether local or (particularly) delivered over networks, would show 24 lines of 80 characters each, and typically require paging rather than scrolling to move up or down.

As part of a sponsored project, we wanted to look at a variety of possible catalog display formats given those realities–how they looked, how well they seemed to work, and how efficient they were (that is, how often you’d need to go to a second screen). We spent some time working on labels and various “kinds” of displays (e.g., cardlike displays, unlabeled displays, etc.).  But we also knew that small-sample testing would yield useless results: Bibliographic data is heterogeneous, with records varying wildly in length and complexity.

So I prepared a program that could simulate a 24×80 screen for a given set of display criteria and run it against a large database–in these tests, either some 400,000 records (for all libraries) or roughly 40,000 (for a public-library subset). The tests were quite revealing–and, among other things, convinced me that “right-aligned labels” made the most sense for those fixed-width (that is, monospaced character) displays. It’s all in Bibliographic Displays in the Online Catalog.

Right-aligned labels? You’ve certainly seen them. Field labels all end at the same point,with a one-space gutter and field text following immediately thereafter. They’re extremely common in online catalogs. Stanford’s Socrates still uses them; so do, for example, Santa Clara City Library, my own public library, Cal State East Bay, UC Santa Cruz, Idaho State, Torrance Public, and many others.  It had (and has) the advantage that you could simply ignore labels if you wanted to focus on the text–and that short labels wouldn’t get lost in a display that also had long labels.

I mention that in particular because I take partial credit for popularizing the idea, in my 1987 book Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalogs. It wasn’t my idea, to be sure, but I helped spread the word.

Anyway, back to the data analysis:

Those projects were public, eventually, A lot of others weren’t. From the beginning of Eureka (RLG’s end-user search system), I used data analysis and log analysis to try to improve the system. Session analysis–recreating the steps of a search session through anonymized log data–is slow work but can be incredibly useful. That was most evident in a set of upgrades during the pre-Web days of Eureka–changes we called the “Do What I Mean release.” We were able to reduce the “error rate” of users in a command-driven system from a fairly significant proportion of commands to a rate so low it was hardly worth tracking, mostly by finding common ambiguities and dealing with them appropriately.

I continued to do log analysis and session analysis in the web version(s) of Eureka and was able to get some interesting results. Most of that’s disappeared, along with the system itself. In any case, since the data analysis was being done specifically to try to improve a system, it didn’t result in formal publications.

Maybe this post is triggered by a recent discussion elsewhere on evidence-based librarianship–including the notion that maybe wonderful new possibilities shouldn’t be hampered by a desire for evidence that they, well, actually do anything. That gets into a whole thicket of issues–do we know what to measure? what constitutes success? is it OK to use evidence of disuse to shut down old services–that I don’t want to get into. Mostly, I remembered that I spent a lot of time, probably several working years in the aggregate, finding and analyzing evidence.  I like to think I was damn good at it. (I suspect that, with today’s tools and computer power, I could be even better–although asking the right questions is still the most important part of such research.)

Yeah, I still play with factual research, having this foolish belief that facts matter. But it’s at a different scale and with different tools. And what I do is pretty much public; that’s an improvement.

Cites & Insights 8:8 available

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Cites & Insights 8:8, August 2008, is now available. The whole issue is PDF, but individual essays are available in HTML from the C&I home page or the article links below.

The 28-page issue includes:

  • ©4: Locking Down Technology – A number of skirmishes in the ongoing battle for full copyright maximalism, including strange lawsuits and even stranger threats.
  • Perspective: On Numeracy, Naivete, Google & Pew – Did your newspaper say that Pew says 21% of atheists believe in God? Read on…
  • Library Access to Scholarship – A range of interesting items, one newsworthy–and, by the way, the PALINET Leadership Network has a brand-new cluster on open access.
  • Making it Work – A slew of comments on possibility and reality–or, if you prefer, pragmatism.
  • Retrospective: Pointing with Pride, Part 4 – A few gems, including “Living with Contradictions” from way back in 2001.

Three metaposts in one

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Three blogging-related items:

The numbers: This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting numbers sidebar in an article on Matt Mullenweg of Automattic (the WordPress people):

175,000: Blogs created daily

113 million: Number of blogs

7.5 million: Active blogs

184 million: Bloggers

570,000: Posts every 24 hours

It’s the second and third numbers that I find most interesting–that more than 93% of blogs are dead or dormant. As I told my wife, “I would have thought it was only about 85%.” (I don’t know how “active” is defined, of course.)

Although, now that I look at it, that fourth number is a little mysterious. Given all the bloggers with more than one blog, how is it that there are 71 million more bloggers than blogs–or, more to the point, 24.5 times as many people who call themselves bloggers as there are active blogs?

The printouts: As some of you know, I find it useful–indeed, necessary–to print out quite a few posts, either because I’ll want to use them later in PALINET Leadership Network articles or, more likely, because I want to categorize them, save them for a few months (or more), and use them as source material for Cites & Insights articles. (I don’t believe any online tagging system would meet my needs here; I need to be able to shuffle and sort the actual pages.)

Three problems with that:

  1. A fair number of blogs, especially SixApart blogs (TypePad, Movable Type), won’t allow me to print out more than a one-page post from Firefox–they use “clever” code that only works right (or not?) in IE. (Actually, there are a few that won’t work in either–where cut-and-paste is the only way to print them.)
  2. Long posts–the kind I’m most likely to save–use a fair amount of paper and ink jet ink.
  3. It takes a while to print articles, especially if I’m trying to save paper by duplex printing: My neat little Canon multifunction printer supports duplex printing, but it takes about four or five times as long as simplex printing. (The printer waits for one side to dry before printing the other side.)

The last time I was sorting-and-shuffling, I noticed something: I no longer mark up the printouts with sections to be used. I put them in the order I’m going to use them, but I go back to the originals to cut-and-paste the sections I want to comment on.

Aha! A solution (although it has one small problem): I only print the first page of a post or article (or, for some clever WordPress users who’ve managed to make it so that all their sidebars print BEFORE the post itself, the first page of the post). Fast, minimizes paper and ink use, most blogs will print the first page of a post in FireFox.

What’s the one little problem? If a blog or article disappears between the time I print the first page and the time I want to use it, I’m SOL (unless I find a cached copy or only want stuff from the first page). Fortunately, the blogs I’m inclined to quote from are usually fairly stable.

“Microblogging:” Ugh.

Not the concept. I understand that Twitter works great (when it’s working) for loads of people and purposes.

The term bothers me, though. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does.

Most blog posts I read these days are little essays: One or more paragraphs on one or more topics, sometimes (not always) with links, usually (not always) fairly informal, usually (not always) coherent and with a brief narrative arc.

I don’t think you can do an essay in 160 characters or less, and I don’t think that’s what Twitter and its ilk are used for.

“Microcontent”? Sure, since “content” is almost as meaningless as “information.” “I’ll be at the corner of 5th and Elm in 10 minutes” is microcontent–but I don’t think it has much to do with blogging.

I’ve seen some suggestions that Twitter and its ilk are resulting in fewer really tiny or trivial blog posts. That might be true, and if it is, that’s fine. (I love good trivial blog posts–don’t get me wrong–but I’m not fond of “here’s what I’m doing right now.” Nor do I remember seeing much of that before Twitter was popular, at least in liblogs.)

Of course, it’s natural to try to combine different things under a common heading. I still remember the time when a number of people insisted that Cites & Insights was a blog, which was stretching a point a whole lot more than “microblogging” does.

There are many different ways to communicate. Always have been. Is Twitter “broadcast chat”? I think that’s closer than “microblogging.” Or am I, as usual, just hung up on language?