Archive for 2010

Watching weight: Not just for others

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I took part in an odd exchange a couple of days ago on Facebook; I won’t link to it because it was truly trivial. But it did make me think…

The exchange had to do with one person saying they could stop worrying and let the natural expansion that comes with age take place–in other words, pudge out at least a little.

I offered a snarky comeback (knowing the person was a lot younger than I am) noting that I’m 65 and prefer not to allow “natural expansion”: how old did I need to be before weight no longer mattered?

The person responded with their actual age. And another person, just a couple years younger than I am, offered a comment saying that they no longer cared what others thought about how they look or what they weigh.

In all cases, I’m paraphrasing, possibly badly, but I’m also not naming names or offering links. Both of the others involved are good people, and I have no quarrel with either of them.

Not just for others

I do pay reasonable attention to my weight–which is currently, and has been for a couple of years, within two pounds of 160 at any given point, one way or the other. (I’m roughly 5’10”; I was 5’11”, but have shrunk a little, which does seem to be a common consequence of aging.)

Reasonable attention? Only this: I have dessert frequently and eat as much as I want to. If my weight started creeping up past 162 for more than a day or two (or for more than two weeks after a vacation or other trip), I’d probably cut back…just a little. (If my weight started falling below 158, I’d wonder if anything else was going on. Below 155, I start losing energy reserves.)

Although I’m sure my wife wouldn’t be happy if I started “natural expansion” back to the 165-170 I weighed for years or beyond that (175 appears to be my BMI touchstone–that is, above 175 and I’d be in the slightly-overweight category), that’s not my primary reason for staying at a good weight.

My primary reason boils down to wanting to be healthy, active, and ideally still free of prescription drugs when I’m 85, and with luck when I’m 90.

I know I’m lucky: Genetics has a lot to do with all these things. I also suspect that being able to walk far enough, briskly enough and with no assistance when you’re truly getting on in years has much to do not only with how much weight you’re carrying around but with whether you were walking a lot in earlier years. And I’m reasonably convinced that, all else being equal, maintaining a reasonable weight will serve me well in the long run in other ways.

No, I’m not a health nut. I do try to eat at least 2-5 servings of fruit & vegetables every day (but don’t do nearly as well as I should), but I’m also an omnivore, eating meat with some frequency. Bacon? Oh yes, from time to time. Cheeseburgers (well, bacon cheeseburgers)? Not often–maybe once a month–but oh yes. (Fast food burgers? Not so much: I avoid fast food in general, partly as a matter of taste, partly because I think the calorie/enjoyment/nutrition/taste balance is better elsewhere.) Alcohol? Wine pretty much every day with dinner and, very infrequently, with lunch…and that’s about it.  I suppose I’m really lucky in that I lost any taste for soft drinks decades ago. Candy? Similar to fast food: most of it just doesn’t taste all that good any more; I’ll take a handful of my dried fruit mix (five flavors of cranberries, two varieties of dried cherry, maybe a mix of other dried fruit) over most any candy any time. (Exception: Trader Joe’s 72% Dark Chocolate bars, but I rarely even eat those, and savor one-quarter bar at a time instead of chomping through the whole thing.)

(Supplements? Plain old senior vitamin pill, calcium citrate ‘cuz I’m lactose-intolerant so don’t drink milk, fish oil ‘cuz I don’t eat enough fish, and a half-dose glucosamine/chondroitin tablet because, while it might well be a placebo, taking it seems to keep away the shoulder pain I had at one point, and it appears to be a cheap and harmless placebo if it is that.) [As to the lactose intolerance, which is probably a lot more common among adults, even those of Northern European stock, than people think–if you’re passing gas all the time, that could be one reason–while I don’t drink milk, I do eat things containing dairy: lactase tablets as needed to the rescue.]

As far as I can tell, I’m not denying myself anything that I want. I am making a point to stay active, between the weekly 5 to 7-mile hikes and the 6x/week 1.5-mile “walks around the block” and, of course, walking for errands when that makes sense. I do try to avoid eating as an idle activity, snacking for the sake of snacking, and that turns out to be easy once it’s habitual: you’re not avoiding anything.

I’m not suggesting how others should live. There are lots of reasons for being a given weight, many of them not under personal control (I’m guessing), and I respect other people’s situations.

Incidentally, there are also lots of reasons some people are perhaps thinner than you might consider normal, and in many cases the reasons have nothing to do with vanity or with trying to feel superior. I can assure you that some underweight people would rather not be that way. It’s as offensive to sneer at people who are thin as it is offensive to sneer at people who are fat or fatter than you consider ideal.

I am saying that, for me at least–and, I think, for quite a few others–maintaining a given weight is for ourselves, not for how we look to others.

Crowdsource request: What size figures?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

UPDATE: The decision’s been made. The two links in the post are now dead. The actual figures are here, in full-page form.

If you’re somebody who might remotely consider buying The Liblog Landscape 2007-2010, I have a question for you–and answers don’t in any way obligate you to buy the book when it comes out.


As usual, the book will be a 6×9″ trade paperback, with an actual text block about 4.3″ wide and 7.1″ tall (actually 26×43 picas, I think).

There are 34 figures–graphs–in the book (and oodles of tables), with anywhere from 600 to more than 4,000 data points.

In most cases–25 of the 34–I feel as though the width restriction results in graphs that could be more readable if they were larger.

I’d already decided to provide a separate PDF, with the URL provided in the book, consisting of printable American letter size (8.5×11″) pages with larger versions of the 34 figures.

The question

Should that PDF be 17 pages in portrait mode, with two figures per page, or 34 pages in landscape mode, with one figure per page?

I chose seven of the graphs that seemed exemplary of those that could gain from larger sizes (two scatterplot, four line graphs, three of them with four lines each, one with a single line) and printed them out in both forms.

And, frankly, I’m not sure whether it’s worth the extra 8 sheets of paper (assuming duplex printing) to scale them to one figure per page–that is, whether I should produce a 17-page (9-sheet) PDF or a 34-page (17-sheet) PDF.

That’s the question. To inform your decision,

UPDATE: The decision’s been made. The two links in the post are now dead. The actual figures are here, in full-page form.

Opinions that reach me by Monday, December 6 will be most useful. I won’t generate the separate PDF until the book is ready for publication, and that won’t be until at least December 6–but might not be long after that.

Either email your preference or add a comment to this post. I’m assuming you’ll print out at least one or two pages to inform your decision, although some of you may be able to decide based only on on-screen examination of the PDFs. I will almost certainly follow the majority advice.


LITA Farewell

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I was a member of LITA, the Library and Information Technology Association, before there was a LITA–back when it was ALA’s Information Science and Automation Division (ISAD), with JOLA, the Journal of Library Automation, as its journal. I joined ISAD in 1975.

I was fairly active in the division for some time. Here’s what I find in my vita, in reverse chronological order:

LITA Publications Committee: Chair, 2008-2009.

LITA Top Technology Trends: “Trendspotter,” 1999-2005, 2007

LITA/Library Hi Tech Award Committee: chair, 1997-1998

LITA Nominations Committee: chair, 1995-1996; member, 1999-2000

LITA Vice-President/President-Elect, 1991-1992; President, 1992-1993; Past President, 1993-1994

LITA Executive Committee: member, 1990-1994

Task Force to Appoint Chair of LITA 1992 National Conference: chair, 1990

LITA Board of Directors: director-at-large, 1988-1991

Information Technology and Libraries: informal LITA Newsletter liaison to Editorial Board, 1986-1987; ex officio member of Editorial Board, 1988-1994; member, Editorial Board, 1994-1995, 1999-2002

LITA Newsletter: editor, 1985-1994

LITA/Gaylord Awards Committee: member, 1984-1985 and 1988-1989

Programmer/Analysts Discussion Group: founded, 1981; chair, 1981-1983

RTSD/LITA/RASD Machine-Readable Bibliographic Information Committee [MARBI]: RLG liaison, 1980-1987; LITA appointee to committee, 1985-1987

Technical Standards for Library Automation Committee (TESLA): Observer/participant, 1975-1978; member, 1978-1982; chair, 1980-1981

And now I’m done. In 2011, I won’t be a LITA member. It seems highly unlikely that I’ll rejoin. Chances are, I would have left by now if I wasn’t a former LITA president.

I suspect the “first straw” toward my leaving was when the LITA Board enacted a substantial dues increase, to $65, the highest divisional dues at the time, without a membership vote (every previous dues increase had involved a membership vote).

But I stayed around a little longer–even after my working status was such that LITA cost me more than ALA did.

This fall, I graduated to ALA’s special category for continuing members who were ALA members for at least 25 continuous years and no longer earn livings in librarianship. The dues are really tough to beat. That encouraged me to look at LITA again… and, well, I’m out.

Sorry, but I really don’t get much out of Information Technology and Libraries. My attempts to nudge them toward Gold OA status (one reason I agreed to be PubCom chair 2008-2010, and my failures were one reason I resigned after one year) had no impact whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

Sorry, but I’m not thrilled about the publishing program with Neal-Schuman, particularly not the ten-short-books-at-a-time-for-high-prices “set” thing going on now.

It was a good 30 years or so, and the last five weren’t all that bad. But it just doesn’t speak to me any longer.

And, given the role of technology in contemporary libraries, maybe I wasn’t entirely kidding when I noted that ALA doesn’t have a Library Electricity Association.


I am not at all suggesting that anybody else should leave LITA. If you find the programs or the publications or the interest groups or the committees or the national meeting or the journal worthwhile, by all means, make the most of them.

It’s not LITA, it’s me. I’ll miss the LITA Happy Hour (if and when I go to ALA at all, and that’s pretty clearly unlikely to be a regular 2x/year occurrence), since the overpriced drinks (LITA arranges it–it doesn’t and shouldn’t pay for it) were balanced with one of few chances to touch base with a lot of colleagues at once, but that’s the way it goes.

disContent: One more 25%-off day and more

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

The special news first: Today (November 30, 2010), you can still get 25% off any or all of my books at Lulu. Just enter the code CYBER305 at checkout. It’s Lulu’s discount–I still see the same return, so we’re both happy.

That means that, through the end of today, disContent: The Complete Collection is only $37.50; tomorrow, it’s back to $50. You can also pick up The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008, which will soon go out of print, for $15 (or $7.50 for the PDF), or But Still They Blog: The Liblog Landscape 2007-2009 for the same $15 paper, $7.50 PDF. For that matter, if you’re so inclined, Open Access and Libraries would be $13.12 today, less than my copy of this 519-page paperback cost me. (That book’s PDF version is already free, and 25% off $0 is still $0.)

For that matter, what better time to acquire paperback versions of Cites & Insights–I’d already discounted them 20% (to $40 each) through ALA Midwinter 2011, and this one-day discount should bring that down to $30, which is a great deal. The 2010 volume is just out; the same price should also apply for the massive 2009 volume (longest ever, a record I hope stands for a while), the 2008 volume; the 2007 volume with its bonus Cites on a Plane non-issue (not available anywhere else), and the 2006 volume. And, you know, my very first (and most successful) self-published book, Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change, is only $18.75 today (or $12 PDF).

Heck, just go to Cites & Insights Books and buy them all. If you happen to be part of the Driver, Cockerton, Sweet, Wilkinson, Wiltfong, Higgins, Edmunds, Joyce, Saxe, Symmons, Gerow, Symons, Vivian, Eva, Rodda, McQuaid, or Spafford family, you might even want to pick up one of the family ancestry books my wife’s published–for less than we paid for our copies!

Ads Around Content: Pushing the Limits

That’s the title for the June 2001 “disContent” column. Here’s the start of the column; you’ll find the rest in the book.

We all know that “free” only goes so far. Somehow, somewhere, someone’s paying for the stories, organization, and infrastructure that make Web sites work. That’s true of any medium, and most of us cope with the tradeoffs fairly well. I expect to see ads on most Web sites that don’t come from government agencies, educational institutions, charitable organizations, companies, or people with strong interests. I expect to see ads in most magazines and newspapers, to watch them on most TV channels, and to hear them on most radio stations.

I remember a comment from some media guru that all media consisted of “enough content to wrap around the advertising,” and thought how sad it was that the commentator had never read a book, listened to a CD, or watched a DVD. At the same time, I understood what he was saying about free media: Those who pay the bills call the tune, while the rest of us look for a tune we find appealing.

Is there a Magic Number?

When is enough too much? At what point does a Web site (or any other medium) change from an ad-supported content site to a pile of ads with a little content thrown in? I know the limits vary with different users. I suspect the limits involve not just percentage but intrusiveness. I might not have written this column if one of my bookmarked sites hadn’t gone over the edge—so far over the edge that I deleted the bookmark.

Don’t forget the 25%-off code, good today only: CYBER305.
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Musing about hard disks

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

The first time I held a hard disk in my hands–well, a removable device that contained a hard disk–was around 1977, when we installed a Datapoint multiterminal system in UC Berkeley’s serial processing department. (I wrote the timesharing monitor and data entry software and oversaw the system; that’s indirectly how I met my wife, so I count it among my greatest successes.) The removable disk was a 12″ round Winchester cartridge, maybe two inches tall (my memory is vague), and I believe each cartridge cost several hundred dollars. I believe it held 10 megabytes, but it might have been 40. It was a well-priced miracle, as was the Datapoint in general (running three terminals off a “minicomputer” that was a Z80 at 2MHz with 128K RAM, but also with Datapoint’s remarkable Databus operating system and ARCnet network).

If you had suggested to me at that point that I would some day not only use but own a one terabyte hard disk system, I would probably have laughed (you might have had to explain what a terabyte was first).

Coming forward to 1984-1986

I started writing what became “Common Sense Personal Computing” in Library Hi Tech in 1985, and published Common Sense Personal Computing: A Handbook for Professionals in 1986. In the first article in that extended series, I tried to suggest comparable system prices for a variety of personal computers, an interesting task since so many computers at the time were priced without needed peripherals. The article was based on June-July 1984 prices: that was when IBM dropped its prices by about 25% and Apple “finally dropped the IIe price to a plausible level.”

If you’ve forgotten or are too young to remember PCs in 1984, many of them didn’t have hard disks at all–including the IBM PC itself, which sold for $3,000 to $4,000 once you included a monochrome monitor and two 360K diskette drives (along with a 4.77mHz 8088, 128K RAM, a display adapter, and a dot matrix printer). That IBM PC ran “PC-DOS,” IBM’s version of MS-DOS–and cost just about the same as an Apple IIe + CP/M card ($3,000 to $3,600 with a 1.25mHz 6502, 128K RAM and two 140K diskette drives, an Apple monitor, Gemini dot matrix printer and some software–but a chunk of that money was for the “CP/M card,” a more powerful Z80A computer on a card with its own RAM). Remember the early Compaq “portable” computers? $3,500 to $4,000 for a 4.77mHz 8088 with 128K RAM and a built-in 9″ monochrome screen–and, yep, two 360K diskette drives.

Ah, but I did have two systems that make it possible to estimate what a hard disk actually cost. The Morrow MD2 with 4mHz Z80A, 64K RAM, two 184K diskette drives, 12″ display, the Star Gemini dot matrix printer I was quoting as part of most of these systems and a whole bunch of high-quality software (WordStar, LogiCalc, Correct-It [back then, spellcheckers were separate programs], Personal Pearl database, PILOT and two BASICs) cost $1,460 to $1.720. But there was also the Morrow MD11 (my second PC, actually), which differed in two ways: It had 128K RAM…and it had a huge 11MB hard disk (and a single 360K diskette). It also cost $3,300–at least $1,600 more. I’m guessing that at least $1,000 of that was for the hard disk. So let’s say $90/megabyte for a slow internal hard disk in 1984.

By 1986, you could buy an internal 20MB hard disk for as little as $600, although most name-brand drives went for $800 or more; an external 20MB drive would run around $900. So let’s say $30/megabyte for internal, $45/megabyte external. (At that point, ads for IBM PCs showed around a $400 differential between those with 10MB hard disks and those that had two diskette drives, or $40/megabyte.)

By 1989, you could buy a Seagate ST251-1 40MB drive for $439–internal disks were already down to $11/megabyte.

Remember, these are megabytes. A 1TB drive has the same capacity as 25,000–twenty-five thousand–40MB drives.

(Almost since the beginning, hard drive capacities have been quoted in decimal form. A 1TB drive is “actually” about 930 gigabytes, if by “gigabyte” you mean 1,024 megabytes, where a megabyte is 1,024 kilobytes and a kilobyte is 1,024 bytes. And of course there was at one point a class action lawsuit over the “missing” capacity in hard disks.)

Here it is almost 2011…

OK, admittedly this was a Black Friday price, but still: Western Digital WD Elements 1TB Portable Hard Disk, WDBABV001BBK. One terabyte of NTSF-formatted disk space with a USB 2.0 connector, powered by the USB port (no power cord or external power supply). 5400RPM. No bloatware, so you get the full 1TB.

At Target. $69.

The beast is 3″ wide, 4.4″ long, 0.7″deep. Amazon says it weighs 12oz; I’d have guessed a little lighter. It came in the best packaging I’ve seen for this kind of device: Cardboard box not much bigger than the drive, two tiny plastic protectors at either end, and a plastic bag–probably less than an ounce of packaging, and both the cardboard and the little protectors are recyclable. The high-security seal? A peel-off circle. No muss, no fuss, one minute to open and one more to install.

It’s sitting here on my desk (I did a full image backup yesterday: took maybe half an hour; Windows7 includes System Image Backup software in all versions; now I only have 850GB available). It’s a cute little box. And it has ONE TERABYTE of storage. Which cost me $0.0757 per gigabyte or .00757 cents per megabyte, if you include sales tax (9.75% here). Oh, and Target printed out a $10-off-on-$100-purchase coupon, good for the next couple of weeks, so you could say this only cost $65 including sales tax. That does include the case and the circuitry for USB-powered operation.

I dunno. Maybe I’m getting old. This seems like a miracle. It’s also, to be sure, a whole lot more disk space than I’m likely to need unless I start doing a lot of photography or video editing–I mean, if I wiped out all the Windows checkpoints, I’d probably have 175GB free on my 250GB notebook hard disk. (All of my data files, excluding the MP3 files I could always rerip from CD, fit quite nicely in a 3.7GB backup on an 8GB flash drive. Text and spreadsheets just don’t use much storage space.)

But there it is: in 21 years, the price for hard disk storage dropped from $11/megabyte to $0.000757/megabyte. Put another way, 11 years ago disk storage cost 145 thousand times as much as it does now.

But that’s wrong–in two ways

It’s wrong first because portable (USB-powered) hard disks are inherently more expensive than wall-powered external drives and internal drives.

My brother was at the same Target a couple of hours earlier. He picked up the last of 39 Western Digital 2TB external hard disks. For the same price: $69 (not $69.99, but $69). So he was getting storage, including tax, for less than four one-thousandths of a cent per megabyte.

Yes, those are Black Friday prices–but a quick look online shows that you can buy a WD external 2TB hard disk for as little as $89, or a higher-speed 1.5TB internal hard drive for $70 (all drives are Western Digital for consistency, and the $70 is from Amazon)–so that’s somewhere between 4.4 and 4.6 cents per gigabyte, or less than five one-thousandths of a cent per megabyte.

It’s also wrong, of course, because you can’t buy a one-megabyte drive for five one-thousandths of a cent or a one-gigabyte drive for a nickel. The cheapest hard disk I found at Amazon was $37, an 80GB 7200RPM Western Digital; Fry’s had nothing under $40. Basically, you’re still going to pay $30 or more for an internal drive and probably $40 or more for an external drive.

Still, it’s amazing to think of a price change of 140,000:1 in just over two decades–for a disk that’s probably quieter (it seems to be silent) and faster than that 40GB disk was in 1989.

A semi-review of an odd book

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

The book: iCon: Steve Jobs, the greatest second act in the history of business. By Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon, published 2005.

I figured the first word in the title was a play on icon, not some “con” indication, given that Jeffrey S. Young is a founding editor of Macworld and wrote the “classic hagiobiography” Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward. At worst, you figure the book will try to make Jobs’ fairly consistent behavior toward colleagues, friends and competitors (from the time he screwed Wozniak out of several hundred dollars by flat-out lying to him and his initial refusal to admit he’d fathered a daughter forward) some set of minor flaws wholly outweighed by his magnificence–after all, even the jacket copy calls Jobs in the early Apple era “avatar of the computer revolution” and calls him “the most influential figure of the age–a master of three industries: movies, music, and computers” and “the Digital King.”

What I got in the book is more interesting than what I expected–and it really appears to be two different books.

The first book, which takes up the first 230 pages and runs through Jobs’ triumphs at Pixar, is excellent: Well written, well edited, reasonably well balanced given the writers, mostly covering territory I’d already seen covered elsewhere but with a fair amount of panache. Yes, there’s too much discussion of Disney’s internal problems for a book that’s supposedly about Jobs, but that’s OK.

Then there’s Part Three, Defining the Future, the last 90-odd pages. It’s a flat-out mess: Badly written, with constantly shifting tenses, repetition and more; apparently unedited; veering into pure Jobs worship before too long. (Note that the book came out after the iPod and before the iPhone.) The writers seem to predict that the Mac Mini would restore Apple’s rightful dominance in the computer marketplace, that Pages would destroy Microsoft Word, and that “Steve Jobs is going to best Bill Gates”–that’s a direct quote, and it’s the full sentence. Oh, and that the flaws of “our heroes” aren’t important: “it’s not the flaws we need to remember but the achievements.”

Why such a disconnect between the polish of the first 240 pages and the fanboy draft mode of the last 91? I’m not sure. A few chapters deal with events within a year of the book’s publication, and may simply have been rushed to completion. Otherwise, I just don’t know. I do know this: I really felt as though I was reading a different book by different authors–and I was disappointed. Not because they wind up with a fatuous “Steve Conquers All” finale, but because the book falls apart in the final chapters.

Just for fun, I looked at reviews of the book available via Worldcat and on Amazon. I should not have been surprised: Most reviews seem to be by people for whom Steve Jobs Can Do No Wrong, and savage the writers for including the details of his earlier years, some of them even seeming to suggest that these are vicious lies by monstrous writers out to slander The Jobs.

Updated 3:50 p.m. 11/27: “Page” corrected to “Pages” in antepenultimate paragraph (how often do you get to use that word?). Thanks to Dorothea S. for pointing out the typo.

disContent: I Will Buy No Content Before It’s Time

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Before you write a comment informing me that I’ve made one of the most boneheaded grammatical errors…I haven’t. I know exactly when you do and don’t use an apostrophe between “it” and “s” and used it quite precisely in this case.

This case? The May 2001 “disContent” column, one of the 73 you’ll find in disContent: The Complete Collection. Did I mention that this limited edition beautiful 6×9 hardbound (casebound) book is available now?

Here’s the beginning of that column:

Sometimes an item in the press can push you over the edge. The following item in the December 26, 2000 [Inside] (the print magazine) served as the trigger for this month’s hunk of discontent: “Sony markets content. Sony markets hardware that plays Sony content. Now Sony provides a virtual space where the devoted can share their passion for All Things Sony…” There’s more, but the first two sentences told me that it’s time. That is, it’s time to say that only middlemen buy content.

Sony manufactures and markets motion pictures and sound recordings. Sony also manufactures and markets devices to play back sound recordings, television programs, and motion pictures converted to analog or digital video form—and another range of devices to create and manipulate video and sound recordings, as well as forms of digital data. In general, Sony does not make hardware that favors Sony sound and video over other suppliers (MiniDisc and SACD may be temporary exceptions).

Sony does not market content. I have never seen a Sony ad that urges me to “Go buy some Sony content.” But then, I’ve never gone into Tower and said, “I want $100 worth of content.” Neither, I would suggest, has anybody else.

To read the rest of the column, beginning with the subhead “There: Only Words.”…
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Mystery Collection, Disc 19

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Sucker Money, 1933, b&w. Dorothy Davenport & Melville Shyer (dirs.), Mischa Auer, Phyllis Barrington, Earl McCarthy, Mona Lisa. 0:59.

The opening titles call this an exposé of phony psychics—but it’s really a remarkably slow-moving B movie. Newspaper editor sees an interesting help-wanted ad, tells reporter to go undercover on what might be a human interest story. The job turns out to be one of the actors in a swami’s theatricals, as the swami works to con marks out of big money, then move on.

We get danger, hypnotism, lots of nonsense, a swami who’s fond of killing as many associates as possible, and an eventual happy ending. In the process, we also get some absurd acting and one of the most lethargic suspense flicks I’ve ever seen. Very charitably, $0.75.

The Chase, 1946, b&w. Arthur Ripley (dir.), Robert Cummings, Michele Morgan, Steve Cochran, Peter Lorre. 1:26 [1:22]

Down-on-his-luck navy vet, standing outside a café unable to afford a meal, finds a lost wallet at his feet. Has a meal—then, seeing the card for the wallet’s owner, returns it to a posh Miami house where two suspicious servants eventually lead him to the owner. The owner’s a tough guy, a successful criminal, who’s impressed with the vet’s honesty and takes him on as a chauffeur (firing his existing chauffeur). On the first drive, the thug shows off his trick car: He can flip a switch and take over control of the accelerator from the back seat, in this case running it up to 110MPH and seemingly racing to cross the tracks ahead of an oncoming train—before suddenly stopping.

The thug’s wife (I guess successful criminals who dress nicely are mobsters, not thugs) is desperate to leave him, enlists the chauffeur to take her to Havana…and she’s killed there, with the murder pinned on the chauffeur. There’s a complex chase…and we find out that it’s all a hallucination/dream…or at least part of it is. The vet takes a whole bunch of pills and calls his Navy doctor.

There’s more plot after that, and a happy ending of sorts. It’s an interesting piece of noir, with Lorre doing a good job as the thug’s sidekick and Cummings good in a non-comedy role. Unfortunately, the print’s frequently bad enough to be nearly unwatchable in night scenes, the missing four minutes could be significant, the romance makes little sense and the ending’s a little too easy. On balance, I’ll give it $1.25.

Woman in the Shadows (orig. Woman in the Dark), 1934, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Fay Wray, Ralph Bellamy, Melvyn Douglas, Roscoe Ates, Ruth Gillette, Joe King, Granville Bates. 1:09.

As we begin, a man’s getting out of prison—with the warden saying he probably shouldn’t have been there anyway, and he needs to watch his temper. The parolee (Bellamy) gives back the money the prison provides on release—and adds some of his own, for whatever good purposes the warden finds. The man, who hit somebody in a fight and was in prison for three years for manslaughter because the other person died, is going back home to live in his deceased father’s cottage and stay out of trouble.

The story seems mostly to be about attitudes. The sheriff thinks any ex-con is a criminal and to be avoided, with his word meaning nothing. The sheriff and police think that a single woman (Wray) who’s beautiful and tried to make a living as a singer is essentially a prostitute—and her word means nothing. And, of course, a degenerate wealthy young man (Douglas) is the Pride of the Community, and his word is worth everything. A lawyer starts out by pawing his client and booking her into an adjacent room at a motel. Oh, and police are generally both incompetent and fully willing to violate anybody’s rights.

The heart of the story comes in the last seven minutes, which makes for some odd pacing. It ends happily, I guess. Great cast, some good performances, decent print, but I found the whole somewhat unsatisfactory. (By the way, the longest IMDB review is flat-out wrong, with its “shady gangster and on the run moll.”) On balance, $1.25.

The Scar (orig. Hollow Triumph), 1948, b&w. Steve Sekely (dir.), Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks. 1:23.

Here’s the setup for this noir mystery: A bright guy named Muller—medical education, all that, but a habitual criminal—gets out of prison, with a job reference and expectation by the warden that he’ll be back. He immediately contacts his crooked colleagues and insists on setting up a casino heist. It doesn’t go quite as planned. Although Muller and one accomplice get away with $200 grand (or something like that), four others are captured and give up his name. The casino owner’s known as someone who never gives up when he’s crossed.

Muller goes to LA and takes the job, such as it is…and, delivering a parcel, is recognized. But he’s recognized as someone else, the psychiatrist Dr. Bartok, and when the person (a dentist in the same building) sees him full-face, he sees the one difference: Bartok, otherwise an exact double, has a large scar on his face. Muller also encounters Bartok’s secretary, who obviously had something going with Bartok.

After Muller encounters a couple of the casino owner’s hoods, he decides to become Bartok. He romances the secretary and gets some of Bartok’s voice records; he also takes a picture of Bartok so he can create his own scar. Except that the photo store screwed up doing the enlargement—flipping the photo.

Ah, but nobody notices—including the secretary, patients, the dentist and Bartok’s girlfriend. (Muller’s killed Bartok to assume his identity, naturally.) And so it goes, right up until the climax, which is a slight twist and has to do with Bartok’s own considerable failings.

An odd story but an interesting one, well played by Henreid as Muller and Bartok and Bennett as the secretary, with a strong supporting cast and excellent, subtle lighting and photography. (For what it’s worth, a 28-year-old Jack Webb is in the movie—for about two minutes in a tiny uncredited part as one of the hoods.) I wouldn’t call it great, but it’s quite good and the print’s consistently very good. Worth $1.50.

disContent: Metametametamedia

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Have you ordered your copy of disContent: The Complete Collection yet? I could take this either of two ways:

  1. It would make a great Christmas present for the econtent mavens in your life.
  2. Depending on how you think of my writing, you’d get all the turkeys from the set of columns, which won’t be available anywhere else…just a week or two after Thanksgiving.

Of course, the real reasons are that purchases will help me keep writing & researching…and that it’s a great hardbound book, quite possibly the last hardbound book I’ll ever publish

Here’s the first couple of paragraphs of another early column. For the whole thing, you need to buy the book–and I would note that, should Iris actually prepare that (German) bibliography of bibliography of bibliographies, it would be a perfect item for Cubed (or, rather, Cubed‘s offspring, Metametameta…). And a MARC record (or RDA resource or whatever) on the metametabibliography would be an incredibly rare meta-to-the-fourth-power.

Cubed: Media about Media about Media

A Note on the Following:

Dated March 10, 2001—and apparently a draft version—a press release and attachment were found by an acquaintance in mid-May 2001, discarded somewhere in Silicon Valley. I’ve omitted the contact names and Web addresses because none of them seem to work.

Well, no, that’s a lie. Five paragraphs of this column are factual (right after “Media about Media”). Otherwise, think of it as a bad dream after reading a little too much content about content…

Coming soon to a newsstand, Web site, or cable channel near you: Cubed—media about media about media. Such media are long overdue, given the explosion of media about media. (a subsidiary of Triple Whammy Media) is building the true media of the future—media that take the next step in using distance to save time.

What can I say? Buy the book!
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Quality vs. convenience/quantity, all over again

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I just don’t get it. Which is nothing new.

What don’t I get? The thunder of voices saying not only that they all use Netflix streaming (or Hulu) instead of DVD and Blu-ray, but that everybody should. (Well, some of these voices just mention DVD, either saying that Blu-ray is a fraud or simply ignoring it.)

And, in many cases, asserting that there’s no difference in picture quality between streaming through any ordinary broadband and DVD/Blu-ray.

It’s your choice

So far, it’s your choice. Netflix is certainly encouraging people to go with streaming, especially given the changes in subscription prices. They won’t offer us a “no streaming” option for a slight discount, but they’re now offering a “no DVD” option…and increasing the prices for DVDs, albeit only slightly.

Here’s the thing, though. We didn’t get an HDTV until just three or four months ago–in part because our 12-yr-old Sony XBR had such a superb picture, one we’d paid a lot of money for at the time. But with the cutoff of analog TV (although we could still use cable) and the growing percentage of shows broadcast widescreen, we finally took the plunge.

We took some care to buy a set with a first-rate picture. We picked up a Blu-ray player. After watching one movie in Blu-ray, we switched our Netflix subscription to Blu-ray as a preference, and probably 80% of the movies we get now are in that format. Yes, we can see the difference–although DVD as upconverted by the player is certainly still very enjoyable, Blu-ray is a lot better.

As for TV itself (an antenna isn’t an option here without a humongous rooftop tower), Bones is the extreme example: Comcast gave us a consistently crappy analog image last year–and Bones in HD is magnificent. Just magnificent.

We don’t watch much current TV–it comes out to 7.5 hours a week. Some nights, we either watch a full-length movie or catch up on old series, using Netflix discs for some of those.

Yes, we tried streaming

Our TV has internet widget support (and we added the wifi dongle), including a Netflix widget. I got it working. And we tried it–a couple of little tries, then five minutes of a Lois & Clark episode, since that’s one of the old series we’re watching.

Neither my wife or I could stand it after five minutes: The picture quality was so vastly inferior to the DVD, at sort of a sub-VHS level, which might have been acceptable on a smaller screen but was just unpleasant on the big screen. Netflix surveyed me on the streaming quality. I told them: Unacceptable.

Oh, it’s your broadband…

Maybe. We have the fastest DSL AT&T will currently provide at our address. It typically tests out at 1.5 to 2Mbps download–right now, it’s 1.6 as I run speedtest.

You can’t stream true HD at 1.6Mbps. Hell, you can’t stream DVD quality at 1.6Mbps. (True Blu-ray quality would require a minimum of 30Mbps.)

So should we upgrade our broadband?

Well, Comcast (shudder) will sell us “6Mbps” broadband for $54 a month–$29 more than we’re paying for AT&T DSL. Want 20Mbps? That’s $100/month. Still not enough to stream at Blu-ray quality, but close. 6Mbps? Probably better than we’re getting now, but certainly nowhere close to Blu-ray, probably not even DVD quality.

And, of course, from everything I’ve heard, Comcast isn’t going to let you happily stream at full speed for hours on end: “usage caps” do come into play.

Plus…hmm. $29 more, plus $8 for a streaming-only Netflix subscription. That’s more than we’re paying for Netflix now–and if we drop back to a 2-disc subscription, it’s a lot more than we’re paying now. Since 1.5-2Mbps download speed is just fine for everything else we do, we would wind up paying more money…for still-inferior quality and the loss of Blu-ray and DVD extras.

What a deal.

(No, neither Fios nor I-Universe or whatever AT&T’s fiber-almost-to-the-home is called are options, at least not yet. And the I-Universe prices, after the first six months, aren’t all that attractive either. We have Limited Basic cable, $17/month including all the fees, and it suits us just fine.)

Just don’t tell us our choice is wrong

If you don’t see the difference between streaming and Blu-ray or streaming and HD, that’s your business (and maybe your TV set). If you see the difference but don’t care, that’s also your business: I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, any more than I ever said people listening to 128K MP3 were wrong.

But when you say there is no difference, or that anybody who wants Blu-ray or HD broadcast quality is either foolish or wrong, then my back goes up. My wife professed not to care about the differences…until she started seeing the higher quality. She was the one who said to stop the Lois & Clark streaming, although I could certainly see that it was crap video quality.

As a sidenote: We don’t own a DVR. I’d love to be able to record shows in HD. What I wouldn’t love: Increasing our total electricity usage by more than 10%, because the DVR is running 24 hours a day and consuming 50 watts all the time (according to the tests done by somebody who refuses to give up the DVR). Sell a DVR designed for those of us who don’t record all that much, that spins down and uses 0.5 watts or so when it’s not needed, and we’d probably buy one. (Yes, adding 36 kWh a month to our usage would be at least a 10% increase.) That’s a different discussion.