Archive for May, 2010

A Special Welcome-Back Offer…

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

There it was, in today’s USMail, along with two more offers to inform me about my Medicare options (I’ve lost count of those mailings) and some junk mail.

An offer from Street Rodder–specifically, “A Special Welcome-Back Offer for Former Street Rodder Subscribers”

It’s a great deal, too–3 years (36 issues!) for $30.00.

And I get a free Street Rodder cap!

With every issue, I’ll get:

  • In-depth information on past and present trends
  • “How to” subjects ranging from beginner skills all the way to the talent levels of the master fabricator
  • Coverage of the hottest “must see” shows nationwide.

I’m impressed. Except for one thing:

To the best of my knowledge, I have never, ever, not once, subscribed to Street Rodder. In fact, I’m not really sure what it’s about (presumably some kind of car magazine, and I’ve never subscribed to any of them).

If the magazine was in any plausible way related to any other magazine I take (and I take quite a few), I could see this: “Maybe he’ll think he used to subscribe and he’ll start again.” But, unless you count car reviews in Consumer Reports, it’s not.

Turns out there is a bizarre link: The publishing company that publishes this magazine also publishes an audio magazine I subscribe to. That’s the only relationship I can think of. Notably, the Exclusive Online Price for Street Rodder at the general website is $25…per year, not for three years.

I think I’ll pass. Somehow, it’s never occurred to me to turn my 2001 Honda Civic into a street rod, whatever that might be…

dr? dc!

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Right up front: I’ve been guilty of this before and probably will be again.

As I was working on a Zeitgeist piece, I looked at a nicely-done 1,300-word essay. On a national newspaper website. About one aspect of social networking. With some interesting and slightly controversial things to say, some of them certainly open to argument.

The very first comment detailed the length of the essay–how many words, how many characters, how many sentences, average number of letters per word, length of longest sentence–and ended with a note suggesting that there was no content, or at least that the commenter hadn’t read it.

Understand: The commenter didn’t disagree with what was being said–the commenter was trashing the essay based on its length (apparently). Several other commenters offered variants of the old “tl; dr” brushoff–that is, “too long; didn’t read.” (I rarely see that on liblogs–maybe library folks actually have more than ten-second attention spans, or at least believe that “tl; dr” leaves one open to accusations of subliteracy.)

I’m not going to argue that people damn well should read longer essays. After all, 1,300 words is just a bit less than two pages of C&I, or three or four pages of a typical trade paperback, or one-third of a typical In the library post, or nine Friendfeed posts. If that’s so much text it makes your brain explode or your eyes hurt, who am I to argue.

dr? dc

But, well…

If you didn’t read the article or post, why are you commenting on it?

Equally, if you read the article or post and have nothing to say about the topic or the substance of the post or article… why comment on it?

Because you know the writer hangs on your every word so much that she will at least appreciate knowing you dropped by? Because you’re so damned important that you must respond? Because you’re a frustrated graffitist? Because you have no life?

I think all of usmany of us do this sort of thing–or equally vapid responses–once in a while. (Yes, that’s a preventive strikeout: I was about to commit a universalism, and I damn well should know better.)

It works both ways. I waste time on FriendFeed. (I also use FriendFeed, and maintain friendships on FriendFeed, and gain valuable insights on FriendFeed. And sometimes I waste time on FriendFeed–the activities aren’t mutually exclusive.) As many categories as I’ve hidden, as rarely as I Follow anybody new, I still see dozens of posts (mostly from Twitter, but not all) of the “what’ll I have for breakfast / I just had X for dinner / I just posted from Y” flavor, stuff that for me is almost exclusively in the “who cares?” category–just as some of my posts here fall into the “who cares?” category for some, maybe most, occasionally all readers.

I don’t believe I’ve ever found any reason to comment on a “what I had for breakfast” FF item by asking who cares or saying “don’t clutter up the feed with that crap” or anything of the sort. If I don’t care, why would I take the time to comment? (And, for that matter, if I don’t care, how does that imply that nobody else could possibly care?) I’m dead certain I’ve left equivalent responses on some posts and FF messages, however, and I’m sure I will in the future.

And I’ll be (trivially) wrong to do so.

As of that last period, this post contains 570 words. That’s probably too long for some of you–but I suspect that people who can’t handle 600, 800, or 6,000 words aren’t among my audience anyway.

By the way: I’m tagging this “Net Media”–but I no longer believe that term has much of any meaning, and I’m also doubtful about “Social Media.” That’s an essay I’ll be writing one of these days, probably in C&I. 636 words. My work here is done (645).

Industry Standard, RIP–again

Friday, May 21st, 2010

The Spring 2010 C&I essay “The Zeitgeist: hypePad and buzzkill” includes several notes taken from The Industry Standard–a site that I still had bookmarked, even if it was a pale shadow of the wonderful trade magazine The Industry Standard, which was great reading, fat, interesting…and overextended itself during the dotcom boom, going under as that boom went bust.

That pale shadow is now itself dead, as of a couple months ago (I don’t remember exactly when). It was absorbed into InfoWorld…sort of.

Sort of?

Yep. I had a number of items from The Industry Standard tagged in delicious, for use in future C&I essays. I probably still do. Today I wanted to use a couple of them for part of an Interesting & Peculiar Products essay.

The delicious link leads to InfoWorld. Not to the article.

Searching for the articles, by any keywords I could think of (e.g., those in the title), comes up empty.

I can’t swear the articles aren’t there…but they’re not findable. Which means they might as well not be there.

This is a shame. There was still some good coverage there. And, as far as I can tell, it’s just gone.

Fun with numbers

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Two odd items, both related to cost of living…sort of.

  • As noted in the set of movie impressions recently posted, Great Guy has as its hero a deputy chief inspector for a city’s bureau of weights and measures. I didn’t mention that the plot of the movie mostly relates to merchant fraud against consumers (and in one case billing fraud involving the city orphanage). As the hero is explaining the importance of the bureau and of resisting bribes, he says “half of people’s income goes to food,” or something along those lines. I thought, “Well, that was 1936, but damn, things have changed.” So I did a little checking. For very low income people in urban areas in the depression, that figure–more than 50% of income going to food–might be plausible. The average across the U.S. in 1930 was 24%, down from more than 40% in 1900 (these figures according to a Forbes report)–but a whole lot higher than the 8% reported for 2009. Taking another source, the USDA in a 1996 report, the overall average in 1996 was 14.1%–but for low-income households (those with household incomes between $5,000 and $19,999), it was 34%. And a more recent report from the USDA, dated 2004, gives a figure of 9.5% for urban households… So, basically, it’s fair to assume that most middle-class households probably spend 10% or less of income on food. And that is indeed a huge drop from 80 years ago, by any standards. (Not that all the reasons for that substantial drop are without negative consequences, but that’s a whole bunch of different posts.)
  • A column in Fortune, grumping about President Obama’s plans to raise various taxes, was particularly grumpy about the sense that he’s setting $250,000 a year and above as being affluent. The columnist whined about how that certainly wasn’t the case in Manhattan (and, of course, the cost of living in Manhattan should set the standards for what’s considered affluence everywhere, right?) So I did a little looking. Cost comparisons are really tricky–for example, one that I’ve looked at makes the assumption that a couple in Manhattan should live in a 2,500 square foot house to be middle-class, since that’s what they’d have in the Midwest. But even with those assumptions (which yield absurdly high housing prices in Manhattan), it appears that $250,000 in Manhattan is equivalent to $150,000 in Boston, $178,000 in San Jose or $130,000 in Chicago. Do I believe that $178,000 household income in San Jose should be considered affluent? Damn right I do. And, not to be unsympathetic to those poor folks forced to live in Manhattan on a mere $200,000 a year…you know, it’s apparently not much of a commute to drive those prices down by at least a third. People who work in San Jose do it all the time..and urban transit is a whole lot better around Manhattan than around San Jose.

Actually, it’s amusing reading some Fortune columnists, just as I’d probably find it amusing to read some Wall Street Journal or Forbes columnists. My heart really goes out to the New Yorkers struggling to make it on a mere quarter-million a year, and those bankers who were cruelly denied the extra $2 million bonus they were counting on last year. Life really is tough, isn’t it?

Questionable costs of mental-health days

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

I love last pages of magazines that are silly in one way or another, an honored tradition too often now absent. Fast Company is one of those that still honors the tradition–with the “Numerology” page. The April 2010 page was called “Under Pressure” and was about stress.

There are seven textual segments. One of the seven includes the following:

In Sweden, mental illness, including stress and anxiety, accounts for 41% of total sick pay, up from 15% in 1990. The nation has one of the world’s most generous sick-leave laws–workers can get up to 75% of their salary for years.

One in four Americans admits to having taken a “mental-health day” to cope with stress. This costs employers $602 per worker per year.

I’m not going to comment on the Swedish situation.

As to the second one, however, I question the item–indeed, my immediate response has to do with bovine excrement.

Oh, not the first sentence–if anything, I’m surprised that it’s that low. (Is that one in four American workers in jobs that have sick leave, or one in four Americans overall?)

What I question: “This costs employers $602 per worker per year.”


I would bet that, for most employees to take a mental health day when they really need one, those days save the employers real money, particularly if you include productivity (including efficiency and effectiveness for white-collar workers).

I’m guessing that one mental health day totally away from the office and its stresses can easily replace oh, a week or more of half-efficiency days at work–or, for that matter, help fend off real stress-related sickness that results in much more lost time.

It’s like the old (and not so old) figures as to how many billions of dollars of wages were (are) “lost” to people checking social networks at work, or having non-work conversations at the water cooler, or doing anything other than slaving away every single minute from the time you clock in (you do clock in, right) until the time you clock out.

If employees are machines with flesh, then maybe those numbers make sense. If employees are people, they don’t.

And Fast Company, more than most business-related magazines, should know better.

Mystery Collection Disc 12

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Midnight Manhunt, 1945, b&w. William C. Thomas (dir.), William Gargan, Ann Savage, Leo Gorcey, George Zucco, Pauil Hurst, Don Beddoe, Charles Halton, George E. Stone. 1:04 [1:02].

Let’s see…villain (Zucco) enters victim’s hotel room, shoots victim (Stone) (who’s recognized him), removes wallet full of diamonds. Victim, not quite dead yet, staggers to door of room. Next, we’re in the Last Gangster Wax Museum (really!), which somehow has a cop manning a desk in the office—and a tired, would-be retired, proprietor who’s taken in $20 after standing all day. His worker is the ever-annoying Leo Gorcey, replete with malapropisms and an unlightable cigar. There’s also a somewhat disgraced female reporter who lives upstairs from the pathetic museum and her ex-boyfriend, another reporter who also shoots craps with loaded dice.

The plot? Joe Wells, assumed dead for several years, is dead but not for five years—he’s the victim, and he expires on the stairwell to the reporter’s apartment. From there, he keeps appearing and disappearing—on exhibit and in one or another car as villain, reporters, police all wander around looking for him and making wisecracks. None of it seems to make much sense or matter much. This is an odd trifle—I guess it’s a comic mystery, but there’s no mystery and precious little comedy—that seemed overlong at an hour. For fans of Leo Gorcey or Ann Savage, it might be worth $0.75.

Murder by Television, 1935, b&w. Clifford Sanforth (dir.), Bela Lugosi, June Collyer, Huntley Gordon, George Meeker, Henry Mowbray, Charles Hill Mailes, Hattie McDaniel, Allen Jung. 0:53 [IMDB and actual runtime, but sleeve says 1:00]

Experimental subjects are forced to watch “reality” TV until they rip their own heads off in despair. Well, no…but the real plot’s even stranger. During the experimental years of TV, one experimenter has designs years ahead of everybody else—and not only won’t he sell out for several million dollars, he hasn’t even patented the stuff. He arranges The Big Demonstration, at his laboratory in a house full of guests (all in formal dress). It’s impressive: He can cover the whole U.S. from a single broadcast station, the enormous piece of equipment—seemingly a single camera—cuts to different angles as though it was a three-camera setup. Oh, and there’s another twist: He can dial in views from anywhere on earth—apparently, this TV doesn’t really require a camera.

But he also keels over midway through this phenomenal (and, dare I say, wholly implausible) demonstration. Thus starts the mystery—which is an odd mix of slow and fast, with vignette scenes, a police inspector who seems to accept that a “brain scan” unit absolutely identifies whether somebody has a criminal mind or not (and, if not, of course they must be innocent), some clown who keeps trying to get in the house on important business (comic relief, I suppose) and some star turns by Hattie McDaniels of Gone with the Wind fame (but that was four years later). Oh, and Bela Lugosi…well, to explain his role would involve plot spoilers.

But between the print—with just enough missing spots to obscure some important dialogue—and the bizarre staging, it really doesn’t hang together very well. The acting is…well, there really isn’t any to speak of. As generous as I might want to be, I can’t give it more than $0.75.

The Moonstone, 1934, b&w. Reginald Barker (dir.), David Manners, Phyllis Barry, Gustav von Seyffertitz, James Thomas, Herbert Bunston, Charles Irwin, Elspeth Dudgeon, John Davidson. 1:02 [0:46]

Clearly, I need to read the Wilkie Collins book itself—since what there is to this movie doesn’t amount to much. We open with Inspector Cuff called in by his superior at Scotland Yard and told to go to a remote mansion because the Moonstone (a fabulous yellow diamond with, possibly, a curse on it) is going to be delivered there and it will be a target for thieves.

Then we cut to the mansion, where we have a doctor who seems to be mostly a befuddled scientist incapable of paying his bills, another doctor who isn’t who he seems, a daughter who’s extremely willful, a friend of the daughter who wants to have her for his own (but her fiancée is about to arrive—he’s the one bringing the Moonstone along with a Hindu servant who speaks flawless, unaccented English), a smart-talking housekeeper, a maid who’s also not who she seems to be…and a money-lender who’s about to foreclose on the mansion.

Moonstone arrives, in the midst of a terrible storm that forces the money-lender to stay overnight. Lights go out, Moonstone disappears, Moonstone reappears, people go to bed, Moonstone disappears, Cuff asks lots of questions…and eventually The Mystery is Solved.

Well, except that the sleeve copy says “the thief resorts to murder and assault to cover their tracks”—which might have happened in the full B flick, but not on this substantially shorter version, one almost totally free of violence. I don’t really know what to make of this: Some dialogue is missing, the acting is peculiar, it’s remarkably slow-moving for something no longer than a TV episode and it doesn’t seem to amount to much. $0.50.

Great Guy, 1936, b&w. John G. Blystone (dir.), James Cagney, Mae Clarke, James Burke, Edward Brophy, Henry Koller, Bernadene Hayes, Edward McNamara, Robert Gleckler, Joe Sawyer. 1:15 [1:06]

The chief of the Department of Weights and Measures winds up in the hospital because of an “accident”—and appoints former boxer Johnny Cave (Cagney) as his chief deputy inspector, in charge while he’s hospitalized. Cave, tough as nails and twice as honest, won’t touch the ready bribes—and is convinced his girlfriend’s boss is a crook. One thing leads to another; with the help of apparently-honest and incorruptible police, the good guy wins.

The best thing this flick has going for it is Cagney. Even with a few minutes missing and some clipped dialogue, he does a fine job, making a fairly ordinary picture entirely watchable. It’s flawed, but it’s good. On balance, I’ll give it $1.25.

View/Download Counts for Open Access and Libraries

Monday, May 17th, 2010

When I announced the trade paperback version of Open Access and Libraries, and the free final PDF version available from Lulu, I didn’t provide any information on how often the various preview versions had been viewed or downloaded…because of a temporary reporting problem.

That problem’s been solved, and here are the numbers, for what they’re worth:

  • The “html epub” version was viewed/downloaded 304 times.
  • The “rtf epub” version was viewed/downloaded 78 times.
  • The draft PDF version was downloaded 155 times
  • So far, the final epub version has been viewed/downloaded 60 times
  • Two copies of the trade paperback have been purchased so far, but one of those was mine.
  • I have no way of knowing how many people have downloaded the final PDF version, apparently: either Lulu doesn’t report free downloads as sales, or there haven’t been any.

No attempt to draw conclusions. Should there be?

Time for a tract?

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Just a little post about a wrong word choice that seems ever more omnipresent in journalism–and it may be one where the reporters and editors (and proofreaders, if newspapers still have such functions) are more at fault than the people being quoted.

Track housing.

I suppose there might be such a thing as track housing:

  • Housing built adjacent to a track, just as there’s golf-course housing.
  • A house with a track around it? Or a house that has a track inside it?
  • Perhaps a house in which runners change clothes before going out to the track?

But I’m guessing that, oh, 99.99% of the time “track house” or “track housing” appears in print, what’s meant is…

Tract housing

Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of “tract house”:

Any of many similarly designed houses built on a tract of land.

You know: Shady Acres, Magnolia Pines, all those named (and nameless) developments where the houses either look alike or can be recognized as permutations of the same two or three floor plans. The developer purchases a tract of land–“a defined area of land” (boy, there’s a thrilling definition)–and builds tract houses on it. (At one extreme, cue Malvina Reynolds’ love song for Daly City: “Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky…and they all look just the same.” And yes, I love Tom Lehrer’s line, as quoted in a pretty good Wikipedia entry on the song, that it’s “the most sanctimonious song ever written.”)

Is this so difficult?

I suppose it is if a reporter (or editor) has no idea what a tract of land is and somehow thinks that “houses built along the same tracks” (I’m stretching here) may be “track housing.”

Mostly, though, I suspect it’s just plain ignorance.

I should note that I don’t deride tract housing. Our neighborhood in Mountain View consisted primarily of minor variations on two or three house designs (so, for example, before they remodeled it, our next-door neighbor’s house was an exact mirror image of ours). They were and are good houses; we liked our house a lot.

Followup, later that day, which most folks may not see: Steve Lawson commented (on FriendFeed) that he gets a lot of “tact” for “tack” at his place of work. That’s another one–rarely the reverse (“he showed a distinct lack of tack”) but way, way too often the misuse of “tact” when “tack” is meant, primarily “time to take a different tact” or the like.

As I noted there, if you really wanted to reach, you could suggest that people think of “tact” as short for “tactic”–but that’s reaching way too far. More likely people know nothing about sailing and have never really heard of “tack” except as a kind of pin or nail with a broad head, and they know that’s not what they mean.

If you’ve seen a sailing vessel tack (or “take a different tack”)–turning into the wind–it’s quite a lovely sight.

Three miniposts

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Three items not really worth full posts–two book-related, one DVD-related:

La misma luna

Last Saturday, our weekly movie night, we watched La misma luna or “Under the Same Moon.” Unless you’re familiar with Mexican cinema, the only actor you’re likely to recognize is America Ferrera, and she’s only in it for about five minutes.

The plot, basically: A young mother is working in LA to send money to her son…in Mexico, staying with his grandmother…to make his life better. She’s undocumented. They talk once a week, when she calls him, always from the same pay phone to the same pay phone (she describes the corner at which the pay phone stands)–and they’re both “under the same moon” even though they’re in different countries.

Grandmother dies, son can’t stand being apart from mother, takes action to fix it. He’s nine years old.

I won’t say more than that. It’s excellent–well made, well acted. It’s also subtitled (not unreasonably), including the “making of” featurette (except when Ferrera is speaking). The only language option is Spanish. That’s only reasonable. We enjoyed it very much. No, I didn’t regard it as political propaganda, but then I don’t view the world as being entirely political statements.

Reservation Blues

On my long-term semi-random walk through the fiction available at Livermore Public Library (each time I go, I get three books: One nonfiction but with a narrative arc; one genre fiction, alternating between mystery and science fiction, and one fiction that’s not in a genre section and looks interesting), I picked up Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie–who I’d heard of but never read.

I can’t say I read it in a single sitting. I can say that, if the rest of life had allowed, I might have done so–and I did read it in two days, which is highly unusual.

Don’t know whether I’d recommend it to others, but I was pleasantly surprised. (OK, so the rest of you, being more up on important literature than I am, have already read this–after all, it’s been out for fifteen years, it won an American Book Award, etc., etc.. What can I say? I’m a couple of decades behind on most book reading.)

Anyway, on the off chance that you haven’t read it…you might enjoy it.

Open Access and Libraries

Going from the sublime to the…well, anyway, I just received my own copy of Open Access and Libraries: Essays from Cites & Insights, 2001-2009. (USPS for the win, as usual: Three days for MediaMail from North Carolina to Livermore.)

I gotta say, the cover is even brighter in real life than on the screen (go down a few posts to see the screen version, or click on the link above for that matter). It is, of course, my tribute to the two primary flavors of open access and some of the many shades of those flavors.

It’s also a thick book (191,000 words in 519 pages): the thickest I’ve done via Lulu, although not actually either the thickest book I’ve published or the one with the most pages. (Desktop Publishing for Librarians, published in 1990 by G.K. Hall, is about 0.05″ thicker as a page block–that is, exclusive of hardcover–even though it’s only 420 pages; The Online Catalog Book: Essays and Examples, published in 1992 by G.K. Hall, is 560 pages and 8.5×11 rather than 6×9, but it’s a little thinner, printed on lighter-weight paper. Hmm. As with this book, I did the typography for both of those.)

Is it a “good” book or a “worthwhile” book? I can’t say. I know the price is right if you want PDF: $0.

Cites & Insights June 2010 now available

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Cites & Insights 10:7 (June 2010) is now available.

The 34-page issue is, as usual, PDF; each essay is also available as an HTML separate

(just click on the links, or use the highly sophisticated notational scheme,, where N is the volume (10), M is the issue (7), and x is a lower-case letter indicating the article, starting with a, then b, then c…)

What’s Here

Bibs & Blather…pp. 1-3

Announcing the new book Open Access and Libraries: Essays from Cites & Insights, 2001-2009, a 519-page 6×9 book combining all OA-related essays from C&I–free as a PDF, minimally priced ($17.50) as a trade paperback. Also a note on ALA and my rehearsals for [semi-?]retirement.

The Zeitgeist: There is No Future…pp. 3-19

You could think of this as a Making it Work Perspective on library futures, if you prefer–focusing on exclusionary vs. inclusionary thinking (OR vs. AND), The Future vs. many futures…and more.

Feedback and Following Up…pp. 19-20

Finally (and probably having missed some feedback), a little feedback–three items in all.

Copyright Currents: Catching Up with the RIAA…pp. 20-27

Yes, the RIAA says they’ve wound down their vastly offensive campaign of suing 30,000+ file-sharers for a few thousand bucks each–and, during that process, exactly two cases have gone to jury trial. Guess what? So far, the RIAA’s batting 1000 in those cases. This piece brings us up to date on the longest-running case (Jammie Thomas, now Jammie Thomas-Rassset)–and ads notes on the other one, Joel Tenenbaum, where a defense lawyer’s novel interpretation of fair use was so convincing that the judge ordered a directed verdict…in favor of the plaintiff.

Offtopic Perspective: Spaghetti Westerns…pp. 27-34

That’s the name of the five-disc set containing 20 movies covered in this set of offhand impressions (although in 2.5 cases I refer back to an earlier impression). For a few of you on FriendFeed, inclusion of this piece also means I don’t plan to do a special “summer silliness” issue–and will integrate my odd digital media archaeology project, if and when, into regular issues of C&I.

Sponsorship and Support

This is the penultimate issue sponsored by the Library Society of the World. Chances are, the final such issue (July 2010) will appear before the 2010 ALA Annual Conference (although that’s not guaranteed).

After that, I’m in need of sponsorship or, failing that, direct support. If you regard C&I as worthwhile, one way to show that is to provide some support: The PayPal link is right on the C&I home page.