Archive for July, 2008

I wish I’d said that

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Those of you who read Cites & Insights–and if you don’t, you really should–know that I’ve looked at Wikipedia off and on, from a number of angles.

One aspect of Wikipedia that’s always bothered me is, I believe, built into the model: The more important the entry, the less likely that it will have a coherent voice. From what I’m seeing, the situation at Wikipedia is getting worse as there are more efforts to assure that everything is properly footnoted. I was hoping Citizendium would be different–that requiring signed contributions would encourage coherent essays–but even Citizendium has procedures that work against editorial coherence to some extent, as I discussed in “Citizendium and the Writer’s Voice,” in the May 2008 issue. The essay starts on page 10, but the relevant discussion starts on page 17: “The writer’s voice, the expert’s mind.”

For a one-paragraph factoid, it doesn’t much matter. But for anything much more significant, I’d really like an encyclopedia article to be an essay, something that leads me to an understanding of the subject. My belief is that Wikipedia’s methodology pushes in the other direction, as it discourages commentary and encourages strings of documentable statements. Instead of essays, you get big long sets of sentences and paragraphs with little coherence or narrative flow.

But there you go: I’ve used two paragraphs and not really gotten at what I mean to say.

Then I read Tim Spalding’s post today at Thingology: “Wikimania 2008 (Alexandria, Egypt).” And this comment on an article that requires more than a factual paragraph (in this case, “Alexander the Great”):

It’s lumpy, unbalanced, poorly written and poorly sourced—a bright fourteen year-old child sitting next to you on a bus, telling you everything he knows.* Parts are good. Parts are bad. Parts are just off somehow—their correction requiring un-Wikipedia-esque virtues like restraint, proportionality and style.

“A bright fourteen-year-old child sitting next to you on a bus, telling you everything he knows.” That’s just about perfect.

I’ll add to “restraint, proportionality and style,” one more virtue that may be covered in “style”: narrative coherence.

An encyclopedia article on Alexander the Great should be a story. It should have voice, coherence, style, narrative flow. When I’m done reading it, I should understand something about Alexander the Great. I don’t believe you can get there from a series of factual sentences and paragraphs–and I believe it’s a lot harder when commentary is disallowed and writers are anonymous.

This doesn’t suggest that Wikipedia’s useless–and I’d guess the vast majority of its uses are for quick lookups anyway, where the lack of narrative coherence doesn’t much matter. It does suggest that Wikipedia has real limits and that, in some ways, it will never be as good as traditional encyclopedias, even if it may exceed them in other ways.

Thanks, Tim. I’ll use that elsewhere, and try to remember to give you credit.

50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 10

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

White Comanche, 1968, color (original title Comanche blanco). José Briz Méndez (dir.), Joseph Cotton, William Shatner (dual role), Rosanna Yanni. 1:33.

Twin brothers, half-Comanche, half-white, shunned by both—except that one of them has convinced a bunch of Comanche that he’s their savior, takes too much peyote, and goes around slaughtering white devils. His twin (Johnny Moon), trying to live as a white, keeps getting in trouble (e.g., nearly hanged) because you can only distinguish him from White Comanche (Notah) by the color of their eyes. Not that Johnny’s not pretty good at killing people also—he’s a crack shot, and this isn’t one of those westerns where everything’s settled with fistfights—but he always seems to have a reason.

Johnny tells Notah that this must be settled and to come to Rio Honda within four days. During that period, there’s a range war in Rio Honda between two factions, with Johnny helping the sheriff maintain some semblance of order. Eventually, of course, the showdown happens; in the meantime, there’s much thoughtful standing around and an odd love subplot (involving a woman who first thinks Johnny is the evil half-Comanche who raped her, but eventually sees the eye-color difference and falls for him).

Good color, acceptable production values, a good job by Joseph Cotton as the sheriff—but, of course, the real selling point here is William Shatner playing an arrogant sexist tinhorn ruler who doesn’t happen to be on a starship (and is always half-dressed, and has the body for it). And, for good measure, his twin brother. It’s not exactly a spaghetti western (made in Spain, not Italy). It’s a curiosity, but a watchable curiosity thanks to Shatner. $1.25.

Mohawk, 1956, color. Kurt Neumann (dir.), Scott Brady, Rita Gam, Neville Brand, Lori Nelson, Allison Hayes, John Hoyt, Rhys Williams. 1:20 [1:18].

There’s nothing wrong with cross-genre flicks, but this one seems a bit loopier than most. It’s definitely a Western, with something about “A legend of the Iroquois” coming just before or after the main title. It’s got the ingredients: A fort with settlers moving in, surrounded by reasonably-friendly natives (Iroquois, with a Mohawk chief heading a confederation of tribes) with some unfriendly factions (Tuscarora)—and a good-for-nothing white who wants to stir up warfare between the settlers and the natives because his family wants the whole valley for itself.

But it’s also a romantic comedy of sorts. The lead character (not the title character) is an artist who’s come out from Boston to paint landscapes to send back, who gets a surprise visit from his fiancée/girlfriend—but he also seems to have a local girlfriend, and it doesn’t take long before he’s romancing an Iroquois, daughter of the chief. Oh, and there’s an astonishing song, “Love played the strings of my banjo,” and maybe the title tells you enough. The plot is a mess.

The print’s pretty good (although some of the scenic vistas have suspiciously painted-backdrop looks) but the sound is sometimes distorted. The supposed Iroquois include Rita Gam, Neville Brand, Mae Clarke, Tommy Cook and Ted de Corsia. As far as I can tell, there were no actual Native American actors employed in this particular epic. All told, I’m being generous with $1.

Sheriff of Tombstone, 1941, b&w. Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Elyse Knox, Addison Richards, Sally Payne, Harry Woods, Jay Novello. 0:54.

If you look ahead at my dollar rating, be aware that $1.25 is normally the most I’d give to one of these one-hour wonders, flicks filmed as the B side of a double feature—and that the print isn’t wonderful. That being said, this movie has lots’o’plot without getting distracted—I found it engrossing and unusually well-written and well-directed for its genre. Roy Rogers, as Brett Starr, a would-be peace officer, runs lowlife gunslinger Shotgun Cassidy out of Dodge City (and takes his sawed-off shotgun), then goes along with friends who are moving to Tombstone. Gets there, finds general lawlessness, acts to deal with a situation—and, because of the gun, is assumed to be Cassidy. Who, as it happens, is supposed to become the sheriff so that he can support the mayor’s evil attempt to take away a little old lady’s silver mine. (She’s 77: That’s old, at least in the Old West.)

See, her mine is the head of an extensive silver vein that runs under many other claims—but given the law at the time, that gives her control over all of them. If the mayor can buy her claim at a forced auction, that gives him control, and he can twirl his mustache and do his evil deeds. Anyway, Rogers goes along with the mistaken identity, figures out what’s happening (the miner’s attempts to ship bullion always result in Wells Fargo holdups by some strange coincidence, so she owes a huge tax debt to the territory), goes to unmask the villains—and the real gunslinger shows up.

And that’s just some of the plot. There’s a great little twist involving the Wells Fargo agent John Anderson and Joe Martinez, an apparently-Hispanic mine owner who’s part of the bad-guy group. You know how it’s going to come out: It’s a one-hour oater with one of the great singing cowboys as a star. (Yes, he sings—three numbers—and there are a couple of big musical numbers that don’t involve him but do involve a saloon singer and a quartet of bartenders.) As always, Roy Rogers is a handsome devil and a pretty good actor—and Gabby Hayes, this time as a judge/lawyer, is always an interesting—and, in this case—capable, not blundering—sidekick. One of the best one-hour western flicks I’ve seen, all in all. I’ll give it the full $1.25, even with the flawed print.

Judge Priest, 1934, b&w. John Ford (dir.), Will Rogers, Tom Brown, Anita Louise, Henry B. Walthall, David Landau, Berton Churchill, Hattie McDaniel, Stepin Fetchit. 1:20 [1:15].

This one’s difficult to review. I nearly gave up on the movie in the first ten minutes, thanks to an appallingly stereotypic performance by Stepin Fetchit. And, despite Will Rogers presence, I’m not all that fond of pictures that so lovingly depict the post-Civil War South from the perspective applied here (all misty-eyed Gray courage and sentimentality).

But I persisted. The story’s simple enough: Judge Priest (Will Rogers), the folksy widowed 25-year judge in an 1890 Kentucky town (this is a western how?), upholds the spirit (if not always the letter) of the law while humiliating “the Senator,” a blowhard lawyer who’s running against him. Meanwhile, Priest’s nephew has just graduated from law and wants to resume romancing Priest’s next door neighbor, a lovely young orphan—but she’s also being romanced by the jackass town barber, and Priest’s sister wants her son to marry Proper Folk. A stranger in town who keeps to himself punches out the barber after he makes an appalling comment about the young woman; later, when the barber and two friends lay in wait to beat up on the stranger (with pool cues, in a bar/pool hall), he comes out on top. Naturally, the barber claims he was attacked without provocation… Well, the case goes on (with Priest stepping down from the bench because he stood up for the stranger earlier); eventually, we learn that the stranger is a hero in whatever euphemistic version of the Civil War they’re using (War of Northern Aggression, I think) and the young woman’s father, and all’s right with the world.

If you can stomach the stereotypes and the “the wrong side won the war” attitude, you might find Rogers’ portrayal interesting. The print’s generally OK. In the end, I just can’t assign any value to this one.

Three unrelated things

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Look, it’s July, we’re in another un-air-conditioned heat wave (with fire-related smog to boot), and my non-work energy–what’s left of it–is going to:

  • Watching, visiting and otherwise coping with our new kitten (adopted two days before I left for Anaheim), who when we let him out for play seems to be terrorizing our six-year-old cat. The kitten’s named “Oz” (he comes and sits on the piano bench when my wife plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”–and we are Buffyverse people, for that matter). He can be a handful…
  • Writing some good stuff for Cites & Insights – yes, I did get back some inspiration, and I’m working on it. (After I post this, I’ll start fleshing out an essay I outlined on Sunday).
  • Working on the Big Project I’m semi-committed to. (If there’s any organization that would love to see a longitudinal followup to my two library blogs books, let me know: Without sponsorship, I don’t see expending the time and energy on that Big Project, even though the results might be worthwhile.)
  • Not melting.

Still, I couldn’t help but notice three things that deserve brief comment. You can think of this as a very early Friday post, if you like…

  • On one of the lists I follow, I’m seeing another case of someone from one fringe of librarianship dissing a big sector of the field as outdated and largely irrelevant–and revealing their ignorance of what’s actually happening in the sector. This is always such fun to watch and such a service to the field: Let’s tear down everyone else!
  • Tim Spalding–who’s already told libraries what books you should be and apparently aren’t buying–now wants an open source replacement for Dewey Decimal. He’s not offering any money–but he set up a LibraryThing group where, if you register or LT happens not to be heavily loaded, you can see the discussion. It certainly strikes me that coming up with a way for public libraries to relabel and reshelve all their books, using entirely volunteer labor, is a noteworthy initiative! (I was going to suggest the Proper! Coordinator! for this effort, one who can bring to it a sufficient level of excitement, neologisms, exclamation points, innovative punctuation, and Using Title Capitalization! Whenever Possible…but never mind. I’m in enough trouble with Tim anyway.) [A digression: If you asked 1,000 public library catalog users about sentence vs. title capitalization in OPAC title displays, I wonder whether even 1% would care–or even notice? And yes, I find sentence capitalization for titles odd-looking as well, although not as odd-looking as transcribing the actual title, so commonly in ALL CAPS.]
  • I’m hearing some commentary about vendors being overrepresented among speakers at ALA–and I’d guess you could say the same about other library conferences. I think there’s some justification to the comments… But this is a complicated area…and one probably deserving a considerably longer and deeper discussion. And this whole area gets tricky, thanks in part to the first really difficult issue: Who’s a vendor? For example: Am I? Was I a year ago? Was I two years ago? What about consultants? What about authors?

I’m staying out of the first discussion for now. I’m certainly staying out of the second one. As for the third…there’s a lot of me that wants to write something substantial here, and there’s a lot of me that wants to stay away from that one as well.

Now, back to “serious” writing (well, after an excursion to a certain Meebo room…)

Gmail space: Wrong, wrong, wrong

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Back on April 30, 2008, I wrote a speculative post: When will Gmail hit seven gigabytes?

As in, when will the space allotted to each Gmail account reach 7,000,000,000 characters (yes, I know that’s not really seven gigabytes, and I explore that in the post).

Here’s what I predicted:

The Fourth of July, give or take a week.

Actually, if they’re adding space at a steady rate–which is a huge “if”–then it should be either July 4 or July 5, 2008.

I also promised that, if I was wrong, I would double my monthly contribution to Gmail.

I was wrong. And, as a result, I’ll send Google $0, which is twice the usual $0 that I’d send them.

“Give or take a week” ain’t going to do it. Right now, the magic number is at something over 6,893 megabytes. It might (or might not) reach 6.9 gigabytes (let’s just use “disk gigabytes” as our measure, shall we?) within a week.

The lesson here? Google’s magic number doesn’t grow at a constant rate. It’s been growing more slowly over the last nine weeks than it was during the period I observed it. It could start growing more rapidly. Since my insider’s knowledge of the Gmail magic number is precisely the same as my insider’s knowledge of anything else at Google–that is,

Just because I live in Mountain View (where the Googleverse is located) doesn’t mean I know anything about Google’s inner workings.

Oh, and as for Google somehow duping librarians…sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Sure, Google’s librarian-outreach project stalled pretty rapidly–but I still don’t see that Google duped Michigan, UC, Harvard, or anyone else. I still see Google Book Search as increasing demand for library books by providing expanded search capabilities…and I wish Open Content Alliance (by which I mean the Internet Archive) would get their act together on providing a suitable complement, particularly now that Microsoft’s dropped Live Books (which I thought was a superior product to Google Book Search, at least in terms of usability of the public-domain results).

And with that, enjoy the long weekend. Oh, and if you’re one of my two readers anxiously following the “will he or won’t he?” story…more about that later, but the short answer is “Probably.” And a couple of thoughtful remarks at Anaheim have a lot to do with that short answer.

Back, sort of

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

The good news: Anaheim did have the desired positive affect, I think…once I recover from the conference.

Which always takes a day or three.

I probably won’t post a lot about the conference itself. (Relatively poorly-attended, probably because of travel costs, and I think that’s the future; actually reasonably convenient; the program I spoke at was up against 36 or 37 other programs at the same time…), but did have a couple of odd notes relating to the Hilton, which is undergoing renovation:

  • The close-door button in the elevators actually seemed to be connected. That’s quite unusual, in my experience: Usually it’s just there as a feel-good device but does nothing at all.
  • They do have a 13th floor (but no 10th floor)–but a bellman says that, when the renovation is done, the 13th floor will probably go away (and the 10th floor appear). Too bad…
  • I turned down the chance to overlook Disneyland on the 9th floor–thus giving me a great direct view of the nightly fireworks–in favor of one of the “new’d” (renovated) rooms. Nice enough (actually quite nice) but with two oddities…
  1. The Hilton has the usual “save some soap and water” thing–if your towels are on the racks, you’ll reuse them; if they’re on the floor, you want them replace. Fine–except that there weren’t any towel racks except for the one holding two bath towels. Really no place to hang a hand or face towel….
  2. The new rooms have widescreen 32″ high-def LCD TVs (LG). But…and maybe this is only until renovation is complete…the TV service is analog cable, not digital. And it’s been preset so that regular TV is broadened a bit to use the 16×9 screen. The result, for shows that are already widescreen, is that you still get black bars above and below the picture…which is still distorted to fit the screen. It’s called “the worst of both worlds,” and no available adjustments seemet to fix it (probably because hotel TVs have most direct user adjustments locked out). If they switch to digital cable/satellite, the TV will presumably handle some or most of this… On the other hand, I do see why so many owners of HDTVs apparently don’t realize they’re not seeing HD (because they’ve never set it up): I found that the standard-def signals looked pretty good, by and large, adjusting for the distortion.

What does any of that have to do with the conference? Well, I said “sort of.” Maybe more later–but only after I read a few hundred other posts and see whether I have anything new to offer.

My session? Room for 300 (I think). Started with 36. Peaked at about 60. Ended with about 30. Given the competition, none of this is surprising (LITA Top Tech Trends was just one of the three dozen competitive programs at this time slot). Heck, the same division and same unit within the division had a competitive program, on the same program track, at the same time…