Archive for January, 2011

An owl is not a lamppost

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Based on a thread at FriendFeed, I’ve chosen to edit this post by striking out a group of paragraphs that apparently caused some friends to feel the need to respond. At length.

Part of that series of responses is a semantic issue: To wit, is Cites & Insights a blog or not?

I muddied the issue by using “just” in relation to blogs. I can’t imagine how anyone could believe that I regard blogs as unimportant, but fast-response media (social networks) tend to lead to offhand comments that may be misleading as to real intent.

But to me, there’s a simple answer, one that has little to do with quality, importance, effort or anything else.

A blog is a series of essays or other items (99.9% of the time in HTML form) that appears on a site in reverse chronological order. The items may be article-length, peer-reviewed commentaries (oh, you know which first-rate blog I mean), and although I can and do think of such blogs as “journals in blog form,” they’re still in blog form. The items may be one-sentence links to items of interest, the original “weblog” form that’s largely yielded to Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and all the rest.

Cites & Insights simply is not a blog, any more than Current Cites is a blog, any more than Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship is a blog. (Couldn’t resist linking to that particular issue of Current Cites.) You can call it an ezine, or an ejournal, or a pile of random crap that comes out periodically…but it’s not a blog. Doesn’t make it better or worse. Does make it different.

And I get that self-publishing really isn’t going to work for me unless I come up with something fun, catchy and cheap (and I’m not a fun writer). Boy, do I get that.

Update along with title change: An owl-shaped statue is not an owl either.

A week in the life, or why so few meaningful posts?

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

I’ve never done the “day in the life” thing both because I’m not a librarian and, back when I had a full-time job, was either working on stuff that was partly confidential or, toward the end, working on stuff that was stultifyingly boring to anybody else.

Now I’m essentially retired, partly by choice (as in “unwilling to relocate in order to acquire gainful employment”), and “a day in the life” would mostly be boring.

But I note that there really haven’t been many worthwhile posts here lately (depending on your definition of “worthwhile,” “lately” can mean anywhere from five days–the time since my last post–to five weeks or five months. Or five years, but then why are you reading this?)…and thought a quick summary could be useful.

The “not many worthwhile posts”–and specifically the lack of any posts offering segments of “disContent” columns to encourage purchase of the limited-edition collection–has a lot to do with this post. The numbers continue to be the same. Namely, not only does it appear to be the case that nobody (except four people) gives a good goddamn about the liblog stuff, it also appears that nobody (except three people–I wonder what the overlap is there?) has enough interest in the “disContent” columns and keeping my writing going to do anything about it.

I could find this discouraging. OK, I do find this discouraging. Lots of readership as long as it’s free. Zero interest in anything that carries any price tag, even a “pay what you think it’s worth” price tag. Just at a guess: If I restored the kind of ads where I only get paid of people click on links, I’d get the same results as a couple of years ago–that is, something like $3 to $4 average. Per month, not per day.

More encouraging: there’s still hope on sponsorship front…and three publishers have shown some interest in working with me. I’m revising one proposal and considering two other proposals. Clearly, the self-published books aren’t hacking it; if I can manage one traditionally-published book every year or two, I at least keep my hand in the field at a very low level. (I’m attending ALA Annual in New Orleans after missing Midwinter in San Diego. Next year? We’ll see…)

Meanwhile, I’ll get over the discouragement; I’m a Pollyanna by nature. (Not quite a Candide, maybe.)

Update: Given the interesting stream at FF based on these paragraphs, I’ve struck them out as being secondary to the quick, hopefully fun, summary…

So here’s a quick summary of this week as it’s gone:

A week in the life…in no particular order

  • Reviewed the proofs (editable PDF) for the forthcoming Open Access: What You Need to Know Now from ALA Editions. Twice. Made three very minor proposed changes; sent back revised proofs. (Book now just awaiting CIP before going to press…)
  • Prepared a “pseudobook”/pamphlet on templates, typeface choices, type size and leading, and copyfitting in Word, and an accompanying Word 6×9 book template using 11pt. Garamond, partly in preparation for the last 10 minutes of a talk my wife is doing, partly as a draft form of a small portion of a book I’m proposing to do. (The pamphlet’s available free as a PDF, $10 as a 38-page paperback. If you download the PDF or the template, I’d love to hear comments–I don’t believe I’ll know when people download a zero-cost PDF from Lulu, and, not surprisingly, nobody’s purchased the paperback.)
  • Prepared the PowerPoint slides and accompanying notes for the brief talk, most of them screen snippets of steps in the uploading process. (Windows 7 Snipping Tool for the win!). Discovered this weekend that I’m also supposed to mention templates, so I’ll add a couple more slides this week. (The talk’s on February 8.)
  • Got back a preliminary negative response on the proposed book, with room open to submit a revised proposal. Thought about revising the proposal, but didn’t actually do anything about it.
  • Drafted a “Crawford at Large” column for Online Magazine; it’s finished, and I’ll review it once more tomorrow before submitting it.
  • Took three books back to the library (after only 2.5 weeks, not the usual 3), took three new books out. Read one of them–Plastic Fantastic by Eugenie Samuel Reich, a surprisingly engrossing story about fraud in physics.
  • Watched one old movie, the usual current and past TV shows (one per day plus the Saturday night movie), went for a Wednesday hike, and did the usual weekly stuff…
  • Didn’t do a lick of work on the next Cites & Insights…but probably will next week. Although, since I already have most of an issue (the second half of the big essay in the current issue…)

Exciting, no? OK, no…

Most likely the shortest book I’ll ever self-publish

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Psst. Wanna buy a book of mine for only $10? A book with none of those fancy-dancy wraparound cover photos?

Well, here’s your chance–although I’m not sure how long it will last:

Refining Your PoD Book: Quick Notes on Typography and Copyfitting

It’s 38 whole pages long. It’s 6×9. The cover is…well, it’s one of Lulu’s freebie backgrounds and templates, and as with many of those, it seems to have a lot of room for text on the back cover. I’ve never used a Lulu cover before (as opposed to either uploading front & back images or uploading a wraparound image), and I’ll probably never use one again…but the circumstances this time are, well, unusual.

Why does this book(let) exist?

Two overlapping reasons:

  • My wife agreed to speak at a local genealogical/history society about how she went about self-publishing two books on her family’s history. The people doing the inviting also wanted me to spend a few minutes talking about the actual Lulu process–I think I have ten minutes. And, of course, they want PowerPoint. So my wife suggested that I take a dummy book through the stages of project definition and uploading, maybe canceling it at the last step, capturing screenshots along the way for PPT.
  • I’ve written a preliminary proposal–which needs refining–to do a book on how public libraries (or libraries in general) can help tell the stories in their communities by facilitating self-publishing, without spending serious money on software. That means using Word (or OpenOffice) and some form of PDF generator, but nothing more (except, I suppose, some sort of image editor to build a good-looking cover).  If I did that book, a portion of it would be on the steps between finishing the manuscript (including editing and proofreading) and having a book–including appropriate use of templates and styles, typographic choices within Office2007 (I’ll update that to Office2010 if/when there’s a book contract), type size and leading, justification…and the wonderful world of copyfitting.

I decided to use a very crude version of that portion as my “dummy book.” No, it’s not Copyfitting for Dummies–I suspect I’d get sued the minute a book with that title was available on Lulu. It’s also not, how you say, terribly polished.

So now I’ll actually upload the promised free template (turns out Word2007 really doesn’t have any decent general-purpose book templates, and Lulu’s templates are on the crude side) and put all the PNG files (prepared using Snipping Tool, which I really, really like) into PPT slides…and then write up a 10-minute set of notes for the 16 slides (some of which might disappear).

So, you know, I’m not exactly promoting the book–but I’m also leaving it available, at least for now. At 38 pages, there’s not enough spine for spine text. Oh, and if you have a curious fascination (or want to offer advice on how I should do this better or why I shouldn’t do it at all) but aren’t ready to spend $10+shipping, the PDF is a free download. Free strikes me as a plausible price.

Some milestones require celebration

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Aha. Here’s part 3 of the test–and note the URL. In fact, WordPress did detect an identical URL and auto-generated a “-2” to the previous title.

I’m happy with that.

What does this have to do with milestones? Not much.

Testing whether WordPress will prevent duplicate URLs on long titles when using title URLs, Part 2

Monday, January 24th, 2011

So here’s the second post, and I think I see the answer: To wit, WordPress will allow a very long URL. And, in this case, where I copied the title, then discarded the draft (because I thought the URL had been truncated), it appears that it automatically adds a “-2” (because the discarded draft is probably still around.

So I guess the answer is:

  • Duplicate URLs shouldn’t happen–probably not even if you deliberately use precisely the same actual title (I’ll test that shortly)
  • But WP URLs can get pretty long…

All things considered, I think this is preferable behavior.

Testing whether WordPress will prevent duplicate URLs on long titles when using title URLS, Part 1

Monday, January 24th, 2011

This is just a test. Apparently SixApart’s “use title in the URL” option (assuming it’s an option, as it is in WP) will cheerfully generate identical URLs for more than one post, if the only difference in the title comes at the end of a fairly long string. (John DuPuis accidentally discovered this.)

Is the same true for WordPress? This is Part 1 of a two-part test to find out; I’ll post Part 2 in a few minutes.

“You can’t buy a place for…”

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

“…less than $700K in the Bay Area.”

That’s what a caller said on Car Talk this morning–an airline pilot who lives in Alaska, has been transferred to fly out of San Francisco, and has decided to live in a van rather than trying to buy or rent a place…because, you know, “you can’t buy a place in the Bay Area for less than $700,000.”

To which my wife and I both impolitely responded, “Bullshit.”

Since the pilot plans to spend most of her free time back in Alaska, there’s no plausible reason for her to buy or rent in San Francisco itself: SF is a long way from SFO.

Housing prices around SFO ain’t cheap–but they’re nowhere near as crazy as she seems to imply. In practice, of course, for this kind of reassignment, she should rent, not buy–and rentals in San Bruno (adjacent to SFO) or South San Francisco (nearby, but maybe a 15 minute commute instead of 10 minutes) run as low as $950/month for a house, much less an apartment–I saw $985/month for a 1,330 square foot 3&1 house on Zillow. That may not be peanuts, but it’s not OMG HOW CAN ANYBODY AFFORD THIS! either.

As for houses, here’s what I see in San Bruno just looking casually:

$299K for a 2&1. $339K-$354K for other 2&1s. $410K for a 1,000 sq.ft. 3&1. $495K for what looks like a really nice 1,544 sq.ft. 3&2–that’s substantially larger than the house we lived in for the last 11 years…

In South San Francisco, I see $395K for a 1,500 sq. ft. house, $568K for a 2,220 4&3–that’s a pretty big house.

Those are just places that would represent really easy commutes. The “Bay Area” covers a lot more ground, including Oakland and Richmond, where $700K would go a LONG way. Neither one is Detroit-cheap, but neither one is all that expensive.

No real significance here. I’ve been amused by claims that everything costs a fortune out here, not just real estate–one post I saw claimed that even milk was super-expensive. Well, the daily price for gallon jugs of milk at our neighborhood market is $2.78. Same price at Safeway; your choice of whole, 2%, or skim. That’s the gallon price. Is it really that much cheaper where you live? (Ordinary bread? Frequently on sale at $0.80/loaf for Safeway 1.5lb. loaf. Is that super high?)

Some milestones require celebration

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Achieving the mark of the beast!

…and on a Sunday, too.

Actually, that’s the lowest Feedburner has shown for Walt at Random in months (it usually hovers between 800 and 960), so either Feedburner’s going through another periodic oscillation (which seems to happen) or there’s been a huge feed-cleaning among library folk going on recently.

(“Snipping Tool” in Windows 7, which I used here, is a really neat way to grab just a portion of a screen and save it without hassle…and yes, it’s part of Windows itself, not a download of any sort.)

The Zip Report: Andersonomics at Work

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Just a quick note along the way as to how various forms of using Andersonomics to keep most of my content free are working out:

  • Number of copies of The Liblog Landscape 2007-2010 sold in last four weeks: Zero.
  • Number of copies of the signed limited-edition disContent: The Complete Collection sold in last eight weeks: Zero. [Number of weeks remaining: Six. Number of copies still available: 97.]
  • Amount of donations received via pay-what-it’s-worth links for Cites & Insights within the last eight months: Zero.
  • Oh, I forgot this one: You get great highly-paid speaking invitations when you give away good content. Number of speaking invitations within the last eight months (or number of paid/expenses-reimbursed invitations within the last 18 months): Zero.

Interest in doing more publicity posts to try to engender some interest in either of the two books: Zero.

Meanwhile, the proofs for my first traditionally-published book in eight years look really good… and yes, I’m working on some other book proposals for traditional publishers.

Belief in “freeconomics” as a reasonable way for a non-rockstar with a fairly strong readership to make content free and still make enough money to even pay for new versions of Office or annual website hosting: Zero.

Real data on library use of social networks?

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Here’s an honest question that may reflect my lack of intimate current knowledge of the formal library literature:

Has anyone studied the actual use of social networks by public libraries other than those with high-profile spokespeople/advocates? Better yet, has anyone done so on a scale broad enough to be anything more than anecdata?

I’m asking not because I assume the results would be “not much of any use” but, actually, the opposite: I’m beginning to suspect there’s a lot of real-world l0w-key adoption that we don’t hear about.

Why? Anecdata, of course. I was reducing the 16,000 words of Cites & Insights 11:2 to a 2,000-word Online column and found myself adding new material—and wondering what I’d find locally.

Just for fun, I thought I’d see what elements of 2.0 technologies I could locate at three well-used local public libraries—the one I use now and the two I used previously. None of these have high profiles nationally; all are reasonably but not lavishly funded; all are in a region where use of social networking and other “2.0” tools should be predictably high. All three communities are roughly the same size (70,000-75,000 population).

The library I use now, Livermore Public Library, has had the same director for more than two decades. She has a blog—but doesn’t use it all that often, with nine posts in the three years since it began. (One post speaks to the nonsense you hear sometimes from doomcryers about most people not wanting or using public library services: In a local survey, 81% of respondents reported using LPL—and they rated service quality at 79 on a 100-point scale, a very high result.) There’s also a teen blog—but it’s only had three posts in its one-year life. LPL also has a Facebook page with a fairly steady stream of updates on LPL programs (seven updates in the last two weeks) “liked” by 550 people and a Twitter feed with 172 followers, with 905 tweets to date. How many of those 172 followers are actual Livermore residents interested in library issues? That’s a tougher question. There’s also a mobile catalog, a version of LPL’s catalog stripped down to a bare all-text minimum. All in all, a reasonable showing for a library with high usage and budgetary problems that stem entirely from city budgetary problems.

Mountain View Public Library devotes most of a straightforward home page to a catalog search box and set of current events—but there’s also a “Social Networking” icon that leads to a surprising wealth of items, some oddly identified (e.g., the library’s blog is identified as Blogspot rather than by its name). The library blog appears to serve as the source of the home page’s center strip; it’s entirely official announcements and book reviews and has ten posts in the past 3.5 months. A Teen Blog began in April 2010 and had 45 posts during 2010. There’s also a Delicious page with the library’s bookmarks (189 in all), a Facebook page with 285 people Liking it and 15 items in the past month—and another TeenZone Facebook page with 37 people liking it, clear evidence of teen patron involvement but relatively few recent updates; a Flickr photostream with 93 photos; two Twitter streams, a general one having 311 followers (and itself following 169 other streams!) and a fairly steady stream of tweets and a much smaller teen stream (33 followers, 88 tweets); and—unusually—a Yelp link, where you’ll find 89 reviews for the library. (Based on those reviews, MVPL is doing quite a few things right!) All in all, an impressive showing.

Like Livermore, Redwood City Public Library has a slideshow current-even element on its home page which can be either great or annoying. The front page doesn’t link directly to any blogs—but does have Facebook and Twitter icons. The Facebook page has 295 people Liking it and four updates in the last two weeks; the Twitter stream has 124 followers and 123 tweets—four of them within the last two weeks. In fact, RCPL had one of the earliest public library blogs, Liblog, beginning in 2002—but its URL now links directly to the library’s home page.

Conclusion? All of these libraries are using social networks with varying effectiveness. None of them makes a big deal of their usage. That may be as it should be.