Archive for May, 2010

Computer Basics for Librarians and Information Scientists

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Catherine Pellegrino at Saint Mary’s College Library (in Notre Dame, Indiana) was weeding QA76 and weeded this book. She noted that on FriendFeed; I said “Might be interesting to read that book as early library automation history” and she sent it to me.

I finally got around to reading it. Well, reading part of it, skimming the rest. It’s from 1981. It’s by Howard Fosdick. It really doesn’t say much about library automation; it’s mostly a consideration of very basic aspects of computers–things that I really wouldn’t have thought most librarians needed to understand even in 1981. (Such as, for example, whether a language compiler is part of systems software and exactly how long it takes to read a record from a 1600bpi tape.)

And, after skimming it, I wondered: Was it really as primitive in 1981 as it seems, based on this book?

I was there

Not only was on involved in library automation in 1981, I’d already been involved in it for more than a decade. At that point, I’d been at RLG for two years; my possibly-flawed recollection is that by 1981 I’d just about finished (or fully finished) the design and programming of the product batch system supporting RLIN II, RLG’s full-fledged cataloging network system (based on SPIRES).

It strikes me that, by 1981, I didn’t really have to worry about whether or not I could use PL/I because it took a full 164K of RAM, where some less powerful languages only needed 120K. I know for sure I still spent a lot of time at that point optimizing program operation–but not, I think, at the levels suggested in this book.

OK, that’s probably not fair. RLG, and UC Berkeley before it, had much stronger computing environments than most libraries would have access to. Still…I developed the first working version of the Serials Key Word System in 1973, eight years before 1981, in PL/I (and wrote about it in my first published article, in the March 1976 Journal of Library Automation). And, you know, that Serials Key Word System used full MARC II as an input format.

Were computers still using core memory in 1981? I suppose it’s possible for mainframes; I’m certain the Datapoint multiterminal data entry system (based on a Z80 CPU with 128K RAM, developed in the mid-1970s; I wrote the time-sharing environment, but based on a highly sophisticated OS with direct database support built in) didn’t use core memory!

Not missing the good old days

Admittedly, I remember 1981 as being a little more advanced than this book seems to portray (although the author does view PL/I as the best language for library automation, which I’m pretty certain was true for the time). But that doesn’t mean I remember it with a lot of fondness.

Yes, it’s “wasteful” in some ways that today’s PCs spend 1GB+ of RAM just on the operating system–and probably most CPU cycles as well. But isn’t it wonderful that RAM and CPU power are both so cheap that we can afford to be “wasteful”? I’m guessing the 2-year-old, low-priced notebook I’m using to write this is sitting mostly idle (just opened Task Manager–yep, CPU usage is running 2% to 5% as I write this, occasionally spiking higher). And that’s fine with me. It means I can edit in high-res proportional type instead of 5×7-matrix fixed characters on an 80×25 green-on-black (or, if you’re lucky, amber-on-black) screen–and use about 1/3 the power for my whole two-screen system that the old CRT terminal used all by itself. All that waste CPU power is saving me time: Whoopee.

That Intel core 2 duo CPU in my notebook is a little underpowered by 2010 standards–only two threads and a mere 1.66GHz. By 1981 standards? Were there any mainframes with that much computing power?

And, if you really want silly-season numbers, the 1981 book devotes an appendix to the IBM 3330 Reference Card. That’s a disk drive, hot stuff for its day. The 3336 Model II disk pack had a total capacity of 200 million characters (200 megabytes). I know the drive itself was huge; I don’t know how much a pack cost, but I’m guessing it wasn’t cheap.

I also remember much later, when RLG needed to add a terabyte of disk storage (probably in the late 1990s). That procurement process was a big and expensive deal–but who could imagine adding a terabyte of disk storage to a library automation facility in 1981?

Now? I could go pick up a 2TB disk drive for about $180 if I had use for one. It would fit neatly next to my notebook. (I could probably get it cheaper than that by mail order.) Two terabytes. That’s how many 3336 Model II disk packs? Ten thousand of them, by my calculations.

Free lunch

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Yes, I read Heinlein decades ago, including The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. He didn’t coin TANSTAAFL, but that novel certainly publicized it.

TANSTAAFL? There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Digression The First: As is so frequently the case with Wikipedia these days, the discussion on the article you wind up at–linked from TANSTAAFL, which apparently doesn’t meet Sacred Wikipedia Article Naming Conventions–is considerably more interesting than the article itself. Particularly when “Chuck” keeps arguing that “ain’t no” is a double negative and, thus, that TANSTAAFL means there is such a thing as a free lunch. End of Digression the First.

But That’s Silly

Yes, I understand the context Heinlein used, as part of the libertarian undercurrent running through much of his work: A saloon that provides free lunch when you buy a drink is likely to charge more for the drinks than one that doesn’t.


  • Later this week, probably, I’ll buy one of Safeway’s excellent special sandwiches, hand the checker a coupon, and walk out paying not a cent for lunch. Then, after paying for six sandwiches, I’ll do the same thing in a few weeks. (The ongoing promotion says “buy seven, get one free”–but, in fact, the one that you get free counts as a purchase, so after that it’s really pay for six, get one free.) Yes, it’s a loyalty program; no, the sandwiches don’t cost any more than sandwiches of equivalent quality I buy elsewhere. If they did, I wouldn’t buy them.
  • We find that Marco’s pizza is better than any other chain pizza we’ve had, and have it for dinner roughly every other Saturday night. Three Saturdays from now (I think), I’ll walk into Marco’s and hand them a little card with six holes punched in it instead of the $17.50 I’d normally pay for a pizza. Since a medium pizza leaves enough left over for my Sunday lunch, I will indeed have a free lunch on Sunday…and we’ll both have a free dinner on Saturday. Yes, it’s another loyalty program; I think the pizza is fairly priced for its quality.
  • “But you’re indirectly paying for those loyalty programs, so, you know, TANSTAAFL.” Maybe–if you can show me that I would get comparable quality for a lower cost (at a business that I’m willing to deal with) elsewhere. If not, then the lunch really is effectively free: I’m getting it for no added cost.
  • Let’s take a more extreme case, back from Mountain View days. Pick Up Stix (a chain of “fresh Asian” restaurants, where almost everything’s prepared in woks when you order it) had just opened a new location and sent out cards to neighborhood houses offering a free entree. No gotchas, no “buy one, get one free,” no nothing–just hand them the card and walk out with what turned out to be a pretty good meal. The restaurant did the same thing a few months later. Those free meals were essentially a form of advertising, so somebody paid for them–but I’d be hard pressed to show that the restaurant would or could charge significantly lower prices if it didn’t do advertising. After all, many people probably returned to pay for meals after getting the freebies.

Yes, There are Lots of Other Cases

OK, I know about such “free lunches” as–

  • Free meals that come with investment or retirement lectures, where you’re paying for the meal with your time and quite probably hard-sell marketing. Never signed up for one, never plan to.
  • Free vacations that require only a mere 90-minute marketing session on time-share vacations. Ditto: Never signed up for one, never plan to.
  • “Free drinks” on most ultra-luxury cruise lines and “free shore excursions” and “free airfare” on Regent Seven Seas, where “free” really means included and, for non-heavy-drinkers, the difference in fare may be significantly more than the inclusions are worth.

I’d rather see the third case, and many others like it, listed as “inclusive” rather than “free”–and, in fact, luxury cruise lines tend toward “inclusive,” just as all-inclusive vacation resorts do. In practice, actually, for some lines “free air fare” is an interesting way of handling discounts–the offer’s usually time-limited, but they don’t call it a discount as such.

TANSTAAFL and Win-Win Economics

Yes, I know, I’m being a literalist. Those who use TANSTAAFL don’t literally mean there’s never a free lunch (or maybe they do)–they mean that every form of refuge has its price, that we live in a closed universe, that there must be some form of cost or payment somewhere.

What I find a little too often–and why I’m writing this post (other than procrastinating on something else)–is that various forms of TANSTAAFL are used to argue zero-sum economics. I don’t buy that all or even most transactions must or should be zero-sum games, where A only “wins” because B “loses”: Where the lunch is only free because the business is overcharging, and in the end overcharging by more than the worth of the lunch.

I believe in win-win economics–not always, but often. In win-win economics, A and B make deals that are mutually beneficial: The benefits to each party outweigh the costs. Loyalty programs can work that way. Ideally, public libraries represent win-win economics: The cost to the community to prepay for library services through taxes is more than made up for by the benefits to individuals and to the community as a whole from library services. Benefit to the community as a whole is one reason that some people support public libraries that they don’t use–they recognize that a good library makes their town or city a better place to live. (The same can be said for parks and other non-emergency community services.)

I don’t have some stirring conclusion to wrap this all up. Hey, it’s Monday: Don’t expect miracles.

Open Access and Libraries: Now available as print & ebook

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Open Access and Libraries, front cover

I’m pleased to announce that Open Access and Libraries: Essays from Cites & Insights, 2001-2009 is now available via Lulu.

The 519-page book is available as a free PDF download or as a 6×9 trade paperback for $17.50. (If you’re wondering, I get $2.10 of that $17.50. For every three print copies published, I can buy lunch…)

I’d like to think that the cover treatment is obvious for anyone who knows much about OA. I could be wrong.

Why this book?

In short:

  • I’ve stopped writing about open access within Cites & Insights for a number of reasons.
  • When I asked a couple of knowledgeable people–specifically Peter Suber–whether a collection of those essays might have some minimal value, the answer was Yes.

From the time I made the draft PDF and some different trial ePub versions available (through April 26, for reasons that aren’t relevant here), the PDF has been downloaded 123 times and the epub versions have been viewed/downloaded anywhere from 71 to 290 times each. So, even with lots of ebook-oriented folks looking at those versions just for fun, I conclude that a few dozen people find enough value in this to download it.

In long–here’s the introduction to the book:

This book brings together articles (and, in a few cases, sections of articles) on open access and other aspects of library access to scholarship that appeared in Cites & Insights (

Articles appear exactly as they did in the original journal, modified only to fit the book’s page size and typography. No updates or corrections have been made (except for one or two typographical errors. Articles appear in strict chronological order. There is no additional commentary.

This book appears only for the record. It is not a comprehensive overview of OA during the first decade of the new millennium, and it is not even a comprehensive view of what Walt Crawford thinks about OA. It is what it is: A record of what I published about OA during that decade, quite possibly omitting some short pieces.

The first C&I article related to OA, before that name was well established in the field, appeared in May 2001. (At the time, the term was FOS—Free Online Scholarship.) The last, as I was concluding that I was no longer able to value to OA-related discussions, appeared in November 2009. Quite a few appeared during those nine years. I’ve also included one “disContent” column from EContent that’s directly on topic (that column appears as submitted, not necessarily exactly as published).

It’s possible, even likely, that some OA-related commentary within Cites & Insights doesn’t appear here—for example, predictions from Peter Suber and others would have appeared in larger Trends & Quick Takes articles, not picked up for this compilation.

Thanks to Peter Suber for agreeing that this might be a worthwhile compilation.

But There’s No Index!

For which I apologize. I had planned to include a partial index—including people, journals, article titles, but probably not topics—using Word’s indexing facilities.

It was not to be. Perhaps it’s the sheer length of this book; perhaps it’s the number of sections. Maybe there’s some obscure bug in Word2007.

Whatever the case, whenever I go beyond the first 60 pages or so, using “Mark All” and “Mark” as appropriate to flag index points (hey, Peter Suber’s name appears a few dozen times!), then save the result, then open that result…well, the result is chaos. Last time, the 519-page book suddenly turned into 1,290 pages, with multiple lines of headers from various chapters making up a huge and unchangeable page footer on each page.

If this was a project expected to yield significant income, I might prepare a separate index document—but for a book this long, that would take scores of hours. I honestly can’t justify the time for a book that’s being given away in electronic form and sold for barely more than the cost of production in print form.

If this book is useful, maybe some reader will generate an index. If not, well, again, my apologies.

Actually, I have a pretty good idea what was causing the autoindex blowups (it was a bug, but between my ears more than within the software)–but the fix would make indexing more effort than I could justify. (It has to do with indexed terms appearing within page headings…)

What’s Here?

Here’s the table of contents–noting that articles appear in strictly chronological order.

Introduction. 1

Getting Past the Arc of Enthusiasm.. 3

Scholarly Journals and Grand Solutions. 23

The Access Puzzle: Notes on Scholarly Communication. 34

The Access Puzzle (January 2003) 50

Scholarly Article Access (Formerly The Access Puzzle) 58

Open-Access Journals. 64

Sabo, SOAF, SOAN and More. 70

Getting That Article: Good News. 89

Scholarly Article Access (November 2003) 92

Scholarly Article Access (January 2004) 102

Tipping Point for the Big Deal?. 113

Library Access to Scholarship. 121

Library Access to Scholarship (June 2004) 131

The Empire Strikes Back. 140

Library Access to Scholarship (September 2004) 167

Library Access to Scholarship (November 2004) 193

Library Access to Scholarship (January 2005) 210

Library Access to Scholarship (March 2005) 221

Library Access to Scholarship (June 2005) 233

Library Access to Scholarship (November 2005) 248

Library Access to Scholarship (May 2006) 261

Thinking About Libraries and Access. 279

Pioneer OA Journals: The Arc of Enthusiasm, Five Years Later 285

Pioneer OA Journals: Preliminary Additions from DOAJ 296

Library Access to Scholarship (December 2006) 313

Open Access and Rhetorical Excess. 334

Library Access to Scholarship (July 2007) 355

PRISM: Enough Rope?. 366

Harvard & Institutional Repositories. 382

Signs Along the Way. 399

OA Controversies. 408

The Death of Journals (Film at 11) 430

Library Access to Scholarship (November 2009) 443

Closing Notes

It’s a 6×9 trade paperback because single-column serif text set on a 4″ line is just about optimal for reading long text…there’s a reason most text-oriented books (other than mass-market paperbacks, which squeeze every word possible onto each page) are 6×9 or thereabouts.

Yes, you can download the PDF and print it out, and maybe save a couple of bucks (if you can print 519 pages for less than $17.50). You won’t get the cover, and I’m afraid you’d be wasting a lot of paper on a typical 8.5×11″ printer–but it’s your choice. The paperback version is there as a convenience; I obviously don’t plan to get rich off $2.10 times an anticipated sale of one to ten print copies. Especially since I bought one copy for my own records–and that wipes out the profit on the first seven sales.

The typeface is Berkeley Oldstyle Book, which is still my preferred text face for books (and was the C&I typeface for several years).

Oh…about the ePub version:

  1. I never did find a truly satisfactory conversion that didn’t cost money.
  2. Lulu seems to have offed a lot of their FAQs in favor of articles that are harder to make my way through, and at this point I don’t quite understand how I’d attach an ePub version to the project.

Therefore, until further notice, I’ll leave the most recent ePub version available from this post; just click on the link. Other versions will disappear as I get around to it.

New comment policy effective immediately

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

OK, that’s it–four offensive comments attached to three posts, none of the comments done in a way that gets caught automatically. In all cases, signed with a name or pseudonym that has no meaning to me.


Here’s the new policy, with the big changes first:

  • Patently offensive posts will be followed with replies that (a) include the email signature, and (b) as much as I can, identify the owner of the IP address. So, you know, if you’re sending obnoxious messages from, oh, say, an international law firm with headquarters in New York and London, I’ll be only too happy to say “This offensive message came from the IP #, which according to WHOIS is owned by XX law firm.”
  • I’m the judge of what’s patently offensive.
  • “Patently offensive” does not have anything to do with whether you agree with me or not. I love a good discussion and even disagreement. None of these posts fell into that category.
  • Pseudonymous posts and those from imaginary names and email addresses are treated more roughly than signed posts.
  • If this doesn’t solve the problem, I’ll proceed to turning on moderation completely–so no comments are posted until I approve them. I’d rather not do that.

I’m sure you know who you are. I didn’t save the previous offensive messages, so don’t know whether it’s the same IP address in all cases (but wouldn’t be surprised).

Don’t like my blog? Fine. Go away. Write your own damn blog. Your oh-so-humorous “senior” comments aren’t that funny and are that annoying. Nobody is forcing you to read my stuff, and I’m explicitly encouraging you not to. I’m sure somebody who works in an international law firm has other means of amusement.

Open Access and Libraries: Penultimate Post

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

A couple of months ago, I wrote three posts about a possible new book–and a possible ePub version of that book.

The February 4, 2010 post identified two attempts at an ePub version. I later added a third attempt and made the full “draft” PDF available.

I wasn’t particularly happy with any of the ePub versions, all created by Calibre (and viewed in Calibre’s version of an ePub ereader).

Nothing more happened with the book itself because I was hoping a volunteer would come through on producing an index–given that I’m giving this one (a collection of Open Access essays from Cites & Insights) away, except for maybe a buck or so “profit” on the paperback version, I couldn’t see spending a lot of time on an index.

That didn’t happen–the volunteer had better uses for their time.

Where Things Stand Now

I’m getting ready to go ahead with the book, Open Access and Libraries: Essays from Cites & Insights, 2001-2009. It won’t have an index. It won’t have textual corrections. It will be a proper 6×9 trade paperback, table of contents and all, running 519 pages (not all numbered)–a fairly fat book. The cover is going to be very simple, I suspect (I had a great idea having to do with primary OA terminology, but my 10-year-old graphics program isn’t cooperating, so…).

My current plan is to do the work on Thursday, May 6, and announce the book that day or the next. As usual, it will be available through Lulu.

Meanwhile, I tried something that seemed likely to generate a better ePub version–I took a copy of the Word document (the whole book), eliminated hyphenation and justification, stripped out page headers and footers (or, rather, left them all blank), saved as PDF, and converted to ePub.

Here’s that version. If you have an ereader that handles ePub, you might give it a try. Through the Calibre pseudo-ereader, I don’t think it’s any better than the others and maybe not as good–all the headings seem to be converted to standard body type, the links in the table of contents don’t work, and you still get lots of false paragraph breaks at page breaks. But maybe I’m missing something.

Update 5/9/10: Remainder of post removed as no longer relevant. The free PDF and $17.50 paperback versions are now available from Lulu.

If you have reactions, I need them by 10 a.m.  (PDF) Thursday, May 6, 2010.

GPR6: A little egoboo at just the right time

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

I was looking at a liblog I hadn’t heard of before, and happened to glance up at the GPR flag (it’s on my Firefox navigation bar, useful for certain things)… which is irrelevant except for the side-effect:

For the first time in a few months, I went to this blog as a regular reader (that is, not through my administrator’s door) and, after that, to Cites & Insights.

And found that both of them have Google Page Rank 6.

Which ain’t no big deal, actually–of the 521 liblogs in But Still They Blog, when I checked GPRs in August 2009, 90 (17%) had GPR 6 and 19 (3.6%) had even higher Google Page Ranks (18 had GPR 7; one had GPR 8)–but, well, it was nice to see a rise in visibility (I find “importance” too silly to use for GPR).

If you’re wondering, here’s the breakdown of GPRs for liblogs in August 2009–noting that I used GPR 4 in either late 2008 or mid-2009 as a criterion for newer liblogs for inclusion in the book:

  • Google Page Rank 3 or lower: 47
  • Google Page Rank 4: 196
  • Google Page Rank 5: 169
  • Google Page Rank 6: 90
  • Google Page Rank 7: 18
  • Google Page Rank 8: One–and it’s probably not the one you think it is.

As for Cites & Insights, that had risen (slowly) to a Google Page Rank of 6 (and maybe 7 at one point, although I could be wrong about that) while it was at its earlier site. Moving to its own domain, while absolutely necessary and a Very Good Thing in the long run, automatically broke a bunch of links and caused the GPR to plummet–that’s a given.

Last time I checked on either–it’s not something I look at very often (my ego does know some bounds)–both were at GPR 5.

The timing is nice because, well, I’ve been ruminating about the “semi-” part of being “semi-retired” and how hard I should try to keep that “semi-” part. And whether full retirement might mean retiring some of my writing activity.

I’ll keep ruminating, doing some of it in public, no doubt, but this slight rise in visibility is nice, particularly coming at this point. My mantra used to be “I’ll keep writing this stuff as long as people want to keep reading it.” It’s not that simple at this point, but apparent interested, voluntary readership is certainly part of what makes doing this stuff worthwhile.

For those who feel posts need to be substantive and significant: This one isn’t. Not sorry about that. And I may have a new clarification on comment moderation policies coming up soon…one that makes an exception to the usual “your email address will never be revealed” rule. However, that policy change–if and when it happens–will only be prospective: I will not reveal any email addresses for comments received up to that change.

Quick update on the “collection of OA stuff from C&I” project: I’d been holding off on actual publication of that collection, including free PDF (and maybe free ePub) and minimally-priced paperback version (probably Lulu’s cost plus $1, or rounded to the nearest $5 interval), because of two factors:

  1. Someone had expressed an interest in building an index for the collection, which would have made the book more useful (effort I frankly was not ready to add)
  2. I’ve had other things to think about, and the level of interest in the collection was, while non-zero, not huge either.

#1 didn’t come through. #2 is still a factor, as is the lack of an easy epub conversion that I’m particularly happy about.

Within the next two weeks, I think, I will do the minimum necessary–slap together a simple cover, put up the free PDF and minimally-priced paperback, and maybe put together a (free or minimally-priced) epub version that’s at least plausible. [The best way to do that, at this point, seems to be to take the Word version, make a copy, turn off hyphenation and justification, remove page headers and footers, and turn that into an epub version either directly or via a PDF intermediary. That’s less than half an hour’s work; I’ll spend that much time.]

And, of course, I’ll announce it when it is available.

Legends of Horror Disc 2

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

The natives seem restless about offtopic posts such as one about grapefruit, so let’s get back to posts that are squarely on topic…such as this one.

The Ghost (orig. Lo spetto), 1963, color. Riccardo Freda (dir.), Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta (as Leonard G. Elliott), Harriet Medin. 1:37 [1:35].

Set in Scotland in 1910, where a doctor who’s now paralyzed is both having odd séances and, with the help of a younger doctor, experimenting with using poisons and antidotes to try to cure the paralysis. The younger doctor is carrying on with the paralyzed doctor’s younger wife—who eventually convinces him to kill the older doctor by failing to provide the antidote. Meantime, there’s a housekeeper who’s sneaking around (and channeling dead people from time to time).

Various forms of haunting start almost immediately. There’s more, because the key to the safe has gone missing—but the housekeeper says it might be in the coat the old doctor was buried in. It is, but the safe’s empty. Or is it? The young doctor was opening the safe just as the faithless widow was called away… Anyway, there’s lots more plot, leading to an ending that not only involves some twists but winds up with all the key characters either dead or paralyzed.

It’s an unpleasant film, and may be typical of why I don’t much care for horror (although there’s only one really bloody scene). I guess there’s some psychological tension, but I mostly found the acting either overdone (Barbara Steele) or uninteresting (most everybody else). The print’s a bit choppy at the beginning. I see this was made in Italy (and, sigh, there are several other Barbara Steele flicks in the set: are these Spaghetti Horrors—or, apparently Italian Gothic horrors?) If you love horror flicks you might like this better; I’ll give it $1.00.

Crimes at the Dark House, 1940, b&w. George King (dir.), Tod Slaughter, Sylvia Marriott, Hilary Eaves, Geoffrey Wardwell, Hay Petrie, Margaret Yarde. 1:09.

The horror! The horror! Looking at the box for this 50-movie set, I see four more movies starring Tod Slaughter—six in all. I’d think my TV itself might show toothmarks given the amount of scenery-chewing going on. This time, Slaughter is an unnamed villain who, in the Australian gold fields of 1850, slays a gold prospector in his tent (in a particularly nasty way), takes his gold, discovers a letter indicating that the prospector is now a peer thanks to his father’s death—and, of course, assumes the man’s identity.

Murder follows murder as this nasty large man finds that the estate is mortgaged to the hilt, that “he” got someone pregnant (and married her) before going to Australia, that he’s now gotten another someone (a maid) pregnant—and that his only chance for financial redemption involves marrying a woman who clearly does not love him. An evil doctor who runs an insane asylum is also involved. What more to say of the plot? All over-acted (including a spectacularly absurd uncle of the young woman), all melodramatic, all very silly. Supposedly based on Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. One IMDB calls this “probably the best Tod Slaughter movie,” which really is a horrifying thought. Charitably, $0.75.

The Long Hair of Death (orig. I lunghi capelli della morte), 1964, b&w. Antonio Marheriti (dir.), Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, Umberto Raho (as “Robert Rains”), Laura Nucci (as “Laureen Nuyen”), Giuliano Raffaelli (as “Jean Rafferty”), Nello Pazzafini (as “John Carey”). 1:40 [1:34]

When I started these mini-reviews of old movies, I did the reviews for all of a disc after finishing all the movies. It’s fortunate that I don’t do it that way anymore—if only because some movies, such as Crimes at the Dark House, leave so little impression that I’d have nothing to say other than “not a very good movie.” This one’s not like that and it’s also not like the earlier Barbara Steele movie, other than being dubbed and a Spaghetti Horror. This one actually is a horror film, and a pretty good one—and, fortunately, the type that gentle souls like me can watch without flinching. (No gore, lots of suspense.)

It’s set in the time of the plague—the first few scenes in 1482, the remainder in 1499, with the plague breaking in a town toward the end of the film. A woman’s being “tried” as a witch (accused of killing a nobleman), where the trial consists of pushing her into a loose structure of hay and setting fire to the structure. You know the drill, as with water trials: If she survives (which would require divine intervention), she’s not a witch; only the guilty are killed horribly.

Ah, but her oldest daughter (Steele) goes to Count Humboldt (Raffaelli) insisting that she’s innocent—the daughter knows who the real murderer is but needs time to gather evidence. The lecherous old Count says he needs to “discuss” this with her and they won’t conclude the trial without him. As he’s Having His Way With Her, the trial goes on and her mother is burned alive—hurling an imprecation at the Count and his sons as she dies. The daughter’s upset about the Count’s betrayal; he pushes her off a cliff into a waterfall to shut her up. End of problem. And end of the 1481 segment. Oh, the non-witch’s younger daughter Elizabeth (Zalewska) becomes a ward of the court, brought up in the castle (which actually seems ruled by the priest Von Klage, perhaps the only upright male among the featured cast).

We get to 1499. Elizabeth’s all grown up and has attracted the fancy of the Count’s slimy handsome son Kurt (Ardisson)—who, as we learn a bit later, is the actual murderer, killing for political reasons. He takes Elizabeth against her will and marries her. In a storm, the dead older daughter is regenerated and shows up as a beautiful stranger, Mary. About that time, the Count dies.

One thing leads to another. The murderous handsome rapist, oh, sorry, new Count wants Mary and always gets what he wants. She half-assents, half-objects to his plan to murder Elizabeth and helps him (apparently) carry out a bizarre poisoning, burial in a crypt, removal from the crypt and return to her bed—presumably suffocated. Oone thing leads to another in a fast and furious final half hour, with the end result being…that would be a spoiler, but it’s very satisfactory all around.

I’ve talked about the plot too much, and I suppose there are spoilers there—but what it comes down to is a well-plotted, ghost-based story of revenge that works very well. The atmospherics are sound, the setting properly medieval, the acting appropriate for what it is, Steele (in two parts very good here, and the film slow-moving but in a good way. The only real flaws are some mediocre digitization and background noise on parts of the soundtrack. It’s not great, but it’s not bad: $1.25.

The Incredible Petrified World, 1957, b&w. Jerry Warren (dir.), John Carradine, Robert Clarke, Phyllis Coates, Allen Windsor, Sheila Noonan, George Skaff, Maurice Bernard. 1:10 [1:06]

I reviewed this as part of the 50 Sci-Fi Classics set in late 2005. Fast-forwarding through the whole thing, this appears to be the same print quality, although it’s a few minutes longer—and it’s a stretch to call it a horror film. Here’s what I said in the earlier review:

I suppose the diving bell (how could man ever hope to penetrate the depths of the ocean?) might count as scifi. Diving bell on its first deep-sea dive breaks loose, four inhabitants presumed crushed at the bottom of the sea (or something), but they see light, and swim up to…caverns, which have plenty of food and fresh water and air. Eventually, they meet a crazy old man who’s been trapped there—under a volcano—for 14 years. After spending most of the movie walking up and down sections of Colossal Caverns in Tucson, where this was filmed, they manage to get rescued by a rival diving bell. Losing [a few] minutes probably helps, but the flick is still awfully slow moving. The mediocre print does the film justice. $1 as a curiosity.

Grapefruit and changed expectations

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Last weekend, Safeway had a really good price on Ruby Red grapefruit from Texas–and they looked like pretty good grapefruit as well. So my wife picked up a couple. (Which I eat all of–she can’t cope with the acid in citrus, by and large.) Had one this morning–as usual, with the segments sectioned out as part of the breakfast fruit medley and the remaining juice squeezed into a glass.

The juice was good, in a way that only freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice seems to be–with a fair amount of pulp, an engaging flavor, and only mildly tart.

A year ago, I would have said “wow! great grapefruit juice.”

This time, I said “not bad.” And, later, “probably about as good as Ruby Red gets, at least around here.”

What’s the difference? The yellow organic grapefruit we get at the farmer’s market from Lone Oak Farms–around 40-50 miles from here, I think. I have no idea what the variety is.

I mentioned that grapefruit earlier: The juice really is lemonade-sweet, but also richly flavored, a more complex flavor than you might expect from grapefruit.

That’s raised the bar–it redefines really excellent grapefruit juice. I suspect it’s like having a good “varietal” dark chocolate or even just a good 70%+ dark chocolate when your previous exposure has been Hershey’s Special Dark. Special Dark is pretty good–but once the bar’s been raised, it’s tough to go back.

(After seeing them for weeks, I finally tasted one of the pummelos from the same vendor. The kind way to put it is that it has a subtle taste. The honest way is that, compared to good grapefruit, it’s…well, boring. As always, your mileage–and your pummelos or pomelos–may vary.)

Today’s Farmer’s Market was also a revelation for a highly-desired seasonal change: The first apriums of the season–with cherries on their way next week. In other words, it’s stone fruit time! To my tastes, the most wonderful fruit time of the year, at least in these parts. (The rancher was slicing off pieces of an aprium to sample…it may be early in the season, but it was absolutely first rate.)

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