Walt's blog

Frank Kelly Freas, RIP

Noting the story on Will Eisner's passing, I'll mention another passing in the past couple of days that seems to have drawn a lot less attention:
Frank Kelly Freas, one of the great science fiction illustrators.

Program/conference reporters invited!

Here's the posting I just sent to four lists, and will also be suggesting as a story--but here, it has HTML!

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, a free web-based journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is now accepting and inviting program and conference reports in areas appropriate for C&I's readership.

It's a chance to be published in a widely-read venue, with as little editing as possible, with a byline--and in a timely fashion (aiming for 2 to 6 weeks between receipt of reports and publication).

Random thoughts at the end of a subrandom year

Subrandom? Well, heck, if you thought this was a great year, more power to ya! (And throw a chunk of that greatness at Doctors Without Borders, American Red Cross International Response Fund, or something of the kind!)

Minor thoughts and discoveries on a slow morning, the day after polishing off a big time-sensitive "own time" project...

  • I was going to chime in on the "countdown" (you know, ten random things about me and so on) thread on AshtabulaGuy's journal--and discovered that I couldn't do it. The travel part would be easy (or not: the Marquesas islands, the fjords of Norway, the fjords of New Zealand, the Shetland Islands, the wonderful Bardo museum outside Tunis, the nature preserves of Costa Rica, Venice, Bora Bora, Morocco...hmm, it's hard to come up with the right nine. I don't particularly consider myself well-traveled, but when my wife and I say "we've been seeing the world by cruise ship," we do mean seeing the world, not the Caribbean).
    But some of the others are just too close to home for a tired old shy type like me. And, since I've managed to get this far by not having specific goals and plans, the list of "things I want to do before I die" might be tricky. So it goes.
  • I am reminded frequently just how lucky we are to live where we do. Sure, the housing's expensive. But when I'm tempted to complain about a rainy day or the temperature dropping to the low 50s at the end of December; when we revel in the quality of ingredients and cooking in even the most modest restaurants in town (e.g., the sports bar down the road we go to for $2 bowls of freshly-made soup and $4 to $6 specials); when we look at general social attitudes...well, this area looks better and better as an eventual retirement location, if we can't swing Hawaii.
  • In another dire warning about how badly U.S. people do in savings, I'm reminded again that those are trick figures: Did you know that mutual funds and other market investments (including, I believe, bond funds) don't count as savings? Not that we couldn't do a lot better, but...
  • It's odd to find myself an "independent" in so many policy/library issues, e.g. open access, the "information commons," ebooks (yes, I am an independent, even if some jackasses choose "Luddite" or "Darth Vader" as a preferable term), and others. Maybe I'm proud that I'm becoming more aware of subtleties and distinctions as I get older--or maybe I'm just inherently wishy-washy. I do know this: The more I know about a policy issue, the less likely I am to take a black-and-white view of it.
  • While my list of people I just can't deal with has shrunk (down to 2!), the revelation that some people just aren't worth the time to argue/discuss with has been an enormously liberating one. And for those who put me in that category, you're certainly entitled.
  • Re LISnews and "library news" sources: Yes, I check LISnews. I rarely contribute (other than my own stuff). Maybe that's because "library news" as such doesn't usually interest me very much. What interests me are the range of developments that affect libraries, and those either don't fall into the "news" category or are somewhat outside the traditional library press. And, of course, I believe that the "added value" in Cites & Insights is that I'm synthesizing stuff, much of which is outside the traditional library literature, and trying to suggest connections to library issues.
  • Regarding the one "controversial" stance I took in C&I this year: I'm a little sad that it apparently drove away one long-time reader. I'm not at all sorry I took the stance, and I stand behind every word in the piece. Reading about the testimony of those on one side of the current court case pushes me further in that direction, if anything.

And that's enough for this last day of the year. Stay off the roads tonight (whether you're drinking or not!), stay warm, and may your next year be better than this one was--no matter how good this one was for you.

Cites & Insights 5.1 available

Here's the formal announcement:

Cites & Insights 5.1 (January 2005), sponsored by YBP Library Services,
is now available for downloading.

The 22-page issue (PDF as always) includes:

C&I--and movies, movies, movies

First, for those of you not subscribed to C&I Updates: Cites & Insights 5:1, January 2005, is now available for downloading. Because of the exigencies of this tween-holiday week, I won't submit a "story" until tomorrow, and list postings won't go out until January 3--but it's there. Strong on scholarly access, some stuff on copyright, a whole bunch of self-indulgent retrospective nonsense--and a note about the new sponsorship, from YBP Library Services.

Movies, movies, movies? I've written elsewhere (in C&I) about the Family Classics 50 Movie Megapack I acquired to keep me going on my treadmill, once the 40 free movies I'd gotten from a now-dead DVD magazine were done.

Treeline Films, maker of that Megapack, has apparently developed a production system that allows them to produce boxes with 12 double-sided, double-layer DVDs, each in a cardboard sleeve containing summaries of the four or five movies on the DVD, at a price that means they can sell for $24.95 to $34.99 and be profitable for Treeline and the Internet stores that sell them. (They might turn up in retail stores as well; I got the first one for $19.95 as a RiteAid holiday special, but have never seen any since in local stores.)

The movies are all either public domain or available with no (or nominal) license fees. There are no extras. You get four scenes per movie, that may or may not be logically arranged; basically, movies are split into quarters by time.

Print quality ranges from barely watchable to excellent. On some older movies, frames are missing and some of the soundtrack is garbled, but I have yet to see a movie that was truly unwatchable because of print damage. I just finished watching Danny Kaye's The Inspector General, a gem of a film that was also a nearly-perfect print.

I mention these sets here because Treeline continues to bring them out, and I think they're a remarkable bargain for people interested in older cinema--and maybe for libraries. I see nothing preventing a library from treating each cardboard sleeve/DVD as a separate circulating item. The movies are in at least as good shape as the old public domain $5-$10 videocassettes from oddball companies--and you're getting 50 movies for $25 to $35.

I see 13 boxes so far, including genre boxes for Horror, Mystery, SciFi, War, Comedy, Western, Family, Action, as well as "Hollywood Legends" (all feature films, all with major stars) and "All Stars," a collection of star-heavy TV movies. The final three packs include one with 150 serial episodes (a dozen old serials), one with 100 cartoons, and one with 100 TV episodes.

I would expect more to come. I picked up the SciFi (yes, some of the movies aren't really SciFi, and most of the movies are B to D films), All Stars (a great bunch of TV movies!), and Hollywood Legends (a remarkable set of films for the price) boxes. The mystery (heavy on Sherlock Holmes and others) and some others also look interesting.

You can find them at Overstock for $24.95 plus $1.50 shipping, at Amazon for $34.95, and at DVD MegaPacks and BN.com for $28 to $30. I've found Overstock reliable so far; that's where I've purchased all but the first.

Obviously, I can't vouch for the video quality of those I haven't seen. Some that I have--an early "Scarlet Letter," for example--were badly damaged. Some others have been nearly perfect.

My own calculus: If I see seven movies that I'd be willing to buy as cheapo singles (say for $5), then I'm automatically ahead of the game. I've already seen seven that qualify in the "Family Classics" box, and I'm only on the fifth of twelve DVDs. Your mileage may vary, as always.

By the way, since most or all of these are in the public domain, they should also be usable for public screening.

I've never been to Albany, Georgia

Say what?

Well, I was doing a bit of focused egosearching (on AllTheWeb, looking for "Cites & Insights", excluding boisestate.edu, and limiting it to "this year," not that date limits do much of anything for websites).

Still too many to look through, but somewhere in the first hundred I hit a publication called Cites & Insights--yes, with the ampersand.

It's a church bulletin from Hines Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Albany, Georgia.

Orkut reloaded (and unmarked)

Back a ways, I noted the bizarre total number within my circle in Orkut--more than two million at the time--and that the number did not decrease significantly when I cut my number of "friends" from 21 down to 12.

One who shall go unnamed (why cause him grief?) sent email with an interesting suggestion: The number being reported is roughly the total size of Orkut, and has nothing to do with your own "six degrees of separation."

Not dead or gone just yet

Where's Walt?

On vacation since November 18--and to me, part of being on vacation is ignoring as much technology as possible. We got back Monday; yesterday was entirely consumed in catching up with email and related work issues--I didn't even log on to the Internet except to check one fact.

We visited the Marquesas islands, for those who care: One of the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia, with islands such as Fatu Hiva and Nuku Hiva. The cruise (14 days) departed from Papeete in Tahiti (departing is always the best thing to do in Papeete!), and visited five spots on four Marquesan islands, along with Rangiroa in the Tuamotu archipelago and some of "the usual suspects" in the Society Islands--Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahaa, and Tahiti, but not Raratea. (Unfortunately, Bora Bora, which may be one of the most beautiful places on earth, was overcast and raining. Otherwise, the weather was generally good.)

I'm not doing a travelogue, at least not here, not yet. Just noting that lack of entries (and lack of comments on postings!) doesn't necessarily indicate lack of interest. I'll catch up little by little, but will be VERY selective about what gets printed and considered as C&I source material--particularly because another time-dependent thing looms on the close horizon.

(No, we didn't visit any libraries in French Polynesia. Sorry about that. For those with a historical bent, the Marquesas represent an extreme example of what Randy Newman calls "the Great Nations of Europe coming through"--probaby more than 100,000 population prior to first European contact, then down to about 4,000 by WWII, now back up to 8,000 or so thanks to antibiotics to help defend against the wonders of European civilization. Things got off to an unusually bad start: The first Western visit at one island resulted in 200 Marquesan deaths right on the spot.) (Oh, and they weren't "noble savages"--neither noble nor savages.)

That's it for now. Just thought I'd let anyone who cares know that I haven't actually disappeared for good.

Just because I don't use it doesn't make it worthless

A few folks might have gasped had they been at the Charleston Conference last week, in a Saturday discussion of OpenURL issues. The discussion got around to some sort of functionality for people to share tips and best practices (e.g., for new targets, new forms of linking, getting around problematic targets...)

Someone suggested a list.

I suggested that a Wiki might suit this particular need better than a list or even a blog.

Finishing Volume 4

Well, two days is "within the next week or so," so I didn't lie. That is, the document containing the title sheet and indexes for Cites & Insights volume 4 (2004) is now available for downloading.

Eagle-eyed readers may note that the story I just suggested, like the postings to C&I Updates, the Topica list, and a few other lists, is ungrammatical--because I left out "document containing the" for brevity, but certainly didn't use "are" to refer to a single PDF file.

Cites & Insights 4:14 (December 2004) available (+note)

Cites & Insights 4:14--December 2004--is now available for downloading.

This 22-page PDF issue includes:

Orkut revisited

(As I continue to bite my tongue to avoid a political comment...)

A while back I noted that Orkut said I had two million friends, via the 19 people actually in my friends list and the six-degrees-of-separation stuff.

I thought that was just silly. So, after a while, I decided to do something about it (besides mostly ignoring Orkut, which has worked quite well). I deleted seven "friends" who I've never met and don't really know well enough to consider trusted acquaintances, bringing the set down to 12.


Because I'm trying to stick with my decision not to post any more political posts (and boy, is that hard--but, you know, I don't think I'd change anyone's mind any more than the scores of other political posts are going to change my mind)...

I discovered something about my plebeian tastes recently. (Well, something more--I already knew that I preferred good/straightfoward food to Haute Cuisine, for example.)

Malaria and trivia

Those who peruse ChuckB's journal, as you should, may remember this item and my comment.

Turns out that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation underwrote the development of the malaria vaccine as well, according to an editorial in the SF Chronicle.

That shouldn't be surprising. Big Pharma is not known for investing huge sums into developing cures for "third-world diseases" or "diseases of the poor." But a big $nudge$ from the Gates people makes all the difference in the world.

The blues in black and white

Now I think I get it.

Some people see things as black and white. Other people see most of life as shades of gray.
For now, I won't characterize either in terms of politics, religion, or whatever--partly because it isn't that pat.

Those mindsets are so fundamentally different that they're pretty much irreconcilable--and it becomes exceedingly difficult for a "shades of gray" person to converse with or sometimes make sense of a "black and white" person.

Two million friends?

Another silly Orkut posting.

I accepted an invitation to join Orkut, partly to find out what "social software" was all about.

I continued to accept "friendships"--by and large--to give it a fair chance. And, I think, proposed "friendship" in one or two cases (both actual friends).

So far, there have been some strange invitations to join middle eastern communities, a couple of political mass-mailings, and that's it.

Today, a landmark of sorts was reached: I now have a supposed circle of 2,005,387 "friends" via the 19 "friends" in my social circle.

I'm now pondering whether to pare that set down to people who might fit more plausible definitions for useful social software--that is, people who I know enough to place some trust in (beyond the level of trust that I, as a notorious Pollyanna, place in almost everyone). That's mostly people I've actually met, and maybe one or two who I've learned to trust. I think it comes to 8 out of the 19. Nothing against the other 11; I just don't really know them to any significant degree.

I'd guess there are 300-500 people, maybe more, who I would put on a "trusted acquaintance"/friends list...People I'd go at least a little out of my way to respond to or help, and who I think would do the same for me. I suppose 8 on Orkut isn't bad.

But, based on that absurd two million number, I can only assume that "friends" of "friends" are as loosely defined as the current 19--that is, there's no real reason to believe that a "friend" of a "friend" of a "friend" of a...has anything more than possible name recognition with the link in the chain.

I haven't done anything yet. I'm not convinced that social software is worthless, but I'm pretty much reaching that conclusion for Orkut's implementation, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Postscript: Orkut now consistently yields a "Page has no data" error when I log in, so I think Rochelle and I are pretty much in the same boat.

Such is life: Even Google-owned websites go bad.

Two for the price of none

1. Arrggh. I'm not going to add yet another refinement on my comment on the "Librarian strikes it rich" story. I read the story too fast. Depending on how you interpret it, the librarian in question winds up with either $251K or $274K (and odd dollars in either case). My point stands: Not only do many (most?) multimillion-dollar lotto winners keep working, neither $251,000 nor $274,000 is enough to retire on unless you plan an exceedingly modest standard of living.

2. Here's a real question, for those of you who know such things:

Grape: Wait for it?

I was going to alert you to what should be a neat new paperback: Grape

This appeared as a 47-part (I think) series in the San Francisco Chronicle and was thoroughly enjoyable. I assume the book version is slightly expanded, although it wouldn't need to be.

Unfortunately, a check of Amazon doesn't turn it up yet, and the RLG Union Catalog doesn't show a CIP record for it.

Why did I think it was out? Because today's Chronicle has an ad offering an autographed copy of the book with a new subscription (or something along those lines).

Who's an advocate?

[Note: A different version of this grump could plausibly turn up as a Bibs & Blather piece in the next Cites & Insights. Or not.]

A recent post in this journal concerned a stupid mistake I made--attempting to comment on something in a blog I should never have even been visiting. (I checked on that site again; the discussion has proceeded nicely enough, sometimes about me, but without my participation. I'll leave it that way. I managed to wipe my shoes clean and don't wish to step in that again.)

Comments--from one person--on that journal post seemed to take me to task for not being simplistic enough (I'm paraphrasing, and if this isn't what the poster really meant, that's OK: I'm not naming the person anyway.) A later point was that you can be nuanced in intellectual discussion, but if you want change, you have to be an advocate, and to advocate, you have to [MY WORDS] "dumb it down."

While I disagree with that assertion--I'm trying to talk to reasonably intelligent adults, and I really hate it when people dumb things down for my consumption (since it always means, directly or indirectly, talking down to me), so I'm sure not about to insult other people by assuming they can't handle nuanced treatments (or semi-Proustian sentences like this one either)--I just realized that it involves a conclusion that is not in evidence.

Namely, that I'm particularly interested in advocacy. I don't think I am. To the extent that I wind up advocating certain positions, it's because I find them more coherent and more in line with my overall worldview than alternatives; to the extent that I argue against other positions, it's because I find them incoherent, inhumane, or sharply at odds with my underlying beliefs.

My columns at various magazines have generally been intended to describe, educate, and sometimes synthesize. I don't believe I've been trying to persuade, except to the extent that "If you believe in X, then maybe you ought to consider Y" could be considered persuasion.

Cites & Insights started out primarily as a way to note articles worth reading and developments in technology worth paying attention to. It's become much more than that (and in some ways less, as I don't cover PC-related stuff all that much) through a process of natural growth and continued analysis and synthesis.

Maybe my failure to act as an advocate is a problem--but I'm not sure it's my problem.

I am sure that the thought of hardening my positions on library-related issues and simplifying my arguments so that I can be more convincing does not appeal to me. If that means I'm less effective as a change agent, so be it: That was never my career goal. Even my first book was not an effort to get people to use MARC; it was an effort to make MARC understandable and explain its background.

Next posting (barring surprises): Something completely different!

Monday's oddity

Here's one that has nothing at all to do with librarianship or any of the big issues of the day.

Last week, we saw two "for sale" signs go up across the street, from two different realtors. We knew one house was going on the market (divorce issues), and expected the one next to it to go on the market eventually (estate issues), but didn't really expect both to go on the market simultaneously. (We've had a few sales on our block this year--typically the one-open-house, multiple-bid, sale at above asking price variety that's common to Mountain View.)

We also found it odd that the right-hand sign was so far to the left of the house--it almost seemed to be on the same property as the left-hand sign.

When we saw the usual "open Saturday & Sunday, 1:30-4:30" placards, we did the usual: went over to look through the houses. (We're always looking for possible remodel ideas and to see how houses compare--and realtors expect that.) The one on the left was interesting in some ways, uninteresting in others, and based on the steady traffic both days they'll probably get more than the $858K asking price (this is Mountain View, and the part of Mountain View with Los Altos schools, some of the state's best, so $858K for a 50-year-old 1,300-square-foot rancher isn't as outrageous as you'd think).

But the house on the right didn't seem to be open Saturday. So we looked again Sunday. It still didn't seem to be open. At which point I picked up one of the brochures available on the for-sale post...

And found something I've never seen before, and still find hard to understand: The post seemed to be on the left-house property because it was for that house.

Two different realtors, from two different companies, were offering the same house for sale! (When we asked, the message was that the ex-husband and ex-wife couldn't even agree on listing agents, so one agent is the ex-husband's agent, one is the ex-wife's agent. At least they managed to agree on a price!)

I can't see how this can work out--which office handles the likely multiple simultaneous bids (almost all house sales around here have a date/time at which they'll accept bids, usually a day or two after the open house)? Which office handles the negotiation? Do they split the commission?

Strange days. Again, nothing to do with LISNews, but this is a journal, right?

Anyone else ever hear of a house sale like this?


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