Archive for May, 2011

Mystery Collection, Disc 25

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Big Town After Dark, 1947, b&w. William C. Thomas (dir.), Philip Reed, Hillary Brooke, Richard Travis, Anne Gillis, Vince Barnett. 1:09.

Crime reporter sells her first novel, gets teased about it by the managing editor (who’s also fond of her), resigns with two weeks notice. Owner of paper has niece who wants job (but he’d just as soon see her not get one); managing editor decides to hire niece as new crime reporter as tactic to convince the other one to stick around. Yes, there’s a nod to similar plots: someone in the newsroom at police headquarters mentions “Remember what happened to Hildy?”

Seems that the niece isn’t exactly the innocent journalism student she claims to be. There’s a fairly complex and quite lively plot involving semi-legal private gambling clubs, “kidnapping” and more. It all works quite well, and was a pleasure to watch. $1.50.

Born to Fight, 1936, b&w. Charles Hutchinson (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Jack La Rue, Frances Grant, Fred “Snowflake” Toones. 1:05 [1:08]

The mystery here is mostly why this is in this collection. It’s a boxing film primarily—with lots of stuff about honor and, strangely, two big musical numbers. The hero is a handsome young lightweight boxer in New York who devastates his opponents with a 1-2-3 punch combination and then makes sure the opponents are OK. His manager won’t take him on the road, but he’s still Destined for Greatness.

Until the local hotshot crooked gambler encounters him at a swanky restaurant, yells at him for not taking a dive in the latest fight and costing the gambler a chunk, and punches him—to which he responds, of course. At which point, with the gambler injured, his manager tells him he has to get out of town—thumb his way to Chicago.

During which process, as he winds up in a hobo camp, we get a bunch of hobos staging a multipart-harmony original song, conductor and all; we get an even younger and small hobo who’s being picked on by the other hobos and who fights back; we get a free-for-all with the boxer involved; and, before we know it, the kid and the boxer are on the lam, make their way to Chicago, and the boxer becomes the kid’s manager, using an assumed name…and trying to teach the kid to lead with his left, not his right.

I won’t bother with the rest of the plot. There’s another bizarre musical number. It’s interesting that we get a happy ending only because somebody gets shot dead at a convenient plot point. Lots’o’boxing, not a whole lot of acting, a somewhat sketchy print and, at best, worth $0.75.

Borderline, 1950, b&w. William A. Seiter (dir.), Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr, José Torvay, Morris Ankrum. 1:28. Previously reviewed (C&I 8:5, May 2008):

Maybe I saw too much of Raymond Burr on TV, but his bad-guy movie roles always strike me as suiting him better than Perry Mason. This one’s no exception. Burr is a drug ringleader (or one rung below leader) in Mexico. MacMurray and Trevor are two different American agents sent—by two different agencies—to infiltrate the gang. Naturally, each of them thinks the other one’s part of the gang. Naturally, they fall in love. Naturally, it all works out. It’s an odd combination—part comedy, part noir, part “melodrama” as the sleeve says—but, to my mind, it works pretty well. For that matter, MacMurray makes a fine leading man and tough guy. I found it enjoyable and the print’s pretty good. $1.50.

The Girl in Lover’s Lane, 1959, b&w. Charles R. Rondeau (dir.), Brett Halsey, Joyce Meadows, Lowell Brown, Jack Elam, Selette Cole. 1:18 [1:16].

We begin with a young man in a suit being chased in a trainyard by two punks—and at one point he tosses his wallet into an open freight car, just before the punks catch him, knock him out and complain that there’s no wallet. The drifter who’d been in the freight car pulls him in and, after he wakes up, discusses the realities of being a hobo. (The drifter is notably also fairly well-dressed and clean-shaven.) The kid has $100, a fortune apparently; he’s running away from his wealthy parents (because they’re thinking of divorce) and is willing to provide the dough if the two can travel together for a while.

They get to a small town, Sherman. Almost immediately the kid gets in trouble in a pool hall by flashing his money—and the four punks at the pool hall clearly want to beat up the two guys and take the $100. Somehow, that’s not how the fight works out. There’s also a café with a lonely beautiful young waitress (daughter of the owner/cook)…

Long story short, the older guy gets involved with the girl (but still aims to leave town) while filling part-time at the café; a local creep (Jack Elam) who “seems harmless” but pretty clearly isn’t resents the older guy; as the two are ready to leave town, they split up, the younger one does leave, and the local creep kills the waitress—who’s discovered, just before she actually dies, by the older drivter who’s decided he does love her and wants to stick around. Naturally, he winds up at the sheriff’s office and it’s clear a lynch mob will form. Which it does.

A real paean to small-town life: There’s a house of prostitution involved as well, half of the kids are criminal punks, the townsfolk immediately set out to lynch someone who might have done something; and the obviously-bizarre local isn’t suspected until he confesses. The print’s not very good, with some dialog missing and some fuzziness. Still, the flick’s not without some merit. I’ll give it $1.00.

Library 2.0: A Cites & Insights Reader

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Remember these paragraphs in a recent post?

But, in fact, I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been active–making much faster (and, I think, better) progress on my next “real” book than I anticipated.

Part of that progress, oddly enough, will yield a self-pub. book in the very near future, one that might herald one aspect of C&I’s future. More about that when it happens. It’s something I thought about doing a long time ago, but at this point the self-pub. becomes part of the professional book preparation (in an odd way), which makes it well worth the effort.

Well, it’s happened, so here’s more about it…although “it” isn’t quite as complete as I was hoping, and may change in the future.

Library 2.0: A Cites & Insights Reader

You can either click on the link above (which gets you to the book page, which may or may not include the download purchase link) or go to my “author spotlight” page (previously called my store), at, where you’ll find a brief description and buttons to purchase either the paperback or the PDF download.

The book includes five essays on Library 2.0 that appeared in Cites & Insights between 2006 and 2011, with no textual changes from the original essay but arranged in a single-column, 6×9″ with wide margins, format for easy reading. There’s a people-and-sources index.

The book includes:

  • Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0”: Volume 6 Issue 2, Midwinter 2006
  • Beyond Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0”: Volume 6 Issue 3, February 2006.
  • Library 2.0 Debased: Volume 8 Issue 3, March 2008
  • Library 2.0 Revisited: Volume 9 Issue 9, August 2009
  • Five Years Later: Library 2.0 and Balance: Volume 11, Issues 2 and 3, February and March 2011

The paperback costs $13.99. The PDF download costs $5.99. Both prices are set to yield $4.00 net to help keep Cites & Insights going.

The issues and essays online have been replaced by an announcement for the book–and the new, temporary, addresses for the original issues and essays. Given that the first essay continues to be downloaded more than most contemporary issues, and that I’ve never seen a dime’s worth of revenue or, for that matter, recognition that it’s still being used, I feel that this is a reasonable “speed bump,” at least until I find a revenue stream for C&I.

What’s Missing

My original plan was–and still is–to make this C&I Reader, possibly the first of several, available in a variety of ebook formats in addition to PDF (even though the 6×9 PDF should work beautifully on any netbook, notebook or desktop and on most e-readers with 6″ or larger screens).

But this book is also deliberately an example of micropublishing with little or no budget: The PDF is generated directly by Word2010 (as a PDF/A), not using Acrobat–and I could probably have prepared the book using LibreOffice. And the cover didn’t use graphics software: It’s entirely created using Lulu’s Cover Wizard and built-in themes. So I wasn’t going to go out and spend money on conversion tools for EPUB and Kindle PRC, especially given that I don’t expect to see huge amounts of revenue.

Theoretically, if I take the Word document, strip out running page headers and footers, and save as filtered HTML, Calibre should be able to convert it (with an added cover image from a separate file) to either EPUB or PRC (actually MOBI, but that’s supposedly the same format).

And, indeed, when I did this, the EPUB looked great in Calibre’s simulated ebook reader–I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked. The MOBI version wasn’t quite as good (all text had been converted to “serif” even though all headings in the original are in a sans typeface), but it was good enough.

Well…the EPUB may have looked great in Calibre, but Lulu’s upload process (to submit an EPUB to the iBookstore, with Apple taking 30% and Lulu taking 20% of the remainder, so to get roughly $4 I’d have to charge $6.99 or $7.99) said it was error-filled, listing errors that I don’t even understand. Oh, Lulu would be happy to fix them…for a price.

And my attempt to create a Kindle Direct Publishing account, so I could try the MOBI/PRC version (which would need a $5.99 price to yield around $4), failed. I may try again, although at this point I have little faith that Kindle will like the Calibre-created MOBI file any better than Lulu liked the Calibre-created EPUB file. (There’s also B&N’s PubIt process. Maybe later.)

In other words, it’s still the Wild West out there: ebook formats are nowhere near as easy to generate or deal with as nasty old PDF. That will change, but we’re not there yet.

I may try again later. We’ll see.

There may be more C&I Readers, depending on what happens with this one. There may not. I have no definite plans. Doing this one enabled me to show exactly how a micropublisher works with a service provider in step-by-step illustrations; that’s worthwhile in any case.

And if there are howls of pain or rage because it’s no longer a single click to pick up Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0” for free (yes, I have pointers to the new addresses…but I reserve the right to change those pointers and addresses periodically), well, show me the money. One correspondent has suggested that I should sponsor C&I myself…which sounds great, but since it’s already in a negative-revenue situation, I’m not sure how this improves matters. I haven’t eliminated the free versions, and I haven’t attempted to negate the CC licenses. I’m just trying to encourage a few people to pick up a neat bundle of the whole story as told here…and contribute a truly trivial sum to help keep C&I going.


Not missing, in action

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The comma placement is deliberate. May’s been a somewhat slow month for posts here (although still ahead of my original two-a-week estimate), certainly much slower than April. And some posts might leave readers thinking that I’m sitting here brooding, waiting for comments, and essentially doing nothing but fretting over C&I.

Gone missing or worse, in other words.

Fortunately, that’s not true. Oh, I’d still love to see some sponsorship, and I still invite comments, and I’m still not quite sure how C&I is going to look in the future…

But, in fact, I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been active–making much faster (and, I think, better) progress on my next “real” book than I anticipated.

Part of that progress, oddly enough, will yield a self-pub. book in the very near future, one that might herald one aspect of C&I’s future. More about that when it happens. It’s something I thought about doing a long time ago, but at this point the self-pub. becomes part of the professional book preparation (in an odd way), which makes it well worth the effort.

Otherwise…well, I really should use the ALA conference scheduler, I suppose, and draw up a skeleton schedule for the time I’ll be in New Orleans–that’s just a month away! I know I’m looking forward to it (and, oddly enough, to the red-eye and the several hours I’ll be at SFO before the red-eye: I’m leaving from the brand-new Terminal Two, and that alone should be worth a couple hours of exploration); I don’t know what I’ll be doing. Yet.

I don’t believe we’ll have a 10th anniversary C&I gathering, since–other than one local offering to find a location–there has been precisely no indications of interest in such a gathering. I assume the Bloggers Salon is defunct, which is a shame, so I’m not sure where I’ll run into people (maybe the LITA Happy Hour, if I go–but I’m no longer a LITA member either), but I’ll certainly be spending a fair amount of time in the exhibits. (And, should vendors be so inclined, which they usually aren’t, I’d certainly look at reception invitations favorably.)

Anyway: Onward, upward, sideways–this project is going very well.

Cites & Insights Revisited

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

It’s now roughly three weeks since “When an essay falls in the forest…,” two weeks since “Cites & Insights: Any point in updating?” and a little more than a week since publishing Cites & Insights 11:6 (June/July 2011), including the lead Bibs & Blather “Where do we go from here?

As far as I can tell, 528 people have clicked through to the first post, 357 to the second, and 460 have encountered the Bibs & Blather (370 issue downloads, 90 pageviews for the essay itself). I received four responses to the first, three to the second and one to the issue & essay. Of those eight responses, two seemed to be unaware that I even provide HTML versions of C&I essays and one was Steve Lawson’s “nothing you do is worth paying for” response. So, in my Candide/Pollyanna mood (my usual preference), and adding in at least five or six others who’ve made their support for C&I clear (Mark L., Fred G., Angel R. and others who purchased the disContent collection or contributed to C&I), I can use the 99:1 rule and say “there could be 1,000100 people who get something worthwhile out of C&I, but 99% of them won’t bother saying so.”

I count four people basically saying I’m doing good stuff–and, in some cases, that timeliness isn’t what they expect from C&I. Since timeliness has never been a regular part of C&I’s operating procedure, that’s fine–it mostly says that the latest Zeitgeist essay was a waste of my time.

But then there are those who feel that C&I should be nothing more than a blog–or that it’s always been a blog. The latter assertion is, to me, nonsensical. The former…

C&I as a series of blog posts

One of my possible outcomes was to shift C&I to a “web-first” model. Here’s what I mean by that:

  • I’d write essays using a new, more robust, web-oriented Word template, tweaked from the current web template to be a little more native-friendly. Referenced web items would be links, which they aren’t now.
  • Then I’d combine those essays into the print template, retaining links (to the extent that PDF supports live links).
  • I’d still publish the PDF and the HTML separates at the same time, but the text might differ (since I’d be doing final trims & copyediting on the PDF, not the HTML). So the PDF would be the canonical text–but the HTML would also be fully edited, but frequently longer and with a few different words.
  • I might do a separate additional Walt at Random post for each essay in an issue, in addition to the overall issue announcement. But those posts would provide the title, the same summary as in the issue announcement, and maybe the first two paragraphs of an essay–not the entire essay.

That’s clearly not turning C&I into a blog, that is, a series of blog posts.

Could I do the latter? Sure–and here’s what I think would happen:

  • I wouldn’t start a Cites & Insights blog. The posts would appear in Walt at Random. I’m not about to pay even more for domains; given that donations to date don’t even cover hosting & domain fees for C&I (and W.a.R.), it doesn’t make sense.
  • The current issue might be fully represented–but probably as 44 posts, not seven.
  • The previous issue? Wouldn’t happen at all–I just wouldn’t write essays that long and involving that much labor as blog posts, which I (and, I think, most readers) think of as far more ephemeral and less likely to keep gaining readers over the long haul than C&I issues & essays do. The April issue? “Writing about Reading” probably wouldn’t happen (it could be five posts, but it’s wildly improbable that I’d put in the effort to make the connections); the others might, but as fifteen little posts instead of three longer essays. March? Certainly no Five Years Later essay (and there goes February in its entirety) and I probably wouldn’t put in the effort for the T&QT either. Did I mention that February would certainly not have happened at all? January: Maybe…but as 42 little posts, and not including the Liblog Landscape chapter.
  • In other words: Given not only no revenue but no realistic chance of revenue, and the overwhelming likelihood that most posts would receive about the same readership as C&I essays do in their first week, not the 90% or more of readership that comes later, big essays with loads of synthesis & organization just would not happen. I’d save that energy for books (through regular publishers), paid articles (if any), or other stuff. I think that would be the only reasonable course of action.

Let’s put it this way: If C&I became a series of blog posts, period, you could pretty much assume that anything currently carrying the label “Perspective” (except Offtopic Perspectives–those already appear as blog posts, one disc at a time) would disappear. So would anything beginning “On” and (accidentally) not carrying the Perspective label. So would Making it Work, Copyright Currents (in both cases, except for the occasional possible little tidbit) and more.

Is that the future that would best serve C&I readers? I’d like to think otherwise. I’d like to think that the long pieces–the ones that involve organization, analysis, synthesis and commentary–really do add value. I’m 99.9% certain that those long pieces will not work as blog posts–they’re too long and won’t get the long-term readership.

Next steps

I’ve already decided on a breather--but if I’m going to try for a Kickstarter campaign, I’d need to make that decision soon, so that it could be complete before the next likely issue date for C&I (that is, mid-July).

Part of me, the realist beneath the Candide surface, suspects that a Kickstarter campaign is a waste of energy and will result in my being metaphorically Kickteethed–that is, that it will be lucky to yield even high three digits of commitment. And that might be discouraging enough to make me give up entirely.


So I’m thinking about that. [See update at end of post] A modest sponsorship would save the day. A few more donations wouldn’t hurt.

[Paragraph removed here because it was stupid and hurtful. That happens at times, and I apologize.]


Meanwhile, it’s back to work on my next book–which meets all three of my standing criteria for big projects and the new, crucial, fourth criterion:

  1. The project has to be one I’m interested in.
  2. It has to be something where I’m certain I can add real value.
  3. It has to be something I believe will serve (or at least entertain) hundreds or thousands within the library field.
  4. A library publisher with whom I’d like to work has to agree with me, and demonstrate a commitment to the book through an advance.

Not including my recent, mostly-failed, experiments in self-publishing (I regard Balanced Libraries as a modest success, but even that might have reached five to ten times as many people via ALA Editions or Information Today, Inc.), I published seven books in the 1980s, six in the 1990s and one in the 2000s. I’ve already matched the record for the 2000s, with two more books under contract. Will I have six books (through real publishers) in the 2010s? Dunno, but I’ll certainly make it halfway there…and, in every case, I’m certain it will be a project I’m interested, something where I add real value, and something that will serve hundreds or thousands within the library field. Heck, the current project should serve tens or hundreds of thousands within library communities–but that’s another story.

Update, May 21, 2011:

After spending some extended time looking at Kickstarter, publishing-related projects, the kinds of rewards that appear to work, etc., etc.:

I’ve abandoned the idea of a Kickstarter campaign. Whatever it is, Cites & Insights is neither literary nor a zine nor handcrafted (in the sense it would need to be). The fit with the kind of publishing projects that seem to do well in Kickstarter is very poor.

Additionally, since I’m not an artist or in a position to offer special handcrafted rewards, the rewards I’d need to offer for a Kickstarter campaign to make any sense would wind up taking a substantial portion of any pledges. That assumes that there would be a significant number of pledges–that there’s a community out there I’m not aware of that’s eager to fund Cites & Insights if I just did the right little video explaining it all (did I mention that I’m not a videographer?)

So that’s off the table. Everything else is still on the table. Comments still welcome.

Box Office Gold, Disc 3

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Catch Me a Spy (orig. To Catch a Spy), 1971, color. Dick Clement (dir.), Kirk Douglas, Marlène Jobert, Trevor Howard, Tom Courtenay, Patrick Mower. 1:34.

It’s a spy movie—or, rather, a spy romantic comedy. Hot young teacher (and daughter of a British Minister who seems to spend most of his time playing with games) is courted by a handsome young import/export businessman and, after three months, marries him. They begin their honeymoon in Bucharest so he can take care of some business…at which point, he’s arrested as a spy and taken to Moscow. Shortly before that, there’s some business with a “waiter” (Kirk Douglas) who tapes something into the lining of one of their two suitcases.

Things progress at a dizzying pace, as the wife tries to fly to Moscow, is drugged by the waiter in the airport, winds up flying to London, and manages to convince the government to trade her husband for a Soviet spy—the only Soviet spy that British intelligence has captured, apparently. That goes badly, and we proceed from there. (By now, we know that the husband is actually a double agent—near the end of the film, his ‘captor’ notes that he’s the only Soviet prisoner to gain weight.) There’s lots of plot, a fair amount of silliness, and generally good fun.

Great cast, well played in the light manner that suits the plot, flawed mostly by the soft print and panned-and-scanned version. Not a movie for the ages, but it’s fun and worth $1.50.

There Goes the Bride, 1980, color. Terry Marcel (dir.), Tom Smothers, Phil Silvers, Jim Backus, Broderick Crawford, Martin Balsam, Hermione Badderley, Twiggy. 1:30

Concussions sure are funny! Or at least that’s one way to read this comedy, since the plot turns on four concussions, each of which involves an immediate recovery but a changed view of reality. Tommy Smothers is an ad man always on the verge of a breakdown, whose daughter is getting married the same day he’s supposed to pitch for a new account. He also has some necessary errands to run—like, for example, picking up the groom’s parents from the airport.

As played, the ad man is so incompetent with reality that things would have gone wrong anyway, so bringing in an invisible flapper who’s later his invisible flapper wife just adds to what I guess is supposed to be insanely funny mixups. Maybe you have to be in the right mood. One key plot point: Apparently, in this universe’s version of the late 1970s or 1980, it was shocking for a young woman to have slept with her fiancée before the wedding—clearly, this wasn’t the 1970s I grew up in.

Great cast. I think a better script, livelier acting and better direction might have made more of this—but what the hey, it is a TV movie. Oh, wait—apparently it isn’t: It’s a production that sure feels like a TV movie and was first shown in the UK. Soft picture—even more so during sequences when Twiggy, the invisible flapper, is visible, but there the softness is apparently intentional. Charitably, if you’re really easily amused, $1.00.

Scandal Sheet, 1985 (TV), color. David Lowell Rich (dir.), Burt Lancaster, Lauren Hutton, Pamela Reed, Robert Urich. 1:41 [1:34]

What a cast! Burt Lancaster, Robert Urich, Lauren Hutton, Pamela Reed and others. What a…sad, trashy little movie. It’s about tabloid journalism, big pay, friendship and betrayal—except that it’s never quite clear who’s betraying whom. I couldn’t care about any of the characters. The script’s mediocre, the better-known actors don’t seem to much care, the picture’s a little soft. Even by TV movie, this one’s mostly a waste. If there’s a moral, it’s one most celebrities have learned: If you’re going into rehab for alcoholism or drugs, your publicist should announce it openly. The best I can do is $0.75.

The Driver’s Seat (orig. Identikit), 1974, col0r. Giuseppe Patroni Giffi (dir.), Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol. 1:45 [1:41]

How you feel about this Elizabeth Taylor vehicle will depend a lot on how you feel about Elizabeth Taylor (and, I suppose, truly strange Italian filmmaking). If you believe she was a gloriously beautiful woman and great actress at all times, you’ll thrill to this rarity, since she’s front and center in all but maybe 10 minutes of the film. Even then, though, you may go “wha?” from time to time.

The plot: A woman wants to meet the perfect man…to kill her. Along the way, she encounters various people, including several men, virtually all of whom attempt to rape her. (At least one of them has a schtick: He’s on a macrobiotic diet that requires him to have an orgasm a day.) That’s about it. Andy Warhol plays two brief scenes as a wholly disinterested lord, with all the vibrant flair of most Andy Warhol appearances—that is, he kept his eyes open throughout his scenes.

The print in this case was really very good—I’d say better than VHS quality—but there was a tiny disc flaw rendering 90 seconds unwatchable. I’m convinced that I didn’t miss anything that would have made this more than a very strange movie. I think the only people who would sit through this movie are Taylor completists and fans of vague Italian cinema. For them, it’s probably worth at least $1.25.

Expertise and reality

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Big title, little post–and if that makes you think of a moderately recent Randy Newman song, so be it.

This is a minor thought or three on two things encountered while reading a bunch of books on self-publishing and skimming one on ebook design, as part of the work I’m doing on a future book…

Thought the First

Writing a book on a topic does not make you The Expert on that topic. And “reading everything ever written on a topic” doesn’t make you The Expert on that topic either–although making such a claim suggests a weak link with reality, since for all but the narrowest topics it’s an impossible goal.

Maybe that’s all that need be said here.

Thought the second

Maybe it’s reasonable to question your expertise about X when you pretty clearly loathe X, and your expertise on book design in a book I regard as horribly designed.

I won’t name names here, and I know book design is very much a matter of personal taste. However, when a writer sets out to tell me how to use Word to do something, and it becomes abundantly clear that the writer (a) doesn’t like Word, (b) REALLY doesn’t like Word, (c) hasn’t really used it for more than a decade, (d) doesn’t understand Word…well, maybe it’s not surprising that the author then spends twice as much space on using InDesign (which every real writer should, of course, use) as a Great HTML Editor.

And when loads of supposed expertise on how books (ebooks in this case) really should work and all the detailed XHTML-level editing you should do to make them right appears in a book that (a) uses Bradley Hand for headings, (b) uses a body typeface that is not only sans, but a sans that apparently doesn’t have a proper italic version (namely, italic text within the book always has slanted-normal “a”s–with the lower bowl and upper left curve–rather than the simpler a without the upper curve that’s part of every proper italic typeface I’ve ever seen)…could be Verdana, could be Arial, both of which seem to have this defect…

Well, maybe I shouldn’t take your work seriously at all. Oh, and while it’s supposedly about designing for all ereaders, it’s…interesting…that, in a relatively short book, the author finds it necessary to go through the coding and examples for every. single. typeface. that’s. installed. on. the. iPad. Including Zapfino… (Geez. If it wasn’t set in 12 point type with a full 4 points extra leading, the book would really be short.)

Nature always bats last

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Seeing today’s news story of raising the floodgates on the Morganza spillway (on the Mississippi River in Louisiana) brought to mind one of the riverboat cruises we took back in the day–probably the one that reached the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Mississippi Atchafalaya River–in which a lecturer informed us of the great work the Army Corps of Engineers was doing to prevent an “ecological catastrophe.”

The nature of that “catastrophe,” and the grotesque misuse of the word “ecological” to describe it, was clear at the time–and the crossout above says that almost as clearly as the map in the news story does.

To wit: The ACE has, for the last five decades, prevented the Mississippi from being the Misssissippi–from flowing along the course the river carves. That course, at this point, is called the Atchafalaya. The only reason Baton Rouge is a navigable port and New Orleans is effectively a seaport is because the structure at Morganza has fought mightily to prevent the Mississippi from being a river and turn it into a managed waterway.

Updated: As noted in the first comment on this post, I’ve apparently confused Morganza with a larger upriver control structure that’s almost failed once in its attempt to prevent the Mississippi from being a river. I think the rest of the post still stands, though. End update.

Eventually, that effort had to fail. It’s a damn shame for the Cajuns and others within the Atchafalaya basin, whose livelihoods depended on their belief that people are more powerful than nature and, thus, willingness to live and work in a flood plain–more specifically, the natural course of the Mississippi. It’s fortunate for the people of New Orleans, who’ve had more than enough bad luck (aided by bad flood-prevention measures, bad planning, bad…well, if it wasn’t for bad luck…) to last them a while. And yes, I’m very much looking forward to ALA Annual: if it wasn’t in New Orleans, I might not be going.

It is sad–but it was also pretty much inevitable. I’m sure that, post-flood, the powers that be will try to reassert man’s dominance over nature along the Mississippi, and work really hard to move its flow back to the old path, the path the river wanted to abandon some decades back. And, for a while, they’ll succeed. Until the next time around.

Slight background. My father was a civil engineer and also the irrigation engineer for the Modesto Irrigation District. I rarely saw him as angry as when people were encouraged to rebuild in flood plains following floods, and were able to buy subsidized insurance to do so….and, to be sure, when government then had to spend enormous sums either “preventing” the recurrence of absolutely natural phenomena or rescuing the fools who knowingly rebuilt in flood plains.

Oh, those riverboat cruises? Thanks to several factors–9/11 for one, corporate arrogance and overreach for another, the sheer costs of running U.S.-flagged cruises for a third–the three overnight authentic steamboats that used to cruise the heartland rivers are all out of business. One’s for sale; one–the most authentic, the Delta Queen, originally built for the Sacramento Delta–was briefly a hotel and is also for sale; one’s being broken up.

A little Friday fun

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Minor (or not so minor) unrelated items:

  • Dear Academic Journals: Sending me emails (from specific journal “editors”) asking me to review specific scholarly papers within a week’s turnaround, after zero advance vetting, with no prior agreement on my part to serve as a referee–and on topics consistently well outside even the broadest scope of my possible expertise–serve mostly to remove any question about the nature of your operation. “Refereed by random email recipients” is not the mark of a quality OA journal, and I hasten to add that there are many quality OA journals that do adhere to proper standards.
  • Speaking of which, have I mentioned recently that everybody really should buy my terrific, world-changing, concise overview from ALA Editions, Open Access: What You Need to Know Now? 30,000 words of my best work–with the advantage of professional editing, copyediting and indexing–in a neat little package. You can buy an “eEditions” ebook bundle–a .zip file containg ePDF, ePub, Kindle and MobiPocket versions–or, if you’re so inclined, buy a Kindle edition as a direct Amazon Kindle download.
  • I was reminded again this week of that important internet truth: “Don’t feed the trolls.” And two corollaries: “Learn to recognize a troll” and “Don’t become a troll–at least not too often.”
  • An interesting week, beginning under the weather (some odd combo of upper respiratory virus/flu and something like food poisoning–I’m mostly better now) and continuing with crucial next steps in two Real Book projects. To wit, the first half of the advance for my 2012 project was deposited to my account (and the countersigned contract is in the mail), while the signed contract for my 2011 project (which might not actually appear until 2012) arrived yesterday (and the countersigned copy will go out in today’s mail). I continue to be excited about both projects…and am more than 1/3 of the way through the rough draft for the 2011 project, one I truly believe will be worth having for nearly every public library.
  • And there’s a new Cites & Insights issue…a two-month combo to leave some room to think about C&I and work on other stuff.
  • An odd little Slate article about rules for punctuation and quotation marks that asserts that British style is “logical” and U.S. style isn’t. The writer seems to be saying that stuff on the web represents better editorial practice than copyedited material. To me, the U.S. rule is the “flyspeck rule.” To wit: Too often, a period or comma following a closing quotation mark–especially when using proportional type, which today means “almost all the time”–looks like a flyspeck on the page, an accident rather than a purposeful mark. Yes, that’s an aesthetic argument; I also believe it’s a reasonable one. It’s fair to say that I plan to continue following U.S. rules here, and that I find the British practice no more logical than the U.S. practice. Oh, and as for the Oxford comma (properly the “serial comma,” what I think of as the penultimate comma, as it follows the penultimate item in a list)? Call me an AP man in this case–I prefer not to use the serial comma unless it’s needed to reduce ambiguity. (Note that: I do use serial commas when required to reduce ambiguity.) As it happens, I’m being inconsistent, since the serial comma is less commonly used in Britain and in other languages.

Hmm. Maybe not quite as random as I thought. Perhaps worth noting: I wouldn’t argue with a copyeditor on serial commas–and, in fact, I normally make a point of not going back to my original manuscript when reviewing galleys, assuming that professional editors usually know what they’re doing–but I think I’d be dismayed if I published through a UK publisher and saw a bunch of flyspecks at the end of quoted material.


Cites & Insights 11:6 now available

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Cites & Insights 11:6, June/July 2011, is now available for downloading at

Barring a pleasant surprise, this is the final issue before ALA. The first essay in the 28-page issue (PDF as usual, but all essays except the last are also available in HTML form from may help explain why that is.


Bibs & Blather (pp. 1-2)

Where do we go from here?

Trends & Quick Takes (pp. 2-9)

Eight mini-commentaries and three quick takes.

disContent (pp. 9-12)

A twofer: Two of my favorite “disContent” columns.

Interesting & Peculiar Products (pp. 12-20)

Twentyone product discussions (where “product” is interpreted loosely) and two editor’s choice/roundups.

The CD-ROM Project (pp. 20-23)

The subtitle says it (almost) all: Some Work, Many Don’t. The two that worked are both excellent–but so were some of the eight that didn’t.

My Back Pages (pp. 23-28)

One essay that’s way too long for MBP and five other chunks of snark.


Mystery Collection Disc 24

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Four of these are Studio One episodes from the heyday of live b&w TV drama—thus, they’re kinescopes (filmed from the TV), and presented including Westinghouse’s ads. The live format and limited resources of the time can result in somewhat claustrophobic dramas, but it’s at least interesting historically. In a way, viewing these with contemporary equipment is unfair. They were made to be viewed on screens probably no larger than 15″ diagonal (thus 9″ by 12″); viewing them on the 4×3 portion of a 54″ screen—which is to say an area 27″ by 36″, or nine times the area—warps the original staging expectations.

There Was a Crooked Man, 1950, b&w (TV). Paul Nickell (dir.), Robert Sterling, Charles Korvin, Virginia Gilmore, Richard Purdy, Robert Emhardt. 0:56.

A small boarding house with eclectic—even strange—tenants: One young man who avoids everybody, an eccentric professor supposedly writing a 12-volume history of education, a young woman waiting for her husband to return, another young woman in similar situation (both of them, apparently, working in the rare book room of a library), the woman whose house it is who’s expecting her husband to return after six years away, and an upstairs boarder who’s room-bound thanks to an accident but called on by all sorts of people.

And who winds up dead. Suspicion falls on the professor, but there are reasons to believe it must be somebody impersonating him: His beard and hair were bushier when he was encountered just after the crime, and he was wearing high-heeled shoes, which he doesn’t normally do. Lots more plot, including the arrival of one woman’s husband, the truly eccentric husband of the owner (who was actually a few blocks away and claims to have long-term amnesia), and a conclusion that leaves a whole bunch of question unanswered. Some scenery-chewing, too much plot for the time, but not bad as a mini-mystery. Note that the running time includes two lengthy Westinghouse commercials (one for a big screen TV—well, big for the time, I guess); it’s probably around 52 minutes of actual program. $0.75.

Two Sharp Knives, 1949, b&w (TV). Franklin J. Schaffner (dir.), Stanley Ridges, Wynne Gibson, Theodore Newton, Abe Vigoda. 0:59.

A surprisingly ambitious live drama, with scenes set in a (patently phony) train, police station, railroad station and cheap hotel—and an intriguing script by Dashiell Hammett. A father and his daughter are on their way to a small town to meet the mother, who the daughter really doesn’t know at all—and, when they arrive, the father’s detained because the police just received a “Wanted for Murder” message with his photo on it. The father’s never heard of the supposed victim and has no idea what’s going on… The police chief’s daughter (who’s engaged to a police detective) takes the little girl home with her, while the police chief, detective and suspect go to the hotel where he expected to meet his wife—who isn’t there and nobody’s heard of.

Next thing we know, the father’s apparently hung himself in his cell—and the police have discovered that the wanted message was a forgery and the supposed victim doesn’t exist. Although the coroner tells reporters that it was a suicide (in part because a conniving DA is gunning for the police chief), he tells the police chief that it was clearly murder (oh, there’s politics at play too). The plot continues from there, and it’s a tight plot for the 50-52 minutes of actual program. (Ads this time are for the Westinghouse Laundromat and Dryer, with the pitch that your Westinghouse dealer will be happy to wash and dry a load of your clothes to show how great they are—and a prominent “damp” setting on the dryer, for all those clothes needing ironing.) Note: I mention Abe Vigoda because he became so well known; as with all but three actors, his only credit was a voice-over at the end of the episode. He was 28 at the time; this was one of his first two roles.)

Well done, well-acted; since it’s also well under an hour, I’ll give it $1.00.

The Inner Circle, 1946, b&w. Philip Ford (dir.), Adele Mara, Warren Douglas, William Frawley, Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Christine, Ken Niles, WIl Wright. 0:57.

This one’s not a Studio One kinescope—it’s a B film, humorous, fast-moving, complicated and thoroughly enjoyable. A private detective, Johnny Strange, Action, Inc., starts to call in an ad for a private secretary (young, blonde, good-looking, etc.), when the phone’s removed by…well, a young woman (Adele Mara, a stunner) who more than meets his criteria and says she’s there for the job. Before you know it, she’s calling to get his office cleaned—and on his other line there’s a call, which she answers (the first call’s busy), by a new client who informs the secretary that Johnny is to meet her in front of a jeweler’s at 7:30 that night.

This leads to a dead body, Strange being knocked over the head, the gun placed in his hand and the police showing up—and the secretary giving a thoroughly false story to clear him. He wants to know what’s actually going on, and this takes us through a bunch of characters, the secretary’s socialite sister (who she thinks might be the real murderer)…and eventually a re-creation of portions of the murder scene during a radio broadcast (the victim had a gossip radio show, with a side of blackmail). All fast, with snappy dialogue, the natural love interest between the private dick and the beautiful secretary. William Frawley—yes, that William Frawley (later of I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and My Three Sons) does a fine job as the police detective lieutenant pursuing the case. Great stuff—light-hearted and well-done. It’s only 57 minutes (actually just over 56), so I can’t give it more than $1.25.

Things Happen At Night, 1947, b&w. Francis Searle (dir.), Gordon Harker, Alfred Drayton, Robertson Hare, Gwynneth Vaughan. 1:19 [0:56]

The biggest mystery here is why this odd little farce is in the Mystery Collection rather than being filler in a comedy megapack. The plot, such as it is, involves a poltergeist who’s possessing the daughter in a too-big house and causing all sorts of mischief. An insurance investigator (Gordon Harker) arrives to evaluate a claim for a hole in a rug (caused by a burning cinder in a room where the fireplace wasn’t used and had a grille that wouldn’t have allowed the cinder to escape in any case) and, somehow, becomes an overnight guest, formal dress and all. A “scientist” also arrives to photograph the poltergeist (?).

Mostly the plot is an excuse for cheap special effects and lots of Gordon Harker’s odd expressions, and whether you’ll enjoy it depends on whether you think Harker is side-splitting. Since I don’t, I mostly found this to be a wasted hour. (Harker was much better in The Farmer’s Wife both because it was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s rare comedies and because there was a script, something that’s lacking here.) Maybe the missing 23 minutes would make this better, but the flick seemed overlong as it is. Add to the missing script sometimes-sketchy video quality (bleached at times) and some odd filming, and I’m being extremely generous to give this $0.75.

Flowers from a Stranger, 1949, b&w (TV). Paul Nickell (dir.), John Conte, Felicia Montealegre, Yul Brynner, Robert Duke, Lois Nettleton. 0:59.

The beautiful young wife of a psychiatrist has trouble sleeping, mostly because she keeps thinking about a tune that she can’t quite place—and that may be evil. As a typical young professional couple, they of course have a housekeeper/maid, and she’s having friends to dinner—an odd number, and suggests her husband invite someone. He thinks of an older colleague, a famous psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps and has one bad hand for it. The psychiatrist, Yul Brynner with white hair (29 years old at the time, but a credible elderly psychiatrist), is free.

In short order, we get several dozen white carnations sent to the wife by an anonymous sender—and she hates white carnations. When the older doctor arrives he is, of course, wearing…a white carnation. He’s charmed by her; she believes he’s evil…and he refers to her by a name her husband didn’t know, her stage name when she was giving piano concerts in Europe as a child. Next scene: A violent inmate escapes and, next thing you know, she’s being subdued by the housekeeper. The wife concludes that the inmate was brought there by the old doctor to kill her and that the old doctor pushed her mother off a train platform…and goes in to New York to get evidence of a sort (the old doctor was briefly married to the wife’s mother, and he decamped to the U.S. a few days before the death).

A word about lengths for these Studio One kinescopes: Yes, they were longer than today’s ad-saturated hour shows, but not that much longer. I fast-forwarded through ads on this one, and it seems to come to about 50 minutes including titles—thus, five to seven minutes longer than today’s adfests. There were only three ads, but they were long ads.

We get a climax in which the young woman, apparently frail and easily breakable, suddenly turns into a victim-turned-pursuer, breaking down the older psychiatrist. I found this scene so wholly unbelievable that it compromises what’s otherwise a minor psychodrama. For some reason, I was more aware on this little drama that doctors are portrayed as all being smoking fiends: It was a different time! Overall, I’m being generous with $0.75.


Plan For Escape, 1952, b&w (TV). Paul Nickell (dir.), Peggy Ann Garner, Frank Overton, Jean Carson. 0:59.

Another Studio One presentation, this time with Betty Furness doing the ads (one of them for a Westinghouse sunlamp so you can get your tan in winter, back when tanning was supposed to be as healthy as smoking). The plot: A very young (21 years old) trophy wife of a gangster hates being a bird in a gilded cage, wants out…and sees her chance when her husband’s gunned down. But her minder (who’s in cahoots with the gangster who shot her husband) is on her trail, since she could rat on the killer. She winds up in a tiny town on the rail line, befriended by a handsome young mail clerk who’s deeply philosophical. Her problem with him: He’s not Somebody, being more interested in living a good life than in being a big financial success.

Lots of talk, then more plot leading to a shootout of sorts. Will the girl-woman ever grow up? Perhaps… This one’s fairly well done, but I still can’t give it more than $0.75.