Archive for May, 2009

Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins, Disc 3

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Easy Virtue, 1928, b&w, silent (with possibly-related music). Isabel Jeans, Franklin Dyall, Eric Bransby Williams, Robin Irvine, Violet Farebrother, Frank Elliott. 1:29.

Another silent, another non-thriller. This time, the focus is on a woman who becomes a symbol of “easy virtue.” First, she’s divorced by her apparently-abusive husband because she might have spent some time without chaperone with a painter as he was preparing her formal portrait. This is scandalous—particularly because the painter died and left her his estate. Did she actually commit adultery? No indication, and it seems not to matter.

She goes off to the South of France to hide. She meets and falls in love with another Englishman, and it’s mutual. He doesn’t want to know her background. They marry. He brings her back to his family’s country estate. And his mother, a wildly overdrawn harridan, just despises her, with a passion. (His mother also keeps pushing his former girlfriend in his way…) The husband is, unfortunately, a mama’s boy; the mother manages to turn him against his wife even before The Truth Emerges.

As you’d expect, the mother eventually figures out that Larita, the wife, is Larita, The Scandal. The father thinks that’s all irrelevant. The old girlfriend, remarkably, wants to make things right between the couple. And there’s a climax with a houseparty at which Larita’s first husband shows up. It all ends with an uncontested second divorce ending with paparazzi (they weren’t called that then) facing her down and her telling them to go ahead and shoot, because there’s nothing left to kill.

It’s melodrama. The mother overacts so badly as to be ludicrous—she’s the Wicked Witch of the Manor, but in this case triumphant. Larita mostly smokes and doesn’t seem to have a wide range of expression. There are nice touches, however. The price that follows is generous—for true Hitchcock completists only, but it is a good print. $1.00.

Jamaica Inn, 1939, b&w. Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, Leslie Banks, Marie Ney, Robert Newton. 1:48/1:38

Hitchcock’s fan letter to Cornwall—or not so much. A young woman (O’Hara) newly orphaned travels to live with her aunt at the Jamaica Inn on the Cornish coast—but the coach won’t even stop there, instead leaving her off at the local squire’s mansion down the road. He takes her to the inn, and the real plot begins.

The innkeeper (who has no guests) has a pirate gang that deliberately causes shipwrecks (by hiding the nearby light), loots the ships and kills any survivors. But, as it turns out, the innkeeper reports to…well, if you’ve seen many older Westerns, you can guess: The most respectable local citizen, which is to say, the squire. There’s also suspicion among the cutthroats because they don’t seem to be getting as much loot as they should, and the innkeeper manages to turn that suspicion on to the newest member—who, as it turns out, is from The Authorities, trying to crack the case. We find that out after they hang him, the young woman rescues him (don’t ask), they make their way to the squire’s house…

Lots more plot, a fair amount of suspense, loads of bad-weather scenery and a mixed ending. Charles Laughton overplays the self-satisfied squire to the extreme, but that might be right for the occasion. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s worth $1.50.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, 1926, b&w, silent (unrelated musical score). Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, June, Malcolm Keen, Ivor Novello. 1:23.

The box says this is Hitchcock’s first thriller. It certainly has some Hitchcock trademarks—in-camera special effects, for example. Otherwise, “early Hitchcock” may be the most important thing to say. That, and that this is a mediocre-to-poor print. Frankly, I almost gave up part way through: Between repetition and other effects probably meant to create a mood but done in a way I found maddening, and the visual quality, it barely seemed worthwhile. Some of the plot devices were obvious devices, the kind of thing a spoof movie would highlight.

The basic plot: “The Avenger” is shooting fair-haired women every Tuesday (or every other Tuesday) evening in London, following a geographic pattern. A lodger shows up at the home of one fair-haired “mannequin” (model? entertainer?) (acted by “June,” no other name given) with one apparent aspect of the killer…and the girl is sort of involved with a high-handed police detective who’s assigned to the case. As things progress, we get stupidity on all sides, a lynch mob and a happy ending. Thrilling? Well, maybe I’m not the right audience. I found it mostly annoying and wildly overacted (but, of course, it’s a silent). I’d only recommend this for completists, and given the print quality I’ll say $0.75.

The Ring, 1927, b&w, silent (with apparently-unrelated orchestral music). Carl Brisson, Lillian Hall-Davis, Ian Hunter, Forrester Harvey, Harry Terry, Gordon Harker. 1:56.

The plot’s simple enough. We start in a carnival (lots of carnival fun scenes), part of which is a challenge for anyone who can stay in the ring more than a round with a boxer billed as “One Round” Jack Sander. Handsome man charms the ticket-taker (who, as it turns out, is the boxer’s fiancée) and cold-cocks Sander—and later reveals that he’s the champ, and if Sander’s good enough, the champ will hire him as a sparring partner.

That happens, and the couple marries—and it’s also obvious from the start that the wife has eyes as much or more for the champ as for her husband. Husband fights his way up the card. Along the way, we get typical early Hitchcock special effects, a wedding-party scene with Sander’s trainer (Gordon Harker, one of Hitchcock’s early regulars) chugging beer until he passes out, a much later party scene in Sander’s flat with crazed flapper dancing (would they really be playing a phonograph record, piano, and ukulele simultaneously while gesticulating as though they’d gone mad?) and more.

I don’t know quite what to make of this one. Extended boxing scenes. Over-acting from the hero (and others, but he’s got the wild eyes also typical of silent Hitchcock). Another movie for lip-readers. A fairly good print most of the time. Some gratuitous racism (including the n-word in one of the few titles, there for no reason at all). Not a thriller as such, and really not much of a plot. Hitchcock wrote as well as directing. (I’m fascinated by the extent to which IMDB reviewers who love Hitchcock can turn any of his pictures into a flat-out masterpiece.) This version appears to be missing quite a few minutes. Call it $1.00.

Young and Innocent, 1937, b&w. Nova Pilbeam, Derrick de Marney, Percy Marmont, Edward Rigby. 1:23.

Sort of a thriller, sort of a romantic comedy. Guy sees drowned woman from cliff, runs down to see what’s what, runs off to find help—just as two women stroll along and see her (strangled with a raincoat belt), and assume he was fleeing the scene. Police make the same assumption, find that the woman had purchased a story from him (he’s a writer), turn this into “victim was paying off suspect,” and assert they have a fool-proof case, enough so no further investigation is required.

He escapes, going out to try to find the raincoat (he knows where he lost it) and prove he’s innocent by returning with raincoat and belt (what? you can’t buy another raincoat and substitute belts? they’re uniquely identifiable?). The daughter of the chief constable gets involved, driving him hither and yon after first finding him annoying. Long scene in a posh hotel with a Gentleman of Low-Cost Leisure putting on the ritz. In the end, only a wildly implausible situation saves the day. There’s never any sort of resolution as to why the murder happened or why the suspect was framed: As a murder mystery, it’s a washout. (Also, I find it hard to accept that having a band perform in blackface for no reason at all was so normal in 1937 that it doesn’t even deserve comment in most reviews.)

Good mostly for the humor, although I suppose it’s suspenseful enough. Enjoyable on the whole. I’ll call it $1.00.

Cites & Insights: New sponsor needed

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Since January 2005, YBP Library Services has provided some sponsorship for Cites & Insights.

That sponsorship comes to an end at the end of 2009.

I’m extremely grateful to YBP for the sponsorship; it’s helped keep C&I going.

New sponsor needed

I need a new sponsor (or group of sponsors) for Cites & Insights.

Candidates would include, presumably, any group involved with or interested in library issues (or the issues discussed in the journal). Obviously, I’d be most comfortable with a sponsor whose own activities I’d be unlikely to discuss in any case–but that includes, for example:

  • Library automation companies
  • Library consortia
  • Database and index companies
  • Other companies directly serving libraries–booksellers etc.

C&I has strong readership. As noted in the May 2009 issue, the journal’s had nearly 1.4 million pageviews in more than three-quarters of a million sessions. Roughly half the issues have had at least 4,000 readers, with 12 having more than 6,000 (and one having more than 22,000). Adding pageviews for separate HTML articles, more than 60 articles have been read at least 7,000 times and another 94 at least 5,000 times.

Please contact me

Send me email if you’re interested in discussing sponsorship–waltcrawford at The sponsor will be mentioned on the website, on the front and back page of each issue, and on every separate HTML article.

A note about other forms of revenue

Could I gain enough revenue, or comparable revenue, directly from readers?

Well, the paperback annual editions of C&I have been priced to be direct revenue generators (and if someone buys a downloadable version, they’re essentially contributing $40). So far, revenue from that source averages about $10 a year…not quite enough to replace sponsorship.

Early on, I had PayPal and Amazon Tip Jar links to allow direct contributions. I did receive some–but the total was, as I remember, in the low three digits.

I’m open to suggestions.

Coming back, possibly slowly

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Five weeks later, it’s time for a somewhat optimistic update to this post.

It’s been more than two months since I did any serious original work on Cites & Insights. That’s the longest break I’ve had in a very long time. (I did write one or two print columns, so it wasn’t a complete shutdown of the creative impulse–but close.)

The post referenced above raised a gloomy prospect–well, gloomy from some perspectives:

In recent years, I’ve said I’d keep on writing as long as (a) people want to read what I have to say and (b) I find it interesting & worthwhile to do so.

Right now, I’m a little uneasy on both counts. With luck, this too shall pass…

Two of the comments on that post made similar points; I’ll quote bibliotecaria:

I would suggest that even though the moving is not necessarily taking a lot of time, it IS taking more mental energy than you might think. Moving is stressful. Wait until you’ve settled into your new place before you start thinking that your inspiration is gone and will never come back.

Moving does take more mental energy than I’d imagined

…and the drain on energy goes on for a very long time. It’s certainly not over yet! (We have lots of painting, carpentry, electrical, etc. projects to get completed–along with the big changes–and there are still a few boxes in two rooms, a lot of boxes in one bedroom, and a completely chaotic garage.) But it’s also home now. Our most important paintings (all original oils) are hung, my office is fairly well set up, we had our first Sunday home-cooked dinner last night, we watched our first Netflix movie in three or four weeks night before last…all signs of settling in. In another month or four, we may be fully settled in (except for the garage: that could take years).

I realized this when I found that, even though I wanted to do some writing and even had some time at one point, I just couldn’t focus.

Signs of renewal

I’m still devoting at least a couple of hours a day to move-related stuff, but that also leaves a couple of hours a day for reading and writing.

The previous post–this one–is a sign of renewal. I couldn’t have written that post two weeks ago or a week ago.

I just printed lead sheets for 18 items that add to a folder that should yield an essay for the July Cites & Insights. I hope to start that essay this afternoon or tomorrow–and recognize it will go a little more slowly than usual. And, although I’d originally planned to leave GBS alone for a while longer, the comments related to the previous post lead me to believe it’s fodder for a new article.

Projects and issues

I’m still postponing decisions on the Four Projects, but probably not for long. Since sales of the three blog-related books continue to be nonexistent, this mostly boils down to two things:

  • Am I sufficiently interested in how liblogs (not library blogs) are doing to carry on even with little or no likelihood of revenue?
  • Can the case be made that a workshop/book/whatever on low-cost library book publishing would reach a wide enough audience or generate enough interest to justify the work?

Given the enormous sum of two favorable responses, I’m a little dubious on the second, but if I wind up with an excess of energy at some point I might proceed anyway. Regarding liblogs…that’s tough to give up.

As for library blogs, I think another nail has been hammered into that particular coffin: Cites & Insights 9:6, containing the most important chapters from both books, has had unusually low readership for its first month of publication. Apparently, y’all not only won’t pay to know how library blogs are actually working, most of you don’t even want to read about it. Hint:Taken.

The next couple of issues of C&I may still be somewhat erratic, but that’s nothing unusual.

There is another issue with C&I, a financial one; that deserves a separate post, which will happen later this week.

Responding as politely as possible

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Karen Coyle posted “Walt Crawford should read the document” on May 10, 2009 on her blog, Coyle’s InFormation.

Note two things about that sentence:

  1. It includes a direct link to Coyle’s post.
  2. I include the name of Coyle’s blog correctly, spelling and all.

Now consider the first paragraph of Coyle’s post, reproduced here exactly as it appears:

In his March, 2009 Cites & Insites, Walt Crawford does a roundup of comments on the Google/AAP settlement, and gets very agitated when reviewing some of my posts. I’m used to that. But agitation tends to cancel out reason, and Walt gets some things wrong that he might have understood better if he had kept a clear head.

No link–but then, how could there be a link, since there’s no such publication as “Cites & Insites”? (I don’t regard “Insites” as a word and assuredly would not use it for an ejournal.)

The March 2009 Cites & Insights (volume 9, number 4) consists of an essay on a proposed settlement involving Google, AAP, and the Authors Guild (not just Google and AAP). I regard that essay as considerably more than “a roundup of comments.”

I’m not sure whether Ms. Coyle is used to people in general getting agitated when reviewing her posts or whether that’s specifically aimed at me, but the last sentence is unquestionably aimed at somebody named Walt Crawford.

The suggestion that I was unable to reason clearly because I was so agitated by Ms. Coyle’s comments is either insulting or patronizing; your choice. It’s also false. (I checked the indexes for Cites & Insights. Except for March 2009, every time I’ve quoted or commented on Karen Coyle it’s been entirely positive comment–so I have to assume that other people get agitated by her comments. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

There is an ornithologist named Walt Crawford in the Midwest, director of the World Bird Sanctuary. In the overall scheme of things, that Walt Crawford (we have the same middle initial, but I’m not a “Jr.”) is probably more important to the world than I am–but he has a somewhat lower web profile. I’m pretty sure we’re both members of the Nature Conservancy… Still, I doubt very much that St. Louis’ Walt Crawford has a publication named Cites & Insites or that he wrote about the proposed Google Book Search settlement.

Still…there’s enough wrong with Ms. Coyle’s first paragraph (in a post that appeared nearly three months after the essay in question) that it’s tempting to leave it at that. If Coyle can’t be bothered to link to the essay being criticized or name the publication properly, and if she finds it necessary to patronize me in the post title and the lead paragraph, why should I take her comments seriously? (She knows how to do links: there are two links in the post. I can only assume that the decision not to link to my essay is deliberate.)

[Why did it take me two weeks to respond? Anyone who’s followed this blog or my FriendFeed feed knows: Since May 10, I’ve been spending nearly all my energy moving to a new house–and from May 14 through May 18, I didn’t have internet access. Also, I recognized right off the bat that a hasty response was a bad idea.]

A quick exercise

Before reading this response further, you should read the commentary. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest reading the whole essay (including but not limited to “Putting on several hats” on pp. 4-5)–but since I’m being charged with agitation and loss of reason, you could focus on pages 20-25. Consider particularly the language in “Google/AAP settlement” (pp. 20-21) with its “Ping!” refrain and the right-hand column on p. 21 (from “…this is the pact with the devil” through “THIS IS EVIL“).

If, after reading the extensive quotations from Coyle and my brief interspersed comments, you find that Coyle is consistently cool and logical whereas I’ve gone off the deep end and gotten things wrong, then it may not be worth your while to read the rest of this.

But as I reread it, twice, I see no agitation on my part, and less rhetorical fervor in my notes than in some of Coyle’s commentary. Maybe Coyle wasn’t agitated in those posts, but it certainly reads that way–or is it that Coyle is allowed to be agitated but I’m not?

Specific objections…

What of my comments does she object to?

All libraries as well-curated collections

In questioning the need for Google to digitize based on deliberate collection-building, I say “I don’t know of any big academic library or public library that’s a single disciplinary collection–or, realistically, a set of well-curated collections.” (Coyle omits the italics in “any.” No biggie.)

Coyle says “an academic library is INDEED a set of well-curated collections.”

Really? Good academic libraries include well-curated collections, but I’ll suggest that most big ones contain a lot of materials outside that set of collections, particularly for libraries using lots of standing orders and approval plans. [OK, I spent too many years at UC Berkeley. If anyone suggests to me that the Doe Library is entirely a set of well-curated collections, I’d probably snigger, much as I love and respect the library.]

But that’s a matter of definition–what constitutes “well-curated”? I could have simply taken issue with Coyle’s lead sentences in the paragraph in question:

So the main reason why Google Books is not a library is that it isn’t what we would call a “collection.” The books have not been chosen to support a particular discipline or research area…

Even if I overstated “any,” Coyle’s implicit definition of “library” here excludes an enormous number of libraries. If Coyle wants to say that “Google Books is not a research library,” I probably wouldn’t object–but “research library” and “library” are not synonymous.

Library costs

I said “I don’t remember public universities admitting to substantial costs in cooperating with Google.”

Coyle says “Dan Greenstein estimated $1-2 per book”–and offers a link.

The article linked to says no such thing. It says that Greenstein estimated Google’s scanning costs at $1 or $2 per volume. Here’s the link: read it for yourself. (It’s a Daily Cal article. Depending how you read it, Greenstein might have been estimating a cost for cooperating with Google elsewhere in the article, but certainly not as quoted by Coyle–and, frankly, I can’t be sure just what the article is saying about the UC costs of the Google project. In any case, it wouldn’t have been an admission: This article appeared before UC joined the project. It would have been a forward estimate.)

I’ll stand by my statement: I don’t remember public universities admitting to substantial costs in cooperating with Google. (The first three words represent a caveat–maybe somebody somewhere said it and I don’t remember or never saw it. Greenstein did not say it, at least not as quoted from the cited article.)

Changing library use of libraries’ own material

Adding one brief paragraph to a long Coyle quotation, I asserted that nothing in the proposed agreement changes the ways libraries use their own material.

That’s a factual statement. Coyle’s criticism:

Not of their hard copy materials, but legal minds think that this changes the landscape for digitization and the use of digitized materials, even closing some options that might have been available before.

She quotes one such legal mind. Is there unanimity or overwhelming consensus? I don’t know (although I’m pretty nearly certain that there isn’t)–but it’s irrelevant to my simple, factual statement.

Privatization, profiles and abusing the language*

Coyle said in one of her original post that “The digitization of books by Google is a massive project that will result in the privatization of a public good: the contents of libraries.”

I objected to that sentence, “as I’ve taken issue consistently with the same claim by others with even higher profiles than Coyle (who are even less likely to ever admit they could be mistaken).” Coyle takes me on for not making the “higher profile” people and adds this: “But thanks for letting me know that you consider me a ‘lower profile’ person, Walt.”

What? If I say Barack Obama has a higher profile than Rick Boucher, I’m not saying Rick Boucher is “a lower profile person”–except by comparison. If you want names, there’s Brewster Kahle and Siva Vaidhyanathan–and yes, I do consider them higher profile. (Based on Coyle’s post that I’m commenting on here, however, I withdraw the parenthetical clause in my comment.)

I went on to say the “privatization” claim was “Nonsense. Sheer, utter nonsense. The libraries and contents will still be there. OCA will still be there. I’m sorry, but this one just drives me nuts: It’s demonization of the worst kind and an abuse of the language.”

Coyle’s response?

There is general agreement that Google gets a monopoly…at least on out-of-print books.

Based on this “general agreement” she says the claim of monopoly “is a factual statement.” I haven’t seen any sort of unanimity on this claim, and I wasn’t aware that consensus constituted fact–but in any case, that has nothing to do with the wording I objected to: “privatization of a public good: the contents of libraries.”

Did Ansel Adams privatize the great views in Yosemite by taking photos that are so iconic they’ve made it difficult for anyone else to do as well? Obviously not; he created something by using a public good, and in doing so enhanced the public good (making Yosemite more popular).

If I go to a library, check out some books, and create something new based on those books, it would be nonsense to say I’d privatized the contents of the library. If I built an index by going through each book, and then returned the books, it would be nonsense to say I’d privatized the contents of the library.

How is Google’s project different? The books are on the shelves, at least as accessible as they were before Google scanned them…and realistically a lot more accessible.

The public good is not in any way diminished or privatized. If a possible future extension of the public good is less likely because Google has a first-mover advantage or because the language of the settlement gives them advantageous treatment, that’s a very different thing.

Preservation and longevity

Discussing issues of preservation and longevity, I said:

Won’t the fully-participating libraries have digital copies? I can’t think of institutions with better longevity.

Here’s how Coyle begins her refutation of my comment:

To begin with, only fully participating libraries will have digital copies…

Since Coyle agrees that “fully participating libraries will have digital copies,” there’s really no point in going further. (If I say “All Honda Insights are hybrids” and someone begins a critique of that statement by saying “To begin with, only Honda Insights–among Hondas–are always hybrids”–there’s little point in continuing the discussion.)

…without discrimination and without liability

Here’s one where I may be wrong. I assumed Google wouldn’t argue with the idea of carrying all scanned books.

Coyle points out that the settlement does not oblige them to do so. Since this is the single case in which she’s asserting I would have gotten it right if I’d read the full 134-page settlement, I assume this is the genesis for the post’s title.

If we assume that Google was 100% responsible for the language of the settlement (which I do not) then I’m clearly wrong here. Let’s assume that I am.

I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong again. If Coyle had pointed out this single case in a more temperate manner, I’d be delighted to include that in an update to the essay as a useful correction and expansion.

There are legitimate reasons for concern about the settlement

That’s what Coyle says.

I agree. I say so repeatedly in the March 2009 Cites & Insights.

If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have produced a 30-page issue: A one-paragraph note would have been sufficient. I certainly wouldn’t have guided people back to Coyle’s posts.

Coyle doesn’t think that anything she has said is “nonsense.” Sorry, but I have to disagree. The “privatization” line is nonsense–just as it’s always been when Prof. Vaidhyanathan uses it, just as it is when Brewster Kahle uses it. It’s an abuse of the English language, and by demonizing Google it gets in the way of improving the settlement and the situation.

Frankly, if it hadn’t been for the tone of Coyle’s post and her accusation that I’d lost a clear head, I might not have written this post at all. Coyle has provided valuable service over the years in analyzing the Google Books project and the proposed settlement.

*Postscript: The comments on this post include various defenses of “privatization” as an accurate and appropriate term. They make interesting reading, and I urge readers of this post to read all of the comments–and decide for yourself. (I’ll probably prepare a commentary in a future C&I, incorporating most or all of this post and its comments.)

I still regard “privatization of public goods” as an abuse of the language as used for anything in the proposed settlement. When you create something new based on public goods, leaving the public goods intact, I can’t find that to be privatization as I understand the word.

But I should also clarify that it’s not Karen Coyle’s coinage or distinctive usage–if I’m saying it’s nonsense on her part, I’m also saying it’s nonsense on the part of Siva Vaidhyanathan, Brewster Kahle and probably quite few others. Which, to be sure, I am.

It’s a shame that an argument over books uses the language so sloppily–but “privatization of public goods” has a distinctive harshness to it that more accurate terms might not.

This postscript does not attempt to cut off the discussion of the term. I think it’s a fascinating discussion. Do note that I regard comments here to be bound by the same CC license as the blog itself, meaning I can (and will) quote them in their entirety in Cites & Insights–and, of course, that anyone else can quote them for noncommercial use.

Raking in the big bucks

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

You can now, if you’re so inclined, read this blog on your Kindle.

I will receive $0.60 per month for each of you who subscribe. I plan to retire on the proceeds.

More news soon about the financial status of Cites & Insights, but I’ll save that for a full-fledged post.

Not here and a cheer

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Not here:

While we’re entirely in Livermore now (having dropped off the last keys on Sunday), we still don’t have DSL…so have had no email or other Internet access since last Wednesday.

I hope it’s resolved today, but meanwhile, if FF folks or others are wondering about lack of response, that’s why.

And a cheer:

For public libraries in general and Livermore Public Library in particular–since that’s where I’m typing this, at one of more than a dozen four-person tables with power outlets and robust Wi-Fi. In a big, gorgeous (as a library, not as a Supreme Architectural Statement), heavily used library (I also just got a library card).

Back at work, on FF, “here” and–I think–doing original writing just as soon as I have DSL…


Fixed. The latest technician said they’d replaced equipment at the central office, tested our house, tracked back to a midway point, tested again, did some rewiring… and, vitally, said along the way “I’m not leaving until this works.”

Which it does, now. I have to say that this person’s attitude toward technical support is what I’m used to from AT&T, and why we’re not running away from it…

So, now, tomorrow I start catching up with LLN work, a few hundred blog posts, a few dozen FF messages (you can only go so far back)…and, real soon, some original writing.

Our house is a very very very…

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

…fine house, although the two cats are both inside cats so won’t be in the yard. Nor can I honestly say that life used to be so hard…

I can’t honestly say that I need to explain the absence of posts hereabout, since (one way or another) there’ve been more than my two-posts-a-week goal. I already explained the absence of new content for C&I three weeks ago, but gave y’all two chock-full issues of research results instead–and even that post follows up an earlier one.

Notes along the way

So this is just a progress report, with luck progressing toward a return to new articles of some minor merit.

We now own a 45-year-old house, in generally excellent condition (although the roof may be iffy), in a beautiful neighborhood in Livermore, California. We’ll start trundling stuff over there on Monday, and expect to begin sleeping there on Thursday, 5/14–and to be entirely out of our old house on Monday, 5/18.

For two or three hours yesterday, technically, we didn’t own a house. That’s the period between the recording of the sale of our 55-year-old house (in excellent condition, but in need of some remoding) in a beautiful neighborhood in Mountain View, California, and the recording of the purchase of the Livermore house. (We’re “renters” here for the next 9 days or so, part of the purchase agreement.)

That’s the good news. The bad news, which was making both of us crazier than usual on Wednesday, Thursday and particularly Friday morning until about 1 p.m., is that we were supposed to be non-homeowners for two full days. That is, Mountain View was supposed to close escrow on May 5, with Livermore closing on May 8. And with sellers in Livermore waiting for the funds so they could in turn purchase another house…

Apparently, the bank lending funds to the buyer of our old house left something out of the stuff they needed from those buyers… Given the stories we’ve heard about deals falling through at the last minute, we were, how you say, stressed. All the more so when 10 a.m. Friday came and went and the funds still hadn’t been wired… (After everyone else gets a chance to delay, it’s up to the county to actually time-stamp the grant deed as being recorded: The title insurance company won’t wire the funds from the sale until that happens.)

So yesterday, until about 4:30 p.m. (when *our* purchase, rush-delivered, was time-stamped, thus closing escrow), we were really up in the air, with phone calls and email going back and forth among several real estate agents, three title companies, us, and probably others we don’t know about.

It shouldn’t be this hard. There should be–there are–checklists of what needs to be done.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the “paperless revolution” as it applies to California real estate deals. I don’t even want to measure all the papers we’ve had to deal with; I’m pretty sure we’ve signed or initialed at least a hundred documents in all. I know we’ll be getting CDs from both agents with copies of all the papers…and, to be sure, my Gmail account probably has 200+ megabytes of PDFs related to the move, including the PDFs-from-fax we received, printed out, signed, then scanned back in as PDF and attached back to email. That saves time, but still generates paper… (I say “California” because, at least in Santa Clara County, the disclosure documents are so extensive and there are so many other documents. I’m guessing some states and counties aren’t quite so cautious.)

In the long run…

It will all be worth it. Ask me in about two weeks… (A week to move, a week to settle in and unpack most of the boxes.) We just finished tagging all the packed boxes with the rooms they’re going to…and realized just how much we really have already packed. (60-70 boxes, maybe?) There’s still a fair amount to go…

Meanwhile, I am so far thoroughly impressed by my second experiment in Andersonomics:

  • Ratio of people who’ve seen the first half of The Liblog Landscape via C&I to those who’d purchased copies: Roughly 10:1–and that ratio will certainly increase.
  • Number of additional copies sold, now that people can read (most of it) for free and are thus encouraged to pay for the real book: Identical to the figure for Academic Library Blogs and Public Library Blogs combined! That is…zero, so far. (But it’s early yet. That number could easily double or triple in the future.)

Citizendium and the memory of water

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

“Beyond Wikipedia” in the April 2009 Cites & Insights included a section on Citizemdium that included the following comment:

“Authoritative” is a tricky word. There’s a long draft article on “memory of water” that (as the son of an engineer and brother of a chemist) I find deeply disturbing, and an approved article on homeopathy that, while including a few disclaimers, is slanted very much in favor of homeopathic claims. (For example, it considers the similarity of homeopathic remedies and vaccinations both using “low doses of active ingredients,” and says “the doses in homeopathic remedies are always very much lower”—but you have to go a lot further down in the article to learn the simple fact that most homeopathic remedies “are virtually certain to contain not even a single molecule of the initial substance.” (That’s why “memory of water” is important.)

That was then–when I wrote the article in February 2009 and checked it in early March 2009.

Today, Paul Wormer, Physics and Chemistry Editor of Citizendium, sent me a polite email invigint me to look at the article again and “see if you find it less disturbing now.”

I did. It is. It’s enormously improved, and strikes me as a good discussion of an inherently-controversial topic. (Not “controversial” because “what if it works?” any more than the Dean Drive or perpetual motion machines are controversial in that sense, but controversial beause so many supposedly intelligent people believe it.)

So editorial control seems to be making a big difference at Citizendium.

Cites & Insights 9:7 (June 2009) now available

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Cites & Insights 9:7 (June 2009) is now available.

The 48-page issue is only available in PDF form (it includes 16 graphs and more than 60 tables, and it just wasn’t worthwhile to generate the HTML version, which would also probably run 65-80 pages).

It’s another special issue:

The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008: A Lateral Look

Chapters 1 through 11 of the book of the same name, complete (except for chapter numbers and one secondary column in a few tables). It’s the equivalent of 121 book pages.

The book continues to be available. (First link: Lulu version. Second: Amazon version, with ISBN.) The book includes

  • Larger, easier-to-read graphs (30% wider, 30% taller).
  • One extra data column in some tables (a data column that just could not be squeezed into the narrower column width of C&I, even by reducing type size)
  • Larger type for all tables
  • And, to be sure, Chapter 12, Liblog Profiles–147 pages containing 607 individual liblog profiles. The book also has an index of blog titles and authors.

If Andersonomics really works, a bunch of you will rush out to order the book after you’ve been enticed with this free version…

Freecycle: Good stuff

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I’d certainly heard of Freecycle, but never tried it–we’re not much for acquiring “stuff” and, until we started getting ready to move, felt as though we’d manage to avoid gathering much extra stuff.

But as we started thinking about the new house, we agreed that I should get a new treadmill. Mine has worked for years and continued to work just fine, but it was squeaky, annoyingly so–and in the new house, it would be inside, not out in the garage. (In Livermore summers, there’s no way I’d be treadmilling in a non-air-conditioned garage! And the new house has one more bedroom, so there’s enough room inside.)

I raised a question on FriendFeed and got suggestions to try either Craigslist or Freecycle. And we checked the city’s quarterly recycling bulletin, The first page has a whole set of reuse options (Mountain View has an enviably high waste-avoidance rate, diverting a large majority of waste to recycling, but reusing is even better than recycling). First there’s the citywide garage sale and community yard sale (last weekend, actually–more than 100 garage sales plus the community event). Then there’s Freecycle, described as follows:

The Freecycle Network(tm) is probably the most well known of the grassroots efforts to keep good, re-usable stuff out of landfills. Everything posted must be offered at no charge. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer and membership is free. To join, go to and search for the Mountain View group.

The column also described Craigslist, Mountain View Freeshare (a Google group), a website run by the local weekly paper that offers free classifieds, and more.

Freecycle sounded good. It is.

How it works

  • You go to Freecycle and find your local group. There are a lot of groups–more than 4,700 as of today, with nearly 6.7 million members. It looks as though there are at least 200 groups in different California cities or sections of large cities…
  • You register–each group is a Yahoo! Group, so you need a (free) Yahoo account, but you can then set the account to use any email address you prefer as a preferred address.
  • You can set your account to receive all email, to receive daily digests, or to be web-only. I suppose the latter would work nicely if you’re only offering stuff, never looking for stuff, or if you’re taking a time out.
  • You create a post for each item (or group of related items) you have to offer, or for each item (or group of items) you’d like to find.
  • Here, at least, the format is fairly structured, which makes the Freecycle email easy to deal with. The subject line must begin with OFFER:, WANTED:, or TAKEN: (or RECEIVED: or PPU:), followed by a brief item name, followed by–for OFFER, at least–“location” in the form of neighborhood or major cross streets. The body of the message for an OFFER or WANTED can provide more detailed descriptions and link to pictures.
  • Note what is n0t there–and what the local moderator will consistently remove with a chiding message: Phone number or actual street location. You can’t include them in an offer. (Moderators also fix subject line form, or at least the local ones do. And they’re fast…I never saw more than a 15-minute delay.)
  • The posts go out to people. If someone wants something you’re offering, they reply–and the reply goes to you. Then you choose who you want to offer it to–the criteria are entirely yours, noting that you can’t charge for anything–and send them your actual address and whatever else you need to say (e.g., time to pick up).
  • Once the item’s taken, you post a TAKEN: message so you won’t get more requests.

That’s it–simple enough, with some protection built in.

It does work!

Three minutes after I offered the treadmill, I had a taker. Within fifteen minutes, I had five more.

That was a week ago. I’m only writing about it now because the treadmill was just taken–and that’s because I wouldn’t give it up until last weekend. (Two weeks without that exercise is enough…well, two weeks plus however long it takes to choose a new treadmill and get it delivered!)

It worked so well and so rapidly that we decided to Freecycle a few somewhat less valuable items, noting the range of nearly-trivial items that were being offered and taken. What did we Freecycle successfully?

Two Booda Loo cat litter boxes. A set of tire chain cables. A bicycle rack apparently missing straps. Two CD racks. Three cheap unfinished-wood wine racks. A Miracle Gro feeder and a box of three lawn food packs (the fourth had been used before we switched to dry-spread lawn food). The Star Wars trilogy–on VHS (the final movie-version release, TXH remastered). And a Timbuk2 notebook messenger-style case, an oddity because the patch for MSN Search Champs v4 is sewn on.

Everything went within an hour or two. Everything was picked up at agreed times (other than the treadmill, we’d just set items out on the porch at roughly the agreed times). In almost every case, surprisingly including the Microsoft-specific notebook case that won’t hold most contemporary notebooks (“perfect for a 15″ Macbook Pro”), we had multiple takers.

What didn’t go

An HP Deskjet–several years old. I’m guessing people around here are clued in enough to realize that today’s inkjets are several times as fast, offer much higher print quality (MUCH higher print quality), and the main cost of an inkjet is ink anyway.

Try it, if it suits your needs

I’m impressed. We’ve checked, and there’s a Freecycle group in Livermore. Dunno whether we’re ever likely to be taking much, but we’ll use it when we have things to get rid of–things that still have useful life for somebody else.