Walt's blog

Walt at Random

Blake beat me to the punch (and I wasn't actually going to propose a news story), but for both of you who read this:

Walt at Random is now live, with two (count them! 2) posts and a surprising number of early comments.

The date was deliberately chosen to match the importance of the new weblog--but rest assured, W.a.R. will still be there on April 2.

Here's what I do know about editorial policy: Walt at Random will not in any way weaken Cites & Insights.

"Policy and Library Technology" out

I just received my author's copies of Library Technology Reports 41:2 (March/April 2005), a 63-page issue on Policy and Library Technology.

I wrote this last Fall. While the ideas in it emerged out of the thinking reflected in the first four years of Cites & Insights, it's nearly all original material: A synthesis and relatively brief overview of the ways policy and library technology interact.

Selective HTML complete for C&I Volume 4 (2004)

Selective HTML now appears for all of Cites & Insights Volume 4 (2004) as well as Volume 5 on an ongoing basis.

You'll find the links on the All Contents page.

HTML does not appear for:

Cites & Insights 5:5 available

Cites & Insights 5:5, Spring 2005, is now available for downloading.

This 24-page issue, PDF as always, includes:

Ego or not

If you're interested, YBP Library Services has just posted an interview with me on their corporate website.

Nothing earth-shattering here, but Bob Nardini's questions were interesting, and I guarantee the answers are honest.

Quick PDF notes

Two quick PDF notes, actually:

1. If you can download Acrobat Reader 7, do it. It's considerably faster and cleaner than 6, without losing any features. ("If you can" is because I've been unable to at work, for odd reasons--something about administrator privileges, which I have. While I could at home, dialup and all, with no trouble.)

Last chance to win little prizes...and an HTML decision

"Name Walt's [putative] blog" contest is still open, through March 12. See the original post.

I think there may be a winner, but I'm still open to even better ideas. As to the putative blog itself, probability is running 90%. I'm talking to Blake about hosting, looking at printer-friendly software alternatives, thinking about registering a domain, and all that.

If it happens, I have an introduction date already picked out that will suit the importance of the putative blog...well, you'll see.

It's supposed to be exciting...

This weekend was a washout--for reasons that might have had us excited if we were younger and had different tastes.

To wit, on Saturday we sold my wife's '95 Honda Civic to her niece's boyfriend/fiancee for a fair price.

Sunday, we got her a new car. Buying a new car is supposed to be exciting, thrilling, wonderful. For us, I'm afraid, it was the whole heart of the day gone; like it or not, there doesn't seem to be any way to complete the process in less than half a day.

Consider that we pretty much knew what we were going to buy. The only cars I've ever owned (with me as the principal driver) were a '75 Honda Civic, an '89 Honda Civic DX, and my current car, a 2001 Honda Civic EX. With the exception of an unhappy divergence to an '81 Nissan Sentra (the Honda dealership we dealt with at the time was extremely offputting...), the only cars we've ever owned with my wife as principal driver were an '88 Honda Civic DX and a '95 Honda Civic EX.

Any guesses as to what we purchased?

Truth be told, we considered the Civic Hybrid a lot. Given the tax credit (that pretty much expires after this year), the net price is really only $1,000 or so more than an EX. And, for some reason, I believed that the Hybrid was an EX with a different powertrain. I'd done enough searching to recognize that we weren't going to see greatly improved mileage (we get 42-44 MPG on the highway as is, in the 2001, 25-30 in town). And since all Civics are ULEV's (ultra low emissions vehicles), the difference in pollution would be nominal: Basically, a 1.3liter VTEC engine might pollute a little less than a 1.7liter VTEC engine, but they're both incredibly clean.

Unfortunately, I was misinformed. The hybrid is based on the Civic LX, not the Civic EX--and the extra equipment in the EX is important to us. So an EX it was. 2001 was a major redesign year for the Civic; the next major redesign will probably be 2007 or 2008. Thus, the 2005 was a lot like the 2001: Same superb engine, transmission, brakes; slight differences in the grille and hood; a little extra brightwork in the interior; different gauges; and not much else. The test drive was exactly like driving the 2001.

Most of the "shopping" time was spent deciding between a silver Civic and a "mist" Civic, both exactly the same price, both exactly the same equipment. My wife preferred the mist's light interior, but two things deterred her: A high-pitched, soft whistle in the engine (pitched high enough so that neither I nor the saleman could hear it, not all that unusual) and slightly hot brakes. Both would probably go away after a few hundred miles, but...

So we now have two silver Civic EXes. Side by side, you can see that the new one's just a shade darker than the old. (My wife would have loved to buy a white car, like her '95--but there are no white 2005 Civic EXes.

We really like Honda Civics. They handle well, the EX's VTEC engine has more than enough power (and great torque), they're the most reliable cars on the road, and the 2001+ transmission is smooth. And, to be sure, they don't pollute much and they get great gas mileage (that 42-44 MPG on highway includes hills and using air conditioning all the time, and that is with automatic).

But we're not big driving fans. We buy good transportation. Yeah, I looked at the S2000 for a minute or two, but I wouldn't really want to own one of those (and where do you drive a true sports car?). So getting a new car was as much a chore as a thrill, particularly the extended process of telling the "credit manager" that no, we didn't want this extra, no, we didn't want that extension, no, they could remove the already-installed alarm, no, no, no...

We got what I believe to be a great price (about $17,500 before taxes and license fees, just over $19K out the door). Financing wasn't an issue. Otherwise, who knows how long it would take?
Now, I have to get the detailing done and change our insurance policy...

That, in considerably more than a nutshell, is why I didn't get much of any writing done this weekend.

A contest! With prizes! Long post, sorry about that

I've been staying out of the s**storm surrounding Michael Gorman's intemperate LJ op-ed piece, partly because I think some people would assume that whatever I said was an indirect attack on bloggers, partly because there's been a lot of intemperance on both sides (as well as some lovely, thoughtful essays and opinions, including one from Blake) within the Web4Lib and LITA-L group conversations. (I haven't gone to ./ or any of the other non-library areas in which this is being discussed, and don't plan to, thank you very much. Life really is too short.)

"Yeah, Walt, but you must have a reaction to Gorman's generalizations." Sure I do. Consider that most of what I make available for public consumption--publish, if you will, not including this blog lite--bypasses editorial control and traditional publishing, putting me pretty squarely in that ignorant semi-literate group of folks with nothing worthwhile to say. (I love good editing, and get it from my editors at eContent and Online, and certainly used to get great, hardnosed editing at American Libraries--but this year, even including a forthcoming Library Technology Reports issue on Policy and Library Technology, I'll publish about 40,000 words through traditional means, about 220,000 in Cites & Insights, and next year's likely to be about 14,000 traditional, about 220,0000 C&I, where there's no editorial oversight other than my own.)

My other reaction to Gorman's "satire"?

That's the contest: Name Walt's blog.

If I started up a real weblog (not just this blog lite), combining quick thoughts that might eventually turn into columns or C&I fodder, library-related (and policy-related and technology-related and media-related) stuff that would never make it into C&I, and some of the personal oddments hat come up, what should I call it?

Assume for the moment that I'll use some comment-friendly, printer-friendly software that's free, and that it would be hosted at LISHost, unless the "free and easy for idiots like me to use" need conflicts with that hosting.

Assume that it won't have daily posts and won't have loads'o'links, and that I'll be as open to comments and "conversation" as possible (but forbid anonymous comments), while necessarily retaining the right to delete spam and viciousness.

What would you call it? (And, for that matter, what hosting/software methdology should I use?)

Prizes for the best suggestion(s):

  • An autographed copy of either Being Analog or First Have Something to Say, your choice.
  • A DVD copy of an independent movie named after one of America's heartland cities, that movie having spawned an indie festival. Yours to keep, pass on, destroy...

If I get one compelling title suggestion and a separate wholly satisfactory software/hosting suggestion, a separate prize for the second suggestion would be an autographed copy of First Have Something to Say--or your choice of either book if the title winner doesn't want Being Analog.

Full disclosure: I am not committed to starting such a blog. I may well come to my senses. But Gorman's thoughts are pushing me in that direction, a direction I've been considering for some time in any case. (Yes, aggregators have something to do with that: I believe that they make "non-daily" blogs more feasible.)

Entries as comments here or as email to me, either wcc at notes.rlg.org or waltcrawford at gmail.google.com. Contest deadline March 12, 2005. No prizes if there's no suggestion that I find compelling.

3/14 addition: The contest is closed. Guess I should say that here as well.

I've concluded that there are two winners: Tangognat and Daniel.

Unfortunately, I won't be using the winning response--because it's already used by at least two other weblogs. Too bad, but I'd just as soon not add to the confusion by creating one more "Something to say" blog.

If/when my weblog does show up, the likely title is one that (according to Google) is not used anywhere on the open web--a title that appears within this set of comments, but as one of my responses. (And if one of you starts a blog with that name before I do, I'll take that as a sign from Gaia that I really should give up on the idea. Sort of like an earthquake swallowing up the proposed ISP, but non-destructive. Or maybe just as some reader being a smartass.)

Cites & Insights 5:4 available

Cites & Insights 5:4, March 2004, is now available for downloading. 22 pages, PDF as usual.

Taking Seth Finkelstein's suggestion on tabloid-style marketing to heart, here's what's included:


The next issue of Cites & Insights may be out today. Or maybe tomorrow. Or maybe a week from now...

After finding out that Acrobat Reader's text-to-speech feature is only available for PDFs created with Acrobat 6 or above (I assume that's right), I decided to upgrade. CompUSA.com did remarkable work: I ordered online on Monday (a holiday), and the package was here yesterday, using the cheapest delivery method.

So I installed Acrobat 7 Standard Upgrade. Tried it out via the button in Word, reconverting the current issue as a test. Worked fine--only now I see I should make a small change in the C&I template so the automatic contents/bookmark panel makes a little more sense (right now, all you get are subheadings--never article titles: easy enough to fix).

Then, sigh, thanks to bad old habits dating from every computer up to this one--where disk space was always at a mild premium, I said, "Oh, Acrobat 7 works great. I can uninstall Acrobat 4."

Which I did.

Now Word only works in safe mode (where, of course, the "Create PDF" button isn't available). And Acrobat 7 can't convert a Word file because it immediately activates Word (to read the template, presumably), which immediately fails...

So here I am. I've found the Acrobat 4 CD (after some searching--it's been five years, after all). I've checked Adobe's website, which has a fix (for a related problem) that might work. Otherwise, I'll reinstall 4, see if that works...

Short version: Cites & Insights 5:4 is through copyfitting (eliminating orphans at the ends of paragraphs, general cleanup, and cutting down to some even number of pages--22 in this case). Once I have Word and Acrobat working together again, I'll fix the titles, generate the PDF, update the associated web pages, maybe run off a few HTML samples to extend that test, and update the web site.

With luck, that happens today. With bad luck, it takes days, weeks, months...well, no, not months, because if I spend more than two more hours screwing around with this, I'll just reinstall Word, which should break any links with Acrobat, and start from there...but that means re-revising normal.dot and all that stuff. With good luck, I can start Word in safe mode, identify a phantom acroxxx4.dot add-in, uncheck it, and proceed. Or, second best, reinstalling Acrobat 4 will allow me to proceed without effectively wiping out Acrobat 7.

Yes, I think improving accessibility is a good thing. Just don't ask me about that belief right this morning...

Quick added comment, Wednesday evening:

  • The advice on Adobe's website didn't help.
  • Reinstalling Acrobat 4 didn't help.
  • "Reinstalling" Acrobat 7--which was intelligent enough to suggest that I wanted a repair install--worked.

I'll just leave Acrobat 4 alone, thank you.
The issue is out, with bookmarks and all (but you need at least Acrobat Reader 5 to view it), and I did provide another sample of what selective HTML would include. I'll do a proper announcement tomorrow.

Soft trial redux

After looking at the 22 (23?) responses I got from the Topica posting, the 2 I got at the C&I Updates blog, and the 5 (6?) I got here--and looking at the HTML versions themselves, with my browser set so it would really be obvious if the font setting was, um, less than consistent...

Email is dead, blogs rool

I posted the "soft trial" piece here on Monday morning, reaching people directly and via RSS. Five people have commented in two days.

I posted a similar piece on the C&I Update blog on Tuesday,presumably reaching people mostly via RSS. One person has commented in one day.

I posted a much shorter piece on the Topica mailing list last night, reaching people via email. So far, 18 people have commented in 12 hours.

Soft trial

I'm toying with making some articles in Cites & Insights additionally available in very simple HTML form.

I'm not sold on the idea. The reasons I give in the FAQ for using PDF continue to be valid. The trial run I'm mentioning here even validates one of them: despite using the most space-efficient (and somewhat hard to read, since the lines are so wide) HTML options, the articles combine to require more than twice as much paper as the issue does: 50 pages as compared to 24. (Yes, some of that's because of repeated headers and footers, but I'm not going to put articles out there without the surrounding material.) I also think the HTML form is a whole lot less readable and attractive, at least for print readers.

But I'm willing to give it a try, if I can do it without significant software investment or needing to take more than an extra hour per issue doing my least favorite part of C&I--that is, screwing around with HTML and postings to get the word out.

The methodology I used for this trial does appear to take about an hour to handle a typical issue's worth of articles, and used the cheapest software I could find that would handle copied Word text reasonably well. (It was a $5 CD-ROM that turned out to be a little more than just a web editor. If I turn this trial into a real feature, I'll mention that story in Bibs & Blather.) "About an hour" is without attempting to turn any URLs into live links, fix any cases where I've inserted a blank to make a URL break lines, or really do anything other than copy, paste, and mass-replace typeface indications.

Anyway: If you're interested--I'm only going to publicize this here and at the C&I Updates blog--here's what you do:

Go to the C&I Tables of Contents form, click on 2005, go down to the latest issue. You'll note that each article name is a livelink. Try a couple of them.

Let me know what you think: Is this--

  • Pointless?
  • Pointless unless I make the separate articles a whole lot nicer?
  • Worth doing without any extra tweaking?
  • Worth doing, but you'd suggest a tweak or two that won't require real work on my part?

Comments either here or to me, wcc at notes.rlg.org. Comments by this Sunday, please: If I decide to do this for real, I'll try to back-convert this year's issues before 5:4 comes out (late February), then back-convert each previous volume--selectively--over the next month or four.

Modified to correct links...

Peculiarities of notoriety (Wikipedia and me)

Just for fun (I need it right now!):

There's no entry under my name in the English Wikipedia. I can't think of any reason that there should be. (Pretty certain I'm not going to show up in any traditional encyclopedia, either! My inclusion in certain Marquis publications is a source of bemusement on my part.)

Piling on

OK, here's what I wrote in the latest Cites & Insights--word-for-word (it's easy to select text from a PDF and copy it, particularly if it's on one page--and the CC license means that any blogger or whoever could legitimately quote it). Note that it was part of a multipart comment on postings in the Walking paper blog, thus the subheading and date (directly from that blog):

---------Beginning of copied section----

Rss hub-bub, January 19, 2005

This time Schmidt’s just asking for trouble. Noting enthusiasm in the blogosphere about one library vendor adding RSS to one of their extended products (and the predictable “every library and every vendor should be doing this right now� responses from more excitable bloggers), he quotes part of one comment on one post. That comment, from an employee of another library automation company, notes that when that employee has suggested RSS feeds, the general response is “where are the customers who want this?�

He has a point that is sometimes difficult to remember. There are still many, many people [who] aren’t familiar with RSS. Ask your neighbor what “Really Simple Syndication� is. 98% of you will come back having received strange looks, and maybe 1% of you (likely less) will have the correct answer. [Footnote: The missing 1%? You’ll come back with a black eye.]

You won’t get RSS in online catalogs until vendors
know that patrons are using it—and, by the way, you probably won’t get it if you’re not willing to pay for it. Sure, it has valuable library roles—-but what portion of the community will take advantage of the feeds? Maybe, as Schmidt suggests, this is one of those cases where the library mentors the patrons—“guiding them through technologies they might benefit from
learning about.�

He also notes that, if RSS takes off in a big way,
it’s likely to be ruined—“If not by some new fangled spam, then it’ll be by the abundant adverts and few full-content feeds. It could be rendered as painful to use as email.� I’ve wondered about that, and noted with a small sense of irony that the RSS feed from one of the top library promoters of RSS feeds is now partially
broken (by my standards): It’s no longer a fulltext feed, for financial reasons. (And, earlier, notes that he only encountered the comments because he clicked through to the site.)

Interesting stuff. So your library would just as
soon drop its new title lists and substitute an automatically generated RSS feed? You tell your patrons, “Oh, we don’t send that email any more. All you have to do is add our new title RSS feed to your aggregator.� What reaction will you get?

I live in a very high-tech community, on a block
where most homes are owned by two parents, both of
whom work in Silicon Valley. If I went around asking neighbors about RSS, I’m sure I’d get more than 1% success rate—but I’m also sure it would be a lot less than half.

(Last-minute addition: See TRENDS & QUICK
TAKES in this issue. The latest Pew Internet & American Life study on blogging suggests that Schmidt’s “98%� figure is right on the money.)

----------End of copied section--------

Why quote that 500+-word section? Because Jenny Levine (who has a considerably larger readership than I do, either here or at C&I) spent 1500+ words flaming me for things I don't believe I said (and, in the process, offering some genuinely useful suggestions of how RSS might be worthwhile in a library setting, to more than the 2% of American adults who apparently use aggregators). And because another blogger pointed to that entry without comment. And because Karen Schneider today spent yet another 800+ words applauding Jenny's post.

Clearly I must be biased against RSS: That's why I created a blog whose sole function is to serve as an RSS (actually Atom) feed. That's why I read Jenny, Karen, and 100 or so other bloggers via Bloglines.

This seems to be yet another case where raising any doubts whatsoever about a new technology--or, for that matter, commenting on the doubts raised by someone else (as I was here)--constitutes an attack on that technology. (I call it the "DR school of argument," and no, I won't expand those initials.)


Quick addition: Now yet another blogger has contributed to the piling on--this time without even reading my original comment (apparently), but instead trusting that Jenny L. must certainly have reported what I said correctly. The "conversation" just gets better and better.

Update 2/9/05, noonish: A conversation of sorts has taken place on most of the sites involved here. One, however, remains pure monolog: It's now been more than 24 hours, and while the original flame has been updated, my comment has not been posted (it requires signoff by the blog owner). Ah, the community! Ah, the conversation! Somehow, I'm reminded of the last line of in last night's Gilmore Girls. (Arcane reference deliberately left unexplained, just to bedevil both of you reading this--and no, we didn't discover GG until last spring. We're now watching Season 2 on DVD while also watching Season 5 on TV. Other than a little cognitive dissonance, no problem.)

Closing note, Thursday, February 10:
47 hours on the unposted comment; I'm giving up. Meanwhile, I think this particular flamefest has gone on long enough--and have said so in a comment at Shifted Librarian. Jenny and I will clearly continue to disagree; the Perspective that may grow out of this won't be about the original controversy; and life goes on. I won't delete this entry because...I don't believe in mucking with the record.

Podcasting: Different strokes...

I don't currently listen to "podcasts" (and am still not sure how they differ from previous web audio streams, except for the In name)--much as I don't listen to audiobooks.

And that's me.

I also would be unlikely to start doing podcasts, because speaking isn't normally a way I organize what I want to say (when I do a speech, there's almost always a full-text written version, even if I vary from it a lot).

And that's also me.

One early library-related podcaster has/had a blog that lapsed into inactivity. He's now doing a stream of podcasts. Apparently, talking through what he has to say is more natural for him than putting together blog entries or written journals.

And that's him.

Some librarians are excited about podcasts, both because they find audio speech a good way to take in information and because they believe it might be another way for libraries to spread the word.

And that's them.

If you're looking for an attack on podcasts, you've come to the wrong journal. Different people have different preferred learning styles or, for that matter, taking-in-entertainment styles. Different people have different preferred creation/organization styles. This is a case where "YMMV" becomes the heading I've used once or twice in C&I: "The way we're wired."

I've wanted to try speech-recognition software--but realized that I'm more likely to sit down and write through something than I am to sit down and talk through it (when it's something that belongs in print, that is). That's my style.

Of course, if we had highly accurate multivoice speech recognition software and, conversely, human-sounding text-to-speech software (which we may have, for all I know), people could mix-and-match to suit their own preferences: I could read these podcasts as text, and people could listen to Cites & Insights (which I believe they can anyway: I certainly don't disable TTS in the PDF files, although as a dumb XP user I also don't get how to start TTS).

Anyway, I think this falls into "to each their own"--and, to be sure, accessibility. My preference for text over speech as a source method is just that: Mine. I do not claim universality.
If podcasts work for you and yours, great.

Hyperactive spiders: Google's no longer number one

I've always been astonished at the sheer number of Googlebot hits at Cites & Insights--averaging 30 a day for a site that has new content around once every four weeks.

(I eventually realized that Googlebot may be crawling the entire site each time, so that it's really more like 60 hits done once every couple of days...still quite a lot.)

In previous statistics, Googlebot was always way out ahead of any other spider.

Cites & Insights 5:3 (February 2005) available

Cites & Insights 5:3, February 2005, is now available for downloading.

The 24-page issue (PDF as always) includes:

ALA: Who knew?

I just looked at the ads running to the left of this journal. First said, "What the hey?"

Then came the shock of recognition: To a bunch of online supply houses, "ALA" stands for Alpha lipoic acid, whatever that might be.

Heck, Blake, if you make a buck from ridiculous acronym linkages, more power to you. Don't think I'll be ordering any of that stuff, though.


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