Archive for March, 2011

Cites & Insights 11:4 (April 2011) available

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Cites & Insights 11:4 (April 2011) is now available for downloading at

The 32-page issue, PDF but with most essays also available as HTML separates, includes:

Perspective: Writing about Reading pp. 1-24

Dipping one toe gingerly into the ebook/ereader waters, here’s the first of a two-part megaperspective on the nature of books, reading and writing. (Anticipate the snarkier second part in the May 2011 issue, barring surprises.)

Trends & Quick Takes pp. 24-27

More predictions, the gap between tools and talent, the cost of “free,” and seven quicker takes.

The CD-ROM Project pp. 27-30

Six title CD-ROMs about political and cultural leadership–and, unfortunately, the message is right in the title: “Sometimes They Just Don’t Work.”

My Back Pages  pp. 30-32

Only three of nine snarky little essays have anything to do with audiophilia–and in one case, that’s stretching things.


Open Access, the book: It looks great

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Yesterday, I received an advance copy of Open Access: What You Need to Know Now.

In case you haven’t ordered it yet for your library (and maybe for some of your librarians), you really should–certainly for every public library and every special library that serves researchers, and I think most public libraries should also be aware of these things.

ISBN 978-0-8389-1106-8. $45 ($40.50 for ALA members).

I pretty much knew how it was going to look–after all, the “galleys” were in the form of a PDF, lacking only the (very good six-page) index and cover. I had a pretty good idea what the cover would look like, since this is an ALA Editions Special Report, with a uniform cover design differing only in primary color. It looks great, actually–set in Palatino Linotype with headings and quoted material in Avenir.

It’s 76 pages long, 8.5×11″–and the more I think about it, the more I think that has its advantages, particularly for a book like this one. Namely, it looks short and easy to read–in some ways, even shorter than it actually is. (It’s 30,000 words. If I reformat the text as a 6×9 paperback, it would be almost exactly the same thickness as First Have Something to Say–around 130 pages with index.)

I’d like to think it is easy to read (I certainly tried to write clearly), but there’s also quite a bit of meat here, including lots of ways to find out more about open access.

The back cover has wonderful blurbs from three people I regard as important for open access–the same three people who reviewed the draft version and gave me considerable help in making the final version better. They know how much improvement there was…

Here’s what they have to say:

Charles W. Bailey, Jr.:

Open Access: What You Need to Know Now is an insightful, concise overview of the open access movement by one of librarianship’s best authors. Highly recommended.”

Dorothea Salo:

“Walt calmly and lucidly lays out the complexities and perplexities of the open-access movement in this evenhanded guide. Recommended for all librarians interested in serials, scholarly communication, or the future of research and research libraries.”

Peter Suber:

“Walt Crawford has done something difficult and useful. He’s written a short, accurate, independent introduction to open access. I recommend it to researchers and libraries everywhere, and hope it corrects misunderstandings that have held back this good idea for years.”

I am, of course, extremely grateful for these kind words, particularly coming from people who’ve done more than I have to move OA forward.

I do believe this is both the right length and the right time.

In some ways, this may be the most important book I’ve ever written. It deserves wide reading, within the library field and among researchers and funders.

Update: I’m informed that there is also a Kindle edition available right this very minute, for those who prefer ebooks–and it’s only $36.

On a side note, this is my first non-self-published book in eight years. It was a pleasure to work with ALA Editions. And for those who think professional publishers always take forever to get anything done, I would note that it took no more than four months from the time I sent ALA Editions the manuscript to the time the book emerged in print. That’s part of the Special Reports idea, and it works.

Oh, and I don’t believe it will be eight more years before my next book from a “real” publisher (as opposed to surreal publishers like Cites & Insights Books). More on that when something happens.

Mystery Collection Disc 22

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The order of movies on the disc is not the same as the order on the sleeve. My comments appear in the actual order on the disc.

Four Deuces, 1976, color. William H. Bushnell (dir.), Jack Palance, Carol Lynley, Warren Berlinger, Adam Roarke. 1:27 [1:24].

Previously reviewed (May 2008). Back then, the sleeve called it “a tongue-in-cheek crime melodrama”; while that’s no longer true on the sleeve, the movie’s clearly intended that way. Here’s what I said in 2008; I didn’t watch it a second time:

…It has a fine cast, with Jack Palance, Warren Berlinger and Carol Lynley (among others). It’s done comic-book style, with big color captions popping up on some scene changes. The print’s pretty good, sound is fine, good Roaring 20s music, reasonably well filmed.

…Maybe that’s enough. It’s a lively story with loads of action, double crossing, explosions, gunsels, maidens in distress… No heroes, really, but a variety of villains in what’s basically an old-fashioned prohibition-era gang-vs.-gang war, with each gang having a speakeasy as headquarters. Somehow I couldn’t get into it. Sure, you could say it’s all comic-book violence, but it seemed as though the only ways to move the plot forward were machine guns and arson. I don’t know about tongue-in-cheek, but I found it offputting. You might think it’s great good fun. I didn’t, and wind up with (charitably) $1.00.

The Limping Man, 1953, b&w. Cy Endfield and Charles De la Tour (dir.), Lloyd Bridges, Moira Lister, Alan Wheatley, Leslie Philips, Helene Cordet. 1:16.

The movie begins on an airplane with Lloyd Bridges returning to his seat, asking the person next to him what happened to the magazine he was reading, being told that the person behind him borrowed it, and then settling in for the remaining hour of a flight to London.

Once he gets off in London, things get strange: A person right behind him in line is shot by a sniper; the police ask questions; he can’t reach the woman who was supposed to meet him…and we spiral into an odd and complex mystery involving illicit goods, two musical numbers, a dead man who may not be, mixed motives and an ending that…

Well, I guess the scriptwriters had trouble with the ending. I won’t give away what they finally did, but fans of Bob Newhart or certain movies set in and above Kansas might guess. Let’s say it’s a real comedown from the rest of the film that cheapens the whole business. (The feature review at IMDB calls it a “moronic ending,” and I think that’s about right. That, plus a damaged print, reduces an otherwise serviceable (if perhaps overly complex) semi-noir mystery to $1.00.

Trapped, 1949, b&w. Richard Fleischer (dir.), Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt, James Todd. 1:18.

Lloyd Bridges once more—this time as a forger who’s in prison when his masterpiece $20s start showing up again. With staged escapes, lots of ambiguity and a fair amount of double-crossing, it’s a nice little adventure/mystery. (This time, Hoyt’s a hero—a government agent—and Bridges a villain.)

The major drawback I saw was the opening six minutes and closing two minutes, essentially an advertorial for the Treasury Department. It’s all very stirring and even informative, but once you get to the plot it’s clear that no Treasury person will ever be less than wholly moral and clean, and I think that weakens the movie somewhat. Even so, it’s a well-done film with great atmosphere, good writing and some nice little twists, easily worth $1.50.

The Pay Off, 1930, b&w. Lowell Sherman (dir.), Lowell Sherman, Marian Nixon, Hugh Trevor, William Janney. 1:05 [1:10]

Here’s an odd one that, despite its 1:10 length, feels more like a vignette than a movie. We open on a city park around midnight, with two cops walking the beat and a young couple asleep on a park bench. One cop wakes the couple, who start discussing their plans to marry the next day on the $230 the young man’s saved from his job as an assistant to an apartment super. A bad guy overhears the $230, robs them, and sets the plot in motion—because the young man’s been to one particular apartment where some folks play high-stakes poker. As things progress, the couple tries to hold up the folks in the apartment and recognize that one of them is the robber, but they only want their $230 back. Naturally, the bad guys turn the tables on the good guys, but…

Well, the robber’s a young punk who is part of a gang run by another guest (Lowell Sherman, director and lead), a mastermind who specifically tries to avoid gunplay and is quite suave. The mastermind views the young couple as an opportunity, takes them back to his apartment, treats them well…and, eventually, the young punk manages to involve them in a jewel theft where the punk shoots the jeweler. Later, the mastermind shoots the punk in self-defense—but his former girlfriend (or moll), now attached to the punk, decides that he’s Guilty and should be Shot. This leads us to the gang’s meeting room inside the nightclub that the mastermind set up…and, as he’s trying to make his case, the cops arrive (with everybody but the young couple fleeing the scene).

And yet, this doesn’t feel like much. It all comes down to a DA claiming he can fry the young man because he was, somehow, involved in the jewel theft/murder as an accessory and whether the mastermind will ‘fess up, condemning himself to save them. Can there be any question? All very heartwarming, all very improbable. All in all, I can’t give this more than $1.00.

Followup to a leisure-time post

Friday, March 4th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a long essay about a certain leisure activity that’s proving to be a great way to deal with interstitial time at the computer–the times when something’s taking a while to load or when I need a brief break within a long or boring task, and have already walked around.

That essay included the note that, in my geeky desire to track how long it actually takes to go through 200 coins ($50 of quarters) playing optimally but not playing maximum coins, I found that the third run–actually the fourth–was taking a while.

I finally finished it, in what would have been the equivalent of maybe three years of normal gaming back in the old days, maybe five years now: 29,001 hands, or a payback percentage of 99.31%. Which is less than the theoretical payback if playing maximum coins, but considerably better than the theoretical payback playing one coin (98.4%).

Added a bit later: I forgot one thing–checking up on my belief that I’d been ahead of the game for at least two years of light gaming here and there. Easy: In this run, I was continually ahead for at least 19,000 hands in the middle of the game–which at current gaming rates is probably three years of playing. In the long run, of course, the odds caught up with me. Then again, when a tiny variation can shift things that far, you run into the answer to “In the long run…” — “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

Considerably better?

Yes. Numbers get very strange when you deal with percentages at the edge. So, for example:

  • In the third run, I played 11,310 hands for a payback of 98.23%.
  • In the fourth run, I played 29,001 hands for a payback of 99.31%.
  • The difference in percentage: “trivial”–1.08%. The difference in actual playing: Nearly three times the number of hands.

I also tracked the effects of my “system” of varying bets, which should yield favorable results if I’m getting streaky hot hands (3 of a kind or better) and terrible results if I’m going hot & cold. In this case, the “system” was favorable to the tune of 54 coins–but, looking at actual hands, that really means I would have played about 250 fewer hands without varying bets, or about 28,751 hands (99.30%).

That item also shows the problem with playing max coins if you’re gaming, not gambling: it doesn’t take much of a cool streak to run through $50 at $1.25/hand. Try 92 hands (maybe 40 minutes play in a casino) today, and I’ve seen even faster descent.

This was an extraordinary run, with more than one royal flush (which I’d never had in the past–never) albeit no straight flushes (there should have been about three in 30,000 hands. As for everything else, though, while any given playing session can be incredibly streaky–e.g., seven four-of-a-kinds in 1,500 hands or three in 892 hands–over a long period, you do tend toward the mean (and this long run was maybe my long-term lousy play or lousy luck regressing toward the mean). As in, over 17,800 of the hands (the last 2/3 of the play, mostly):

  • 0.19% of hands were four of a kind, compared to expected 0.24%
  • 1.14% were full houses, compared to expected 1.15%
  • 1.12% were flushes, compared to expected 1.10%.
  • 1.18% were straights, compared to expected 1.12%
  • 7.34% were three of a kind, compared to expected 7.44%
  • 13.22% were two pair, compared to expected 12.92%
  • 21.08% were jacks or better, compared to expected 21.46%
  • 54.73% were losers, compared to expected 54.56%

If you’d asked me, I’d have said I get more 3 of a kind than I expect, more full houses and fewer straights–which says a lot about expectations! (Those odds also show why the payoff for full houses is so important: It pays much better than straights or flushes but hits just about as often–also why drawing to a non-flush inside straight is always stupid, since the odds are terrible and the payoff’s lousy.)

I’ve made the one “expert play” adjustment based on not playing max coins: Namely, when dealt four to a flush, of which three are royal, I keep the four (where “expert play” would have me drop them). The really agonizing one–where you get a full flush dealt, four of which are to a royal flush–it still, just barely, makes sense to drop the non-royal card, but that sure is painful.

Well, a little less painful since no money is involved.

I think that’s the end of these gaming posts, at least for a while. If I never get a run like this again, which seems likely, this one was still fun, even if it was a minute there, two minutes there, at most five minutes elsewhere…


National Day of Unplugging: Count me out

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has a story on the National Day of Unplugging, which is from sundown today to sundown tomorrow (Saturday).

It’s in the Business section, with a big picture of Anne Wojcicki, cofounder of 23andme Inc. and Sergey Brin’s wife. Wojcicki “sometimes carries four cell phones, sleeps with a BlackBerry on her pillow and finds herself instant messaging people sitting next to her.”

The reporter seems to think that everyone is as addicted as she seems to be: “Consider how increasingly rare it is to get through a conversation or a meal without someone glancing at their phone.” Really? We took my brother & sister-in-law out to dinner last night (at a casual Italian place), the place was nearly full, and I don’t believe I saw one cell phone in use at any table in our vicinity–certainly not ours. Yes, I do see some people at some lunch places making a point of placing their phones on the table so they’re always in touch. I wouldn’t voluntarily dine or converse with these folks.

Wojcicki “hopes to institute the tradition weekly around the household” and says “It’s really about achieving balance and spending some time where you’re really just connected with the environment and the people around you.”

So during Sabbath (yes, the NDU was created by a group “focused on updating Jewish traditions to make them more relevant to modern life”) you’ll take 24 precious hours away from Your Precious in all its connecting glory. And think you’ve achieved balance?

I’m not having it. Oh, it’s quite likely that I won’t be on a cell phone between sundown tonight and sundown Saturday: That’s true most days. But I’ll almost certainly use email and FriendFeed and look at other online sources as appropriate. Never during a meal, to be sure, and never during a conversation, and not while we’re out enjoying the real world, and not when we’re watching TV, and not when I’m reading.

That’s called balance: making an appropriate place for interruptive technology and keeping it in its place. Period. Except for emergencies–and, you know, you’d be surprised how few true emergencies there are in most people’s lives.

Hey, if declaring a National Day gets that Blackberry off your pillow for one night, I guess that’s progress. But don’t tell me it’s balance, and don’t confuse taking an occasional timeout with achieving some form of sensible balance.

Multiple trivia

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Another post with no grand meaning–just a few miscellaneous items.

Cheapo movies in color and broken plastic

I gave the five-disc pack of 20 Spaghetti Westerns (really 19 Spaghetti Westerns and Possibly The Worst Western Ever Filmed, but not an SW) to a friend who loves this stuff…and saw Mill Creek’s bigger package, “Spaghetti Westerns”–not quite a 50-pack, but a 44-pack on 11 discs–for about $15 on Amazon. Since I know I want to watch some of them again and enjoyed most of them, I put the pack in a new Amazon wishlist.

And also remembered how much I’d enjoyed, just as pure dumb entertainment, the Hercules-and-friends “hero” movies in one of the Mill Creek megapacks. There’s a whole 50-pack of them, “Warriors,” a 13-disc set (really 12.5 discs). Also put that in the wishlist.

Checked last week. Both were at $11.99. My wife needed a supplement we get through Amazon. So, hey, why not?

They arrived today. I’m sure I’ll enjoy both sets when I get around to them some time in the next few years. But there was one difference, consistent with the smaller sets I’d received free from MCE: Instead of the old cardboard boxes, these came in plastic boxes.

Snazzier, but with one little problem (also true of a couple of the smaller sets): The plastic is brittle. In both boxes, which I opened to make sure the discs were all there, there were broken pieces of the box. Oh, I could send them back to Amazon, but why bother? The boxes are still workable, and that’s a lot of hassle for such cheap items. In a way, it’s an odd sort of progress: the new boxes are much snazzier for retail sale and appear much sturdier, but in fact the old cardboard boxes hold up much better.

Generations and personal issues

Jenica’s right, of course, on both counts.

Will library bloggers stop tossing out generational arguments that hold no water?

About as soon as library gurus stop trying to convince public librarians that print books are DOOMED (based on various oversimplistic theories, certainly not based on significant drops in either library print circulation or sales of print books) and that they should run away from the things their patrons actually use, toward some wonderful new future in which, well, you pay for each use or convince your city government that a community center needs professional librarians to run it. Good luck with that.

What? HarperCollins actually surprised you? You thought that you owned that ebook?

Hmm. I’ve combined three or four different things there, haven’t I?

“Hell, Walt, you’re old. You should retire.”

I did, whether willingly or not. But, of course, the job itself went away–and it was never a professional librarian post.

Not asking questions when you don’t want the answers

I’m moving forward with stuff for the April C&I (out sometime between 3/15 and 3/31) and, as it happens, the May issue.

I’m also still dealing with a recent incident in which I was told, in effect, that there were only a handful of people who gave a damn about one area I was active in. Which removed a bunch of already-written material I’d expected to use in C&I.

I find that I don’t want to ask about other aspects of C&I. That answer was hard on me. I concluded two things:

  • I shouldn’t ask a question when I might not want the answer.
  • I should work with real publishers on all but the smallest projects.

I’m doing the latter. One result is out this month from ALA Editions. I’m hoping for one more each year…

Or, what the hell, there’s an unlimited supply of books out there to be read, at least unlimited in terms of my reading capabilities…but, you know, maybe later.