Archive for November, 2010

Transliteracy and Chess-Playing Bears

Friday, November 5th, 2010

In an odd and interesting FriendFeed thread today, I included this comment:

Derailing further, I find myself wanting to do a post about semi-related issues (the distinction between getting and liking)…and what I might call the Walter Carlos Williams problem (*not* Wendy Carlos Williams on later albums), or “is this a dancing bear?” Probably won’t; even that description is all over the place. [Oops: My bad. I’ve removed “Williams.” Sorry.]

OK, I wrote “Walter Carlos Williams” and “Wendy Carlos Williams,” somehow having conflated William Carlos Williams–whose poetry I read in college–with Wendy Carlos (orig. Walter Carlos), whose synthesized classical recordings I was, at one point, very fond of. If you go to the thread, you’ll just see the right names–I don’t know how to do overstrikes in FF.

Now, as to the post itself, which isn’t directly about transliteracy but may be about new forms and whether you should be able to enjoy or even understand all of them…

Well, I didn’t mean “dancing bear” but “chess-playing bear,” where the marvel isn’t that it’s done well but that it’s done at all (if it is).

As for fleshing out that post: Not gonna happen. My thoughts there are too confused, even by my standards, and I’ll just leave them that way. If you take the implication that, when I went back to it 10 years later, I no longer found Switched-On Bach either revelatory or very enjoyable–well, that’s true. If you do find it either one, good for you: Tastes do and should differ.

How about plain old literacy?

Friday, November 5th, 2010

It’s an ad–but not some tiny little offhand ad or a local ad.

It’s a two-page color ad, on special heavyweight slick paper, in a very large circulation national magazines.

The ad’s from British Airways. It’s about an impressive program, one in which BA flies “hundreds of small business owners” to meet with potential partners…for free.

And here’s the first sentence of the first paragraph of the actual ad copy:

Last year British Airways launched it’s Face-to-Face program and awarded hundreds of small businesses free flights and other services to nurture their business growth.

The. very. first. sentence. Yes, I know, British English and American English differ in some ways. Not this way, however: “It’s” is not a possessive in either language.

Is this stuff that hard? Shouldn’t copywriters at least have a basic command of the language?

Just one of those weeks…

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I planned to do some actual blogging this week. Really, I did.

But somehow…well, I’ve certainly spent lots of time on blogs, but not blogging.

disContent: The Complete Collection

First, I finished up this “freemium” book (described in this post) as a different kind of experiment, a collection of well-edited columns on topics that should interest most librarians, in a form that simply won’t be available for free or through other means. Will it get 100 sales? Will it get one sale? We shall see.

(My own copy was shipped today, considerably faster than I’ve ever seen a casebound Lulu book shipped in the past. Depending on how it looks, there might be a different cover for other copies. Or, who knows, there could be a different cover every week or two. Collect them all! Hey, it seemed to work for TV Guide for a while. OK, Now I’m being foolish…)

The Liblog Landscape 2007-2010

Most of my time has gone to this “as universal as I can make it” survey of English-language liblogs, which you could call a research project or an obsession or a hobby. I finished the first draft of Chapter 6 (length of blogs and average length of posts) and figured to edit chapters 2-6 this week, at least enough to be ready to use a draft version of chapter 2 in the next Cites & Insights. That went more rapidly than expected…and I decided to start Chapter 7 (conversations–that is, comments).

Oh yeah, there was half a day in there discussing California propositions and offices with my wife, filling out our ballots, taking them over to the polling place…and, given the current margin in the local Congressional race (last I heard: our preferred candidate is 121 votes ahead of the guy who wants to shut down public schools, with considerably more than 160,000 votes cast…and some absentee ballots, like ours, probably won’t be counted for days yet), I’m even more glad than usual that we did vote. Odd to have California as one of the saner states, but this time around…

Well…Tuesday afternoon, after voting and all that, I was doing the prep work for some of the tables in Chapter 7, and doing some informal consistency checks, and saw something wrong or at least wildly unlikely. Given past problems with data seeming to shift around when I sort spreadsheet pages with some hidden columns and complex links and formulas, I took a belt-and-suspenders approach this time:

There’s a master spreadsheet with all the raw data, links and formulas–discussed here. I have two backup copies of that master spreadsheet. I don’t actually work with that spreadsheet at all.

Instead, I created a “fixed” spreadsheet that’s a page-by-page copy of the master, with one huge differences: Everything’s pasted as values and formats, turning all the links and formulas into simple data. That eliminates one set of potential problems–and if I doubt the Fixed spreadsheet, I can always recopy a page.

But I don’t actually work with the Fixed spreadsheet either. I work with a copy of it, called Work10, on the assumption that Work10 can be repeatedly recreated from Fixed any time I think there might be an issue.

Turns out that, ahem, I screwed up a few thousand of the formulas on the Comments page of the master spreadsheet. (OK, I actually screwed up somewhere between two and eight master formulas, but each formula gets copied-and-shifted 1,304 times, so that’s somewhere between 2,608 and 10,432 problematic formulas.) What really happened was that I copied them from the Length page, but I’d changed the order of other columns…

Anyway: Fixed the formulas, very carefully, checked them twice, did the 1,304-line copies, looked at results, then recopied values to Fixed and Work10.

And went to each other formula-based page in the spreadsheet to check for similar problems. Whew. The rest of the formulas appear to be correct. (These aren’t terribly complex formulas but they aren’t entirely trivial. Here’s an example:


There’s probably a simpler way to do this, but I’m no Excelpert. (This is basically calculating a percentage change where the denominator might be zero and where either figure might be a special negative figure that means “there was no data here.”)

Wednesday’s hike was a long and good one, and by the time I was back and finished lunch it was 2 p.m., so Wednesday afternoon was entirely spent correcting the problems uncovered on Tuesday.

Ah, but then something else happened on Wednesday…

Today, I finished the draft of Chapter 7. I probably won’t touch the remaining chapters, including the all-important Chapter 1 (the chapter that won’t appear in C&I), until the December C&I is out. (There may be two or three more chapters in addition to Chapter 1. I’m not sure yet. I may also be adding to existing chapters.)

Worthless Writing

“Ah, but then something else happened on Wednesday…”

To wit, an LSW thread on FriendFeed in which someone whose views I usually respect was asserting that books in the library field should be public domain PDFs, given away by their authors. It got to be a strange discussion. I stopped contributing on Wednesday to control my temper, but came back to it today.

I might write a proper post about the implications of all this, but not now, and maybe not ever. It’s certainly not that I don’t believe some library books are overpriced and underdone. (Part of the reason I left the LITA Publications Committee and, now, LITA entirely, has to do with one publisher.) It’s certainly not that I don’t believe the free literature is worthwhile–after all, I probably contribute to it as much as anybody in the field I can think of offhand. As for other thoughts…well, see the subhead above. (For a few hours, I was honestly wondering whether I was damaging the field and setting up unreasonable expectations by continuing to write and give away Cites & Insights. I concluded that I’m not going to think about that. For now.)

I have thought of an interesting analogy, particularly given the suggestion that the Needs of the Many (librarians who can’t afford to pay for professional books) outweigh the “walking-around money” of the few, since, you know, all us writers have cushy jobs that should provide all the money we need (hmm: I must be missing something here). To wit:

Library schools should be free. Most courses are taught by adjunct faculty anyway, and the need of many potential librarians for cheap education outweighs the desire of a few dozen librarians serving as adjunct faculty for walking-around money.

To my ear, that’s an outrageous suggestion. I’m sure someone can tell me that it’s MUCH more difficult to prepare and present a library school course than it is to write a library monograph…or not. In any case, it’s not a serious suggestion…but it is an interesting analogy.

That’s why I haven’t posted much this week…

Sure, it’s only Thursday. But I really should wash the windows here, there’s reading (and laundry) to be done, there are essays to revise, and I clearly need to cool off further.

disContent: The Complete Collection – Limited Edition

Monday, November 1st, 2010

disContent: The Complete Collection

A limited edition collection of disContent columns

Available immediately–but only for four months or 100 copies, whichever comes first: disContent: The Complete Collection. It’s 314 pages long, hardcover (case-bound 6×9), signed (electronically) on the title page–and costs $50.

It’s a “freemium” experiment–something that carries a premium price but offers something you can’t find elsewhere. To wit, all the columns I wrote in EContent Magazine from 2001 through 2009, offering an amateur’s view of econtent, context, media, borgs and more–73 columns in all, each with a postscript bringing it up to date or otherwise commenting on it, for a total of roughly 88,000 words.

I regard some of these columns as absolutely first rate and most of them are as relevant today as they were when I wrote them. On the other hand, a few represent bad calls on my part or are otherwise mildly embarrassing at a remove–but they’re all here. For a little while: Four months or 100 copies, whichever comes first. (OK, technically, if there’s a flood of orders, the “100 copy” limit could be exceeded slightly, as I’ll take the book off sale the day after that target is reached…if it ever is. The four-month limit is firm: The book will go out of print on March 1, 2011, regardless of sales.)

Why You Should Want It

It’s complete. It includes columns I might just as well forget. Most of you probably haven’t read these columns, since you’re probably not EContent subscribers–and it’s some of my best writing.

It helps support my ongoing research and writing. Not in any huge fiscal manner (if all 100 copies are sold, I’d wind up with around $2,400, not exactly a fortune), but in terms of interest and support.


I don’t much care for the term or the Andersonomics “econtent must be free” attitude behind it, but I’m always welcome to possibilities.

A few of these columns appeared in the early years of Cites & Insights. One–the last one, actually–appears in the December 2010 issue, at the end of the major essay in that issue. A few more will appear in future issues…but certainly not all.

Depending on the level of interest, it’s possible that  I’ll strip this collection down to the 37 “best” columns, which would be just about half the length of this collection, and publish that as a regular trade paperback. That won’t happen before April 2011, and may not happen at all.

What’s in this collection? Here are some of the column titles:

Keeping the Faith: Playing Fair with your Visitors
Survey Says…Or Does It? [Fun with Statistics]
Who Do You Trust?
Contemplation and Content
The Coming of the Borgs
This is Going On Your Permanent Record
Rich Media is Hard
Shortcut Literacy
The Renascence of the Writer
Ghosts in the Social Networking Machines
Security, Naïveté, and the Limits of Pseudonymity
Long Live the Audience!
Will You Be My Friend?
The 24×7 Ubiquitous Connectivity Blues
Welcome to the Neighborhood
Can You Read Me?
Not Me, Inc.
The Top 10 Reasons You See So Many Lists
Authenticity and Sincerity
Is Dead Isn’t Dead—but Maybe it Should Be

It’s worth the $50. Go buy it. Do be aware that casebound books take an extra week or so to produce (no, I don’t have my own copy yet…) This one isn’t available as an ebook, although the selective collection (if it appears) will be.