Archive for February, 2010

The more you know, the less you believe?

Thursday, February 11th, 2010


I read Fortune–the print magazine–mostly because I decided to give Money another try a year or so ago when Time Inc. offered an absurdly good deal…and the deal included throwing in Fortune.

Even though I’m pretty sure I’m not in the target audience (having never been nor planning to be a Captain of Industry or even a Corporal of Capitalism), I’ve enjoyed much of it–some great long investigative pieces, some fine writing. And, as with most magazines that still have the “yucks-in-the-back” tradition, putting something lighthearted on the last editorial page, I like finishing off an issue with something light–in this case, Stanley Bing’s “While You Were Out” column.

Bing in the February 8, 2010 edition talks about “The Big Issues”–four of them that he says we need to resolve in order to move forward. (Unemployment, Deregulation, Debt and Doubt, if you’re wondering.)

I was taken with the section on Doubt–not that I agree with all of it, but I found the second paragraph particularly interesting.


Here’s the paragraph:

The fact is, nearly every article I have read in my life has been wrong, at least in part, about anything I know even a little bit about. I can’t tell if they were wrong about the stuff I don’t know about. So why do we listen to these people? I have an idea. Let’s not.

OK, loads of caveats here. Bing’s writing about “mainstream media” or, rather, newspapers and magazines. He writes light stuff for the last page. (His recommendation for Doubt: “Ignore Depressing People.” Well, maybe, but doubtful and depressing shouldn’t be synonymous.)


I know that, when I read articles in magazines that focus on areas I know really well, I tend to find a lot of flaws–frequently just getting the facts wrong, more often failing to provide appropriate facts and context. All the more so if it’s a general-interest publication writing about a specific area.

I’m not flaming journalists. Journalism is hard–and it’s really hard to cover an area you haven’t been steeped in for years. Ask me to do a 600-word writeup on the latest findings in bioarchaeology (is there such a field?)–or, rather, assign me to do such a writeup, in time for tomorrow’s edition or next month’s issue deadline–and chances are I’ll produce something that a bioarchaeologist will find embarrassingly naive and probably wrong in key areas. (And, if I’m really on deadline and some outfit with a good PR firm has been involved in the story, there’s a very good chance my writeup will rely heavily on that firm’s press releases, quite possibly giving the firm or university or lab more credit than it deserves.)

I’d guess that, for most readers, I’m not saying anything you don’t already know (at least implicitly).


I’m not entirely sure there is one, unless it’s the great blues line,

Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.

Realistically, though, maybe the message is:

It’s reasonable to assume that media reports in areas you don’t know intimately are no more correct and complete than media reports in areas you do know intimately.

There is, to be sure, the next blues line (at least in “Small Town Talk”)

And if you’re gonna believe in anything, darlin’, believe in me…

Because, you know, I’m never wrong and I never omit context. I just fasten my wings and fly over the scene again to make sure my super-hearing and x-ray vision got everything right the first time. (I don’t always fly over the scene immediately: Sometimes the squadrons of aeropigs get in the way.)

Cites & Insights March 2010

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Cites & Insights 10:3 (March 2010) is now available.

The 26-page issue, PDF as usual (with HTML separates for each essay), includes two essays:

Making it Work: Philosophy and Future (pp. 1-22)

Two clusters–one on the philosophy and values of libraries and the other on high-profile statements on libraries and their future.

Perspective: Writing about Reading 5: Going Down Slow (pp. 22-26)

Slow reading and related topics.

Mystery Collection Disc 8

Monday, February 8th, 2010

The Man on the Eiffel Tower, 1949, color. Burgess Meredith (dir.), Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Burgess Meredith, Robert Hutton, Jean Wallace, Patricia Roc. 1:37 [1:27].

Charles Laughton as Inspector Maigret, with a young Burgess Meredith as a would-be robber…in a movie directed by the young Burgess Meredith (taking over for producer Irving Allen). His character’s a near-blind (without his glasses) knife-sharpener who needs some real money. Enter a married playboy, dependent on his wealthy aunt, who wants to leave his wife for his American girlfriend—but his wife, who knows all about it, will only go with a substantial settlement. He’d give a million francs if someone would off the aunt (he’s the heir)—and a nearby psychopath (Tone) hears about this.

Next thing we know, the aunt (and her maid) are murdered, Meredith’s character’s busily being frames, Maigret’s in trouble for letting him escape from prison while awaiting trial, and the psycopath’s actively taunting Maigret. He’s fond of lunch on the restaurant on the Eiffel’s observation platform, and notes that diving from the tower would be a great way to end things.

Lots of plot, lots of psychological strangeness, one more death…and, all in all, an interesting flick. It’s sort-of in color (as with many other early color flicks, there’s fading, whole scenes where some colors are missing or everything’s red-shifted), there are missing frames (and apparently more than just frames), it’s a little damaged. It’s also not as well directed as it might be. All that combines to $1.50.

Topper Returns, 1941, b&w. Roy Del Ruth (dir.), Joan Blondell, Roland Young, Carole Landis, Billie Burke, Dennis O’Keefe, Patsy Kelly, H.B. Warner, Eddie ‘Rochester” Anderson. 1:28.

An absolute charmer, with Cosmo Topper (Young), the slightly-henpecked banker, once again involved with ghosts—this time quite unwillingly, and it is a mystery. Two women in a taxi; a hooded figure aims with a rifle, shoots out a tire, and almost causes the taxi to go off the road and into the ocean—but not quite. As the cabbie (O’Keefe) goes for help, the women flag down Topper (and his chauffeur, the inimitable Eddie “Rochester” Anderson of Jack Benny fame) to take them to Carrington Hall. On the way, one woman (Blondell) is sitting on Topper’s lap—and since the Toppers are the Carrington’s next-door neighbor (but it’s a long drive to that next door), Topper’s wife (Burke, a fine comedienne) sees them on the way.

That’s just the start. The other woman (Ann Carrington, played by Carole Landis) has arrived to finally meet her father; she’s heir to the entire Carrington estate and he seems to be in bad health. The servants are, well, strange—as is the family doctor. The two women switch bedrooms for the night—which results in the wrong woman being killed. Her ghost emerges—a remarkably corporeal ghost, capable of leaving footprints, opening doors, and getting drunk, but visible only when she chooses to be—and the chase is on.

It’s a combination mystery and slapstick comedy. There’s little more to be said about the plot, but the movie just keeps moving along—with hidden passages and lots more. The print’s very good and this movie is certainly worth rewatching. Slight but first-rate. $2.00.

The Green Glove, 1952, b&w. Rudolph Maté (dir.), Glenn Ford, Geraldine Brooks, Cedrick Hardwicke, George Macready, Jany Holt, Roger Treville. 1:29.

The film begins at the end—when a jewel-encrusted saint’s gauntlet, one that brought miracle-seekers to the little town honoring the saint until it disappeared—turns up once again, signaled by the church bells ringing (which they would never do while the gauntlet was missing).

Then we go back to World War II, an airman bailing out behind German lines, and the actual plot begins. Yank airman (Ford) discovers “journalist”/double agent, carrying a bag with some drawings and the gauntlet; for various reasons, he winds up with the bag but leaves it for safekeeping in a chateau as he makes his way back to the front lines.

Years later, the airman’s doing badly—and comes back to France, presumably to find the gauntlet (the green glove) and make a small fortune selling it. The rest of the film—most of it—deals with this adventure, as the double agent (an antique dealer in peacetime) is watching him, murders get the police involved, there’s a beautiful woman who gets caught up in it all…

Nicely done all around, with a tense final 15 minutes or so—and the movie moves along nicely throughout. Good performances, good directing. The print’s a little soft and not great b&w, the main thing bringing this down to a still-respectable $1.50.

The Second Woman, 1950, b&w. James V. Kern (dir.), Robert Young, Betsy Drake, John Sutton, Florence Bates, Morris Carnovsky, Henry O’Neill, Jason Robards Sr. 1:31.

Robert Young is an architect who, a year previously, lost his fiancée in an auto accident the night before the wedding—in a crash he’s supposedly responsible for. He lives in a striking modern home, which he designed, on the coast—right next to a more traditional home, where a young woman visiting her aunt runs into him and strikes up an acquaintance, almost immediately falling in love with him.

But he seems cursed: Over the course of a few days, a prized sculpture breaks, a prized painting fades away, his horse suffers a destroyed ankle and has to be destroyed, his rose bush dies, his dog is poisoned, he loses a prize commission because the package of drawings omits all the interiors…and his house burns down.

He thinks it’s bad luck. The woman (an actuary at home) thinks that’s impossible, and sets out to investigate (against his wishes). The family doctor thinks he’s paranoiac (the way they said it then) and actually doing all these things to himself. There are two other characters: The wealthy head of the firm Young works for (and father of the dead fiancée), and a cad who’s also part of the firm and pretty clearly evil in almost every way.

Right up to the last ten minutes or so, it’s not clear at all whether he’s doing it to himself or whether someone else is responsible—and, for that matter, who the “someone else” might be. It all comes together in a great climax.

Well played and compelling. My only real problem is a grotesque logic gap having to do with timing, but to mention what that gap is would be a spoiler. Even so, the print’s good, it’s well directed, it truly is a mystery and it’s worth $1.75.

EPub from Word: A Third Option

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

If you recall EPub, First Attempt (three whole days ago), I had tried two free options for creating an ePub ebook file from a fully-formatted book in Word form–that is, either saving it as PDF and converting it via Calibre, or saving it as Word’s “filtered HTML” and converting it via Calibre.

I wasn’t thrilled with either method.

  • The ePub-from-PDF version had great-looking type, but the page headers and footers were included within the stream and there were a number of other oddities, including a useless Contents band.
  • The ePub-from-HTML version (surprisingly, much larger than the ePub-from-PDF version) had a working Contents band and no extraneous page headers and footers, but the onscreen type, while clearly a rendition of the actual type used in the book, was pretty awful.

I can see that a fair number of people have looked at or downloaded the two versions. So far, I’ve had no actual feedback on how they do or don’t work either on ereaders or on ereader simulations.

Meanwhile, I realized that there was a third option: RTF.

  • Here’s an ePub-from-RTF version. It’s halfway in length between the other two–bigger than the from-PDF, smaller than the from-HTML. It clearly makes no attempt at all to provide the original typeface(s). The content panel is essentially unpopulated and useless. The contents within the book itself are odd.
  • On the other hand: It looks pretty good…no extraneous footers or headers and the type looks good (depending on the typeface you choose, since it’s entirely your choice.)

Whadda you think?

Code switching: A trivial post

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

You know about code switching, right?

  • How college students can use all sorts of strange abbreviations when texting and write grammatical, fully-spelled-out paragraphs for school.
  • How you probably speak differently to your 2-year-old child than you do to your 60-year-old boss…
  • Lots of other cases…

This trivial post will add nothing useful to that discussion. I’m just noting that code switching can be accidental and take you by surprise.

To wit, I was reading a quick weather-related FriendFeed note, addressed to the east coast people getting buried in snow, saying Vancouver sure could use some of that, a week before the Olympics, since it was “50” and sunny…

And I immediately thought: “Geez, how could it possibly be 50 in Vancouver in February? Maybe in Phoenix in July, but…”

Because my mind had automatically, given “Vancouver,” done the Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversion, given that Canada usually uses Celsius for temperatures. (9/5 + 32, one of the easiest formulas around–and yields 122Fahrenheit, essentially impossible for Vancouver in February unless the sun’s going nova.)

Then I looked at the message again and thought, “Oh, either written by a U.S. person or written for a U.S. audience–they’re using Fahrenheit.” 50F in Vancouver in February doesn’t seem at all unlikely. (It was apparently around 45F in Juneau at that point.)

Unconscious code-switching…I suspect lots of us do it in various areas. Usually, it works just great.

A funny thing happened on the way to modernity

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Silly me.

I subscribe to four reasonably active library-related lists (one that I should probably drop), and probably a few others that are so inactive I’ve forgotten I’m subscribed.

Two of those lists–Web4Lib and PUBLIB–are on a little Gmail group to which I send email copies of announcements for new issues of Cites & Insights. (I prepare the announcement in this blog, copy the HTML to the C&I Alert blog and to my “blog” in LISNews, then copy-and-paste the “visible version” to the email. The group currently has three members–these two lists and one individual.)

In recent days, there’s been some kerfuffle on Web4Lib about excessive announcements on that list, primarily those from one punctuation-happy multiblogger who mails to several lists–but I’ve had the sense of some unease about announcements-as-spam in general.

I’m also aware that “deathspotters” wrote off lists as dead years ago–and are now busily writing off email as dead. (OK, so some of them have written off blogs and RSS as dead as well, but at least those two are still recent fatalities. If you don’t have a clear sense of how I feel about the whole “death of…” thing, read the December 2009 EContent or pages 12-16 of the February 2010 Cites & Insights. Better yet, read the whole issue–it’s a good one.)

So, just to be helpful and “lively”…

So I sent a quick note to Web4Lib and PUBLIB saying I’d be helpful–I’d remove Web4Lib from the Gmail announcement group and probably remove PUBLIB as well. After all, there were three other ways people could be informed–and this blog alone has more than 800 subscriptions. (LISNews reaches everybody. Doesn’t it?)

Honestly, I was just trying to be helpful–to eliminate one minor source of “spam” at the possible cost of a few readers.

Not so fast…

I got feedback–some directly on the two lists, some via email. The feedback was consistent: Actually, so far, 100% unanimous: “Don’t.”

That is, don’t stop announcing issues on the lists. Lots of people don’t use RSS but do use lists, and may want to read C&I.

Admittedly, this is a biased sample. Those who are relieved to be rid of that one post a month (more or less) probably wouldn’t bother to say so, and those who aren’t aware of C&I or regard it as worthless trash probably wouldn’t take the time to respond.

I haven’t counted the number of responses. It’s definitely two digits, and that suggests that there may well be three digits worth of readers who benefit from the list announcements.

So I’ll keep them. That decision was made the same day–as I said, the response was quick.

(Will I keep doing C&I indefinitely? Who knows? A new sponsor sure wouldn’t hurt…nor would others joining the triad who’ve already given PayPal contributions for C&I. But that’s a different barrel of monkeys.)

EPub, First Attempt

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

So…being a sometimes-advocate of open and all that, and since Lulu now supports ePub, The Standard Ebook Format…

I thought I’d see whether using it makes any sense for the huge (513pp. 6×9, 191K words) collection of OA articles that may or may not emerge as Open Access and Libraries: Essays from Cites & Insights, 2001-2009.

The project itself is on the back burner for a few weeks while I see whether one possible way of getting an index pans out. Meanwhile, I could see what generating an ePub version was like.

The tools

Checking online and asking around, the only software I could find that matches the probable income from the ePub version–that is, $0–was Calibre, which is really an ebook organization (and viewing) program but also includes routines to convert to ePub from various input formats, including PDF and HTML.

The conversion routine is interesting, because it wants to know what reader the output will be used on. (There’s “default,” which may or may not be Kindle, but also a bunch of individual choices.)

  • I had this silly idea that ePub is a device-independent standard. If that’s true, then I don’t get the question.
  • More specifically, if I do an ePub version, it will most certainly be intended to be device-independent.

The trials

I decided to try this two ways, in both cases starting with a Word document that’s designed as a 6×9 book with good margins, using Berkeley Oldstyle Book for body text and Friz Quadrata for major headings, with “typical” page headers and footers (centered page # on first page of chapter, page # and book name in italics on other even-numbered pages, chapter name in italics and page # on other odd-numbered pages).

The PDF used for input was prepared using “Save as PDF,” which yields bookmarks and is really great for use on a PDF-supporting viewer. (Unfortunately, it appears to carry a phantom “Arial” that’s not embedded, which means it may not be possible to upload it to Lulu–which requires that all typefaces be embedded. If I “print to PDF” instead, I can set the PDF properties to embed everything, even Arial, but you don’t get bookmarks in that case. Irrelevant for a printed book, relevant for a PDF-download version.)

The HTML was prepared using Word “Save as filtered HTML,” which is the advice given by another service that does ePub conversion (but only to make the ePubs available through that service…not what I need).

  • PDF-to-ePub results (as opened in Calibre’s ebook viewer): The type looks great. There’s an optional contents band, but it doesn’t really work. Ebook page breaks are peculiar, and text breaks even more so. The page headers and footers show up in the stream (which becomes something like 1,200 pages from the original 519 including prefatory material).
  • HTML-to-ePub results (as opened in Calibre’s ebook viewer): Uggh… The type looks awful, very nearly unreadable, for reasons that escape me. There are no margins. (I think that’s true with the PDF-to-ePub as well.)  On the other hand, the table of contents pane (optional) works just fine–even if there’s an odd pagebreak before the first level-2 heading in each chapter. No extraneous running page headers or footers, and the Friz Quadrata headings are absolutely crisp. The 513-page book turns into 1,800-odd pages (or whatever).


At this point, I’d be a good deal more embarrassed to offer either variety of ePub than I already am by the semi-clunky HTML versions of Cites & Insights essays…which have odd margins but at least have clean typography and proper flow.

Maybe I’m missing something.

Update 5/9/10: Remainder of post removed as no longer relevant. Here’s what there is of an epub version, but I strongly recommend the free PDF or the $17.50 trade paperback at Lulu.

No offense or disrespect intended…

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

…but I’ve learned that, almost always, when someone begins a message (blog post, FriendFeed post, tweet, op-ed column, conversation, whatever) with that phrase, they’re about to say something offensive and disrespectful.

[Just a thought.]

No Index. Maybe No Book?

Monday, February 1st, 2010

When last I discussed the possibility of a book combining all 33 of the Open Access-related essays in Cites & Insights from 2001 through 2009 (plus one “disContent” column from EContent Magazine), the issue was whether it was worth doing an ePub version: Whether anybody would want it.

Now there’s a slightly different issue, one that may derail the effort entirely–and you’ll see what it is if you revisit the original post.

To wit:

  • It appears that I can’t really use Word2007’s built-in indexing feature, at least not with “Mark All.” I figured I could generate an index in 5-10 hours through that method–and, indeed, it takes about an hour to go through 50-60 pages.
  • Unfortunately, when I save the results after 50-60 pages and reopen the file, it’s unusable: The 519-page book has become 1200+ pages, with the bottom half of each page made up of a multiline, uneditable, page footer that seems to comprise several different page headers. (Hey, at least the first time this happened, it gave me another chance to see that my weekly incremental backups actually work–I could restore last week’s pre-indexed version neatly enough. Call that lemonade.)
  • As far as I can tell, it would take at least 50-60 hours for me to do an index separately. I can’t justify that “for the good of the community,” so that’s not going to happen.
  • So here’s where it stands: Depending on feedback between now and February 7, I’ll either:
  1. Make Open Access and Libraries: Essays from Cites & Insights 2001-2009 available as a free PDF and probably free ePub (unless that conversion turns out to be a hassle), and as a 6×9 paperback for $5 more than the cost of production (yielding $4 a copy for me)–but without an index.
  2. Scrap the whole project because it’s so awful to produce a nonfiction book without an index.

Just skimming through the vastness of the book (really: 191,000 words–it’s big), I find the chronological arrangement interesting and slightly useful. And, what the heck, if anybody out there cared, preparing an index would be a great project–I’d certainly mount it on my website if somebody did it.

Do it or dump it?

That’s what it boils down to. The Word version’s in place. All I need is a cover (not difficult) and to do the ePub conversion (and redo the PDF conversion) and upload to Lulu.


Status Update, February 2, 2009:

Two developments:

  1. An acquaintance with some indexing experience offered to try to index the thing–which requires working from a 2.8MB PDF (to retain pagination). Not sure that will work out: It’s a BIG effort for a wholly unpaid gig that may not be read by that many people… But I’m going to give him a few weeks and see what happens. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’s capable of doing a good job…
  2. I think I have a clue what’s causing Word to go berserk (but am not sure): Namely, I was using “Mark All” for terms that appear in one chapter’s running page head, and that may confuse Word beyond redemption. If #1 doesn’t work out, I might try again, avoiding that particular situation. Or I might not. As noted in the comments, there’s also the possibility of post-pub “crowdsourcing” an index.

In sum: The book isn’t going to appear in the next week or two, and probably not until March. I probably will make it available in ePub form (if Calibre does a good conversion), at the same $0 price if Lulu supports that. Meanwhile, off to other stuff!