Walt's blog

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?

You'd better go in disguise...

Whoops. I went somewhere I shouldn't have gone on the Web yesterday. (No, not what you're thinking, this was perfectly SFW, just not safe for mental composure.)

Going there wasn't the problem. Getting involved was the problem.

Won't happen again. Well, at least not this week. I can get in enough trouble with comments and posts hereabout, and with my "too nuanced for either side" stances in Cites & Insights. This extra trouble I didn't need. My own stupid fault: As noted, I was somewhere I shouldn't have been...

Memes and blogs

If you just love "Internet memes," or even if you don't, you may find this list interesting (or annoying, I suppose)--200 things you might have done in your life.
I found it here but didn't manage to find the original, unbolded version. It's an odd list, but an interesting one.

Library link of the day!

Wow. I made Library Link of the Day (for 9/16, if you read this any other day).

Or, rather, the Copyright Currents section of the current Cites & Insights made Library Link of the Day.

Close enough.


Firefox 1.0 (Preview Release) is just out.

Stodgy as I am, I've been using Firefox 0.91 as my preferred browser at work for months now. It may be a little slower to load than IE, but it seems to render pages faster and is presumably (?) less subject to IE's various security problems.

Delayed Gratification and Mea Culpa

An earlier post noted my intent to see whether I could make Cites & Insights more personally gratifying by simulating the "delayed gratification" I get from seeing a column or article appear in print, a month or three (or four or twelve) after I wrote it, and maybe with editorial improvements.

I've now read through the first four issues of volume 4 (2004), and am most of the way through the fifth (the Broadcast Flag special.

Three conclusions so far:

  • The scheme works: I'm able to approach the months-old publications with a fresh eye, and some of the articles and perspectives aren't half bad.
  • I could really and truly use an editor, but that's not going to happen with this kind of a zine. There's not an issue that doesn't have at least one typo and several phrases that could have been improved. But then, that's true of most weblogs as well...
  • Mea culpa: Somehow, in the mix of stuff surrounding vacation and speaking last March/April, my already-slack editing standards went straight to ... well, let's just say that the typos and sloppy text in the Broadcast Flag special are way worse than is reasonable even for a freebie. My apologies. (Not for the content itself: There's good material there. Just for the number of wrong words, repetitions, and the one flagrant layout problem that either Word or Acrobat managed to cause.)

Oh, and my prediction in that issue--that, unlike the heavily-downloaded CIPA special, it would be one of the least-downloaded issues of the year--appears to be wrong so far (use statistics are back). It's in the middle of the pack for volume 4. The lowest--except for 4:10, for which most downloads are from an alternate site--is the "Catching up with copyright" special issue, which doesn't have a specific hook. If I was specifically looking for popularity, that would tell me something. Of course, if I was specifically looking for popularity, a lot would change in Cites & Insights...

Once More with Feeling

Now I finally understand the lyrics. This is no tiny thing (well, maybe it is, but...)

Buffy fans may recognize the subject: The extraordinary episode (Season Six, Episode Seven) in which a "lord of the dance--but not the scary one, just a demon" causes folks to burst into song and full musical numbers--with backing--all over Sunnydale, in the case of the core cast revealing secrets that had been building up for weeks and months.

What's extraordinary is that the show's creator, Joss Whedon, single-handedly wrote all of the songs (and wrote and directed the episode, but then 90% of the dialog is in song lyrics)--and they're pretty good songs. Also extraordinary, I suppose, is that the cast all do their own singing and dancing. One of them (Giles, the former librarian, Anthony Stewart Head) has a musical background and is a fine singer; another turns out to have a superb voice; the rest manage pretty well--and some of the dancing is first rate.

But it was hard to get all the lyrics when the show was broadcast, particularly since some songs overlap to move the plot forward.

And when we first watched the DVD version--also the only widescreen episode of Buffy, and with the whole episode framed as a musical (special opening and closing just for the episode)--it was worse. Turns out that the sound processing used for the musical numbers (echo, etc.) didn't work well with our Sony XBR's "simulated surround" mechanism.

So, last night, we rewatched the episode, doing two things: Turning off the simulated surround--and turning on English captions.

And now it all makes sense. On to episode 8 next week...

(Also the only Buffy episode so far on the DVD sets that has its own special featurettes, a fairly long one discussing how they managed to do a full-scale 50-minute musical on a weekly low-budget show and a couple of shorter ones. The episode was a tour de force, in my opinion.)

By the way, although I was never an Ally McBeal watcher, there's one specific episode I'd pay $5 or $6 for if I could get it (legally) as a DVD, since it features my candidate for America's greatest living songwriter--more than a dozen Randy Newman songs, one written for the episode, most sung by the cast, all managing to move the plot forward.

Well, I hinted this journal would be about truly random subjects, didn't I? Cites & Insights is my serious web-based effort.

And for anyone who's made it this far down, what I expect to be my only political comment of this season (I hope):

As I believe Jon Stewart said, George W's "compassionate conservatism" is like the Olympics: It appears once every four years, then goes away after a week or two.

And this story from Billings, Montana offers further insight into certain nonsense going on. As Bobdole should know, where there's smoke, there's probably someone blowing it.

Trimming the "Can't deal with" list

Not that anyone would care, but since I mentioned the list of five people I just couldn't deal with in a previous entry (on being hassled by two of them in one weekend), I'm going to say it anyway:

I've now reduced that list from five to two, and proved that by actually engaging in a discussion with one of the three who are no longer on the mental-blackout list. This one, despite personality traits that I find difficult to deal with, has just done too much good in the field to ignore.

Instant publishing and delayed gratification

As I've been looking at the future of Cites & Insights, I've realized that lack of monetary reward isn't the only problem. (If anyone's wondering, voluntary contribution rate is still substantially less than 1% of apparent readership, and I'm not making another pitch in the September issue.)

And I wondered why I was thinking C&I wasn't as much fun as other writing--even though putting it together is interesting, it has good readership, and has impact.

I think I've figured out one aspect of this, hinted at in the subject line: There's no delayed gratification in Cites & Insights.

By which I mean: With any traditional publication, there's a time lag of at least a few days (typically a few weeks) between finishing with the manuscript, or even the camera-ready copy, and seeing the final product (or, for a column or article, the final product in a larger context, probably with editorial improvement I didn't know about). Even after a couple hundred of these, it's still sort of a gas to see it "in print"--and to be able to read it fresh.

With C&I (and with weblogs, and with postings here), it's published as soon as it's done. It's worse with C&I: The last few hours before publication are mostly copyfitting, which is not (shall we say) the most thrilling work in the world--and the first hour or so after publication is updating the running volume index (a Word "document" that consists only of index entries, built on the fly and normalized to some extent in late December, before publishing it).

By the time I'm done with the index updates, the last thing I want to do is read the issue--and it wouldn't be fresh in any case.

I'm going to try something to see if it restores some of the joy of doing C&I. I've taken 4:1 out of the 3-ring binder I use for this year's issues (before preparing a bound volume of the full year), put it in a folder, and set it with my other current reading. I'll read it "fresh." Then, a little later, I'll move on to 4:2. I'll see some of the gaffes and stupid comments, but maybe I'll also see the good stuff...

The timing's useful here. A week ago, just before coming down with a cold (now mostly gone), I submitted the final column in my highest-profile series. Times do change.

C&I has a notification blog

I may be stubborn about PDF, but far be it from me to insist that people use email (or check here!) to get notifications for new Cites & Insights issues.

On behalf of RSS bigots and others (OK, let's face it, LISNews is now one of very few weblogs I check directly rather than via Bloglines), I've started
C&I Update, a simple Blogger weblog with an Atom (RSS) feed, primarily to get that RSS feed.

More than a million "contacts"--so what?

Maybe I just don't understand "social software." No, come to think of it, that's a given: I don't understand social software.

I joined Orkut because someone invited me. I accepted as "friends" anyone who asked--with one or two exceptions--if I had even the slightest idea who they were. I might have done the reverse--called myself someone's friend in absence of their action--once, maybe twice.

Some time last week, Orkut said I had more than one million contacts via the 19 "friends." As of today, that's up to 1,194,628.


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